Island roadways are clogging up as a new season is poised to begin.
The volume of cars on Periwinkle Way has steadily increased throughout the month of December, but it wasn't until the week of Christmas and New Years that motorists began to feel the stop-and-go traffic. Sanibel Police Chief Bill Tomlinson said a traffic spike over the holidays is typical and usually tappers off for a few weeks until tourists arrive in full force.
"It hasn't been as bad as Fort Myers Beach," said Ed Hellwege, an island visitor from Michigan who said traffic to that beach stretched miles from the causeway.
Photo by Mckenzie Cassidy.
Mike D'Abo, a seasonal visitor from England, said it has taken him and his friends on the island at least 45 minutes to get from Bailey's to Causeway Boulevard, even though bicycles cover that distance in half of the time.
"You try not to get on the wrong side of traffic," he said.
Whether you get stuck in traffic all depends on the time of day you're traveling and whether your destination is east or west, but it's a safe bet that streets like Periwinkle Way will be congested anytime of day.
So, how many vehicles are actually crossing the bridge onto Sanibel Island?
Lee County Toll Facilities keep track of all the vehicles that come to the island over the course of a year and determine an average amount of traffic per month.
Island traffic is busiest between the months of January and April, with the most traffic in March at 34.3 percent above average, according to a FY 2012 Annual Traffic and Revenue Report. The least amount of traffic is in September with -23.1 percent below average.
The report also determined that unlike the Midpoint Memorial Bridge and Cape Coral Bridge, with consistently high commuter traffic volumes throughout the work week, the majority of traffic on the Sanibel Causeway is on the weekends and holidays.
A higher volume of cars visiting Sanibel isn't necessarily a bad thing for raising revenue, even if it causes headaches for local drivers.
In a 2013 Semi-Annual Traffic and Toll Revenue Report from CDM Smith, a consulting firm in Fort Myers, the Sanibel Causeway processed 1.6 million transactions between October 2012 and March 2013. This was more transactions than both bridges leading into Cape Coral.
And the Sanibel Causeway accumulated $7.8 million in revenue in that period.
Increased traffic also brings safety concerns for pedestrians and bicycles.
Police officers are currently directing traffic at heavier intersections, such as the corner of Causeway Boulevard and Periwinkle Way and in front of Jerry's. Others will be posted throughout the city as needed to deal with any traffic influxes.
Tomlinson said that residents and visitors should be cautious when it comes to crosswalks.
"It's important that motorists be aware of the bicycles and pedestrians," he said. "The more courteous the people are the less opportunity there is for accidents."
The City of Sanibel was selected by BikeWalkLee as the 2013 "Complete Streets Champion of the Year" for maintaining a community with easy access to walking and biking. The Sanibel Bicycle Club was also recognized for its public safety campaign.
Patti Sousa, co-director of the Sanibel Bicycle Club, also said drivers should pay particular attention at driveways and crosswalks.
"Try to stay focused and watch in all directions," she said. "And be careful on cell phones."
By law, drivers have to stop when a pedestrian or bicyclist is waiting at one of the city's designated crosswalks. Bicyclists, of course, also share in the responsibility of staying safe. They should stop and make sure traffic has yielded completely before crossing the street.
Night time can also be challenging, said Sousa. Bicycles are supposed to be outfitted with lights but many aren't. The boiled down message from the city and local biking groups: stay alert at all times.
The Sanibel Bicycle Club provides important safety information online at sanibelbicycleclub.org.