Southwest Florida cyclists advocate for mending gap in coastal bike route, neighbors fear traffic

Emma Dill

On a recent day, Nancy Koeper, a cyclist from North Naples, pedaled along the Coastal Paradise Bike Route, a network of bikeable roadways that connect the city of Naples with Lee County.

But north of Seagate Drive, she was faced with a choice: pedal over a grassy berm or cut through a nearby parking lot. She opted for the parking lot.

“I use the parking lot every time. You’ll never see me go through that grass,” Koeper said.

The Coastal Paradise Bike Route is a largely seamless network that is well-known by local cyclists, but it dead-ends in a parking lot beside the Naples Grande Hotel. 

Biker riders make their way south into a parking lot to navigate a gap in a bike path that dead-ends at the end of Crayton Road north of Seagate Drive, Thursday, July 25, 2019, in North Naples. At far right, Nancy Koeper, a Vanderbilt Beach resident moves north on Crayton Road after crossing through the parking lot.

To get around the gap, some cyclists navigate between the lot’s cement parking stops and parked cars. Others opt to pedal across the nearby ridge, leaving wear marks in the grass. Cyclists in large groups sometimes follow Myra Janco Daniels Boulevard to avoid the gap.

Local cyclists have suggested mending the gap north of Seagate Drive, where Crayton Road dead-ends, by constructing a pedestrian and bicycle pathway. However, the idea has sparked concerns among some Pelican Bay residents who worry cyclists attracted by the path would only add to existing traffic headaches.

“The only hole in the whole system is this right here,” said Mark Dillon, a Pelican Bay resident who has helped lead the push to consider constructing the pathway. Dillon is also president of Naples Velo, a local cycling group.

During the past two years, Dillon has met with officials from Collier County and Pelican Bay to discuss the potential for a pathway.

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Vanderbilt Beach resident Nancy Koeper crosses a parking lot to navigate a gap in a bike path that dead-ends at the end of Crayton Road north of Seagate Drive on Thursday, July 25, 2019.

In March 2018, Dillon hosted a meeting with the heads of the seven homeowners associations along the dead-end stretch of Crayton Road. Attendees expressed both support and concern about the idea of a pathway.

Hank Rossi, a board member and former president at The Heron, said he wants safer pathways for cyclists but does not support increasing traffic on Crayton Road.

“Crayton is only one lane in each direction and there’s five different condos all using that street, so it’s already very heavily trafficked,” he said.

The suggested path is part of larger development concerns in the Pelican Bay community. Rossi said he worries that future construction, including a proposed parking garage at Clam Pass Park, could exacerbate existing traffic concerns along Seagate Drive near the southern edge of Pelican Bay.

“Already, it’s a traffic nightmare with people picking up their kids from school, people trying to get into Clam Pass, people trying to get into the Grande Hotel,” he said. “In and out all on this little piece of highway that’s probably less than three-quarters of a mile long.”

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Bikers make their way past Crayton Road as they head east on Seagate Drive on Thursday, July 25, 2019, in Naples

Bill Ale, the president of the homeowners association at Serendipity in Pelican Bay, said a majority of Serendipity’s residents voted to support a cycling path during a meeting last year.

“The justification for that vote of ‘yes’ is that no matter what you do — unless you put a fence at the tennis courts or the end of Crayton — people are going to make that cut through,” Ale said.

Although the nearby parking lot and tennis courts are owned by the Naples Grande Hotel, the site of the proposed path is county land. That means advocates would have to bring the project to the county to move forward.

Because the land is within Pelican Bay, the project would also have to be approved by the Pelican Bay Foundation. So far, no plans have been brought forward, said Pelican Bay Foundation President Jim Hoppenstaedt.

The project received a top ranking in the Collier Metropolitan Planning Organization's Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, but needs action from Collier County to move forward, said Eric Ortman, a MPO senior planner.

“For pathway projects it came out as the No. 1 ranked project, but that is as far as the MPO goes. It’s up to one of the MPO member entities to submit an application and be the champion for getting it constructed,” Ortman said. 

Pelican Bay's development approvals state that Crayton Road would not be opened to traffic, said Hoppenstaedt.

Some residents worry that installing a pedestrian and cycling path in the area would bring more traffic into the community.

Ken Frazier, a Pelican Bay resident, said he regularly walks his dog near the site of the proposed path. Frazier said he does not support a path that would bring more traffic into the community.

“I feel very strongly that we don’t want people from outside of our community cutting through our community,” he said.

Large groups of cyclists are especially disruptive in Pelican Bay, Frazier said.

“They come racing through here. They don’t pay attention to me when I’m walking across a crosswalk. They don’t even stop at the stop signs,” he said.

Bonita Springs resident Paul Berardi pulls into a parking lot to get to Seagate Drive from a bike path that dead-ends at the end of Crayton Road north of Seagate on Thursday, July 25, 2019, in North Naples

Although the issue has lost some momentum in past months, Dillon said he hopes that the county will take up the issue.

“What it comes down to in my estimation is the fact that the county can do it. It just takes the wherewithal of somebody to go to Pelican Bay and say, ‘Look this really needs to happen,'" Dillon said.

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