Three days after Cape Coral teen Austin Dukette was struck and killed on Kismet Parkway while riding his bicycle to school, several residents appeared before Cape Coral City Council Monday night to plead for sidewalks, bike lanes and street lights.
Austin, 15, was struck by a Lee County Sheriff's deputy patrol car around 6 a.m. last Friday. He died from his injuries the next day at a Tampa hospital. A memorial service for Austin was held Tuesday night at Faith Presbyterian Church.
Several classmates, friends and neighbors who knew Austin asked council to consider expediting the installation of sidewalks, bike paths and lights in their neighborhoods. The sparsely populated northwest Cape has few lights or sidewalks.
Public Works Director Steve Neff said the city has 35 miles of sidewalks and $7 million funded by state grants over the next five years. More than 190 miles of sidewalks already are in place in the city along with 120 miles of designated bike paths. He also said the city's master plan for bicycle and pedestrian paths is slated to be updated next year.
"Sidewalks and lights are a priority," assured Councilmember John Carioscia. "We will do everything we can to make that happen."
City officials have talked about sidewalks and street lights for quite some time and the proposed 2015 budget includes funding for capital improvements for street light installation and restarting streetlight districts throughout the city.
"The city has been working on bike/pedestrian pathways. It's our main high priority," said Councilmember Jim Burch. "But it can not, and does not replace the loss."
Councilmember Derrick Donnell added, "It all comes down to finding the money to pay for sidewalk projects, but I'd like to look at what it would cost to get sidewalks at each of the schools (that don't have them) in a two-mile radius."
The two-mile radius is the Lee County School District's policy in determining a student's eligibility for bus transportation. Those within two miles of a school do not qualify to ride the bus.
"Once we know the numbers we can figure out how we can pay to do it and let people decide if this is something we should do, said Donnell.
Neff said it costs $250,000 to build one mile of sidewalk on one side of a street.
"All of us up here feel bad about that terrible accident," said Councilmember Rick Williams. "Sidewalks and lights are a priority and the speed limits have dropped where bike lanes are. If we can expedite the process we will."
In other business the city was informed Tuesday that five City Council members have been selected to sit on key legislative committees of the Florida League of Cities this fall. It is the highest number of council members to serve the influential state organization at one time.
Councilmember Rick Williams was chosen for the Energy, Environmental & Natural Resources Committee; councilman Burch for the Finance, Taxation & Personnel Committee; Councilmember Rana Erbrick for the Growth Management & Economic Affairs Committee; Councilmember Richard Leon for the Transportation & Intergovernmental Relations Committee; and Councilmember Lenny Nesta for the Urban Administration Committee.
The League of Cities committees meet Sept. 12, Oct. 10 and Nov. 13 before the Florida Legislature's regular session.