Thursday, September 21, 2017

Bike safety report echoes need for better roadways, slower motorists

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 9/13/17
danMOSER
bikepedmoser@gmail.com

On the 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle, it’s a mixed bag for users of what is still considered one of the most efficient human-powered machines ever devised.

Bicycle design, materials and construction make it more efficient than ever, and more people are using them for function, recreation or exercise. But the environment for people on bikes has been getting riskier in recent years after several years of steady decline in crashes, injuries and fatalities.

A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association documents the state of conditions for bicycle users and many other aspects of the dynamics involving bicycles. “A Right to the Road — Understanding & Addressing Bicyclist Safety” (ghsa.org/resources/bicyclist-safety2017) is a comprehensive and well-written document that details problems, lists potential solutions and links to resources to get to those solutions.

A ghost bike represents the death of a cyclist.
COURTESY PHOTO
One fact included is that fatalities among users of bicycles are much lower than those for pedestrians. Nationally it’s almost seven pedestrians to each bicyclist. Florida is around five to one and Lee County is closer to three to one (these estimates are from nhtsa.dot.gov and flhsmv.gov). On a positive note, many states and communities are taking one or more of the actions suggested by the GHSA as potential solutions to reducing injuries and fatalities. Implementing Complete Streets, which includes slowing motorists and improving infrastructure for all road users, is a recommendation with the most potential impact. Locally, we are moving in that direction, at least in the Complete Streets policies that most jurisdictions have put in place.

BikeWalkLee, a community coalition whose mission is to raise public awareness and advocate for Complete Streets in Lee County, recently posted the following about the GHSA report on its blog: “As one of the highest ranked Florida communities for bicyclist fatalities, Lee County is acutely aware of the need to improve safety for cyclists (and pedestrians). This national report again puts this growing national problem on the front pages of national newspapers. The report found that bicyclist deaths rose 12.2 percent in 2015, the largest percentage increase of any roadway user group that year. In response to this safety crisis, the Governors Highway Safety Association report details 30 actions that states can take to reduce deaths and injuries among people who bike. What are our local elected officials and government agencies doing to address these serious safety concerns in our community?”

As I’ve noted before in this column, it’s quite disappointing to me that the Dangerous by Design report that placed Lee County as the most dangerous place in the U.S. to be a pedestrian hasn’t prompted the action or even a sense of urgency it should have among our governments or tourism and real estate community. Here’s yet another wake-up call to all of us.

Perhaps a partial answer to BikeWalkLee’s question about what is being done is that Lee Metropolitan Planning Organization is about to embark on an update of the Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Action Plan that was originally approved in 2013. With the data and resources from GHSA’s report and that from Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design (smartgrowthamerica.org/dangerous-by-design) the updated plan could make a difference if it’s done right and actually implemented. The League of American Bicyclists called the governors report “a great resource for individuals who want to know more about bicycle safety efforts, state and local agencies looking to address bicycle safety issues and everyone who wants to know more about why bicyclist safety is a persistent issue in our current transportation system.”¦


- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at bikepedmoser@gmail.com and 334-6417. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (caloosariders.org); Florida Mudcutters (mudcutters.org); and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group (meetup.com/Biking-SWFL). The Florida Bicycle Association (floridabicycle.org) is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.





Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New book: Backcountry trails of Florida

BWL Column
The News-Press, 9/14/2017
by Ken Gooderham

Mention hiking to the average person, and slogging through a Florida trail is probably not the first (or second or third) image that comes to mind. Most people harken to cool mountain air and serious elevation changes – two things that are very hard to find in flat and fetid Florida.

That’s doesn’t mean we don’t have some good place to get back to nature… it just means you may need to travel a little to find them.

There’s a new book being published this month that can help – and that can give you some history on the state’s water management efforts while it guides you to some off-the-beaten-track trails.

It’s titled “Backcountry Trails of Florida: A Guide to Hiking Florida’s Water Management Districts” by Terri Mashour, who put her time with one of the districts as an inspiration for this book.

The districts form the backbone of this tome, both as the locales for all the trails described therein and as the basis for the conservation that made these trails possible. You get a little history of the districts, descriptions of the plan communities you’ll find, the hikes being reviewed, what you can expect in general (think lots of nature and not a lot of people) and some tips before you head off-road.

Then it’s on to the heart of the effort, descriptions of the various trails broken down by the five water management districts. For those not conversant with them, they are:

  • Northwest Florida: The Panhandle to around Tallahassee.
  • Suwannee River: From west of Tallahassee to Gainesville, and from the state line to the Big Bend.
  • St. Johns River:  The east coast from the state line to Vero Beach, and inland to Gainesville, Ocala and Leesburg.
  • Southwest Florida: From the Big Bend down to Charlotte County, the Withlacoochee River to the Peace River.
  • South Florida: The entire Lake O/Everglades watershed, from Orlando to Fort Myers and Palm Beach

For each district Mashour gives you some background and describes numerous recreation areas therein, complete with directions (written and GPS coordinates), size, distance, hiking times and difficulty, trail surface and shade, what critters and habitats you’ll see, what you can and cannot do, highlights and what’s nearby. This is followed by a brief description of the hike, then it’s on to the next adventure.

While the focus is hiking, other forms of transportation are included (if allowed). Some areas include opportunities for biking, horseback riding or canoe/kayak trails, and large tracts may offer guides to see area by vehicle as well.

All told, Mashour offers up 100 hikes across the five districts all across the state – although prospective hikers in Southwest Florida will need to hit the road to enjoy most of them. There are trails in Arcadia, the Myakka River and Immokalee, and other near enough to be done as a day trip or overnight.

“Backcountry Trails of Florida” is published by the University Press of Florida, part of its Wild Florida series.

For those interested in more local hikes, check out “Day Hiking Southwest Florida: A Guide to the Best Trail Adventures in Greater Naples and Fort Myers,” also offered by University Press of Florida. In fact, navigate your way online to upf.com and wander through an amazing array of titles covering all things Florida – past, present and future.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
  • “Backcountry Trails of Florida: A Guide to Hiking Florida’s Water Management Districts”
  • Author: Terri Mashour
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida
  • ISBN: 978-0-8130-5454-4
  • Trade paperback: $19.95
  • Publication date: Sept. 19, 2017
  • Online at http://upress.ufl.edu

Ready to ride or run?

Run? Still not much on the calendar (just wait until October)… but you can find a MADD 5K walk/run at JetBlue Park Sept. 30 (check before you go, with Irma cleanup still ongoing).

Ride? Look for the regular Critical Mass rides: Sept. 29 is the Cape Coral ride at 7:30 p.m.; followed by the Slow Roll in downtown Fort Myers Saturday morning, Sept. 30. For night rides lights are required, helmets recommended, and details and sign-up info is online at www.meetup.com/Biking-SWFL/events (check before you go).

Both? At the end of the month, you can head north (Siesta Key Sprint Sept. 30) or south (Marco Island Spring Oct. 1. Check before you go.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RIDE:

Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at info@bikewalklee.org, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.

# # #

Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at www.BikeWalkLee.org. 


 

UPDATED Action Alert: Support Seminole Gulf Railroad corridor trail between Bonita Springs and Estero--Ask State to restore trail to Priority Florida Greenways and Trails Map

9/19/17 UPDATE: Shortly after posting this Action Alert 2 weeks ago, Hurricane Irma struck. The Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) workshops listed below have been postponed for now. When new dates are available, an updated blog will be posted.

It is important that written comments are submitted to OGT. To facilitate completing the comment form, here is a link to a Word Version of the form so that you can type in your comments and attach them in an email to OGT.

Tips for filling out the comment form:
  • Leave the first page of comments for the FGTS 2018-22 Plan blank.
  • Under the Comment Section (second page) on the Draft Land or Paddling Trail Opportunity Maps refer to the Draft Southern Region Opportunity and Priority Trail Map, (also mention that you support FDEP's addition of the Imperial/Three Oaks Trail from Bonita Beach Road to Alico Road, consistent with the Lee MPO request.
  • Under the Comments for the Draft 2018 Priority Trails Map, refer to the Priority Trail Map for the Draft Southern Region Opportunity and Priority Land Trails Map and ask them to restore the SGLR alignment. Also thank them for adding the Coastal Loop through the Town of Fort Myers Beach and City of Bonita Springs and the SR 78/80 Corridor in Lee County to fill the void for the removal of the River of Grass Greenway (ROGG).
Background


Since BikeWalkLee's inception in 2009, it has been a strong supporter of the vision of a connected and integrated statewide trail system throughout Florida.  [BWL 2016 Letter ] While a statewide trail map was developed in 1998, the initiative gained momentum beginning in 2014 when the State Legislature provided annual funding ($25 M/year) for the SUN Trail program that uses the Florida Greenways and Trails Plan and maps to prioritize funding for the system.  This Plan and maps (last updated in 2015) will guide implementation of the connected statewide trail system from 2018 through 2022.  Since 2015, the Lee MPO has proposed several new segments for the trail, which need to be incorporated into the updated maps.

We are concerned that the revised statewide trail maps contained in the draft FGTS update have deleted the Seminole Gulf Railroad right of way corridor between Bonita Springs and Estero that has been on the FGTS map since the beginning
as the primary spine for the Southwest Coast Connector (aka Gulf Coast Trail) in Lee County,.  It is critical that this trail be added back as a Priority trail before the update is finalized.  Why is this important? Because being a "Priority Trail" gives you priority for SUN Trail funds.  Bonita and Estero officials have been working jointly over the past 8 months to move this "rails-to-trails" project forward, with strong support from their communities. 


Please submit comments in support of this project as requested in the Lee MPO's email request (see below), or attend next week's public workshop in North Port (9/14) to express your support in person.  Thank you! 
 
Introduction (by Office of Greenways and Trails)

"The Florida Greenways and Trails Plan establishes the vision for implementing a connected statewide system of greenways and trails for recreation, conservation, alternative transportation, healthy lifestyles, a vibrant economy, and a high quality of life. The Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) is updating the FGTS 5-Year Plan and holding 14 public open houses throughout the state. "


Lee MPO Email 9/5/17:
URGENT: Please Submit Comments to Office of Greenways and Trails to Restore the Seminole Gulf Alignment to the Priority Trails Map


The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has released its Final Draft Priority Trails Map for the Southern Region that includes Lee County, and it is disappointing to see that they have removed the Seminole Gulf Railroad (SGLR) alignment from the Draft 2018-2022 Update of the Priority Trails Map. This is inconsistent with the Lee MPO Board resolution that was adopted back in February 17, 2017 which urged the Florida Greenways and Trails Council to (1) add the proposed Coastal Loop to the Priority Trails Map while (2) maintaining the SGLR Right of Way as the primary spine for the Southwest Coast Connector (aka Gulf Coast Trail) in Lee County, and thereby continuing to maintain that alignment in the Priority Trails Map. That resolution was transmitted to the FDEP Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) staff on the same day it was adopted by the Lee MPO. 

Staff had subsequent discussions with OGT staff where we had consistently and repeatedly urged OGT staff to recommend that the SGLR alignment be maintained while adding the Coastal Loop in the Draft Priority Trails Map Update. They had said that the OGT Council would not approve loops in urban areas, yet OGT staff went and added a proposed loop trail requested in Sarasota Manatee County in the draft Priority Trails Map for Council consideration, but denied our request. The Sarasota loop trail can be found in the West Central Florida Region Map.

A Joint Resolution was adopted by the Central Florida MPO Alliance and the TBARTA MPO Chairs Coordinating Committee in June 16, 2017, that had endorsed the Lee and other MPOs proposed changes to alignments in their respective counties to the South West Coast Connector (aka Gulf Coast Trail).

Please fill the attached comment sheet [Comment Form]:
asking OGT Council and staff to restore the SGLR ROW alignment in the Southern Region Draft Priority Trail Map. Make sure that you ALSO write in the comment sheet expressing your thanks and support to OGT staff for adding the Coastal Loop and the SR 78/80 Corridor in Lee County to the Draft Priority Trails Map. 

 In addition to Samantha Browne, please cc OGT Council Chair Brian Smith at smithozona@gmail.com . We would like you to send your comments as soon as possible, and if possible attend one of the public open houses either in Sebring or North Port for input on the draft priority map for the Southern Region to express your concerns in person. The open houses in Sebring and North Port are as follows:

9/6/17 UPDATE: SEPT. WORKSHOPS POSTPONED DUE TO HURRICANE IRMA
"The Public Workshops scheduled for September (see below) will be rescheduled for a later date due to the potential of Hurricane Irma impacting the state.  This will allow individuals to focus on preparing their communities and families for the storm.  The Office of Greenways and Trails will send out more information once new dates have been confirmed."

Thursday, September 14 – North Port
Morgan Family Community Center, Meeting Room A/B
6207 West Price Boulevard, North Port, FL 34291
4:00-7:00 ET



Monday, September 11 - Sebring
Bert J. Harris, Jr. Agricultural Center, Conference Room #2
4509 George Boulevard, Sebring, FL 33875

4:00-7:00 ET


Related BikeWalkLee Blog Posts:




October 12, 2016: Cape Receives $1.8 Million SUN Trail Grant to Design Multi-Use Trail in North Cape

March 9, 2016: Moser Column: Cross-country bicycling network offers local benefits

March 7,2016: BikeWalkLee supports Southwest Coastal Regional Trail



Report by Darla Letourneau