Thursday, January 19, 2017

Time to build on investments to keep roads safe

BikeWalkLee op-ed
The News-Press, Jan. 18, 2017


For more than a decade, Lee County has consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous areas for pedestrians and cyclists both in Florida and nationwide, and Florida has ranked the most dangerous state in the country. The “Dangerous by Design” 2016 report, released by Smart Growth America on Jan. 10, takes it to the next level by ranking our community as the worst in the country, with Florida continuing as the worst state in the country.

It is important to note that this report is a look backwards (2005-2014), assessing pedestrian deaths in those years. It does not take into account recent efforts throughout Lee County to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. It does, however, provide a clear-cut justification for the many efforts to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety in Lee County over the past seven years, as complete streets policies were adopted throughout the county.

The report clearly demonstrates the urgent need for increased public and private investment in pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure to make Lee County’s transportation system safer for all users. The policies are in place, and the plans are ready to go. What is needed now by all municipalities, the county, and the state is implementation -- the investment of adequate funding detailed in these plans. It cannot be business as usual -- safety improvements need to be on the ground as quickly as possible.

A chronic culture of danger for area walkers and bikers threatens not only residents and visitors; it undercuts our economy; threatens our ability to attract and retain businesses, workers, and families to live and work here; undermines our tourism marketing; and underlines a growing safety gap driven by socioeconomic conditions and geographic patterns.

Investments in complete streets and bike/ped strategies not only make our streets safer for all users (including motorists), they make good economic sense. Today, more and more people want to live and work in walkable communities, yet Lee County lags far behind in offering them. We know from research that sidewalks and shared use paths increase the value of homes in those neighborhoods. Bottom line: Investing in creating and maintaining walkable communities is a win/win strategy.

It's also time for Lee County jurisdictions to focus on equity. Our most economically disadvantaged communities are the ones suffering the disproportionate share of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, yet investments don't match the documented dangers. For example, much work has been done over the past five years with the Tice community with thorough identification of problems and community-supported recommendations to policymakers. However, to date, only small efforts have been taken by policymakers to implement and fund the changes requested by the community and needed to make this vulnerable community safer for walkers and cyclists.

Safety is not only driven by infrastructure and investment, but also by education and enforcement. Of particular concern is the growing epidemic of distracted driving, where technology far outstrips legal protections to keep drivers’ focus on the road. We need to change drivers’ behavior. Stronger state laws and enforcement are needed to fight distracted driving.

This report comes at an opportune moment for Lee County. The $10 million federal investment in the MPO's Complete Streets Initiative project has just been completed, with 13 miles of additional walking/ biking infrastructure connected to our existing network. In addition, Cape Coral has been awarded almost $6 million in state funds to construct shared use paths and sidewalks on Kismet Parkway; these will eventually connect with and be part of the statewide trail system.

Now is the time for local jurisdictions to build on these substantial federal and state investments in our community. Local jurisdictions need to invest in further improvements that will meet the complete streets goals these projects support -- to reduce bike/ped fatalities and injuries, increase usage of the bike/ped facilities, grow bike tourism, and increase the economic benefits to the community.

We cannot stand still. We either move forward to make our infrastructure safer for bikers and walkers, or accept higher pedestrian and cyclist death rates as more citizens move here and then suffer a subsequent economic downturn when people begin to realize their quality of life is slipping because investments have not been made to make roadways safer for everyone. Now is the time to embrace change by funding a safer future (our specific recommendations are at bikewalklee.blogspot.com).

We must all work to make our roadways safer, as drivers and pedestrians, officials and advocates. We should not tolerate being dubbed the worst in the country in any criteria – certainly not in something as essential to one’s quality of life as safety.

BikeWalkLee is 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 BikeWalkLee.org

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Don’t be afraid to walk, bike, run in Lee County

BikeWalkLee column, the News-Press, 1/18/2017
by Ken Gooderham

(Photo: KINFAY MOROTI/THE NEWS-PRESS)
Last week’s report naming Lee County as the most dangerous area in the country for pedestrians is cause for concern. Not fear, certainly not a retreat from the lanes and paths, but concern.

As was mentioned in stories about the “Dangerous by Design” report, it is a look backwards (2005-2014) that does not reflect recent efforts to enhance the walking and biking infrastructure throughout our area. Similarly, it cannot reflect the lag time inherent in any transportation capital improvement, where progress is measured in years and decades rather than months and weeks.

But the report is a clarion call for continued pressure on all public officials and entities to keep working to improve our bike/ped facilities and incorporate all road users – especially the most vulnerable – in all aspects of transportation design. Whether it’s complete streets or stand-alone walking and biking facilities, it is incumbent on our governments to make our transportation system safer for ALL transportation users… but especially the ones who aren’t encased in tons of steel.

Why? Well, safety should not be optional on our roadways… not if something can be done to make things better, particularly something that’s within reach both in design and dollars.

And safety certainly should not be optional in an area that strives to attract tourists and residents. The “most dangerous” label is a black eye for us, undermining a lot of the work done (both public and private) to build bike tourism and enhance our outdoors quality of life for residents and visitors. Cities such as Sanibel and Cape Coral that have worked hard to make themselves bike havens now have to explain why they’re not as dangerous as this study avers… because, alas, perception always runs far ahead of reality in instances such as this.

That’s also a concern with current walkers and bikers: They’ll see the headlines (not the entire story) and start curtailing use of our sidewalks, bike lanes and shared-use paths. The committed users (and those ones who have no other options) will keep lacing up their shoes or jumping on their bikes, but the incidental users may be deterred by the implied danger, limiting their excursions to well-protected paths or stopping their outdoor walking or biking altogether.

In an area that’s near perfect for biking and walking, and that’s sorely in need of getting people moving more (not less), that would be a terrible outcome. It could even become self-fulfilling if fewer people are out walking, running and biking, since there really is safety in numbers – when drivers see more people out using the lanes and paths, they often become more aware of how their driving decisions can affect the well-being of those other users.

So what can you do to stay safe out there?
  • Keep walking, running or biking. Know your limits and stay with your comfort zones for walking and biking routes and routines, but don’t be afraid – just be aware.
  • Know the rules of the road… whatever “road” you’re on.  Know how to walk, run or ride with other users, be ready to take defensive action if necessary, and be consistent in your actions so other users (including drivers) know what to expect of you.
  • Recognize the real points of danger. Sidewalk and shared use paths are generally safe – except at the places where they intersect (literally) with motorized traffic. Exercise necessary caution at such intersections, and you’ll lower your risk considerably.
  • See and be seen. It cannot be said too often: Be aware of those around you (whether on foot, on a bike or in a vehicle), and do whatever you can to make yourself obvious to those other users… whether it’s bright colors or bright lights, or just avoiding erratic or risky actions.
  • Be an advocate for safety, or support those who are. Public officials and public entities respond to public pressure. That’s pushed this area to make a lot of needed and valued bike/ped improvements – but a report such as this should remind all of us we cannot sit on our laurels quite yet (if ever).

The name of the report – “Dangerous by Design” – is a dead giveaway as to the problem we face. Much of our transportation infrastructure was designed and constructed when motorized traffic was the main (if not only) focus of road builders. New roads are inherently safer by design, and older roadways often can be reconfigured to enhance bike/ped safety. But there are still a lot of thoroughfares where expensive retrofits are the only way to lower risk.

It’s not just Lee County… eight of the top ten most dangerous metro areas named in the report are in Florida. Whether that’s due to faster growth, faster traffic or a preponderance of road infrastructure built during the era of weak ped/bike designs, it’s a sign this is a statewide problem that may require a statewide solution.

One such solution would be to crack down on distracted drivers (like making texting while driving a primary offense rather than a secondary one) and looking at other ways to counter bad driving behavior (which can endanger walkers and bikers as much as a poorly designed roadway). All road users have to take responsibility to make our transportation system safer… and, hopefully, erase this dark mark on our region.


Get moving!


If you haven’t signed up for the Million Mile Movement yet, time’s a-wasting. Add your steps to your fellow walkers, bikers, runners or swimmers to help Lee County hit the million-mile mark by signing up at healthylee.com.


Ready to ride or run?


Run? 5Ks return with a vengeance starting Saturday, Jan. 21, with the Tour de Cape 5K and theWings Over Water 5K Nature Run in Lehigh Acres, followed by four races -- Calusa BUG Chase at the Calusa Nature Center, Run the Paws 5K at the Naples Airport, the Hancock Creek Elementary Snowflake Shuffle in Cape Coral and the Hands Across the Harbor 5K and half marathon in Port Charlotte – on Jan. 28.

Ride? This weekend is the 26th annual Tour de Cape, with distances for every cyclist (and plenty of support as well – details at tourdecape.net). Friday is the monthly Critical mass Roll Estero ride, while Jan. 27 brings the Cape Coral ride. Both are at night events, so bring lights (and a good attitude, of course). Jan. 28 is the morning slow roll through downtown Fort Myers. Helmets recommended for all, and details are at http://www.meetup.com/Biking-SWFL/events.



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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.

We’re number one and that’s a bad thing

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 1/18/2017 
danMOSER
bikepedmoser@gmail.com

Dan Moser
The latest Dangerous by Design report shows an immediate need for significant improvements in our pedestrian and bicycle environment. How sad it is that the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area will be known for the next two years as the most dangerous place in the country to be a pedestrian?

This dubious distinction will stick with us well beyond the release of the next Dangerous by Design report in early 2019 and will undoubtedly affect tourism and decision making of those considering where to visit or even move to in Florida. The report is issued by Smart Growth America.

To be fair, the report is based on data from 2005 through 2014, so many of the gains made in terms of infrastructure improvements in the past two years are not included in the calculations that led to our dismal ranking. For example, most of the $10 million TIGER grant work (significant bike/ped projects in south Lee County) was done after 2014. And a few transportation projects that were approved since the majority of local and state jurisdictions adopted a Complete Streets policy are either just now underway or are still in the planning stages. Perhaps these improvements will equate to a better ranking by the time of the next report. But the lack of sidewalks, shared-use paths and bike lanes isn’t the only reason we have so many pedestrian and bicyclist crashes, injuries and fatalities. Another factor is human behavior.



Drivers are one of the biggest factors. Motorist inattention, aggressiveness and ineptitude are clearly much of the problem. The actions of pedestrians and cyclists are also part of the dynamic. But these human factors exist everywhere, so why are conditions worse in some places — particularly here — than anywhere else?

As the study’s title implies, the design of local transportation networks is a primary factor. In our case and those of others with similar focus on motor vehicle movement, this type of design creates expectations among drivers that we should move as quickly and as uninterrupted as possible whenever we’re behind the wheel.

The fact that so many streets are turned into highways and highway-like roads means vulnerable users must contend with that dynamic on an ongoing basis. Intersections designed for motor vehicles first and foremost with other modes being accommodated as an afterthought makes the hierarchy clear to all users and leads drivers to ignore crosswalks, common courtesy and laws intended to create a safe environment for non-motorists. This results in pedestrians and cyclists oftentimes making their own rules as a survival technique to get from point A to point B.

If the reason we’re number one were truly about human nature, in general Lee County and other communities with similar transportation network designs (i.e. most of those in the top 10 of the list, almost all being in Florida) wouldn’t consistently fare so much worse than other places around the country, neither in this ranking or in each of the previous Dangerous by Design rankings.

Among other things, human behavior is shaped by expectations, so the outcome isn’t really surprising. The findings of this report confirm what the injury prevention community, enlightened community and transportation planners, human service providers, some elected officials, and average citizens have long been advocating for: to take the problem seriously and to put pedestrian and bicycle accommodation and safety on the same level as that of the motoring public.

Spending a mere fraction of the overall transportation budget to plop down a sidewalk here and there (major outside funding sources like the TIGER grant aside) has gotten us to where we are now. What’s needed is a complete reset of our transportation network priorities and design standards. Anything less and we’ll continue to experience unnecessary and tragic loss of life, lives ruined forever by permanent injury, and significant economic losses to individuals and our community at large. If this doesn’t serve as a wake-up call to our elected officials, senior government staff, the business community and the general public, nothing will. See BikeWalkLee’s blog (bikewalklee. blogspot.org) for more on this report and what’s next. To see the complete report, visit www.smartgrowthamerica.org/dangerous-by-design. ¦

- 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.