As a follow-up to last Sunday's News-Press feature series on biking dangers, BikeWalkLee's Ken Gooderham's commentary is in today's News-Press. We know there is a delicate balancing act between focusing on the dangers on our roadways for cyclists (and pedestrians), while at the same time encouraging more people to bike and walk. Our message is that we hope people and policymakers read the News-Press coverage and decide that we need to make this a safer place to bike and walk.
News-Press June 20, 2014, By Ken Gooderham
The fact is bicyclists and pedestrians get hurt and even killed in Southwest Florida at an unacceptable rate — and the people responsible for this often get away with minimal punishment.
The fear is people will be scared off our streets and even sidewalks when the issue of bike/ped dangers is brought to light. Someone will read about a horrendous accident or tragic death and think,
“That could be me next. No way am I riding or walking out there!”
The fact is in any interaction between a motor vehicle and a bicyclist or walker, the vehicle wins.
The fear is that, if we turn our backs on bikers and walkers when it comes to public infrastructure, we also turn our backs on a real asset this community can offer — the ability to get from place to place without having to rely on a motor vehicle.
The fact is there are laws on the books to protect bikers and walkers, clearly spelling out the responsibility of all parties (including motorists) in keeping everyone safe when using our transportation corridors.
The fear is if those laws aren’t enforced, they are less than worthless — laxity encourages motorists to maim and drivers to be reckless. Why? Because there are no consequences for their actions ... until there are. Motorists endanger cyclists or pedestrians — and they drive away with a minimal fine (if that) while the cyclist/pedestrian is left injured (at best facing months of recovery and medical bills) or, worst case, dead.
BikeWalkLee appreciates and applauds the recent The News-Press coverage of bike/ped dangers, particularly the excellent “Vicious cycle” package by reporter Janine Zeitlin on June 15, as well the accompanying editorial strongly supporting greater safety for bikers and walkers.
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. (BikeWalkLee.org.)
Media coverage spotlights the dangers and the need for answers, hopefully encouraging bikers and walkers to be more aware, motorists to share the road more willingly and law enforcement officials to be more rigorous in keeping our roadways safe (that means both using existing laws to punish reckless and supporting new laws to address dangerous behavior).
But shining a spotlight can also cast a shadow — in this case, instilling fears in some bikers and walkers that Southwest Florida’s streets are just too dangerous for them, leaving more people either trapped in their homes because they’d afraid to bike or walk in their neighborhood, or trapped in their cars because that’s the only way they feel safe going anywhere to do anything.
Not only is that bad for people (adults can’t exercise, kids unable to play), it’s bad for business (walkable areas prosper, and more foot/bike traffic means more customers who are able to notice storefronts that they’d normally miss when driving by) and our transportation grid (if every trip has to be by car, we simply won’t be able to build roads fast enough to accommodate them all), among other things.
Better bike/walk infrastructure is a win-win for Southwest Florida. It’s a draw for tourists and residents, more of whom like the option of biking or walking as they are used to doing elsewhere. It gives people easier access to exercise, a crucial pathway to better health. It gives people transportation alternatives, essential to preventing people from being trapped in their homes or limited in their job options. And it something that, in sunny Southwest Florida, can be used 365 days a year (although some of those days may be a little warmer than others).
The fact is in many areas around the country motorists, cyclists and pedestrians get along just fine, coexisting in a confined area without anyone getting inconvenienced hurt or killed.
The fear of many is that will never happen here. Let’s prove that fear to be unfounded.
Ken Gooderham is a resident of Fort Myers.