Thursday, July 24, 2014

BikeWalkLee: Bikers focus on Sanibel

This week's BWL column, written by Tom Sharbaugh, shares the history of the Sanibel Island path system. Anyone looking for proof that interested citizens can advance the cause of bike/ped safety in their community need look no further than nearby Sanibel Island for a good example.  [Note: photos below did not appear in printed article due to space constraints.]

BikeWalkLee's News-Press "Go Coastal" Column: 7/24/14
When the Sanibel Causeway opened in May 1963, it brought a period of intense development to what was previously a sleepy barrier island.

For cyclists and pedestrians, it also brought a nightmare as they were forced to share narrow island streets with non-stop traffic, including heavy construction vehicles. Without benefit of bike lanes or sidewalks, every trip by bike or by foot became a life-threatening experience.

Eventually, residents had had enough, and a few concerned citizens decided to do something about it. In December 1972, four island women — Grace Whitehead, Mariel Goss, Sherry Vartdal and Starr Thomas — organized the Sanibel Bike Path Committee to work toward creation of a system of “hike and bike” trails for the community. As mothers of young children, these women had a special interest in improving safety for bicycles and pedestrians.

The group adopted a slogan: “Preserve, Protect and Pedal.”
Sanibel Path Welcome Center 2012

Preserving the environment and wildlife was (and still is) a hot button with Sanibel residents. Protecting children with safer streets was a key goal of the effort, and pedaling was promoted as a healthy alternative to motor vehicles for getting around the island. (It is interesting that these same themes are alive on the island today.)

After unsuccessfully seeking help from Lee County and state entities, organizers determined that if their effort was going to succeed, they would have to drive it through local efforts, raising money for the project and calling attention to the importance of their cause.

What followed is a classic example of “bootstrap activism,” as the founding women geared up local fundraising efforts. They placed donation jars at local businesses, which raised their first $1,180.

They created a local phone directory for Sanibel and Captiva, selling the first edition for $2 with all proceeds going toward building the new bike path. They sold T-shirts and sand dollar necklaces, and they organized fundraising dinners.

In addition to raising money, the organizers looked for ways to increase awareness about why this was an important community need. In February 1974, the women organized a protest during which 15 bicyclists rode the length of Periwinkle Way in the middle of the traffic lane during rush hour.

After determining that bikes had the same rights as motor vehicles to be on the road, they decided to use this as a demonstration to county commissioners and law enforcers that a safer alternative was needed for bikes and pedestrians.

Later, the group invited all the Lee County Commissioners to a pot luck luncheon, after which they drove them around the streets of Sanibel to see first-hand the unsafe road conditions.

Eventually, these efforts made a difference. Influenced by the Sanibel group’s activities, Lee County developed a plan for a county-wide network of paths and a funding strategy for county and state funding to pay construction costs. Also that year, Florida’s Department of Transportation (FDOT) set aside $2 million in federal funds for bike path construction.

And when the City of Sanibel was incorporated in late 1974, the path system was a prominent issue; candidates for the first City Council election were asked to state their positions regarding the path system. In 1976, the first 2½ miles of Sanibel’s path were built along Periwinkle Way, funded by $10,000 in seed money from the Sanibel Bike Path Committee, matched by a similar amount from FDOT.

Since those early days, Sanibel’s path system (now known as a “Shared Use Path”) has been expanded many times and now covers over 25 miles of off-road pathways. Responsibility for overseeing path construction & maintenance now rests with the City of Sanibel, funded by city tax revenues. But stewardship of the path continues to be a responsibility shared between the city and the citizens of Sanibel.

Periwinkle Path before improvements

Periwinkle path after improvements
In recent years, the job of advocating for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and safety has been taken on by the Sanibel Bicycle Club. Founded in 1994, the club has worked closely with the city and its Department of Public Works to identify path expansion opportunities, maintenance needs and safety issues, and to provide volunteer help for path-related projects.

In a throwback the path’s early history, in 2005 the Sanibel Bicycle Club established the “Sanibel Trails In Motion” fund, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to raising money through donations to pay for path enhancements. To date, Sanibel Trails In Motion has collected more than $57,000. The Trails In Motion Fund helped to pay for preparation of Sanibel’s 2009 Shared Use Path Master Plan, in partnership with the city.

In the past 10 years, Sanibel’s path system has been extended to new parts of the island, widened in heavily traveled areas, and separated from the roadway with a grassy median. Recent focus has been updating crosswalks and adding safe interconnectivity of the path with major destination locations.

Anyone looking for proof that interested citizens can advance the cause of bike/ped safety in their community need look no further than nearby Sanibel Island for a good example.

— Tom Sharbaugh is a member of the Sanibel Bicycle Club and the BikeWalkLee steering committee. 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

Upcoming events
Saturday, July 26: 7th Annual Race for Grace. Race starts at 7 a.m. at Oasis Elementary School, 3415 Oasis Boulevard, Cape Coral. 5k or 10K walk or run, registration from $15 (youth) to $25 (adult). (
Saturday, July 26: Eagle Lakes 5K, Eagle Lakes Community Park, 11565 Tamiami Trail East, Naples. Entry $28 before, $35 day of, $21 students. Race starts 7 a.m. (
· Saturday, Aug. 9: Cape 5K, Jaycee Park, Cape Coral. Entry $20 adult, $15 youth, $25 day of. Race starts at 7 a.m. (
· Saturday, Aug. 23: North Collier Regional Rampage 5K. North Collier Regional Park, 15000 Livingston Road, Naples. Pre-registration $28, students $21, race day $35. (
· Saturday, Oct. 18: 6th annual Sanibel 10K 4 F.I.S.H. Starts 7:30 a.m. at Sanibel Community House 2173 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel. Registration $30 by Oct. 11, $35 through Oct. 17 and $40 day of. (

Cycling & other events
Saturday-Monday, Aug. 30-Sept. 1: 32nd annual Tour of Sebring, based at Kenilworth Lodge, 1610 Lakeview Drive, Sebring. This Labor Day weekend, enjoy one, two or three days of cycling in the gently rolling hills of Highlands County, excellent buffet lunch meals, ice cream socials, door prizes, etc. Riders will especially appreciate our lightly traveled back roads, friendly motorists, citrus groves, cattle ranches, and small towns typical of rural Central Florida. Fully supported routes with cue sheets and maps, on-road route marks, excellent rest stops, bicycle mechanic, and dispatched SAG service vehicles. Daily rides ranging from 11 to 62 miles plus our Sunday Bok Tour Century (100 miles). Early registration deadline Aug. 22, prices for 1-, 2- or 3-day rides, (

Sept. 13-14: Registration is now open for the fourth annual Galloway Captiva Tri weekend. Saturday is the kids’ day with three age groups (6-8, 9-10 and 11-13) enjoying the fun of multisports. Sunday, the adults take to the water and roadways in a sprint triathlon (swim/bike/run) covering all of Captiva Island. Spaces are limited for all events, so register now – no waiting lists this year. Information at
Sunday, Sept. 14: Paradise Coast International Triathlon, Duathlon, and 10k Run, Sugden Regional Park, 4284 Avalon Drive, Naples. Triathlon is 1,500m swim, 40K bike, 10K run; Duathlon is 5K run, 40K bike, 10K run. (
Sunday, Oct. 5: Marco Island Triathlon 2014, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, 400 South Collier, Marco Island. 8 a.m. start $85 individuals, $160 teams (

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

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