BikeWalkLee responds to the News-Press "Paths of Peril" feature reporting on biking safety issues with a guest opinion piece by Ken Gooderham in today's paper.
Guest Opinion by Ken Gooderham
There's been a certain amount of community comments to The News-Press feature article "Paths of Peril," an in-depth look at biking and walking and the potential danger in both on Southwest Florida roads.
Some responded with letters admonishing bicyclists that sharing the road with motor vehicles — particularly if you don't obey all the same rules to the letter — can get you killed. Others worried negative coverage would obscure the positive achievements in bike/ped facilities and safety locally, while driving even more cyclists off the roadways for good.
Yes, sharing the road with 2 tons (or more) of fast-moving glass and steel can be dangerous, particularly if there's a distracted or distressed driver behind the wheel. But obeying all rules is no guarantee of safety, as some of the victim vignettes made clear. However, there are many instances showing bikes and cars can coexist if both of them are willing to work together, extend some common courtesies to one another and act in a consistent fashion.
Yes, negative news can overwhelm the positive — particularly to those who have worked so hard to achieve our incremental bike/ped progress. But news articles overlook the vast majority of mundane bike-car interactions that occur daily. Absolutely, if some riders don't feel safe sharing the road, they shouldn't — they should ride only where and when conditions don't unnerve them. Doesn't mean those riders will give up cycling, they just need to be a lot more selective about how and where they ride.
Better facilities make biking safer and more accepted, and communities across Lee County have been working on expanding our biking and walking network, building more than 150 miles of new sidewalks, bike lanes and shared use path facilities throughout the county since 2010.
For example, having some 90 miles of bike lanes and routes marked and marketed in Cape Coral is going to improve cycling by both quality (better routes) and quantity (hopefully more bicyclists making motorists more aware of their presence). Ditto for the Tour de Parks route, for the widely popular Sanibel shared-use system, for the many roadways improvements put in place and for the many more in the works.
Let's also remember responsibility for safety falls on everyone using the roads — and blaming one group in particular is shortsighted and wrong. If drivers try to justify cyclists being maimed or killed as a result of them not obeying the rules, will they hold their fellow drivers to the same high standard? Will the cyclists who rail against arrogant drivers yell equally as loud at other cyclists who ride stupidly, endangering all around them? Will everyone take all necessary and prudent steps to ensure their interaction on the roads and paths is as safe as possible — not just by actions, but by attitudes?
More users can also mean more potential danger — even when motor vehicles aren't involved. This season, traffic on area biking and walking facilities is higher than ever, and that means skilled riders have to dodge the newbies, cyclists have to negotiate around walkers and the ubiquitous strollers and leashes, and everyone has to take a deep breath and be a little more patient. Now, translate that onto our overcrowded roadways and consider the consequences.
There's risk in everything we do. The key is minimizing the risks you can, and preparing for the risks you can't … which, for cyclists, means riding defensively, taking advantage of the array of equipment that can save your life, and riding where you feel comfortable as you work on the skills (and facilities) to expand that comfort zone.
Don't just listen to the bad news, but focus on the good opportunities to bike and walk.
Ken Gooderham is a resident of Fort Myers and a member of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County.