Thought-provoking questions for our community by the CEO of SWFL Community Foundation, which provide us an opportunity "to come together to form our own bright orange flag moments".
News-Press Sunday 3/8/15 Bike Safety Feature:
By Sarah Owen
|Sarah Owens (Photo by Mila Bridger)|
In middle school, my 10-speed bike was my life. My friends and I embraced cycling as vehicle of independence.
Naive and fearless, we rode our bikes to school, babysitting jobs and most all of our social gatherings and we rode in packs — without shoes, helmets or lights.
Luckily, things changed thanks to the efforts of a group of concerned citizens to create safer conditions for all cyclists, not just my gang of friends. Suddenly, action groups were meeting us at our make shift bike racks, installing reflectors and mirrors on our freedom mobiles. To be sure kids under 18 could be seen by motorists, the group began an intensive effort to install 6-foot tall florescent orange bike flags on flexible rods that followed us everywhere as a beacon of safety.
I hadn’t thought about my orange flag bike brigade until several years ago when it was time for my own middle schooler to get himself to school. I had picked a school close enough so he could ride his bike because of my fond memories. But I soon learned that times had changed and the culture of biking and walking to school had made a significant shift.
This made me sad for my family and it made me question what needs to happen in our community to bring back a culture of multi-modal transportation. I wasn't just nostalgic for a different day in age, I was longing for a solution to a much bigger issue — one not simply about middle schoolers, but the region we are trying to create together.
Fortunately, through my work at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation I can learn from those who understand transportation, livable streets and community planning as it relates to a vibrant, sustainable region. I also knew that in thriving, emerging regions across the nation, one of the first issues that stakeholders work on at a common table is transportation.
The erosion of multi-modal transportation culture in Southwest Florida brings some questions to mind.
What happens when a community with one of the highest rates of fatalities for cyclists and pedestrians in the country is not actively adapting to a demand for safe transportation choices?
Will residents with limited financial resources who can't afford the average yearly cost of $9,000 to operate a car be able to get to work or school to provide for themselves and their families?
What role does transportation play in brain-drain? Can we retain and attract millennials who are waiting until later in life to acquire drivers’ licenses? Will they see our car-centric community as a viable place to live and work?
Will we lose economic development opportunities if companies considering locating or expanding here aren’t able to find the needed workforce that desires a variety viable of transportation options?
For those who will always choose their car, can we afford to continue to continue to expand and maintain our roads? What is the cost, financially and to our quality of life?
What about moms like me? Can we make the changes needed to allow our kids the experience and freedom to walk and ride bikes to school or just around our neighborhoods the way we did when we were kids?
All of these questions provide us an opportunity to come together to form our own bright orange flag moments.
We could talk to our schools and municipalities about creating roadways that accommodate all forms of transportation. We could talk to our business associates about creating more vibrant opportunities for employees to travel to work. I imagine steps toward positive regional change require collaboration and significant commitment.
The issue and need are clear, and if we were to pick up the proverbial 6 foot flag we could start small and work our way up.
Let’s work together and create our own visible beacon of change.
Sarah Owen is president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 274-5900.
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- SWFL bicyclist deaths in the past year (photo slideshow of 12 cyclists killed)
- Nelayda Fonte Guest Opinion: Take necessary precautions when cycling, walking
- Editorial: Cyclists deserve to be protected, safe