Thursday, June 25, 2015
BWL Column: Southwest Florida has plenty of bike/walk successes
The latest in the “Share The Road” series which ran in the News-Press June 14 spotlighted seven cities across the nation that have taking major steps to improve the biking and walking conditions there, from improving facilities to enhancing education to gathering better data. All took a unique approach to addressing a common problem, which is the lesson we all should draw from their example — not to duplicate their efforts, but to decipher them to discern how they worked in those circumstances.
The path to better biking and walking in Southwest Florida will be similarly unique in both its approach and implementation, with solutions likely tailored to fit the special needs and demands of our area, its residents and visitors. To see this in action, one need look no further than the four local examples called out in the series of articles:
•Sanibel: Sparked by moms worried about their kids biking around the island, the city’s now-extensive shared-use paths grew in response to tourism (people liked not having to rely on their cars all the time) and transportation (when you can make better time in season on a bike than in a car, that can inspire a number of new riders).
•Naples: Combine the desire to revitalize some downtown streets with a new and growing health initiative, and you’ve got a recipe for better biking and walking. The Blue Zone Project, which promotes community efforts to encourage healthier living, is coming on strong in Naples, which should spark bike/walk improvements as a logical outcome.
•Bonita Springs: Downtown revitalization is also a driving force here, as a way to showcase the unique riverfront assets of the town while also working to draw people back (or introducing them) to downtown businesses by making the area more walkable and bike-friendly.
•Cape Coral: A public-private partnership based on tourism and tying together the existing bike facilities has resulted in a major campaign to mark and promote more than 90 miles of lanes and paths as a major draw for both residents and tourists.
See the themes — promotes tourism and transportation, good for the economy and good for your health. Stir in a welcoming climate (yes, it’s hot now… but it beats riding in a snowstorm!) and an unending stream of potential riders and striders (in visitors and residents), and you could have a success story in the making.
Yes, there are obstacles… gaps in existing facilities, a continuing shortfall in funding to construct long-sought projects, and a built environment that often seems hostile to cyclists and walkers. And it is a “chicken and egg” situation… some people want to see strong usage before they’ll commit necessary resources to improvements, which are crucial to getting more people out biking and walking.
But we can point to some progress locally as we look longingly at what other areas have accomplished — and, as we can continue to build on local successes, more demand will spur more supply. It’s doesn’t need to be major projects… something as simple as wayfinding signs or painted marking to delineate bike/walk facilities or enhance safety at intersections can make a big difference.
We’ve seen steps in the right direction but, as the News-Press vignettes underscored, other communities have gone much further — in both infrastructure and innovation — to enhance their walkability and bike-friendliness.
Who knows? Maybe — just maybe — if we keep moving forward on the bike/walk front, someday folks will hold up this area as a shining star in bike/walk successes.
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 www.BikeWalkLee.org.
Ready to ride or run?
Run: Celebrate the Fourth of July on the run, with morning 5Ks scheduled for Cape Coral and Bonita Springs. Details for the Cape event at www.ftmyerstrackclub.com and for the Bonita run at www.3dracinginc.com.
Ride: Go slow and enjoy the show at the July 3 SW Florida Critical Mass ride through Fort Myers, which gathers near the downtown Publix around 7:30 p.m. Lights (front and rear) required, helmets recommended. Planning ahead? Then sign up today for the July 12 Wings and Wheels ride in Punta Gorda at www.peaceriverridersbicycleclub.com. Lots of distances and events to keep everyone engaged.
Both: Want to try a tri? There’s a traditional sprint or a dualthlon (run/bike/run) at Sugden Regional Park in Naples on Sunday, July 12 (www.eliteevents.org).