BikeWalkLee Column in News-Press "Go Coastal" section, Jan. 21, 2016
BikeWalkLee Note - Most people who get involved in making Southwest Florida a safer and more accessible place for people to walk and bike often come by their involvement through a specific project in their community, or as a result of a tragedy that prompted them to make our community safer. Today's column is the story of just one of those accidental advocates – Jane Bowser.
Lee County biking and walking facilities continue to grow each year, and I wanted to highlight one of the new sidewalk projects that has recently been completed by the Lee County Dept. of Transportation (LeeDOT), in the Villas community, which is bounded roughly by U.S. 41, Crystal Drive, Ten Mile Canal and Big Pine Way south of Fort Myers. The story of how this project came about can give other communities in the county a sense of what's involved in getting biking and walking facilities in your community. Yes, it takes a village.
Often housing developments were built without adequate thought to the needs of people walking and biking both within their community and between their community and nearby destinations. This has given rise to a growing backlog of needed retrofit projects in already existing developments and communities to make their communities safe and accessible for people walking and biking. The Villas community (which was developed beginning in the late 1950s) was no exception.
More than 10 years ago, residents had petitioned the county for a sidewalk on the community’s main thoroughfare (Sunrise Boulevard), but nothing came of that request. Then in 2010, as part of the county's implementation of its 2009 Complete Streets policy, county staff undertook a review of local roads that were scheduled to be resurfaced that year to evaluate what was needed to make the street complete. As part of that review, sidewalks on two roads – Gorham Avenue and Crest Lane – in the Villas were recommended.
By a lucky coincidence, I happened to call LeeDOT about the need for sidewalks in the Villas just as plans were moving forward on the two streets identified as part of the Complete Streets review, and I was invited to attend a county Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) meeting to present the community's alternative sidewalk locations.
|Children wait safely after sidewalks installed|
A motion was made to change existing plan, and have surveys done. It passed unanimously. I was invited to come back to any future meetings if I desired. I secured a babysitter and did come to the next few meetings – and before long, I found myself being appointed to the BPAC!
Over time as the sidewalk plans unfolded, some in the community were upset. A resident walked around to all of the houses on Sunrise with his own petition demanding the project be stopped, as he feared the sidewalks would be right on the property lines and come very close to front doors, trees would be lost, and pandemonium would surely ensue. To address community concerns, our district county commissioner came to speak at our next community meeting. I had never seen such a high turnout! Maps were passed around and fears subsided, the sidewalk would look like every other sidewalk in the community.
|community area that now has sidewalk access|
|New community swings after sidewalks installed|
It took the effort of many, but will serve so many more. I am proud to have been one small cog in the process. I still serve on the BPAC committee and hope to for years to come.
Jane Bowser is a resident of the Villas south of Fort Myers and a member of the county Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
Ready to ride or run
Run: If you’re looking for a race, Jan. 30 is your day… with 5Ks in Fort Myers, North Fort Myers and Naples (all benefiting worthy causes), and a half marathon/5K that crosses the Peace River from Port Charlotte.
Ride: This weekend there’s a range of rides, walks and kids’ events at the TD Naples Bike Brunch at Lowdermilk Park. SW Florida Critical Mass has events ahead… in the Cape on Jan. 29, plus a starter ride in Fort Myers on Jan. 30 followed by the first-Friday ride Feb. 5.
Both: Sorry, nothing locally in triathlons for the foreseeable future.
#BeSeenLee: To keep people safe at night while biking, we’re working to provide free bike lights to those unable to afford them (but who have to ride at night). BikeWalkLee partners (including Pawnbroker Marketing and Billy's Bikes) will be coordinating events during this campaign. Be sure to watch the BikeWalklee Facebook and Twitter pages for more #BeSeenLee event announcements and details.
Ken Gooderham compiles this for BikeWalkLee, 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.