News-Press "Go Coastal" section, March 3, 2016
By John Harney [BWL guest columnist]
We bought a house in Fort Myers in 2010 to be able to spend more time with our family. We would walk and bike in our neighborhood, but never past the gate. We're recreational cyclists, so we just wanted to get out for exercise. Our house was at the end of Palomino Road, which is one of those main feeder roads into Daniels Parkway, with a half-dozen developments off this road.
Palomino Road has two lanes, no shoulders, and no bike or pedestrian path. The posted speed limit is 35 mph, but most drivers are traveling at over 50 mph. In addition, large trucks were frequently hauling materials for new homes into our development. These truck bodies were wider than the lanes, and nobody could walk or bike safely on the road. As a result, more than 6,000 people -- including families with school-age children -- were more or less trapped from accessing the world outside their neighborhood on foot or by bike.
|Palomino Rd. (in south Lee County, off Daniels opposite Fiddlesticks)|
I contacted our district county commissioner who met with us to discuss our goals. He suggested that we work through the Lee County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) to get our project done. After our Palomino work group made a presentation to BPAC about our requested project, I was appointed to fill a vacancy on the BPAC. I learned that this group is committed to bringing the county up to date with bike/pedestrian paths, and is responsible for prioritizing all the bike/ped retrofit projects needed in the county.
As a result of the efforts of the Palomino work group and its involvement with the Lee County Commission (who also worked out an agreement with the City of Fort Myers), our project, which provides a shared use path, was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in 2014. The project is now scheduled to begin construction in 2016-2017, which is very fast in terms of the normal transportation planning process.
Unfortunately, I won't be in the community to enjoy the path system when it's completed, since in late 2014 we sold our house and moved to Naples. Upon arriving in Naples, we were surprised by some of the letters to the editor, which expressed hostility toward sharing the road with cyclists. I decided to continue my involvement in trying to make my new community better for biking and walking, so I joined the Naples Pathways Coalition (NPC).
I'm working now as a volunteer for NPC on a project to partner with car dealers, car rental agencies, and bike dealers to distribute share the road safety information. We're trying to help people understand that we all have a place and a way to get around safely, and that working with each other on road safety serves the community and ourselves best.
I didn't know much about safety when I started. I just pitched in and helped where I could see a need. Anyone could pitch in to do projects like I have. It doesn't take much time, and it's fun to work on something that helps the community. So get involved in your community -- volunteer for BikeWalkLee, Naples Pathways Coalition, Cape Coral Bike-Ped, a local bike club or advocacy group, become a member of a government bike/ped advisory committee, or organize your community to seek funding for safer biking and walking in your neighborhood.
Improvements only happen when citizens get engaged.
Ready to ride or run?
Run? This weekend features the Hooters Half Marathon on Sunday, always a fast and fun event that draws a crowd (www.hootershalfmarathon.com). The following weekend has two 5Ks – one tied to the Shrimp Festival on Fort Myers Beach, the other at Hammond Stadium to support colorectal cancer research locally.
Ride? Tomorrow night is the monthly Critical Mass ride in Fort Myers, so riders should take advantage of the cooler weather while it lasts. Sunday is the Cycling for Fallen Heroes ride, based in Estero. On March 12, you can be part of the Miracle Limbs Courage in Motion Benefit Bike Ride at North Collier Park. The Royal Palm Classic ride is Sunday, March 13, so join the Caloosa Riders for what is always a fun event, whatever the distance you choose. Or you can head for the swamp – literally – for the Annual Everglades Ride out of Everglades City, with on- or off-pavement options.