Dan's column today highlights the inequities in access to bike/ped facilities in underserved areas, with a few examples and ideas for getting action.
Florida Weekly "Outdoors" section, May 4, 2016
These days it’s pretty clear there’s a big demand for safe bike/ped facilities throughout Lee County.
Especially in the morning and early evening when the weather is nice
there are an impressive number of folks getting in their daily exercise,
walking their dogs or otherwise enjoying the environment. It’s no
secret that walkable, bikeable communities are what the populace is now
demanding and, in many cases, getting.
Being a critical observer of our community and its infrastructure
means seeing the bad as well as the good. While there’s undoubtedly
progress being made I continue to be dismayed at how parts of our cities
and county that have the most critical need for pathways and safer
streets for those who depend on walking, biking, and using public
transit for their primary transportation continue to be neglected and
underserved as things improve elsewhere. I’m no social scientist but
from what I can tell there seems to be two primary reasons why this is
The first seems obvious but shouldn’t be a justification:
socioeconomics. In neighborhoods where incomes and property values are
low there are frequently a high number of residents who do not own cars
so depend on human power and transit to get around. Because of lower
housing values tax revenue is depressed as well. But in a society that
purports to treat everyone equally less taxable values should not mean
safe bike/ped access is nonexistent or substandard and roads more
dangerous than elsewhere.
Governments that bear the hidden costs of inadequate infrastructure
and developers who reap profits — no matter the price range of their
products — should ensure safe access for all users, an expectation I
think is reasonable but clearly unrecognized by some. In fact, more than
once I’ve heard developers say, “if our customers want to live in
neighborhoods with sidewalks they’d buy into developments that offer
But the governments that allow developments to move forward without
such vital infrastructure are just as guilty as is the private sector
taking advantage of lax requirements. And, in the end, taxpayers end up
picking up the tab for what should have been the developer’s
responsibility, including in the form of emergency services and adding
infrastructure after the fact.
Lack of a voice is the other factor I’ve found to be a common trait
of underserved neighborhoods. This is something that obviously goes well
beyond safe bike/ped access, but an absence of a decent walking and
biking environment characterizes the other problems as well as anything.
When residents are too busy trying to make a living and raise their
families to attend meetings or simply feel they won’t be listened to
because of their socioeconomic status there’s little possibility of
getting their needs acknowledged. This is especially true when there’s a
backlog of projects to the tune of well over $50 million, all of which
are competing for an annual pittance of that shortfall. And that doesn’t
even include deferred maintenance on unusable or hazardous facilities.
It seems unfair that residents need to petition for basic infrastructure
or repair since public works and transportation officials are usually
aware of such problems. But the fact is that to even have a chance to
compete for funds or services local voices are essential.
One would expect local elected officials who represent these
underserved areas to be the voices. And they may indeed be doing their
best, but there are clearly many more unsafe bike/ped conditions in
low-income areas than in more affluent neighborhoods, all other things
being equal. To our various governments’ credit there are many attempts
underway to remedy the shortcomings, but it’s not nearly enough. And
there’s still a serious funding priority disparity in that some of the
neighborhoods and roads in need for the longest time remain on the back
burner while available tax dollars are spent on other noncritical
Three glaring examples of overdue infrastructure come to mind (there are many, many more):
1.) A much-needed community center was built in Suncoast Estates a number of years ago but still lacks a pathway for folks to get there, many of whom walk and bicycle.
2.) Luckett Road in east Fort Myers is a busy, high-speed road that cuts through a residential neighborhood between Ortiz Ave and an I-75 interchange. There is no accommodation for nonmotorists. Residents who walk or bike are essentially forced into the ditches.
3.) Hanson Street
in central Fort Myers is a heavily used east-west road that lacks
pathways on much of it. A new extension of the road through undeveloped
property (that will then be accessible for profit-making development) is
being taxpayer funded while dangerous conditions in the already
developed segments of that street remain unaddressed.
When you go out on your next walk, run or bike ride be grateful if
it’s relatively safe. If conditions are not acceptable consider letting
your elected officials and government staff know. There are also efforts
taking place locally in the form of walking and biking audits by
residents to document conditions and needs which can then be presented
to elected officials by those directly impacted. Perhaps these will make
a difference in places yet unaddressed or getting little traction. You
can find out whom to contact to request improvements as well as more
about neighborhood audits at bikewalklee.blogspot.com.
— Dan Moser
is a longtime bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety
professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation,
recreation and fitness.