It may be just my imagination or wishful thinking, but there seems to be a major increase in the number of people riding bikes on the streets and pathways of Southwest Florida.
Along with the many walkers and runners out, there it seems as if there’s a real movement among all ages to be active on a regular and sustainable basis. Besides those using human power for recreation and exercise there also appears to be an uptick of commuters and functional cyclists and walkers.
Could it be possible that the efforts and messages coming from so many sources to include physical activity in our lives are having the intended effect?
One way to say for sure is to have bike/ped counts to confirm this speculation. Unfortunately, this is one area in which we’re very far behind the curve. We’ve been counting motor vehicles on a routine basis for many decades now, yet we still have no technology in place to do the same for nonmotor modes. Occasional observational counts at specific locations and one antiquated mobile camera system are the only methods I’m aware of being used, neither on a regular basis. So we’re left to speculate and guess, meaning it’s hard to argue for money to fund improvements or mitigate high bike/ped crash locations.
|The Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club Ride of Silence, honoring those injured or killed in cycling on public roadways, drew a variety of riders in Fort Myers in May.|
As for the apparent increased participation, persistent efforts by local groups like BikeWalkLee, Healthy Lee, American Heart Association, Lee County Injury Prevention Coalition, American Lung Association and the Lee County School District, along with national promotions from organizations such as Centers for Disease Control, have undoubtedly been vital.
But let’s not forget about the “fun factor” that come from events like our Streets Alive Critical Mass outings and weekly “newbie” rides. In my opinion, those are having as much impact as any formal health promotion campaigns or advocacy that’s taking place.
Many of our local bike shops and bike clubs such as Caloosa Riders are very active in organizing and hosting group rides, including offering first-timers or those otherwise less experienced a “no rider left behind” option.
This is very important in helping to build confidence for those who may be intimidated by the “serious cyclists” they see on our roads. And being able to fix a flat tire in the field is often perceived by inexperienced riders as one of the most daunting tasks, if for no other reason than the thought of being left behind as the group moves on.
An added benefit of these newcomer rides is an opportunity to raise awareness of the work groups like BikeWalkLee do, and to encourage them to get civically involved, whether as part of that coalition or in other ways.
Participants are also offered a “rules of the roads and pathways” briefing, arming them with vital information that can literally be lifesaving. For many this may be the first and only time they learn about laws specific to cyclists and how behaving badly can have both immediate and far-reaching impacts.
Likewise, Critical Mass rides include a briefing about the need to operate safely and with courtesy while still having fun using the public streets. But in contrast to the other group rides these are almost parade-like and usually include many more participants, sometimes into the hundreds. This makes a big difference in the dynamics taking place on the streets and among participants. But there’s strength and safety in numbers so “the more the merrier” definitely applies to Critical Mass rides.
You can learn more about these events at meetup.com/Biking-SWFL.
This year’s Ride of Silence is an example of rides that attract a wide variety of cyclists. ¦
— Dan Moser is a long- time bicycle/ pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334- 6417.