by Ken Gooderham
|Photo: BikeWalkLee archive|
Short answer: It was about two different cycling publics and the facilities they prefer. Long answer: It was also about state law, last-minute changes to capital construction projects and the struggle to accommodate every non-motorized road user.
SR 82, long one of the county’s most dangerous roadways, is on the fast track for expansion, eventually turning this two-lane moving parking lot into a six-lane highway. With this upgrade, Florida Dept. of Transportation (FDOT) was proposing buffered bike lanes on both sides of the expanded road PLUS a 5-foot sidewalk on one side PLUS a 10-foot shared use path on the other…making this probably the best bike/ped designed roadway in the county when it’s done.
What’s not to like? Well, one group found something – proposing removal of the bike lanes altogether and widening the path to 12 feet to accommodate cyclists riding in both directions. They offered this up at a September hearing, where it was thankfully shot down.
First, some definitions to put everyone on the same footing:
- Bike lane: Adjacent to the driving lanes of a roadway, usually 5 feet wide (but can be 4 feet for repaved roads). It’s typically marked for bicycle use, and allows cyclists their own place on the road (which, by state law, they have a right to use).
- Buffered bike lane: As above, but with an additional buffer between cyclists and motor traffic. This was proposed for the SR 82 expansion as part of Florida DOT’s new commitment to Complete Streets implementation
- Paved shoulder: If it’s designated for cyclists, it must conform to a bike lane. If it’s just there for whomever to use (including cyclists), it can be less than 4 feet wide… which we see a lot in this area, and which beats nothing at all (even if it doesn’t meet state criteria).
- Shared-use path: Separated from the adjacent roadway, intended for two-way use by both cyclists and pedestrians, et al. The standard width is 10 feet (12-14 feet if heavy traffic is expected). However, a minimum width of 8 feet is allowed in certain circumstances (and you'll see a number of those in Lee County due to space limitations).
- Sidewalks: Intended for pedestrians, used by all manner of transport. In Florida, minimum width should be 5 feet if separated from the roadways, 6 feet if not. Due to eras and rules, what we have is all over the map width-wise.
If you ride very fast (in bike terms) and are trying to navigate around people who aren’t doing the same, it’s both frustrating and hazardous. That’s why seasoned road cyclists prefer to use bike lanes, so they can maintain their preferred speed and be part of the traffic flow (which ultimately is safer for everyone) without having to be in the same road lane as motorized traffic.
Thus, the original (and still intact) plan for SR 82 was the best of all worlds. The bike lanes fulfill state law (giving cyclists equal and safer access to roadways) and please the serious road cyclists – and even offered a buffer from traffic, a rare occurrence around here. The sidewalk gave pedestrians their place in this complete street, and the shared-use paths offered safe haven to slower cyclists, skaters, runners and anyone else who wanted to be part of the parade. All in all, a commendable accommodation.
That made the last-minute effort to redesign the roadway all the more perplexing. If all the users had their own place, what’s the impetus for change – particularly at the stage when any change could delay road construction and funding?
If you don’t like riding close to traffic (even on a buffered lane), then don’t – but don’t deny others that option if that’s where they want (and have the right) to be. If you want to fight for more separated paths throughout the county, great – but don’t take away facilities from road cyclists in the process, particularly when there’s enough room for everyone to get what they want.
In reality, our roadways need both kinds of cycling facilities – lanes for the fast riders, separated paths for more leisurely pedalers and other self-propelled travelers. But making it appear to be an either-or situation -- where you get lanes OR paths, but not both -- is both wrong and short-sighted.
We need bike lanes both to give cyclists a better place to exercise their right to be on the road and to make them more visible by attracting more good riders to join the traffic flow. When vehicle drivers see cyclists in their own lane on the same road, they’re likely to remember them when they make other driving decisions – which enhances road safety overall. (So does being out where drivers are more likely to see them.)
And we need shared use paths to encourage more people to try cycling in a safe environment, to create a function network of bike/ped transportation that allows those who wish to try the ability not to depend on their vehicles for all travel choices. We also need bike paths to accommodate cyclists of all ages and abilities – particularly to make this a bike tourism destination. (Bike tourists want both facilities, usually… lanes for long road rides, paths for getting around town.)
How do we get these improvements? By planning for them from the beginning, not by making last-minute changes that could threaten construction deadlines and dollars in an area that’s already too far behind in bike/ped infrastructure investment.
The SR 82 plans are a win for all road users. Let’s celebrate that success, not pick fights you likely won’t win.