When I discovered running I was a young man who had been a skinny but very active kid who enjoyed playing sports. At one point I realized I was becoming soft and sedentary — and wasn’t so skinny any more. Lucky for me the first wave of the running craze was hitting our country at that time. All one needed was a pair of running shoes (and short-shorts, of course) to take part, something even I could afford at the time.
Little did I know that when I ran my first race, the Lee Memorial Hospital 10K, in 1978, I would be hooked for life. I also had no idea at the time that becoming a runner would lead me to a lifetime of advocacy and eventually the profession I ended up choosing (“falling into” may be a better description).
And the road had deep ditches on both sides. Being in the prime of my running years I could usually traverse the ditches and unpaved shoulders myself to access Lakes Park but I realized many others couldn’t, including almost anyone on bike. Once I got back in the saddle myself as I dipped my toe in the triathlon world the lack of bike access issue hit me directly. That was enough of a reason to get me involved in the sausage-making process of transportation infrastructure and policy decision making.
Advocacy efforts were rare back then but BikeWays Lee County, being operated out of what’s now Fort Myers Schwinn Cyclery, was where I first found others who were likeminded.
Undoubtedly, conditions and infrastructure have drastically improved since the early ’80s. For many who live and visit here now, it’s possible to walk, run and bike on many of our public roads in relative safety (“relative” being the key term). That being the case, based on many different sources of research data as well as my own observations and experience, those who have optimal conditions in their own neighborhoods and nearby major roadways get out there the most.
Some of the benefits of being physically active by way of providing Complete Streets — those that are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities — include reducing chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease; reducing exposure to and increases in motor vehicle emissions when fewer cars are on the road; and reducing the number of traffic-related injuries and deaths.
Just as important for those who have limited access to motor vehicle transportation benefits include better access to day-to-day needs including employment, food shopping and health-supportive services. Providing this access is also a matter of social equity that any community should strive to ensure is the case.
If you want to become involved in seeing that all of our streets are Complete Streets or you have a specific location or policy in mind that you know is in need of improvement, you can look into efforts being undertaken by BikeWalkLee, Healthy Lee, Lee County Injury Prevention Coalition and others taking place here. There are many ways to be part of the solution so you’ll be able to pick and choose the best fit. But being physically active and getting out on our roads and streets is an important and necessary step, both for your own health and to experience firsthand the good, bad and ugly of our community’s infrastructure and priorities.
Please keep in mind that the tendency of our local and regional governments — and the developers who have much influence upon them — has been to focus on moving cars and trucks, oftentimes at the expense of the people who operate outside these vehicles. The only way to ensure this doesn’t remain the trend is to exert pressure on decision makers to do the right thing, which may not always benefit developers and others in it for profit. Get started by visiting bikewalklee.blogspot.com. ¦
- 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 email@example.com and 334-6417.