by Ken Gooderham
As was mentioned in stories about the “Dangerous by Design” report, it is a look backwards (2005-2014) that does not reflect recent efforts to enhance the walking and biking infrastructure throughout our area. Similarly, it cannot reflect the lag time inherent in any transportation capital improvement, where progress is measured in years and decades rather than months and weeks.
But the report is a clarion call for continued pressure on all public officials and entities to keep working to improve our bike/ped facilities and incorporate all road users – especially the most vulnerable – in all aspects of transportation design. Whether it’s complete streets or stand-alone walking and biking facilities, it is incumbent on our governments to make our transportation system safer for ALL transportation users… but especially the ones who aren’t encased in tons of steel.
Why? Well, safety should not be optional on our roadways… not if something can be done to make things better, particularly something that’s within reach both in design and dollars.
And safety certainly should not be optional in an area that strives to attract tourists and residents. The “most dangerous” label is a black eye for us, undermining a lot of the work done (both public and private) to build bike tourism and enhance our outdoors quality of life for residents and visitors. Cities such as Sanibel and Cape Coral that have worked hard to make themselves bike havens now have to explain why they’re not as dangerous as this study avers… because, alas, perception always runs far ahead of reality in instances such as this.
That’s also a concern with current walkers and bikers: They’ll see the headlines (not the entire story) and start curtailing use of our sidewalks, bike lanes and shared-use paths. The committed users (and those ones who have no other options) will keep lacing up their shoes or jumping on their bikes, but the incidental users may be deterred by the implied danger, limiting their excursions to well-protected paths or stopping their outdoor walking or biking altogether.
In an area that’s near perfect for biking and walking, and that’s sorely in need of getting people moving more (not less), that would be a terrible outcome. It could even become self-fulfilling if fewer people are out walking, running and biking, since there really is safety in numbers – when drivers see more people out using the lanes and paths, they often become more aware of how their driving decisions can affect the well-being of those other users.
So what can you do to stay safe out there?
- Keep walking, running or biking. Know your limits and stay with your comfort zones for walking and biking routes and routines, but don’t be afraid – just be aware.
- Know the rules of the road… whatever “road” you’re on. Know how to walk, run or ride with other users, be ready to take defensive action if necessary, and be consistent in your actions so other users (including drivers) know what to expect of you.
- Recognize the real points of danger. Sidewalk and shared use paths are generally safe – except at the places where they intersect (literally) with motorized traffic. Exercise necessary caution at such intersections, and you’ll lower your risk considerably.
- See and be seen. It cannot be said too often: Be aware of those around you (whether on foot, on a bike or in a vehicle), and do whatever you can to make yourself obvious to those other users… whether it’s bright colors or bright lights, or just avoiding erratic or risky actions.
- Be an advocate for safety, or support those who are. Public officials and public entities respond to public pressure. That’s pushed this area to make a lot of needed and valued bike/ped improvements – but a report such as this should remind all of us we cannot sit on our laurels quite yet (if ever).
The name of the report – “Dangerous by Design” – is a dead giveaway as to the problem we face. Much of our transportation infrastructure was designed and constructed when motorized traffic was the main (if not only) focus of road builders. New roads are inherently safer by design, and older roadways often can be reconfigured to enhance bike/ped safety. But there are still a lot of thoroughfares where expensive retrofits are the only way to lower risk.
It’s not just Lee County… eight of the top ten most dangerous metro areas named in the report are in Florida. Whether that’s due to faster growth, faster traffic or a preponderance of road infrastructure built during the era of weak ped/bike designs, it’s a sign this is a statewide problem that may require a statewide solution.
One such solution would be to crack down on distracted drivers (like making texting while driving a primary offense rather than a secondary one) and looking at other ways to counter bad driving behavior (which can endanger walkers and bikers as much as a poorly designed roadway). All road users have to take responsibility to make our transportation system safer… and, hopefully, erase this dark mark on our region.
If you haven’t signed up for the Million Mile Movement yet, time’s a-wasting. Add your steps to your fellow walkers, bikers, runners or swimmers to help Lee County hit the million-mile mark by signing up at healthylee.com.
Ready to ride or run?
Run? 5Ks return with a vengeance starting Saturday, Jan. 21, with the Tour de Cape 5K and theWings Over Water 5K Nature Run in Lehigh Acres, followed by four races -- Calusa BUG Chase at the Calusa Nature Center, Run the Paws 5K at the Naples Airport, the Hancock Creek Elementary Snowflake Shuffle in Cape Coral and the Hands Across the Harbor 5K and half marathon in Port Charlotte – on Jan. 28.
Ride? This weekend is the 26th annual Tour de Cape, with distances for every cyclist (and plenty of support as well – details at tourdecape.net). Friday is the monthly Critical mass Roll Estero ride, while Jan. 27 brings the Cape Coral ride. Both are at night events, so bring lights (and a good attitude, of course). Jan. 28 is the morning slow roll through downtown Fort Myers. Helmets recommended for all, and details are at http://www.meetup.com/Biking-SWFL/events.
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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County - streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at www.BikeWalkLee.org.