News-Press Editorial, Jan. 26, 2017
The News-Press Editorial Board , firstname.lastname@example.org
The recent news that Lee County ranks as the most dangerous of the 104 largest metro areas in the country for pedestrians probably wasn’t a surprise, but it certainly is sobering and should provide another wake-up call for officials and law enforcement to be vigilant about safety.
We have seen the statistics for years that Lee County ranked as one of the worst areas for cyclists and pedestrians, and for distracted driving, in the state. This report, released earlier this month, called "Dangerous by Design" and from the National Complete Streets Coalition, put a national perspective to our major issue. In the past nine years, 164 pedestrians have been killed in a region of about 700,000 people, including 17 in 2016. In 2016, there was a 10 percent increase in road fatalities, with 108 traffic deaths overall – the most since 2006 when 121 were killed. The deaths continued a trend from 2015 when there was an 18 percent jump in road fatalities. There were 3,213 statewide road fatalities in 2016, a continuous five-year rise from 2,430 deaths in 2012. In Lee, the 108 deaths were 44 more than in 2012.
The patterns over the past two years are alarming when you consider there were consistent decreases in fatality rates for close to 20 years, with just over one fatality per one million vehicle miles traveled in 2014.
Fatalities increase when the population grows, an improving economy means more people on the roads and drivers are negligent and distracted.
Officials must do more to change the statistics in favor of safety. Law enforcement officials must increase patrols to crack down on speeding and distracted driving. It is time to look at the ineffectiveness of the state's no texting while driving state law and upgrade the law from a secondary offense to a primary one. Only then, do we have a fighting chance to decrease road fatalities if stricter distracted driving laws are written and enforced. Florida needs to join the 46 other states that have texting while driving as a primary offense.
The national coalition, which includes Smart Growth America and AARP, used data from 2005 to 2014, and there have been improvements to safety for cyclists and pedestrians in our area. A $10 million federal grant in Lee Metropolitan Planning Organization's Complete Streets project has been completed with 13 additional miles of walking and biking infrastructure throughout the county. Cape Coral was recently awarded $6 million in state funds to build shared use paths and sidewalks on Kismet Parkway. This follows an awarding winning, 90-mile, bike-pedestrian route built throughout the city.
We compliment the Florida Highway Patrol for announcing this week the renewal of the Arrive Alive campaign, which it started 46 years ago, focusing not only on writing tickets, but also educating motorists and targeting intersections where fatal crashes occur more frequently and putting infrastructure in place to make those roads more safe. FHP plans to target U.S. 41, State Road 82 and I-75.
But this also is a call to government officials to make sure all new road designs and expansion of existing roadways use the complete or smart streets concept. All major roads should include a design for wide bike paths with a buffer from traffic and pedestrian sidewalks.
BikeWalkLee, an organization focused on bringing awareness and solutions to the importance of safe roads for everyone, recently completed a walking audit of the safeness of roads in Lee County. The organization partnered with Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida and FGCU, working with a grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.
The report, released last week, focused on the communities of Tice and Dunbar with audit participants walking the areas. They engaged with community members during their walks and assessed the areas.
The 59 participants who completed the research, discovered:
- The significant need for street lighting throughout Tice and Dunbar.
- The need to improve, or install accessible features required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- The need for bike lanes.
- Improved maintenance of sidewalks and crosswalks.
- Widespread street flooding – especially in Tice - encroaching into sidewalks and crosswalks.
Those who live and visit here will feel much better and safer if by 2019 when the next coalition report on safety is expected to be released, we are far away from being the most dangerous in America for pedestrians.