Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tale of two different cities on safe streets

The News-Press, 2/28/2017
by Ken Gooderham

Ken Gooderham
It was a succinct summary of how two different cities in Lee County feel about bicyclists: Cape Coral was lauded as a “bicycle-friendly community.” The same week, Fort Myers City Council walked away from state funding to study a bike path because some adjacent property owners complained.

First, the good news: Cape Coral was recognized for its work to make the city a place “where bicycling is safe, respected and encouraged as a means of transportation” by the Florida Bicycle Association. This honor, bestowed on the city and Cape Coral Bike/Ped, is welcome recognition of the significant strides made in Cape Coral to improve and expand bike facilities and awareness.

Congratulations to city officials and staff, and special kudos to Carolyn Conant and her CCBP volunteers whose tireless activism has made a huge difference there.

Less inspiring news came out of Fort Myers, where funding for a feasibility study seeking to connect U.S. 41 and McGregor Blvd. for bikers and walkers was imperiled after a handful of property owners along one of the possible routes – the Winkler Avenue canal right-of-way – raised a stink at a city council meeting.

They objected to the canal even being included in the study’s scope, where a consultant would be tasked with developing options and costs to connect the two major north-south roadways with a safer bike/ped facility. These objections convinced a majority of the council to remove the canal route from the study… which may imperil the funding, depending on how the state takes this news.

It's unfortunate the Fort Myers City Council did not do its homework. Homes near bike paths have an increased value of roughly $5,000 per home.  The uptick in property values and economic development are often attributed to the millennials who have a clear preference for places that provide a range of mobility and transit options, including biking and walking.  And millennials and Gen X are each larger populations than the Baby Boomer  population.

This continues a trend of actions (or, rather, inactions) by the city to squander opportunities to improve bike/walk infrastructure in the course of other road or right-of-way maintenance or improvements (which is one of the ways Cape Coral has achieved its bike-friendly enhancements). Fort Myers can ill afford decisions that do not increase its tax base through improvements in infrastructure, that result in a higher quality of life and greater safety for all of its citizens.

Why does this matter? We’ll let a recent email received by BikeWalkLee speak to that:

“We are snowbirds from Toronto, Canada, and love to spend our winters in Fort Myers. We have been doing so since 2009 and are very grateful to this wonderful state and its people for allowing us access to warm and sunny winters. We do enjoy ourselves while down here.

However we are a very active retired couple that enjoys cycling, walking and running, but feel threatened by motorists no matter what time of day.  Fort Myers is not a cyclist, pedestrian friendly city and many motorists make walkers and bikers an afterthought.  We have had some close calls.

We are surprised at this as tourism is important to Florida as is encouraging people to remain active and stay healthy.  Recently we wanted to either walk or cycle the Cape Coral bridge only to find out that it was unsafe to do so.

Please take our comments as another voice to help encourage this area to promote more access for walkers, runners and cyclists.”

A lot of cyclists and walkers share this feeling, that on-road cycling and walking is a dangerous game in our area. You overcome that either by improving on the on-road facilities to make them safer (if that’s possible) or provide off-road options where bikers and walkers don’t have to mingle with motor vehicles.

In Lee County, some communities get that, and some apparently don’t.

Ken Gooderham is a member of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County.

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