The News-Press, 12/7/2017
by Ken Gooderham
|Lee County sheriff's operation targets pedestrian, bicycle safety in traffic problem areas. |
This is not an esoteric exercise. Rather, it could be key to making our streets, sidewalks and bike paths safer.
Safety is a big issue locally, particularly for cyclists and pedestrians. Our region has regularly ranked far too high in the “Most Dangerous” places for walking and biking, evidence of a chronic and, sadly, statewide issue putting far too many people at risk on a daily basis.
How do you make streets and sidewalks safer? Three ways:
- Better facilities, meaning properly designed, adequately interconnected and of sufficient quantity to provide a (somewhat) secure network.
- Better awareness, by both drivers and walkers/bikers of both the laws under which they all should operate and the courtesies that should be extended to other users.
- Better enforcement of existing laws or passage of necessary new ones, so those who are determined to flaunt the rules can reasonably expect to pay a price.
So, how are we doing?
On facilities, we’re catching up – with some cities pulling ahead of others. On the county level, the sizeable backlog of bike/ped capital expenditures is still appalling, but there are success stories out there and new designs are at least not letting our roads lose more ground in the fight for safety.
As to awareness, also signs of improvement but with a long way yet to go. As more people bike, run and walk, the awareness of those users increases – both because there are more people out there for motorists to see, and because more walkers and bikers tend to be (we hope) more aware drivers. Again, there’s room for improvement… but the danger seems to be turning from outright hostility toward bike/ped users to benign ignorance.
Enforcement has always been a thorny issue. For it to be effective, it has to be consistent and timely – hard to do unless one posts a police officer on every corner. It also has to have consequences – again problematic, since some of the offenses against bikers and walker is not a primary offense or lacks a serious penalty (unlike the penalty weighing on a biker or walker in an unfortunate interaction with a motor vehicle… which can be serious injury or death).
So the news of the new initiative by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, “High Visibility Enforcement,” is welcome. Deputies are targeting areas prone to bike/ped/car problems. It will run to the end of May, hopefully enough time to both educate good behaviors and eradicate bad habits. And it will underscore both the existing traffic laws and the need to enforce/abide by them. (And you can bet that those LCSO officers on foot who narrowly escape harm at the hands of local drivers will be all the more sensitive to the vulnerabilities of bikers and walkers in the future.)
Of course, enforcement goes both ways; bikers and walkers need to abide by the rules of the road as well. However, given the disparity of consequences for an unfortunate interaction, the bike/ped side of the equation will be far more likely to obey than one may see from the motor vehicle drivers.
That’s why enforcement is crucial, and we hope the LCSO initiative is a great success and can be repeated in the future. But enforcement alone is not enough.
That brings us back the opening question about changing behaviors. You need both enforcement (the fear of harming yourself) and awareness (the fear of harming others) to effective change behavior over the long haul.
People will change their actions if they see a police car parked on a street. But will they will also change their behavior if they see a “Drive Like Your Kids Played Here” sign along the road? Will they be more careful if they fear getting caught OR if they know the cyclist or pedestrian could be someone they know – or that could be them the next time?
Ready to ride or run?
Run? Feel like running to celebrate the holidays? Join the Babcock Ranch Jingle Bell 5K/10K for its first outing on Saturday. There’s also a QBE Shootout 5K in Naples that morning. Appropriately, the Christmas theme continues Dec. 16, with evening 5Ks in Fort Myers and Naples. Find out more at 3dracinginc.com, gcrunner.org and eliteevents.org respectively.
Ride? Upcoming Critical Mass rides are NE Lee (Friday night) and Sanibel (Saturday night), with a special “Crappy Sweater, Cookie and Carol” ride Dec. 16 in downtown Fort Myers (details pending, so check on this one before you go). For night rides lights are required, helmets recommended, and details and sign-up info is online at meetup.com/Biking-SWFL/events.
Both? If you want a tri for the holidays, check out the Dec. 17 Christmas Duathlon & Triathlon set for Sugden Regional Park in Naples. Otherwise, check active.com or trifind.com for statewide events.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RIDE:Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.
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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.