Bringing walkable communities to Lee County
Tom Hayden, THAYDEN@NEWS-PRESS.COMPublished 5:00 p.m. ET April 13, 2018
It went something like this: Find ways to pack as many homes into an area as possible, try and build a school nearby, and by all means build wide roads, to handle lots of traffic created by these huge residential developments and commercial centers.
The problem with the template is it encourages more cars, encourages more suburban development, takes people away from what could be enticing downtown centers and limits the ability of people to walk, cycle or take public transit to places. And in Lee County, the model has led to a high number of traffic fatalities,
Building bigger roads is not the answer for many designers and innovators of walkable communities using smart street designs. Encouraging walkable communities is working in places like Asheville, North Carolina, and even in bigger cities like Chicago and New York.
That's why local civic activist Ann Pierce has organized her second walkable community event, bringing in experts in redesign of communities who have wanted fewer cars, more walkers and cyclists, more public transit use and safer streets.
The event, called Creating the Future Today Designing for People, Place & Profit, is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 19 in Building U-102 on the campus of Florida Southwestern State College.
Communities encouraging less vehicle traffic are not someone's pipe dream. They are happening and working. Cape Coral has embraced some of it by creating over 90 miles of cycling paths. Fort Myers Beach has some of it with new sidewalks. Fort Myers has a walkable downtown area. But we need more, especially with new projects online for the Beach, Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
"We have got to put everything to better use," said Dan Burden, one of next week's speakers who has authored safe streets and walkable communities programs throughout the country. "We have to build the kind of streets that allow for the right development."
Young adults, the millennial's and the Generation X population, aren't interested in being dependent on their vehicles to get around their communities. According to the National Association of Realtors, 79 percent want to live in walkable communities, and only 14 percent of them live in neighborhoods they consider walkable.
Collier County is looking at putting sections of U.S. 41 on a road diet, decreasing the number of vehicle lanes from six to four. The other two lanes could be used for street parking or for buffered bike lanes.
Building more roads or expanding current roads to handle more traffic isn't working in Lee County. More cars simply increase the chances for more road fatalities. The National Complete Streets Coalition ranked the state the most dangerous in the nation for pedestrians, with 5,189 people killed between 2003-12, including 163 in Lee County.
And the number of people killed has only continued to go up as 117 people died in Lee County crashes in 2017. Reversing this horrifying trend is not in our near future as the state continues to be a popular destination for domestic visitors with a record 98 million coming last year, as well as another 14.8 million international visitors. In the Dangerous By Design Report issued by Smart Growth America in 2016, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area ranked the worst for pedestrian deaths.
Communities are not ignoring the importance of complete streets as 1,200 policies are now in place at state, regional and local levels. Lee County created a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Action Plan in 2013 with the goal of reducing fatality and serious injury rates each year through 2019. There is plenty of work to be done to reduce those rates by 17 percent over three years.
It starts with parking cars, and walking, cycling or using public transit as next week's speakers will frame in their presentations.
Joe Minicozzi, who analyzes return on investment outcomes of local government decision making, will tell you government engineers need to break from the habit of building wider roads. "They don't understand the diet problem," he said. "You just don't go out and buy a bigger set of clothing. You don't induce people to go farther out (from urban areas)."
He wants people to look at how much their cities are worth in terms of taxable value and how suburbs can drain a government budget because of the need to try and keep up with infrastructure as people crowd into gated communities.
He uses a baseball analogy to sum up the wrong thinking of some community planners. He says one has a better chance of getting to "home," if you take more pitches and draw a walk, rather than the low percentage route of swinging big and trying for a home run.
Minicozzi wants city planners to not focus on parking requirements where there is no real return on investment for businesses, but rather a design that limits parking spots and encourages people to leave their car in one location and then walk from place to place.
Another speaker, Victor Dover, who helps create sustainable, walkable communities, says it's only a myth that bigger, wider routes help move vehicles through an area quicker. He believes roads should be built to give a person a choice: driving, walking, cycling or public transit.
He believes in tree-lined streets because shade - especially in Florida - can encourage walking. He believes in restoring dying shopping centers and malls into small communities where people can live, work, shop and play. "There is a need for more housing at all price points," he said. "We need to look at life between the buildings."
People want to be encouraged to get out of their cars and away from the congestion. It's good business and it's good health.
Walkable communities event
When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 19
Where: Building U-102, Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers
Cost: $90. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack included.
To register: MoveForward.ezevent.com
Dan Burden, director of Innovation and Inspiration, Blue Zones, LLC. He will talk on Blue Zones or community improvement initiatives.
Jerry Champa, engineer, GHD. He will talk on transportation systems and other safety innovations.
David Clark, deputy secretary, Florida DEP. He will talk on integrating greenways and trails.
Victor Dover, principal-in-charge at Dover, Kohl and Partners. He will talk on thriving, walkable, thriving communities
Billy Hattaway, director, DOT, Orlando. He will talk on local government integration of land use and the new FDOT program.
Ian Lockwood, engineer, Toole Design Group. He will talk on solutions to increasing safety, economic and social value.
L.K. Nandam, FDOT Division 1 Secretary and DeWayne Carver, AICP. They will talk on the state's new complete streets program.
Joe Minicozzi, Urban 3. He will talk on analyzing return on investment outcomes of local government decision making.
Tom Hayden, senior engagement editor at The News-Press, writes this editorial on behalf of the editorial board.