The News-Press, 10/11/2018
by Ken Gooderham
There were “Detour” signs pointing this way and “Pedestrian Walkway” signs pointing that way. The dedicated turn lane for vehicles was buried under a barrage of concrete barricades, so you had to watch out for cars turning onto U.S. 41 from the main traffic lanes (surprise!). There, on the other side of the always bustling highway, were two pedestrians looking totally lost, trying to figure out how – when? – to attempt to cross six lanes of four (or more)-wheeled fun.
Welcome to the Construction Zone.
If you cycle in Southwest Florida, you’re going to hit a roadway or intersection that’s under construction. It comes with the fast-growth territory, where a burgeoning population quickly outstrips an aging road system.
So what do you do when you see those orange cones popping up on your favorite bike lane? Assuming you can’t simply find a new way to go from Point A to Point B (usually not an easy solution when your bike facilities choices are limited as they are here), there are a few ways to stay safe:
First, assess the situation. Is the way to get where you want to go clear and obvious? Take the path (literally) of least resistance. Is the way forward hard to fathom? Then what are your options in terms of roadways, sidewalks or parking lots.
Second, realize that everyone else is as confused as you are. The motorists are trying to figure out how they get to where they want to be, just the same as you. The pedestrians (if they haven’t been scared off altogether) are as vulnerable as you are… but they can’t move as quickly, which makes them even easier targets for mistakes.
Finally, have a little patience. If the construction confusion means you need to take a minute to figure out the traffic pattern du jour, allow yourself that time. It’s better to be slow and safe than to be quick and on your way to the hospital.
Most construction sites should take steps to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians (if they don’t call your local or state DOT about that) – but sometimes those accommodations are more dangerous than just staying on the road with the other traffic. Riding through a detour filled with soft sand, sharp debris and uneven surfaces puts a cyclist at more risk, so follow your instincts if that’s the path you take.
The marked detour may end being your best option, even if it sends you on a less direct route. It should be the best marked and more stable way forward, which means you should take it if you don’t see other options or are not familiar with the area.
If you are comfortable sharing the road, do so – but remember the driving lanes may be narrower due to construction and unexpected obstacles and debris may arise, so you need to be a pretty good rider to hold your own here. If you’re not that skilled, then walk your bike through the worst of the detour and live to ride another day.
In a pinch, look at your off-road options. Parking lots can often be a good Plan B to get around a construction area, as long as you remember that drivers in parking lots don’t always look out for cyclists. (You’re lucky if they look out for other vehicles sometimes.)
A few final thoughts: Construction means disruption which, from a cyclist’s perspective, can mean unreliable surfaces and almost daily changes. If you riding a narrow-tire bike, soft or uneven surfaces can wreak havoc. And if those tires aren’t sturdy enough (meaning Kevlar reinforcements or something similar), it’s way too easy to pick up something in a construction zone that will flatten your tire in an instant.
Also, construction means workers and machinery. For the former, see and be seen if you’re passing nearby – and don’t give them grief because your bike path is pulverized, they’re just doing their job. As to the heavy equipment, give it a wide berth if you can. Again, that machinery is here to do a job, and it’s usually far less agile than your average motor vehicle so it can’t stop as fast or turn as quickly.
That may be your one advantage in a construction zone: Your size and agility. You can go where cars and trucks can’t, and sometimes that works for you when there’s roadwork ahead. Just make sure you’re not inadvertently riding into danger – or, worse, a dead end where you’ll have to beat a hasty retreat.
If it’s any consolation, in a few months the bulldozers will move on and the dust will settle… and you’ll have a nice new roadway to ride on (at least until the next batch of orange cones appear).
Ready to ride or run?Run? Plenty of choices if you’re ready to run: On Saturday, there’s the Cops & Joggers 5K in downtown Fort Myers at 7:45 p.m. (ftmyerstrackclub.com) or the Sprint for Students 5K at Koreshan State Park in Estero (runsignup.com). Sunday brings the Run Like A Bandit 5K/10K at Port Charlotte Beach Park (runsignup.com). On Oct. 20, you can go long with the Gulf to Gulf 80 Relay, an 80-mile relay race starting and ending at Cambier Park, Naples (gcrunner.org). For a shorter course, consider the St Andrew Catholic School Run for the Stars 5K at Jim Jeffers Park, Cape Coral (3dracinginc.com). Or for something in the middle, there’s the Rocktoberfest 10 Miler and Relay on Oct. 21 at North Collier Regional Park (eliteevents.org).
Ride? There’s a Critical Mass double-header (sort of), with the NE Lee ride on Friday night and the Sanibel ride Saturday night. Both are night rides so lights are required and helmets are recommended; details at http://www.meetup.com/Biking-SWFL/events/. You can also join the no-drop Wakey, Wakey! Sunday morning ride leaving from Fort Myers Trek. The ride is sanctioned by the Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club, so helmets are required, no ear buds, and no aero bar use while in the group.
Both? Upcoming events include:
- Sunday, Nov. 18: Longboat Key Triathlon & Duathlon, sprint and Olympic-distance tris, plus a sprint and Olympic duathlon. Longboat Key Club & Resort (longboatkeytriathlon.com)
- Sunday, Dec. 16: Christmas Sprint Triathlon/Duathlon, Sugden Regional Park, Naples (eliteevents.org)
- Jan. 6, 2019: HITS Triathlon Series, with sprint, Olympic and half-Ironman distances. Nathan Benderson Park, Sarasota (hitstriathlonseries.com)
- Willing to drive? Check trifind.com or active.com for tris around the state.
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.