Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Charlotte County bike/ped advocates want complete streets

Charlotte County edition of Florida Weekly
Planning for all modes of transport

Eric Stockley makes a 9-mile commute on his bicycle twice per week to and from his job as at The Charlotte County Health Department. The rest of the time, he drives to work.

“I’m a bicyclist, but I also own an automobile, so I can see both sides of it,” said Mr. Stockley. He is frustrated with fellow cyclists who balk at helmets, run red lights, ride on the wrong side of the road or don’t use lights at night.
Mr. Stockley, who is also a member of the Peace River Riders bicycle club, is speaking of an old issue: pedestrians and cyclists sharing the roadways with automobiles.

In most American communities, people who get around on two wheels or a couple of legs have historically been given short shrift by transportation planners. On the federal, state, county and city levels, roadways have been designed primarily for motor vehicles.

A national and local movement called Complete Streets, which Mr. Stockley is in favor of, insists that officials who plan for transportation infrastructures include all modes of getting around.

Dan Moser, program manager for the Florida Bicycle Association and
BikeWalkLee, has after years of advocacy, seen recent success in persuading officials in neighboring Lee and Sarasota Counties to commit to Complete Streets planning. In Charlotte County, that resolution hasn’t been adopted.

Mr. Moser spoke to a group of roughly 30 or 40 people at the Charlotte County Health Department last Tuesday evening. They included Mr. Stockley; Punta Gorda urban planner Mitchell Austin~ Gene Pawlowski, chair of the Spokes and Trails Committee of the grass-roots group TEAM Punta Gorda and Court Nederveld, activities director for Peace River Riders bicycle club. “I was preaching to the choir” Mr Moser said.

He advised them on obstacles they could face while making the case for Complete Streets to local transportation planners, as well as challenges at the state and federal level Members in the U.S. House and Senate introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2009, which has yet to be adopted. And Mr. Moser is wary that the new wave of elected officials, such as Gov.-elect Rick Scott and Senate-elect Marco Rubio, may shirk such roadway designs or retrofits when it comes to funding them.

‘We’re afraid of when you’re trying to save a few buck they’ll say, We don’t need Complete Streets; let’s just get our highways built,” Mr. Moser said. He added that the cost of not planning for all modes of transportation, citing poor health as one example, is even greater.

Gov.-elect Scott’s spokesperson declined to comment on the record about Complete Streets last week and Sen.-elect Rubio’s office didn’t respond to an e-mail asking whether he planned to support the resolution or not.

Charlotte County as a whole has had mixed reviews from groups that monitor whether a community is “friendly” or not~ when it comes to meeting the needs of people who make trips sans combustion engine. Last year, the county was rated one of the worst in the nation on safety for pedestrians and cyclists in a report titled “Dangerous by Design” by Transportation for America.

But Punta Gorda, the county’s only city last year received an honorable mention as a Bicycle Friendly Community from the League of American Cyclists, rare for a first-time applicant. And the Charlotte County Health Department this year was named a Bicycle Friendly Business by the League for measures such as providing children with free helmets and encouraging staff members to commute on a bicycle.

Court Nederveld of the Peace River Riders hopes Charlotte County commissioners will adopt a Complete Streets resolution. “Right now in Charlotte, all that money is going to serve one group and that’s those who drive automobiles,” he said. ‘We’re asking that next time (they) plan a transportation route, from the get go plan for all users, not just those who wrap themselves in two tons of steel and glass.”
Some sections of the county are cyclist havens, Mr. Nederveld said, noting the Harbour Heights neighborhood as one example and “a gorgeous place to ride.” But he added, “Getting to those sections (without a car) is very difficult. We would like to see some focus on connecting those areas.”

“What the Complete Streets project is really trying to say is bicycles are another form of transportation,” he said ‘I should be able to go from my house to the post office, my house to the bank, my house to the grocery store. I need to be able to do all the things on my bicycle that other people do in their SUVs.

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