Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dan Moser's Florida Weekly Column:Make way for bikes: no excuses, no arguments

Florida Weekly
June 1, 2011

Soon after the news broke that cyclist Tracey Kleinpell had been killed by a motorist, the bikes-don’t-belong-on-the-road crowd began voicing its opinion in the paper and on the Internet. To question whether or not Ms. Kleinpell belonged on the road is so absurd and borderline insensitive that it barely merits repeating. However, this latest eruption of ill-will toward bikers is a good opportunity to once again explain some basic legal and civic principals for the benefit of the uninformed.

Over the years, I’ve found that some who are of the opinion that anyone who’s not driving a motor vehicle should simply stay on side paths believe they are actually providing solid advice. I can’t count the number of times motorists have pulled up next to me with such a recommendation, qualified by “do you want to get killed?” Others clearly are perturbed by anything that might slow them down, even if, in reality, they only had to change lanes to pass and be on their way. And then there are the sociopaths among us who are just plain dangerous, especially when behind the wheel of their killing machines. Believe me, as someone who teaches a class for court-ordered high-risk drivers, there are plenty of folks out there who fit the latter category.

Well, if you’re among the above described motorists you’re just going to have to get used to sharing the road with a variety of nontraditional vehicles and even non-vehicles, from golf carts to skateboards. The number of bikes and alternative transportation vehicles is only going to grow. Ever-rising fuel prices are part of the reason, as are the health and environmental benefits we realize when using human-power to move about. And so is the fun that comes with a bike ride or rollerblading.

What’s so disturbing about this persistent call for staying off the road is that it’s not even possible, a fact that appears to be lost on those spewing it out. For one, at every single intersection — including driveways — side path users and road users must interact with each other. Unfortunately for those using the side path, too many motorists think they own the extension of side path (i.e. the crosswalk, marked or unmarked) as well, thus they are no better off then when in the road. Second, there will never, ever, be sidewalks and bike paths along each and every road, period. Think Lehigh Acres or Cape Coral. So what are those who aren’t in a car to do in cases where a side path doesn’t exist? Finally, by statute, bikes are vehicles having the same rights to the road as all others. What more do we need than the law on our side, not to mention the well-documented fact that it’s significantly safer to cycle on the road as a vehicular operator than as a quasi-pedestrian on the side path? The bottom line is bikes belong.

Advocacy update

Here’s an update on Lee County’s Bike/Ped Master Plan. At its May meeting, the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization officially and unanimously approved the plan after a number of community leaders from various professions and representing multiple interests gave it ringing endorsements. Implementation of the plan’s recommendations will begin immediately with the MPO’s Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinating Committee being the first stop.

Also, another local government is moving toward putting a “complete streets” policy in place. The city of Fort Myers began that process with its planning board taking the lead.

The city already does a decent job of accommodating pedestrians and cyclists, although there are many gaps and shortcomings, so this is a welcome first step. Along with making better use of the existing Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan (and perhaps an update that can easily and inexpensively be done now that the MPO’s plan is in place), a complete streets policy should make a big difference and help further the efforts being put forth by Lee County and others.

Finally, Transportation for America just released its latest edition of Dangerous by Design, a report on pedestrian conditions in each of our country’s metro areas. Once again, the top four most dangerous communities with populations over one million are in Florida. Our efforts in Lee County were noted as a positive example, but our pedestrian safety record remains dismal, as the report confirms.

Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and trails.

Dan Moser is a league cycling and- Cycling Savvy instructor and programs director for the Florida Bicycle Association who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. He can be contacted at or 334-6417.

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