Thursday, September 19, 2013

BWL Column: Federal funds will have local impact for complete streets

BikeWalkLee's Column, News-Press "Go Coastal" section,
Sept. 19, 2013

Lee County bicycling has hit the big time. Our community went after a major government grant to improve our growing cycling and walking infrastructure, and that quest paid off with $10.5 million.

But what does that mean for you, the average cyclist or walker?
• Improvement in the University Loop, fixing gaps and connecting FGCU into the cycling infrastructure.
• Expansion of the Tour de Parks route to include both baseball stadiums — the Twins’ Hammond Stadium and the Red Sox’s JetBlue home — to a route that already links Lakes Park to the Nature Center and the Six Mile Slough.
• Filling in some serious gaps to cycling infrastructure that ties the University Loop into Bonita Springs and Collier County.

Most important, winning this grant shines a spotlight on the viability of walking, biking and transit as practical transportation alternatives, and brings national attention to the county’s laudable and considerable efforts to improve its bicycling network over the past few years.

Good bike/walk infrastructure benefits residents and visitors alike, giving people who live here access to safe recreation and alternate transportation choices, while giving people who visit our area another good reason to come here vs. somewhere else. (If you’re used to making biking or walking a part of your vacation, good facilities are a magnet to visitors.)

But safety (an essential component of “complete streets” policies) can be the real payoff in grants such as this. Making Lee’s streets safer for bikers and walkers is crucial, given our poor record of injuries and deaths. Better infrastructure makes it better for current bikers and walkers, while safer routes and more awareness invites those sitting on the sidelines with safety concerns to get on their bicycles or lace up their walking shoes.

Another plus: These grants are highly competitive, and the communities that win them must demonstrate their commitment to these kinds of improvements and to working together across jurisdictions, agencies and organizations (public and private) to get changes done. It’s a tangible way to show that working together brings results.

This federal support provides $4 for every dollar of local funding already on the books, making your local tax dollars go further while bringing some of your federal tax dollars back home. That hasn’t always happened in Lee County, so we need to celebrate a little when it does.

Perhaps the best summary was this: “Lee County’s Complete Streets initiative will complete a safe, integrated bike and pedestrian network, increasing economic activity for local businesses,” said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the grant announcement Sept. 5. “It’s investment in safety, it’s investment in community, it’s investment in mobility and it’s investment in transportation choice.”

More information • Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant: Lee County Complete Streets Initiative
• Grantee: Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization
• Grant amount: $10.5 million, along with a $2.7 million local match, for total project costs of $13.2 million
• Timing: Projects to be constructed starting a year from now, with completion of all projects by September 2016.
• Background:

— BikeWalkLee is 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. Information, statistics and background online at

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