Monday, March 9, 2015

BWL June 26, 2014 Column: responding to biking fatalities by redoubling efforts to make it safer

This excellent BikeWalkLee column (written by Ken Gooderham of BWL), appeared in the June 26, 2014 News-Press "Go Coastal" section (and somehow is missing from our blog!), was our response to the initial News-Press feature by Janine Zeitlin about how to respond to the spotlight on biking fatalities.  Its message is worth reading again after the March 8, 2015 series...."we hope people (and policy makers) read coverage such as this and decide that we need to make this a safer place to bike and walk".

There’s a fine line between facts and fears.

The facts are bicyclists and pedestrians get hurt and even killed in Southwest Florida at an unacceptable rate – and the people responsible for these injuries or deaths often get away with minimal punishment.

The fears are that people will be scared off our streets and even sidewalks when the issue of bike/ped dangers is brought to light. Someone will read about a horrendous accident or tragic death and think, “That could be me next. No way am I riding or walking out there!”

The fact is that in any interaction between a motor vehicle and a bicyclist or walker, the vehicle wins.
The fear is that, if we turn our backs on bikers and walkers when it comes to public infrastructure,we also turn our backs on a real asset this community can offer – the ability to get from place to place without having to rely on a motor vehicle.

The fact is there are laws on the books to protect bikers and walkers, clearly spelling out the responsibility of all parties (including motorists) in keeping everyone safe when using our transportation corridors.

The fear is that if those laws aren’t enforced, they are less than worthless – the laxity encourages motorists to maim and drivers to be reckless. Why? Because there are no consequences for their actions… until there are. Motorists threaten cyclists, getting too close or turning without looking – and they drive away with a minimal fine (if that) while the cyclist is left injured (at best facing months of recovery and piles of medical bills) or, worst case, dead.

BikeWalkLee appreciates and applauds the recent News-Press coverage of bike/ped dangers, particularly the “Vicious cycle” package by reporter Janine Zeitlin on June 15, as well the accompanying editorial strongly supporting greater safety for bikers and walkers. This kind of coverage spotlights the dangers and the need for answers, hopefully encouraging bikers and walkers to be more aware, motorists to share the road more willingly and law enforcement officials to be more rigorous in keeping our roadways safe. That means both using existing laws to punish reckless and supporting new laws to address dangerous behavior.

But shining a spotlight can also cast a shadow – in this case, instilling fears in some bikers and walkers that Southwest Florida’s streets are just too dangerous for them, leaving more people either trapped in their homes because they’d afraid to bike or walk in their neighborhood, or trapped in their cars because that’s the only way they feel safe going anywhere to do anything.

Not only is that bad for people (adults who can’t exercise, kids unable to play), it’s bad for business (walkable areas prosper, and more foot/bike traffic often means more customers who are able to notice storefronts that they’d normally miss when driving by) and our transportation grid (if every trip has to be by car, we simply won’t be able to build roads fast enough to accommodate them all), among other things.

Better bike/walk infrastructure is a win-win for Southwest Florida. It’s a draw for tourists and residents, more of whom like the option of biking or walking places as they are used to doing elsewhere. It gives people easier access to exercise, a crucial pathway to better health. It gives people transportation alternatives, essential to preventing people from being trapped in their homes or limited in their job options. And it something that, in sunny Southwest Florida, can be used 365 days a year (although some of those days may be a little warmer than others).

The fact is that, as was seen in the cyclists chronicled in “A vicious cycle,” bad things happen to good cyclists – but, thanks to their fitness and their willingness to adopt a few common-sense safety habits (mostly, wearing a bike helmet and other gear), these cyclists survived.

The fear is that, if even good cyclists doing all the right things are so at risk, what about the rest of us? Is the message that accidents are survivable if you take the proper precautions… or that accidents are inevitable and you should lock your bike up in the garage and never use it again?

Bike lanes and mixed-use paths only get built when people support them – and if the prospect of walking or biking around here becomes so fraught with peril that fewer people do it, there goes the support and the project money it brings.

Instead, we hope people (and policy makers) read coverage such as this and decide that we need to make this a safer place to bike and walk. The fact that getting people out of their cars does so many good things for our area that we have to quell the fears that arise when a bicyclist or a pedestrian is needlessly and grievously hurt.

The fact is in many areas around the country motorists, cyclists and pedestrians get along just fine, coexisting in a confined area without anyone getting hurt or inconvenienced.

The fear of many is that will never happen here. Let’s prove that fear to be unfounded.
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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: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at

Another key BWL column on safety message:  
August 21, 2014:

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