In today's column, Dan traces his journey to advocacy and encourages you to get involved. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the original Lee County team of Harold, Ed, Moshen, Stu, and Dan.
Florida Weekly, Outdoors: June 24, 2015
Whether it be for recreation, exercise or transportation, being able to safely and enjoyably ride a bike, run, walk, skate or take part in any other human-powered activity that takes one out into the public way has been the focus of my interest for decades. Sparked by my experiences when I ventured into the running world in 1978, it quickly became my passion and then my full-time profession. And although I truly believe we (i.e., those in charge) should be doing a much better job in making that a reality for anyone wanting to do any of those activities, the fact is that much progress has been made since my days as a newbie advocate. The reason for that progress has a lot to do with the people who were my major local influences in the early days, which eventually led to the BikeWalkLee advocacy group coming together.
For me, it all began when I decided to do something about not being able to get to Lakes Park’s only entrance on foot or by bike when I lived only one mile from the access (there was no Summerlin access back then). At the time, Gladiolus Drive had a deathtrap curve with ditches as shoulders in the area of the park’s entrance. Even as a young man who loved trail running, I knew it was too risky to make that one-mile trek on foot. I also knew it wasn’t fair that access into what was even then one of our gems of a park was limited only to those in cars. This inequity not only impacted my personal desire to run and bike to and from my own park, but shut out those in neighborhoods like nearby Harlem Heights at a time when that community had no park of its own.
As a customer of Benjamin Cyclery, I found an effort to advocate for change already happening. Harold Benjamin, the store’s owner, was one of our area’s first true bike/ped advocates, but I was exposed to Bikeways Lee County by his son, Ed, who was part of the family business. It wasn’t long before I attended my first meeting of the newly formed Lee County Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee. There I met the sacrificial lamb for the Lee Department of Transportation who was stuck in the thankless job of bike/ped coordinator at the time, Mohsen Salehi. I also met vocal committee board member Stu Hodes. Between Ed, Mohsen and Stu, I found inspiration and knew I’d be involved in this ongoing effort for a long, long time. The things I learned from each of these individuals have been the basis for my approach ever since.
From Ed I learned that one needn’t acquire endless degrees and certifications to be credible because practical knowledge of the subject is key, whether as an advocate, professional or combination of the two. From Mohsen I learned to work with the key entities involved (i.e., government and private interests), even when they appear to be uncaring and unwilling to move in a different direction. And from Stu I learned the value of showing up and being persistent. Along the way there were many others who deserve credit for getting us to where BikeWalkLee picked up in 2008, but I consider Harold and Ed Benjamin, Mohsen Salehi and Stu Hodes to be the foundation of our advocacy efforts here in Lee County. Harold passed away in 1997 but the others are still in our community. When you see them, be sure to thank them for the work they did and continue to do.
It’s that time of year when budgets are being developed and our long range transportation plan is being updated, so we’ll soon find out where our various government leaders stand on continuing to improve bike/ped and transit. We hear lots of support in public settings for efforts that make things better, but too frequently it turns out to be business as usual when limited resources are divvied up. And now that the local economy is back on track (if you call cookie-cutter and high-end gated developments being “on track”) the private interests that make their money off the old ways of developing our community (and, by default, our transportation network) seem to be running the show. Gee, what a surprise. All one can do is hope those of us who have to live with the effects of sprawl and turning roads into highways will eventually get fed up and take action. I suggest following the predictable but regressive decisions of those elected officials who have become proxies of developers by visiting BikeWalkLee’s blog (bikewalklee.blogspot.com) and by signing up for regular updates via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Who knows? It may inspire you to get involved, just as I did via Bikeways Lee County back in the day.
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways. ¦
Freedom 5K, Saturday, July 4, Cape Coral (ftmyerstrackclub.com)
Bonita Rotary Star Spangled 5k, Saturday, July 4, Bonita Springs(3dracinginc.com)
Beat the Heat 5K, Saturday, July 25, Cape Coral (3dracinginc.com)
FMTC Summer Fun Runs, various dates (ftmyerstrackclub.com)
3D Racing Summer Series, various dates (3dracinginc.com)
Cycling and other events:
Wheels & Wings, Sunday, July 12, Punta Gorda (peaceriverridersbicycleclub.com)
SWFL Critical Mass, Friday, July 3, downtown Fort Myers (swflcriticalmass.wordpress.com)
Captiva Triathlon, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 12-13, Captiva (captivatri.org)
— Contact Dan Moser at email@example.com and 334- 6417.