Monday, October 12, 2015

BikeWalkLee asks Lee Legislative Delegation to strengthen bike/ped safety laws

BikeWalkLee is speaking at the October 14th annual Lee County Legislative Delegation meeting to request the members of our delegation to support efforts to strength laws that make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists (most importantly the Passidomo bike safety bill (HB 253), along with three other priority areas (bike tourism, transit, and equitable distribution of transportation dollars to SWFL) in the upcoming legislative session. Darla Letourneau will make BikeWalkLee's presentation at Wednesday's meeting. Click here for the advance letter we submitted.  

WGCU recorded the entire meeting and posted the testimony of all the speakers on their website (BWL testimony on afternoon video at 55:27-1:01). Also see the Cape Coral Mayor's statement that asked for funding for sidewalks near schools (see Exhibit G). 
BWL's Darla Letourneau with Rep. Fitzenhagen at 10/14 mtg

October 1, 2015

Members of Lee County Legislative Delegation:

BikeWalkLee, a coalition working to complete Lee County's streets, promotes policies that enhance the safety and usability of our roadways.  BikeWalkLee wishes to thank the Lee Legislative Delegation for its support of several of our priority requests last year, which were enacted and/or advanced during the last Legislative Session. The purpose of this letter is to highlight important priorities we hope the delegation will support in the upcoming legislative session:
1) Efforts to strengthen laws that make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists; 

2) Focused strategies that enhance economic development through bike tourism; 

3) State support for a robust public transit system; and

4)  Equitable distribution of transportation dollars to SWFL.

1. Stronger laws for bike/ped safety
Our top priority continues to be the need for stronger laws and enforcement tools to make Florida roadways safer for pedestrians and cyclists.  For over a decade, Florida has held the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous state in the country for pedestrians and cyclists.  (Locally , Lee County ranks in the top quarter of the most dangerous areas in the  state.)  In August, there was yet another report confirming Florida's "worst in country" ranking--this one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  This national report found that Florida had the highest rate of bicycling deaths of any state in the nation--0.57 per 100,000 people, more than double the nationwide rate of 0.23 per 100,000.  As the recent Tampa Tribune article stated, "Perhaps most disturbing, while other states have found ways to dramatically cut bicycle deaths during two periods measured over the last three decades, Florida has barely made a dent--reducing the number less than 10 percent.  Only Wyoming made a poorer showing."
One of the reasons Florida has made so little progress is its lax driver safety laws.  Florida ranks as the seventh worst state for driver safety laws, as ranked by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.  There is clearly a relationship between high bike/ped fatality rates and lax driver safety laws.  It is critical that Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature continue to make roadway safety the top transportation priority, with a goal of greatly reducing bike/ped fatalities.

Our top legislative priority last year and again this year is enactment of HB 231, the bike safety bill introduced and championed by Rep. Passidomo and co-sponsored by Rep. Fitzenhagen.   It was extremely disappointing to see this bill, which passed both the House and Senate almost unanimously, become a casualty of the abrupt ending of the Legislative Session last year.  We are pleased to see that Rep. Passidomo has already introduced a strengthened version of her bill for the 2016 legislative session.  It is gratifying to see the Southwest Florida legislative delegation  play a statewide leadership role in improving the safety of our roads for people biking and walking.  This effort is strongly supported by our community--the Lee MPO, the Collier County Commission, municipalities in Southwest Florida, the local media, as well as Naples Pathways Coalition and BikeWalkLee.  We urge you to again lead this fight for improved safety for cyclists and make enactment of this bill a top priority for the upcoming session.  

We also appreciate the Delegation's support of Gabby's Law for Student Safety, which was enacted last year. This bill changes the "hazardous walking conditions" criteria and requires both local governments and school districts to work on fixing the hazards within a reasonable timeframe.  It is another tool aimed at making it safer for school children to walk or bike to school, and local communities will be working on its implementation this year.

The Florida Dept. of Transportation (FDOT) continues its statewide bike/ped safety campaign, led by  FDOT District 1 Secretary Billy Hattaway, aimed at reversing Florida's dubious distinction of being the most dangerous state in the nation for cyclists and pedestrians.  This Fall, FDOT will be announcing policy and guidance changes to implement its 2014 complete streets policy, which will provide additional tools for state and local agencies to change the way roads are designed so that they're safer for all users.  Support by the Governor and the Legislature for these positive FDOT initiatives  are important to sustain the momentum and focus on improving Florida's dismal bike/ped safety record.
While FDOT has made bike/ped safety a top priority and Secretary Hattaway is providing strong leadership, it will take time before we see the benefits in terms of fewer bike/ped fatalities and injuries. The issues that have made our state so dangerous are deeply imbedded in road design and land use. Change requires support from state laws, enforcement, public awareness, and driver behavior.  Similar to successful drunk driving and seatbelt campaigns, it takes years of work using many different tools to change people's behavior and get results.  Over the past three years, the Legislature has begun to strengthen its driver safety laws, but much remains to be done.  

In addition to passing legislation to strengthen the laws, it is important that the new laws be aggressively implemented by both law enforcement agencies and the judicial system.  For example, while the Legislature's 2014 enactment of the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act (strengthens penalties for leaving the scene of a crash and was named for the Miami cyclist who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2012) was a major step forward,  aggressive enforcement and prosecution of this law is critical to stopping the growing number of hit-and-run crashes. The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP)is to be commended for making this a priority, however, hit-and-run crashes in Florida are a growing problem and much more needs to be done by the entire law enforcement community and judicial system.  While we are not proposing further legislation at this time, anything that our state legislative leaders can do to encourage law enforcement to aggressively enforce and prosecute the law you passed in 2014 would be appreciated.

While the Florida Legislature finally adopted a “texting while driving” ban in 2012, it was only a first step and a weak bill.  Distracted driving (including texting while driving) is contributing to the rise in the share of traffic fatalities involving pedestrians and cyclists, including the increase in hit-and-run crashes.  It is critically important that the Legislature take action this year to strengthen the texting law so that texting while driving is made a primary offense.  Last year we supported HB 1, which made texting while driving a primary offense, doubled the fines, and provided enhanced penalties for violations when committed in a school zone or school crossing.   We urge the Lee delegation to not only support this legislation, but to champion it.

It is also important that the Legislature not adopt legislation that will worsen our existing road safety problems, such as bills to raise speed limits on Florida roads any other bill that would make matters worse.

A new urgency to focus on this issue was reflected in the Surgeon General recent national "Call to Action" to make walking a national priority. This campaign focuses  on the need to build communities where walking is a safe and convenient option.  Not only is this critical to fighting the obesity epidemic, it is important to the economic health of our communities. Over and over, people have shown that  they want to live and work in walkable communities.  As the most dangerous state in the country for people to walk and bike, Florida is starting off with a serious handicap in providing its citizens with the tools-- safe and accessible walking and biking infrastructure--that provides  the ability to stay physically active and healthy.  There is pent-up demand for walkable communities. Those areas around the country that have created vibrant walkable neighborhoods are reaping the economic benefits from their investment, while Florida lags behind.  Much is at stake for Florida's future in making our roadways and streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.  We urge the Legislature to make walkability and bike/ped safety a higher priority and an integral part of the State's economic development strategy. 

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