Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 1/18/2017
This dubious distinction will stick with us well beyond the release of the next Dangerous by Design report in early 2019 and will undoubtedly affect tourism and decision making of those considering where to visit or even move to in Florida. The report is issued by Smart Growth America.
To be fair, the report is based on data from 2005 through 2014, so many of the gains made in terms of infrastructure improvements in the past two years are not included in the calculations that led to our dismal ranking. For example, most of the $10 million TIGER grant work (significant bike/ped projects in south Lee County) was done after 2014. And a few transportation projects that were approved since the majority of local and state jurisdictions adopted a Complete Streets policy are either just now underway or are still in the planning stages. Perhaps these improvements will equate to a better ranking by the time of the next report. But the lack of sidewalks, shared-use paths and bike lanes isn’t the only reason we have so many pedestrian and bicyclist crashes, injuries and fatalities. Another factor is human behavior.
Drivers are one of the biggest factors. Motorist inattention, aggressiveness and ineptitude are clearly much of the problem. The actions of pedestrians and cyclists are also part of the dynamic. But these human factors exist everywhere, so why are conditions worse in some places — particularly here — than anywhere else?
As the study’s title implies, the design of local transportation networks is a primary factor. In our case and those of others with similar focus on motor vehicle movement, this type of design creates expectations among drivers that we should move as quickly and as uninterrupted as possible whenever we’re behind the wheel.
The fact that so many streets are turned into highways and highway-like roads means vulnerable users must contend with that dynamic on an ongoing basis. Intersections designed for motor vehicles first and foremost with other modes being accommodated as an afterthought makes the hierarchy clear to all users and leads drivers to ignore crosswalks, common courtesy and laws intended to create a safe environment for non-motorists. This results in pedestrians and cyclists oftentimes making their own rules as a survival technique to get from point A to point B.
If the reason we’re number one were truly about human nature, in general Lee County and other communities with similar transportation network designs (i.e. most of those in the top 10 of the list, almost all being in Florida) wouldn’t consistently fare so much worse than other places around the country, neither in this ranking or in each of the previous Dangerous by Design rankings.
Among other things, human behavior is shaped by expectations, so the outcome isn’t really surprising. The findings of this report confirm what the injury prevention community, enlightened community and transportation planners, human service providers, some elected officials, and average citizens have long been advocating for: to take the problem seriously and to put pedestrian and bicycle accommodation and safety on the same level as that of the motoring public.
Spending a mere fraction of the overall transportation budget to plop down a sidewalk here and there (major outside funding sources like the TIGER grant aside) has gotten us to where we are now. What’s needed is a complete reset of our transportation network priorities and design standards. Anything less and we’ll continue to experience unnecessary and tragic loss of life, lives ruined forever by permanent injury, and significant economic losses to individuals and our community at large. If this doesn’t serve as a wake-up call to our elected officials, senior government staff, the business community and the general public, nothing will. See BikeWalkLee’s blog (bikewalklee. blogspot.org) for more on this report and what’s next. To see the complete report, visit www.smartgrowthamerica.org/dangerous-by-design. ¦
- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and 334-6417.