The News-Press, 7/6/2017
by Ken Gooderham
There are a number of obstacles to overcome, some manmade and some natural. The natural issues are obvious, at least this time of year… it’s hot and it rains a lot some days. However, there are many places where weather can be an issue for walkers, and yet people walk just the same. Why? Because the manmade issues are less of an impediment, giving people more reason to brave the elements.
You can push back against some of the weather-related woes -- think trees for shade and shelters for a brief break --and remember that, for more than half of the year, our weather is an asset for walkers compared to more northern climes.
For improved walkability, you’d need to address the two kinds of walkers – the “utilitarians,” who walk to get somewhere, and the “recreationals,” who walk for pleasure and health. The latter will walk if you give them a place to do it, so appealing to them is easy (assuming they get how good walking can be for your body).
Appealing to the destination-driven takes a little more work, particularly in our area where walking infrastructure can be lacking and development patterns are grounded in the old suburban model of homes way over here and businesses way over there.
Still, this is not an insurmountable challenge, and communities are making moves to make walking more welcome. How can that be done?
- Make walking easier than the other transportation options. When it’s easier (or less expensive or less hassle) to walk to some place than it is to drive, people will walk. And if you target the appropriate areas for pedestrian infrastructure – places that have destinations, just not sidewalks or paths – you’ll see a much quicker return on that public investment.
- Plan for walking from the beginning, not after the fact. Building roadways with sidewalks and bike lanes designed in is a lot cheaper than installing them after the fact Making parks and other public spaces both walkable and connected to a larger network of transportation makes them both destination and thoroughfare, and increases their use and value. And making infrastructure conducive to walking will encourage use, unlike some of our local roadways that almost defy someone to walk on or along them.
- Make walking safe. Safe from injury, safe from crime, safe consistently and overall. In an area with some of the worst pedestrian safety rankings in the country, this point cannot be overstated.
- Give people a destination they can walk to. That may mean rethinking our neighborhoods, so shops can mix in with homes like the good old days. It certainly means rethinking our transportation planning, where bike and pedestrian infrastructure is underfunded and under-appreciated.
- Look at walking as a viable part of your transportation system. Not everyone has a motor vehicle, and not everyone should have to drive to survive. (There are some people you really don’t want behind the wheel, for example.) So if walking can get them to and from some reliable form of mass transit, that makes a vehicle a little less essential.
Why would we want to make our area more walkable? That’s easy… it’s healthier, it gets people out of their cars and it improves our sense of community. It would be an attractive asset for tourists and residents alike, particularly as more people look for alternatives to being trapped in a car every day. It can certainly be good for business, since you notice a lot more walking by a storefront than you do driving by one. And it is a clear boon to health, a physical activity almost everyone can do and gain benefits from almost immediately.
What’s not to love?
Stop it!A quick quiz for drivers: You’re approaching an intersection in your vehicle. Where do you stop?
A) At the thick white line that crosses your lane (or lanes)?
B) At the first of two parallel lines that cross the entire road?
C) At the second parallel line, the one closest to the intersection itself?
If you answered A, congrats. You obeyed the law and made a pedestrian very happy. If you answered B, you’re wrong… but at least you stayed out of the crosswalk.
If you picked C, not only did you impinge on the pedestrian crosswalk (not cool) but you may have blocked the line of sight for right-turning drivers watching for oncoming traffic (also not cool) – and, at some intersections, you also missed the trigger to turn the traffic signal green. So you may be stuck there until someone pulls up behind you and stops in the correct spot.
Ready to ride or run?Run? Heat and humidity are taking their toll on run events, but there’s still a few to choose from: Try the Beat the Heat 5K at Jaycee Park in Cape Coral on Saturday, July 15 (3dracinginc.com) or join the Fort Myers Track Club for a two-mile fun run on Tuesday, July 18 (ftmyerstrackclub.com).
Ride? You can always count on Critical Mass rides: Friday night is the big downtown monthly ride, massing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday is the Sanibel ride, and Friday, July 14 is the NE Lee ride. They all start at 7:30 p.m., lights are required and helmets recommended, and details and sign-up info is online at www.meetup.com/Biking-SWFL/events. For a longer ride, head to Punta Gorda for the 9th annual Wheels and Wings on Saturday, July 9; details at www.peaceriverridersbicycleclub.com.
Both? Saturday brings the Englewood YMCA Sprint Tri in Englewood (www.swflymca.org/programs/englewood-triathlon). Planning ahead, there’s the Naples Junior Triathlon on Saturday, Aug. 12, at North Collier Regional Park (naplesjuniortriathlon.com), and the Galloway Captiva Tri weekend Sept. 9-10… kids events on Saturday and the adult sprint on Sunday, captivatri.org.
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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, 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 www.BikeWalkLee.org.