Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Could parts of Lee County earn ‘runner friendly’ designations?

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 8/16/17

We’re not pedestrian friendly, but are we runner friendly?

Is it possible to be both the worst place in America to be a pedestrian and earn a Runner Friendly Community designation at the same time?

“Of course not” would be the obvious answer. But while Lee County has about as poor an environment for those on bikes as it does for pedestrians, we nonetheless have two League of American Bicyclists’ designated Bicycle Friendly Communities in our midst.

Road Runners Club of America has a program similar to LAB’s that requires a detailed application be submitted making the case for the positive label. Per RRCA’s website, “The goal of this program is to shine a spotlight on communities that standout as runner friendly and to provide incentive for communities to work towards this designation. Runner-friendly communities can increase the quality of life, can improve physical activity for residents, and can provide for increased economic impact for the community.”

Considering the popularity of running in our area, there are some good candidates within Lee County, even though overall we have a less than stellar pedestrian environment. That’s the same scenario as for Bike Friendly Community status.

Over a decade ago, at the urging of Lee County’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Lee County government submitted a Bike Friendly Community application to LAB. County Department of Transportation staff did much of the work in pulling together the necessary data and preparing the application, an application which many of us assumed was going to be denied.

As expected, it was, but it provided a roadmap as to what needed to be done to reach even the honorable mention level. It’s difficult for an entire county the size of Lee — including all the municipalities (there were only three at the time) — to be awarded Bike Friendly Community status since there are so many different sub-communities and their specific environments and shortcomings to be judged as part of the whole.

That’s why when years later Sanibel and Cape Coral submitted their own applications they fared much better and have become Bicycle Friendly Communities.

According to RRCA’s website, the organization will rate each applicant on the physical infrastructure, the amount of community support and degree of local government support. Each element includes criteria that must be addressed. The goal is to prove that the applicant community works together to promote running as a healthy activity for residents and visitors while ensuring runners safety.

With those elements as the gauges, the municipalities I’d consider very runner friendly include Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs. Estero will have a chance in the future but is still too soon into its life as an incorporated entity to know if the government is supportive enough.

Cape Coral, for all it’s done to earn Bicycle Friendly status, is still short on having a fully connected, safe and enjoyable pedestrian network. With the same commitment to creating that infrastructure as the city has shown towards improving the bicycling environment Cape Coral could earn the designation.

The city of Fort Myers, even with McGregor Boulevard and its adjacent neighborhoods providing some of the best places for running in Lee County, has too many problems in other parts of the city and its governmental commitment is questionable at best.

Ironically, at least in name, much of the credit for the robust running culture in our area goes to Fort Myers Track Club, our area’s first running club and still the preeminent race organizer/facilitator.

FMTC has been promoting running and putting on races since 1978. Because of FMTC and now many others, the community support element of the application will fare well for any applicant; physical infrastructure and government support will be the difference whether RRCA deems any worthy of being considered runner friendly.

The application process begins with a nomination from an RRCA member organization or business. It includes taking on the task of completing the online application. While not as exhaustive as LAB’s process it does include chasing down some of the information government will need to provide (their cooperation will be a clue as to how that element will fare).

The payoff to this effort includes further expanding the running community; improving individual health; and economic benefits for tourism, home builders, the healthcare industry, and business of all types, whether they cater to runners. As well, having one or more Runner Friendly Communities in Lee County should be an indicator of movement away from being the most dangerous place in America to be a pedestrian, whether one is walking or running.

My hope is that someone will nominate one or more of our communities, the first step toward becoming a Runner Friendly Community. ¦

- 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 and 334-6417. 

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