Thursday, August 17, 2017

Play by the rules when you use our roads

BWL Column
The News-Press, 8/17/2017
by Ken Gooderham

Recent reporting on the rise of cycling in New York City hold a cautionary tale for other areas (including our own) working to encourage more people to use their bicycles more often.

And the final moral is: When more people are trying to use the same space, rules matter even more.”

Through improved infrastructure, bike sharing services and similar effort to promote cycling, NYC has seen a boom in bike use. For an urban area with chronic traffic, mass transit and parking issues, that should be good news.

By and large, it is… except when it isn’t. That usually occurs when all the users trying to traverse the same street don’t agree to play by the same rules. This was reflected in a spate of news stories spotlighting people upset by the recklessness more riders had wrought on the city streets and sidewalks, along with a recounting of how cycling had gradually made inroads on NYC roads over the last decade.

In the news coverage, a lot of the blame was pointed at cyclists – particularly those who ride recklessly, flout traffic rules and endanger pedestrians. Likely some of that blame is deserved; not following the rules of the roads (or sidewalk) is dangerous, and the more cyclists who do it the more dangerous it becomes.

However, having been a cyclist, a pedestrian and a motorist (albeit not at the same time), I’m betting there plenty of blame to go around for all these groups.

For every cyclist who blows through a traffic light or rides the wrong way in traffic or dangerously cuts off a pedestrian, there is also a motorist who drives aggressively around bikers or blocks crosswalks to see oncoming traffic, or who drifts (or flat-out drives) into a bike lane while it’s being used by others. There also are the pedestrians too distracted by a cell phone to pay attention to their surroundings, who let their kids or pets roam into the path of oncoming cyclists, or who in general make their way forward oblivious to other traffic (bike, car or otherwise) around them.

That’s why, in circumstances such as all these, following the rules matters. For what are rules but guidelines (often codified as laws) to facilitate how one user of the roadway should interact with another user in that same approximate space.

If we all were the only motorist or cyclist or pedestrian on that road, path or sidewalk, we wouldn’t need rules. We could do whatever we what, governed only by the laws of physics and some common sense.

But add one other user, and rules start to matter. Add a hundred more, and rules really matter.

But they matter equally, because anyone who breaks the rules of the road is putting all the other users at risk. The more rule-breakers, the more risk that results.

So if, on a busy urban street, you have sidewalks full of pedestrians, bike lanes full of cyclists and roads full of motor vehicles, anyone of those users who ignores the rules puts the other users at risk – and that person deserves blame for whatever ensues. But to isolate blame on only one user group usually doesn’t tell the real story.

The upside of more users (particularly the more vulnerable ones) often is more safety. More users means more awareness of them by the other users. See a sidewalk full of people and you probably will pay more attention at crosswalks and intersections. See a bike lane full of cyclists and you’ll likely watch out for them when you turn in or step out. And, obviously, see a road full of vehicles and you’ll slow down and pay more attention overall.

But the issues that arise when more people use roadways, as documented in New York City, should be a reminder to other areas working to encourage biking and walking that they also ought to encourage (and, if necessary, enforce) more adherence to the rules by all users. They also should look at their infrastructure – bike, pedestrian and motor vehicle – to ensure there’s enough room (and that it is safe room) for all of them on the roadways.

Our area faces two somewhat unique issues: The seasonality of our traffic means more users of all types in winter, practically guaranteeing overload during peak season since our infrastructure is not built for the busiest weeks. In addition, a lot of our traffic (again, of all types) may be visiting our area and thus unfamiliar with both our roads and our rules. Both of these make a greater case for even greater caution on the part of every type of traffic – bike, ped or motor.

The bottom line: Play by the rules when you use our roads, no matter what mode of transportation you choose.

Ready to ride or run?

Run? It’s still the dog days of summer – when even a dog shouldn’t be out there running – but you have a few events to tide you over until the running season returns this fall: The Fort Myers Track Club 5K Membership Run 7:30 a.m. this Saturday at the CenturyLink Sports Complex, Fort Myers ( On Aug 26, look for the North Collier Regional Rampage 5K kicking off at 7 a.m. at the North Collier Regional Park (

Ride? The regular Critical Mass rides are on the calendar: Friday is the Estero ride beginning at 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 25 is the Cape Coral ride also at 7:30 p.m.; and the following Saturday (Aug. 26) is the downtown slow roll in Fort Myers starting at 8 a.m. For night rides lights are required, helmets recommended, and details and sign-up info is online at

Both? Nothing scheduled nearby until September, which will bring the Venice YMCA Sprint on Sept. 2 (, followed by the Galloway Captiva Tri weekend Sept. 9-10 (kids are Saturday, sprint on Sunday, info at At the end of the month there’s the Siesta Key Sprint (


Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.

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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 


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