Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Blame it on Irma

Dan Moser
BWL Guest Column - 10/25/2017

For all of us who’ve been attempting to get around outdoors since early September on foot, by wheelchair (manual or motorized), or by bike it’s still hit-and-miss as to whether the way is clear. Because this unfortunate condition continues I’m compelled to speak up about it.

Well over a month after the major storm event debris remains on vital infrastructure, some being on pathways along major roads too busy for pedestrians or even most cyclists to “share” with cars and trucks. What could be considered an inconvenience for some of us is much more serious for others. At the risk of sounding like a broken record and labeled a whiner I’m none the less going to make the case that our community priorities need to change when it comes to non-motorized elements of our transportation network.

At a community event I attended recently to promote and encourage bike and pedestrian safety I spoke to a woman who uses a motorized wheelchair. She told me of having to summon law enforcement to help get untangled from debris on the Summerlin Rd pathway. Over a month after Irma deposited large tree limbs and palm fronds from the Whiskey Creek neighborhood most remain on that pathway, continuing to hinder many non-motorists.

There were at least six more of these obstructions on a one-mile segment of Summerlin Road
well over a month after Irma.
These obstacles are quite obvious to anyone driving along that segment of Summerlin so it’s hard to imagine why no one in a position to take action to have the debris removed ever did, or, apparently, even reported it.

I’ve personally made a number of requests since the storm in an attempt to prod our local governments to ensure safe access for pedestrian and bicycle traffic on our main roads, with a clear understanding that it would be impossible for every sidewalk and pathway to be made a priority. Just a short time after clean-up began very few, if any, motor vehicle travel lanes remained impassible, but pedestrians and cyclists haven’t received anywhere near the same level of service as the motoring public. At a certain point in time, even after a major storm event such as this one, that’s no longer justifiable, especially when access for people with disabilities remains hindered and when it puts anyone needing to use the facilities at risk.

The crews doing the heavy lifting are to be commended. I have no beef with their efforts – they’re simply doing what they’re tasked to do, sun-up to sundown in many cases. Where I believe change needs to occur is among those making the vital decisions about what tasks take precedence.

Any post-disaster recovery effort requires a plan that should be in place well before it’s needed, something I assume is the case for each of our local governments in this event. If the plan does not have pedestrian access and ADA compliance on the same level as that for motor vehicles the plan needs to be changed to make it so. Especially on major and busy roads and in areas where car ownership levels are lower than average, being able to walk and bicycle safely isn’t a luxury but a necessity. Along with public safety it’s also about social equity.

This is a common scene in Pine Manor where most sidewalks and bike lanes remain
impassible over a month after Irma.
 One glaring example of the inequity is in Pine Manor where more than one month after Irma’s devastation it appears no debris whatsoever was picked-up, meaning most sidewalks and paved shoulders remain impassible. This is a neighborhood with lower than average car ownership levels and many children and folks with disabilities needing a safe place to travel.

As we move forward and get beyond the first stages of recovery it’s looking like Irma’s going to take the blame for many programmed and funded projects that would improve safety and access for non-motorists to be pushed back indefinitely or even cancelled. While some delays are to be expected and justified I fear Irma will be used as an excuse rather than legitimate reason for delaying or killing some improvements already in the queue, especially by local governments. “Blame it on Irma” may well become the buzz-term for foot-dragging on moving towards creating a network of Complete Streets and working to remove the stigma that Lee County and all its towns and cities have earned by being tagged as the most dangerous place in the USA for pedestrians. I hope I’m wrong.

- 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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