Wednesday, November 22, 2017

‘Bike friendly’ includes accepting legal group rides

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 11/21/17

Being designated a Bike Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists is an honor and something any community should strive for. Potential benefits — if not already realized, at least to some degree — come in the form of quality of life, safety and economics. The extensive application process requires documentation of the many aspects of eligibility, from infrastructure to traffic crash statistics to community commitment.

Besides advocates, bike promoters and citizen visionaries who are usually the driving forces behind seeking BFC status, the local government must buy in and be an integral part of the application process, since much of the documentation and commitment that’s required comes from them.

This generally results in a unified voice but sometimes there’s disagreement between the two camps’ vision of what being “bike-friendly” really means.

Over a decade ago, Lee County completed an application that included only unincorporated Lee County, but that attempt was summarily dismissed and Lee County didn’t even make honorable mention. The county received a long list of “to dos” from LAB so it at least had a starting point. From a practical standpoint, whole counties rarely do well since there are so many disparate sub-communities, including underserved ones that have little. But now two municipalities in Lee have been granted BFC status — the city of Sanibel and the city of Cape Coral, the former being a silver-level BFC and latter bronze.

I’m writing about this is because I continue to hear of incidents on Sanibel that make me wonder about whether its silver-level status is deserved. In particular, those who choose to use the road seem to be unwelcome there.

Sanibel’s network of multi-use paths is well known and is one of the reasons the island community is such a popular tourist and day-tripper destination. Other than bike lanes on a few hundred yards of San-Cap Road near the Blind Pass Bridge to Captiva, and paved shoulders on a very short segment of Causeway Boulevard, there is nothing in place to accommodate on-road cyclists.

Group riders - courtesy
That’s not necessarily a problem because the top speed limit on the island is 35 mph, making road riding both safe and enjoyable for many cyclists. What does appear to be a problem, however, is that the city doesn’t seem to want cyclists anywhere but on the paths.

If that’s indeed the case, Sanibel is not alone in its lack of enthusiasm for group riders on its roads, sometimes for valid reasons. Our public roads are not race courses so anyone who operates on them is if they were — in or on any vehicle — deserves to be treated as the law dictates. And when cyclists come in large numbers and operate legally, sometimes creating delay or causing motorists to be extra careful when around them, they should be allowed to proceed on the public roads just like other legal users.

I’ve received reports of cyclists in group rides being stopped for obstructing traffic, riding two abreast, and tailgating. Interestingly, the first two of those actions are completely legal while tailgating is a common and useful cycling tactic that allows a group to travel much faster than one could alone. On Sanibel that can mean the group is oftentimes able to operate near the speed limit.

Florida law requires cyclists to ride as “far right as practicable” and may ride two abreast when not impeding traffic. Here’s where a problem seems to lie: According to the Florida Greenbook (, the official roadway standards guide, any travel lane less than 14 feet wide is considered “substandard” in terms of it being able to accommodate a bicycle and motor vehicle side-by-side and still allow the required three-foot buffer between the two. In such cases a person operating a bike may ride on any part of the lane and is not illegally impeding traffic; riding two abreast does not change this dynamic and in fact should be encouraged since it shortens the length of the group, whether there are 20 or two riders in that group, thus making them easier to pass if necessary. It is, by the way, legal to pass stationary objects or vehicles travelling less than the posted speed limit in a no-passing zone when safe to do so.

Being a BFC means there’s a commitment to embrace the use of bicycles. This includes those who choose to use the paths or roads. In Sanibel’s case, the usually busy pathways are not appropriate or safe for those who operate at speeds approaching the motor vehicle speed limits, nor is it safe for other pathway users. If Sanibel truly deserves its BFC designation it will deal with this fact in a different way than they sometimes have been. And cyclists — especially group riders — cannot expect the city to tolerate cyclists who treat their roads or paths as race courses or break traffic laws. I trust everyone can agree that both parties must cooperate. As always, for more about this and similar matters, visit BikeWalkLee’s blog at ¦

- 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. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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