Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, April 24, 2019
|Infrastructure like this “solar tree” could illuminate and provide seating in remote areas, making it safer for bus riders. COURTESY PHOTO|
Will the recent deaths of two student pedestrians who were hit by motor vehicles result in real change this time? Tragedies like these usually do little more than raise awareness and provoke outrage for a short time before public pressure and actual efforts to find solutions wane.
One would like to think when children are the victims of such tragedies — especially those who did nothing that added to their risk — we as a community would do everything necessary to ensure it doesn’t occur again. However, over the decades I’ve been involved in working to prevent such occurrences, that’s simply not been the case. Other than survivors and families of those who have been lost, collectively we seem to have short memories.
I don’t claim to have the solution to what is clearly a complicated problem. It’s going to take a number of efforts and reforms to do the job, some that may be unappealing to the powers that be, especially in terms of land use and transportation infrastructure decisions. Reform in those areas and other potential solutions would require a sea change for our community.
Another big-picture element that has created the need for kids to wait in the dark on empty lots and roads that weren’t meant to handle the kind of traffic they get is our suburban sprawl model of development. This growth pattern also means schools are being built in locations with little to no infrastructure for those students who would walk or bike there. We’ll never completely undo the damage done by this suburban sprawl model, but we can at least stop making it worse, although that also seems unlikely as our elected officials and community development departments continue to give their stamps of approval to developers who only see dollar signs with the status quo. As well, implementing Complete Streets can do wonders for pedestrians, folks on bikes and drivers alike, but we need to stop the bleeding as that’s put in place. And the school district needs to think critically about the problems they create by siting schools in the hinterlands.
As for what might be done in the immediate future, I’m pleased to see the variety of options being put forth as the school district, law enforcement, students, parents and the larger community come together with their ideas. As I wrote about in a previous column, training for teachers and others who can offer traffic safety instruction to students is readily available at no cost to those being trained, resources that are woefully underutilized. A critical and thorough assessment of bus stop locations and walking/ biking audits of the streets around schools are hopefully going to be undertaken so local governments will be aware of infrastructure needs. Benches and solar lighting can be implemented relatively quickly. Ensuring that kids can be seen by the use of lights and reflective clothing and backpacks should be something done yesterday, an aspect of the problem that requires individual and family responsibility. And while law enforcement can’t be everywhere, beefing-up patrols around bus stops and within school walking and biking distances should also already be the norm.
I’m sure many more practical ideas will be offered and considered as the community comes together, ideas that in the end will be helpful to all of us who use our public roads. To learn more, visit bikewalklee.blogspot.com and www.streetsaliveswfl.org. ¦
- 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 email@example.com and 334-6417.
For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (caloosariders.org); Florida Mudcutters (mudcutters.org); and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group (meetup.com/Biking-SWFL). The Florida Bicycle Association (floridabicycle.org) 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.