Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, June 19, 2019
|A sign at Colonial Boulevard and Ortiz Avenue marks a trailhead park and linear trail. DAN MOSER / FLORIDA WEEKLY|
For example, at a recent Healthy Lee steering committee meeting, the keynote speaker was Dale Allen, president of Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, an organization that wields significant sway in our state for projects and funding related to the foundation’s namesake. This is not Mr. Allen’s first visit to Southwest Florida or his only presentation to a room full of heavy-hitters. Mr. Allen’s message was to convince committee members that embracing trails and greenways for non-motorized uses benefits everyone in many ways.
Before getting into the advantages, I’d like to define the kind of trail I’m writing about: paved, non-motorized shared-use paths, 10 feet to 14 feet wide, preferably not adjacent to a roadway but if so, separated with a significant buffer. John Yarbrough Linear Park Trail is an example.
There are also a number of Railsto Trails facilities throughout Florida, including one in Lee County on Gasparilla Island. As well, parts of the East Coast Greenway and U.S. Bicycle Route System are within Florida.
So, trails are no stranger to our state, although ones of significant distance and substance are relatively rare here in Southwest Florida. We’re missing out on the many benefits they represent.
Naysayers who believe trails are a waste of money and serve only a small segment of those who pay for them overlook their multitude of economic, safety, health, quality of life, transportation and environmental benefits. Some benefits are obvious, such as improved health among users and providing transportation options other than driving, something that benefits both the individual taking advantage of it and the overall environment by keeping cars off the road.
Transportation equity and safety for those who can’t afford or otherwise don’t have access to motor vehicles is another advantage. For those only looking at dollars, the purely economic pluses are many, from increased property values near trails to savings on healthcare and transportation for society and individuals.
Regarding job creation, a high quality of life is a key factor necessary to attract skilled employees when businesses are opening or relocating; nearby access to trails is one of the elements known to improve that factor. As for small businesses, many mom-and-pops — from bike shops to cafés — spring up along trails, especially in rural areas.
And lower income areas that are frequently where rail corridors exist — whether active or abandoned — are positively impacted once a trail is established with business growth, lowered crime rates and improved transportation equity.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s “Florida’s Greenways and Trails System Plan, 2019-2023” includes a detailed overview of the many benefits as well as excellent maps and other useful information. It can be found on their website at www.floridadep.gov.
There’s really no downside to having a robust network of trails as part of our infrastructure. But misinformation and misperception too often equate to NIMBYism, a phenomenon that has resulted in shooting down trails and other bike/ped infrastructure on a regular basis. And elected representatives and other government officials who are not well educated about the value of them sometimes look only at the cost or cave in to NIMBYism rather than examining the benefits.
But from what I witnessed when Mr. Allen came to town and made the case for including trails as an integral part of our community, I’m hopeful that our elected officials and others who have influence make that a reality. One example is that there’s agreement among all the pertinent jurisdictions to buy out the lease Seminole Gulf Railroad has with CSX so the rail corridor that runs down the middle of Lee County can be turned into a rail-to-trail or even a rail-with-trail that includes a light passenger train. John Yarbrough Linear Park/Trail runs adjacent to over five miles of that, with another two-mile segment to be added to Hanson Street. Extending it to the Collier County line would go a long way in completing our segment of SUNtrail. Wouldn’t that be a great asset for residents and tourists alike?
To learn about this topic and 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.