Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, November 20, 2019
Lee County has seen quite a bit of bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure added since it was a virtual wasteland for nonmotorists. A significant amount of bike lanes, sidewalks and shared-use paths are in place. That’s good news for everyone, residents and visitors alike.
However, a huge backlog of all of those features remains, with funding being the primary obstacle, according to local officials. While it’s understandable that money is the issue, the fact that spending on bicycle-pedestrian projects is miniscule in comparison to other transportation projects means we’re not putting a dent in the backlog of needs, primarily along roads that still have nothing on the ground.
When I received notice recently of the Palomino Road pathway project ribbon cutting ceremony, it reminded me of just how difficult it is to get even the most obviously needed projects done. I recall this particular one being initiated well over a decade ago (maybe closer to two decades ago), at a time when Palomino Road was transitioning from a rural road off Daniels Parkway with only a few homes on ranch- and farm-sized lots to sprawling gated communities containing hundreds of housing units and a megachurch on Palomino just for good measure.
The fact that development was allowed without any bicycle-pedestrian accommodation on the only road in and out of those gated neighborhoods and the megachurch church parking lot is a good example of the cause of the backlog.
This is not an uncommon situation, a problem the governments permitting such growth are responsible for creating. The drastic reduction in impact fees is clearly also a cause of the funding shortfall. Again, the governments that are letting the developers off the impact-fee hook are as much to blame as those doing the building without paying for adequate infrastructure to handle the growth they create and profit from.
Similar to Palomino Road, nearby Fiddlesticks Boulevard was identified as needing bicycle-pedestrian accommodations decades ago, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that a pathway was finally approved, funded and constructed.
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ll be playing catch-up indefinitely in and around these kinds of communities with even newer developments that also weren’t required to adequately accommodate non-motorists.
Some of the progress that has been made in the at-risk communities can be attributed to non-traditional funding. While much of our overall transportation project funding appears to come from afar, the fact is that the majority is locally generated taxes that are sent north then reallocated back here.
But because of the strings attached, neighborhood streets are frequently ineligible to tap into them, no matter the need. Thanks to a federal human service program that infuses at-risk neighborhoods with resources to get them out of that status, some of those funds were used to construct sidewalks. The half dozen at-risk communities that benefitted each have many residents who depend on their feet, bikes and transit to get around, so it’s more than an appropriate use of the human service funds.
Because some of our local governments are loath to use local dollars for bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure, the time it takes to get projects on the ground is drastically elongated as these governments wait for state and federal transportation funds to flow in.
The city of Fort Myers is most guilty of this approach, meaning there are lots of streets in areas built-out many years ago that won’t get what should already be there until and unless the city is lucky enough to be awarded funds. At the same time, they think nothing of providing millions of dollars in tax deferments to developers in order to entice them to build within city limits. With an approach like this, many neighborhoods will never see bare minimum infrastructure.
One of the most egregious and expensive shortcomings that needs to be addressed is the lack of pedestrian access across most of our major bridges, including the Sanibel Causeway, Cape Coral Bridge, Midpoint Bridge and Caloosahatchee River Bridge. One span of the Edison Bridge is the only place that a pedestrian can legally use. Other than the Edison and Caloosahatchee River bridges, all the others are Lee County structures. The cost to add pedestrian access means we may never see it happen until new spans are built.
|Image Courtesy thesfnews.com|
To learn about this topic and more, visit bikewalklee.blogspot.com and www.streetsaliveswfl.org.¦
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.