Wednesday, July 27, 2022

BikeWalkLee: How design makes roads dangerous

BikeWalkLee Column ‘Go Coastal’
The News-Press, July 28, 2022
by Ken Gooderham

Image: FDOT improving pedestrian safety on roadways (WJHG)

The most recent “Dangerous by Design” analysis of pedestrian risk was just released. A front-page News-Press article told you about the “dangerous,” so let’s take a minute to look at the “design.”

Michael Braun’s front-page article did a fine job of summarizing (and contextualizing) the most recent analysis by Smart Growth America. A brief recap for those who may have missed it:

  • Our area (Cape Coral/Fort Myers) dropped from the No. 1 spot a few years back to 23rd – not because we got safer, but because others areas got worse.
  • Similarly, Florida lost the No. 1 spot as most deadly state (losing to New Mexico) – not because we got safer, but because NM got worse.
  • One way to put this into perspective is that No. 9 most dangerous city in 2022 would have lead the list in 2017… but there were eight locations even worse.
  • The pandemic, which caused traffic to plummet, didn’t make things safer for pedestrians – because people just started driving faster.
  • Socioeconomic factors still hold sway in pedestrian risk, with skin color and annual income too often equaling more risk (age matters, too).

So, what’s the “design” part of the danger?

The study authors put it this way: “Our nation’s streets are dangerous by design, designed primarily to move cars quickly at the expense of keeping everyone safe.”

The design factor is twofold: The roadway design that encourages drivers to exceed the speed limit, and the roadway design that fails to offer other road users (especially pedestrians) a safe place to travel.

An example of the first is a wide, straight road with lots of lanes but not many signaled intersections. That’s a road meant for fast driving – which is what most drivers will do whatever the posted speed limit may be. A traffic study may indicate vehicle speed should not exceed 30 mph due to a variety of issues, but the road design itself is for twice that rate. How fast do you think most drivers are going to go?

The second design issue is one we see a lot around here: Roads made to move traffic, not anyone or anything else. Sidewalks may or may not exist – and if they do, they are usually interrupted by a lot of curb cuts or driveways. Those sidewalks are not separated from the traffic lanes, meaning fast-moving vehicles pass too close by pedestrians.

Crosswalks are too spread out if they exist at all, so people who need to cross the road for whatever reason do so amid speeding vehicles over multiple traffic lanes. There’s usually a lot of visual clutter or obstructions that make it harder for pedestrians (and others) to see or be seen.

And when other vehicles moving at slower speeds or making more frequent stops (think buses, for example) become part of the traffic, there’s no place for them to do their thing but in a traffic lane – where vehicles used to moving fast are subsequently frustrated or frenzied by the change.

As the study points out, even the way corners at intersections are rounded has an impact, making it easier for vehicles to turn without slowing much and making it a longer trip for pedestrians hoping to cross the street there.

That’s how things got worse during the pandemic: As traffic subsided, so did traffic congestion – meaning those who were still out on the road were able to drive faster. They did, and pedestrians (whose ranks may have grown as people sought ways to keep moving during the shutdown) paid the price.

That’s why the U.S. was one of just three countries (out of 63 analyzed) that saw pedestrians deaths rise during the pandemic.

Overall pedestrian fatalities are up 62% nationwide since 2009, which means we’re killing 18 people per day nationally. What can be done?

Obviously, change the design comes first. If you intentionally design streets to be driven faster than speed limits, people will drive faster. If you put crosswalks too far apart, or away from other traffic infrastructure that generates road crossing (such as, say, a bus stop pedestrians will cross the road to get to), people will take the risk of crossing where they have to (rather than where you want them to).

Second, incorporate “complete street” designs (made to accommodate all road users) in all new roadways (when it’s cheaper to do than after the fact) and in redesigns (especially high-traffic roads). Since a “complete street” in the middle of a highly developed urban area looks very different from one for a rural roadway, a more sensible road design would be easier to accomplish than some think.

Third, better data will yield better results. The fact that a report issued is 2022 can only address data collected in 2020 creates too much lag time between reality, review and response.

Fourth, while roadway design often is a top-down process, with local DOTs taking their cues from federal and state guidelines, it needs to incorporate more bottom-up thinking – because local officials (and local road users) often have the best handle on the most dangerous streets or the most unrealistic speed limits. Their insights need to have a place at the table, too.

Finally, safety needs to be the driving force in traffic design – not traffic speed or congestion reduction. Obviously, safety needs to factor in the other road users besides motor vehicle drivers, and it is possible to make this a win-win for all those users so that drivers and walkers all feel safer driving our streets.

Making a road safer to walk or bike means more people will try walking or biking on it – which is definitely a win for the community (giving people a reason to engage instead of isolate inside their vehicle), for the businesses they stroll by (rather than pass at 45 mph) and for walkers themselves – something we all become once we park our vehicles.

    • Find out more online at




  • Tunnel to Towers 5K, Saturday, Sept. 10, FSW campus, Fort Myers.
  • Downtown Dash 1 Mile Run, Friday, Sept. 16, downtown Fort Myers.
  • Fort Myers Cops & Joggers 5K, Saturday, Oct. 8, downtown Fort Myers.
  • Cape Coral Fire Department Fueled by Fire 5K, Saturday, Oct. 15, Tarpon Point, Cape Coral.
  • 10K F.I.S.H. race, Saturday, Oct. 22, Sanibel Island.


  • Friends of Foster Children Forever Labor Day 5K, Monday, Sept. 6, Lowdermilk Park, Naples.
  • Gulf to Gulf 80 Mile Relay, Saturday, Oct. 22, Naples to Sanibel and back.
  • Olde Naples 10K, Sunday, Nov. 13, Rodgers Park, Naples


  • Naples Distance Classic Half-Marathon, 10K and 5K, Saturday, Oct. 8, Eagle Lakes Park, Naples.
  • Naples Rocktoberfest 5K and 10K, Saturday, Oct. 22, North Collier Regional Park, Naples.


The Caloosa Riders are offering member rides, but some are open to non-members (and it wouldn’t hurt you to join the club); check their ride calendar ( for a description of the distance and speed, and to see if the ride is open to all.

SW Florida Critical Mass is offering their usual slate of family-friendly rides. Check out their line-up online ( for details and times (and to make sure the ride is still rolling).

  • SW Florida Critical Mass ride, first Friday of the month. A family-friendly slow night ride through Fort Myers. Front and rear bike lights required. Helmet and lights required, meet in the parking lot at 2180 West First Street, Fort Myers. 
  • Sanibel Critical Mass night ride, second Saturday of the month. Gathers at Jerry’s Shopping Center, 1700 Periwinkle Way, on Sanibel. Lights required, helmets recommended.
  • NE Lee Critical Mass ride, third Friday of the month. Gather in the Winn Dixie parking lot on Palm Beach Blvd. about five miles east of the Interstate; gather at 7 p.m. and roll at 7:30 p.m. for a slow ride through Fort Myers Shores.
  • Cape Coral Critical Mass ride, fourth Friday of the month. Gather at the Southwest Florida Military Museum parking lot at 4820 Leonard Street for a family-friendly night ride through the Cape; helmets and lights required.
  • Saturday Morning Slow Roll, fourth Saturday of the month. Meet-up at 2160 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. Recommended for inexperienced/young riders. Distance is 6 miles, includes group ride instruction.




Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.

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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at

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