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Florida county heeds call for complete streets days after report’s release

--lee_county_imageIt is always gratifying to see change happen, especially when change happens fast.

This week, within a day of the release of the Dangerous by Design report which showed the four most dangerous cities for pedestrians were in Florida, a key region in Florida had adopted one of the report’s recommendations and the campaign’s key platforms.

The report ranks metro areas across the country based on the relative danger to pedestrians in those areas. Florida newspapers have taken a particular interest in the report because four of the top ten most dangerous cities for walking are located in the Sunshine State.

(The report is a continuation of STPP’s past “Mean Streets” series, which have traditionally contained at least one Florida city in the rankings. Some have made great steps to increase safety. See p.39 of the full report for St. Petersburg’s success story of improving safety through new sidewalks, crosswalks and bike paths.)

In a Monday morning editorial, the Ft. Myers News-Press encouraged officials in Lee County, located in Southwest Florida, to adopt a “Complete Streets” resolution, committing the region to making roads safe for all users. The editorial cited the Dangerous by Design report in its recommendation.

BikeWalkLee, a countywide coalition and T4 America partner advocating for safer, complete streets led the charge for passage.

“During the public comment period, commissioners heard from senior citizens who want to maintain mobility after they no longer drive; parents who want a place for their children to safely walk and bike; high school and college students who want a more livable community as they make their careers here; public health officials concerned about the obesity epidemic, and emergency room doctors who see the tragic results every day of Lee’s dangerous roads,” said Darla Letourneau, a leader of BikeWalkLee.

Lee County Commissioners not only heeded the call, they took action the following evening. By a unanimous vote, commissioners adopted a resolution endorsing complete streets principles. Commissioner Frank Mann called the measure “forward thinking” and “something that we should have been doing for a number of years.”

Quick turn-around like this is heartening, and the enormous amount of media coverage generated by the report’s release could still spark more action in other parts of country. This happy ending is also a reminder to transportation advocates that personalizing policy is a great way to keep our agenda moving forward. “Complete Streets” sound abstract without the proper context, but become much more compelling when the policy’s goal is humanized — combating unnecessary, preventable pedestrian deaths.

Lee County is a great example for other communities and, we hope, a sign of more progress to come. Kudos to BikeWalkLee for their hard work to bring about this change.

Have a similar story to share of a dangerous community making a change this week? Share it in the comments.

Eryn Rosenblum of Transportation for America contributed to this report.