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Editorial: Can the causeway be shared safely?

By Staff | May 19, 2011

Throughout the course of every year, thousands of bicyclists cross the Sanibel Causeway, a scenic 2.7-mile archipelago of palm-lined beaches and bridges. And they do so safely and without interference from the vehicular traffic going to and coming from Fort Myers and all points east, north and south.

However, it takes only one incident to call into question whether bicycles are able to peacefully coexist with their motorized, multi-wheeled cousins.

Following the May 7 accident which claimed the life of 46-year-old Tracey Kleinpell, a cyclist who was struck and killed by a commercial truck, islanders began to worry whether crossing the causeway is worth the potential for disaster.

For the most part, the crossing is relatively safe, with marked shoulders on either side of the span allowing a generous buffer between vehicular traffic and recreational bike riders. Runners and joggers, too, make use of those lanes (although several signs on either side of all three bridges prohibit pedestrians from crossing), as anybody who frequents the span can bear witness to their presence.

However, the tragic death of a bicyclist who enjoyed the freedom of traversing the causeway with her husband every weekend has heightened the awareness — and sensitivity to — the issue of motorists and cyclists sharing our local roadways.

“It’s important for all riders, not just the youngsters, to know how to properly use the shared use paths on the islands,” said Mary Miller, president of the Sanibel Bicycle Club, at last week’s Bike Rodeo & Safety Fair. “Everybody should know that you have to be more aware of bikes using the roads here on the islands.”

According to the Florida Bicycle Association (FBA), bicyclists have the same rights to the roadways and must obey the same traffic laws as the operators of other vehicles.

“There is only one road and it is up to bicyclists and motorists to treat each other with care and respect,” the FBA website states. “Strict adherence to the law is the foundation for this respect.”

While we agree completely with the above stated rules of the road, we would also like to suggest that the Lee County Department of Transportation consider making two significant improvements that would increase the safety for motorists and cyclists alike:

• Dedicate one side of the causeway for two-way pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and provide a protective barrier (portable, high visibility safety walls) between the path and the main roadway.

• Monitor — and enforce — the 35 mph speed limit along the span and increase the fines for moving violations committed along the causeway. Those fine could be used to help offset the cost of installing the barrier.

While there is no cure-all for eliminating accidental encounters between bicycles and motorized vehicles, a few improvements which would help make the roads safer for all travelers is a step in the right direction.

Sanibel has embraced the cycling culture for more than 35 years, with the construction, expansion and enhancements made to the 24 miles of shared use path system evidence of that commitment. Shouldn’t we then embrace the idea of making a few new improvements that will make the experience safer?

— Reporter editorial