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Historic group recognizes Sanibel for bike friendliness

By Staff | Nov 26, 2014

Sanibel continues to cement its place as a top destination for bicyclists and others using the island’s ribbon of paved footpaths.

The city has been recognized with a silver award by the League of American Bicyclists. The city in 2010 was awarded a bronze designation by the association that was founded in 1880 as the League of American Wheelmen to advocate for paved roads.

The silver “Bicycle Friendly Award” recognizes Sanibel’s commitment to improve conditions and investing in bicycling pathways, education programs, infrastructure and pro-bicycling policies. There are some 326 US communities with the same silver status, only three others in Florida.

“I guess now we can go for the gold,” Mayor Kevin Ruane joked at a rainy Nov. 18 ceremony acknowledging the silver designation. The mayor, bike enthusiasts and others were gathered on a $150,000, newly built bike path extension along Sanibel Causeway boulevard near the Chamber of Commerce center. The city in three decades has built some 25 miles of paved paths.

Islanders since the 1970s have been at the edge of creating a bike-friendly community. Leaders of the movement, in fact, staged protests to fund pathways, blocking causeway traffic, risking arrest. They would raise some $50,000 selling T-shirts and buttons, holding raffles and selling phone directories to meet the goal. A bicycle rodeo was also part of the funding campaign. The first 2.1 miles of pathway ran from Lindgren Boulevard to the Bailey’s shopping complex. One of the leaders of the movement, Mariel Goss, is the wife of the city’s first mayor. She was awarded a bicycle pendant for her efforts.

Island and county bicycling clubs have fostered and further pushed for safety campaigns and path expansion efforts. Pathways today contribute to the economic health of Sanibel, officials said. Bike pathways in season, humorously suggested, are as congested as Periwinkle vehicle traffic.

In a blog for the BikeWalkLee coalition, a group instrumental in the development of Lee County bike/ped pathways, islander Darla Letourneau wrote: “Congratulations to the City of Sanibel for being elevated to ‘Silver’ Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) status! It was great to celebrate with City Officials, Chamber and VCB officials, Sanibel Bicycle Club members and many other stakeholders involved in creating the island’s path system. Sanibel is now one of only four Florida communities that have achieved the League of American Bicyclists’ BFC Silver status. BikeWalkLee’s dream is that more communities throughout Lee County will seek to achieve Bicycle Friendly Community status, so that all of SWFL will someday be bicycle-friendly.”

And while there is great joy in the push for more biking and walking pathways in Lee County, caution remains at the forefront of the movement. Sixteen pedestrians and eight cyclists have died on Lee County roads through November. And Sanibel recently reported that while island pathways are safe, some accidents do occur, mostly visitors not used to biking, cyclists texting while biking and out-of-practice seniors.

Details about the silver award are at bikeleague.org.