To the editor:
My wife and I have been taking three-week vacations on Sanibel once or twice yearly for the past 20 years and I own property here, so we feel like part-time residents. On arrival, we park our car for the duration, rent bikes, and bike or walk everywhere we go on the island, so we have had substantial experience using the shared paths from vantage points both as pedestrians and cyclists. Thus I was very interested in the recent letter by Leslie Alteri concerning shared path usage; and frankly, I was taken aback at the level of vituperation in her letter, presumably reflecting some unfortunate experiences on her part. In my view, the concerns expressed by Ms. Alteri are substantially overblown.
For my wife and me, biking all over Sanibel on the shared paths is among the most exhilarating and pleasurable of activities. Despite the obvious variability in cyclists' experience and proficiency, I find most cyclists to be considerate and careful riders. Many of the most dedicated cyclists, riding multispeed bikes, take to the roadways where they can make considerably better time, thereby reducing congestion on the shared paths. Small children, whose erratic steering generates the greatest apprehension in an approaching cyclist, are usually reminded by watchful parents to stay to the right and mind the oncoming cyclists. At major intersections and crosswalks on Periwinkle, most cyclists stop appropriately and wait for cars to pause at the crosswalks, their drivers motioning for the cyclists to cross -- Sanibel's motorists deserve high praise for their solicitousness toward cyclists.
Ms. Alteri would have cyclists come to a full stop at every side street where "STOP" is painted on the path, and walk their bikes across. This is patently absurd -- at nearly all such side streets there is ample opportunity to determine, at a glance, whether or not a car is approaching, and if there is none, there is absolutely no justification for requiring the cyclist to stop and walk his or her bike. Most cyclists have enough common sense to slow down as they approach these intersections and allow themselves time to stop if needed, and I doubt that any responsible parent would allow their child to dart across such intersections without slowing and looking for cars.
I do have a few pet peeves of my own regarding the shared paths. Some cyclists fail to warn when passing, which could result in a serious injury if a cyclist or pedestrian being passed fails to hear the approaching cyclist and happens to veer to the left just as they are being passed -- I have had close calls on more than one occasion when a cyclist passing me has failed to warn. A passing cyclist should always ring a bell or give ample vocal warning before passing. Many pedestrians and cyclists alike are guilty of wearing earphones which may make it impossible for them to hear a warning that they are being passed.
Another problem is cyclists who ride two abreast, hogging the path and refusing to fall into single file as another cyclist or pedestrian approaches. The key problem I find with pedestrians is confusion or ignorance about which side of the path they should be on; many seem to believe they should walk on the left side of the path, facing the oncoming traffic just as they would when walking on a roadway, which forces a cyclist to pass them on the right -- and also forces an oncoming cyclist to move to the left side of the path. A group of three or more pedestrians often occupies the entire width of the path and they sometimes part to both sides as a cyclist approaches, so the cyclist has to go down the middle. All of these issues could be ameliorated by better education.
As Tom Sharbaugh pointed out in his response to Ms. Alteri's letter, the problem of congestion on the shared paths will always be with us during busy times on the island. There is some inherent risk in every human endeavor, and strict policing of rules with fines, etc. is not the answer -- education, common sense, and simple courtesy will have to suffice.
-A'Delbert Bowen, M.D.