2017-06-21 / Outdoors

A Complete Streets champion bids farewell to Southwest Florida

In the decades I’ve lived here and been involved in efforts to make our community safer and more accessible for pedestrians and those on bicycles I’ve had the pleasure of working with many smart and dedicated individuals.

Among these folks are a special few who have risen above and beyond what would otherwise be considered fitting in terms of their commitment and effectiveness. Dr. Margaret Banyan, a professor in FGCU’s Southwest Florida Center for Public & Social Policy, is one such special person.

Unfortunately for us, Dr. Banyan is moving back to her roots in Portland, Ore., a place from which many of her ideas and philosophy were born. But her influence and accomplishments will remain here and continue to motivate others to keep working towards making our public rights-of-way safe and accessible Complete Streets.

As a way to show how much Margaret is appreciated, BikeWalkLee broke from its usual protocol and is formally recognizing one of its own as the 2017 Complete Streets Champion of the Year. Such an honor is not usually bestowed upon a steering committee member from the coalition but an exception in this case is clearly warranted. Even were she not leaving, Margaret would be worthy of this award.


Darla Letourneau, left, and Dr. Margaret Banyan, right, present a BWL award to Billy Hattaway at Orlando City Hall. 
COURTESY PHOTO Darla Letourneau, left, and Dr. Margaret Banyan, right, present a BWL award to Billy Hattaway at Orlando City Hall. COURTESY PHOTO My Oct. 7, 2015, column focused on women leaders in our community and I wrote this about Margaret: “Margaret Banyan has brought her experiences from living in a place where being able to enjoy an active lifestyle without fear for one’s own safety and wellbeing is commonplace. Coming from Oregon and now working in academia she has made it her mission to convince the powers that be — from university leadership to elected officials and other decision makers in government — that focusing on walkability, bikability, and robust transit is necessary to have a livable community that attracts and retains the best and brightest.” One important aspect I failed to mention at that time was Margaret’s mentoring of students and citizen advocates into becoming leaders in the Complete Streets cause as well as other efforts to improve our community. So even when she’s no longer one of the driving forces here her influence and expertise will remain.

Those of us who have been working with Margaret will certainly miss her but we know she’ll be here in spirit. That spirit, as anyone who deals with non-motorized transportation, transit and community planning matters knows, needs to be one of persistence and patience because it’s an uphill battle.

Even though our decision makers are well aware of the infamous reputation we have for our pedestrian, cycling and transit environment (now confirmed by being ranked the most dangerous place in the U.S. for pedestrians, among other markers) turning that negative into a positive remains quite difficult. In Margaret’s case, even when addressing those less than supportive of her ideas and approach, she is able to keep her cool, remain a consummate professional, and provide facts, data, and solutions that make her case compelling, whatever the specific matter at hand.

One project Margaret’s been involved with since its inception is improvements being considered for Ortiz Avenue from Martin Luther King Boulevard/SR 82 to Palm Beach Boulevard / SR 80, a section that has very heavy pedestrian and bicycle use. The community would prefer the northern segment, from Luckett Road to SR 80, to remain as a two-lane street but with complete streets features.

Lee County, the road’s owner, wants it to be a four-lane highway that focuses on moving cars. Considering Lee County has a Complete Streets policy in place it’s hoped that they’ll follow their own policy and the will of the people who live in the area and drive, walk, and bike on this street.

Fortunately, from what Margaret has told us, she’ll occasionally be back here in her consulting capacity, continuing to make Southwest Florida a better place. For all Margaret’s done and will continue to do, we are grateful.

As stated by BikeWalkLee’s Darla Letourneau when the award was announced on June 17: “Today we honor Dr. Banyan as an outstanding champion of complete streets and livable communities in multiple capacities throughout Lee County over the past decade. As one of the founding members of BikeWalkLee, we also honor Margaret for incredible contributions to our organization since it was founded in 2009. Many of our successes would not have been possible without Margaret. While her leadership and commitment to the Complete Streets movement in SWFL will be greatly missed, she leaves a legacy of accomplishment, and an impressive group of talented young leaders who will carry the Complete Streets/Livable Communities movement forward into the future. BikeWalkLee is deeply grateful to Margaret for her many contributions to making our community a better place, and to being a key part of the BikeWalkLee Steering Group team from the beginning. We are confident that her contributions to the Complete Streets movement will continue wherever she goes.” ¦

— Dan Moser is a longtime bicycle/ pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at bikepedmoser@gmail.com and 334- 6417.

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