One hundred and thirty-five days until Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012: Pro Place opens in Long Beach. There will be pyrotechnics and a flyover by the Blue Angels. For the kiddies there will be a petting zoo with free pony rides and cotton candy.

Actually, there won’t be any of that thanks to that infamous GSA meeting in Las Vegas. In our new era of austerity the only thing that will be aloft is Charlie Gandy, who will endeavor to recreate the flight of Larry Walters, who in 1982 decided to see what would happen if he fastened 45 weather balloons to his lawn chair. (Answer: you rise to 15,000 feet, enter the flight path of LAX, and are arrested upon a successful landing.)

For the next week, conference operations will throttle back and temporarily relocate to Sanibel Island, Florida. Sanibel is a good place to continue thinking about walking and bicycling: nearly every thru street has a parallel multiuse trail and bicycling is popular form of recreation and transportation on the island. This will be my third trip to the island and I have come to appreciate the unique transportation ecosystem that has evolved. Tourism is the main industry of the island, followed by real estate, lawn care, and She Sells Sea Shells which is the big player on the island with two store fronts.

Sanibel has long been a tourist destination, and at some point, the permanent residents and local government made the commendable decision to limit pavement, thus conserving the island’s most precious resource–land, and to develop the trail network. The results: no road is wider than two lanes; the island does not have a single traffic light; there are two thriving bicycle rental businesses; and drivers yield to pedestrians and cyclists in the crosswalk, and when entering/exiting driveways. The culture of courtesy extends to interactions between drivers: left turns can be tricky and can cause long backups. This problem is often resolved by oncoming drivers yielding to turning traffic.

This culture of courtesy is particularly astonishing when one considers that this is happening in the same state that kills 500 pedestrians in a good year. So why does the Sanibel pedestrian have a life expectancy triple that of the Tampa pedestrian?

The traffic engineer will tell you the difference is the roads: wider roads with faster traffic will always be deadlier than narrower roads with slower traffic. That is true, but it is the sociologist who nails the real explanation: empathy and assimilation. Everyone on the island either bikes or knows a biker. More recent Chevy Malibu driving arrivals will see other drivers respecting the rights of cyclists and pedestrians, and act accordingly. The result is a harmony or equilibrium among modes that is rarely seen in the United States. If you are lucky enough to live in such a community the odds are that you are paying dearly ($$$) for the privilege.

Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012 will largely focus on matters of planning and engineering, but it will also include several sessions discussing culture change, and how we can move towards a zero death transportation system.

One of the main drags on Sanibel Island.

The neighborhood associations enforce a strict novelty mailbox requirement.

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