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Communities come together

April 10, 2019
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach's sister city Cape Coral has its controversies.

Cape Coral has its share of divisiveness.

But in times of crisis, in times of need, Cape Coral is a lot like the Beach - it consistently comes together.

And the horrific hit-and-run death of 8-year-old Layla Aiken as she waited for a school bus at a bus stop on March 25 has tugged the community's heartstrings like nothing else in recent memory.

"Love for Layla," a Facebook fundraiser, has quickly drawn more than $65,000 in community contributions. The money is intended to help Layla's family with her funeral as well as any needs Layla's 9-year-old twin brothers, who were at the bus stop with her, might have in the wake of the tragedy.

"Lights for Layla," a separate fundraiser set up after "Love for Layla," drew such overwhelming support, raised an additional $85,000 as of last Monday. Those donations are intended to be used for street lighting to make bus stops safer for children whose greatest worry should not be where to sit or stand in the dark, but that day's spelling test or possible pop quiz.

Multiple area organizations and businesses have stepped up, offering everything from the funding and placement of bus stop benches to bus stop volunteers to man the stops of which there are nearly 7,000 district wide.

The city of Cape Coral is looking to self-fund sidewalks near schools rather than solely rely on grant money; the School District of Lee County and the Lee County Sheriff's Office are partnering with private businesses and the community to issue backpack flashers to every bus rider, and officials at all levels are looking at ways to make bus stops safer as Layla is not the only child to die in a stop-related incident in just the last couple of months,

Let us not forget 12-year-old Alana Tamplin, who was struck and killed in January while walking along the edge of Durrance Road in North Fort Myers. The child was fatally injured as she walked home after making sure her younger sister got to her bus stop safely.

There are no sidewalks, or adequate lighting, on our streets, either.

This is a Lee County issue that has much for officials countywide to consider.

Let us add a couple to the queue.

In addition to lighting, explore the cost of marking the approach to bus stops in a manner similar to marking crosswalks, or other traffic alerts. Perhaps that is reflective pavement paint with an easily recognizable "bus stop ahead" emblem. Perhaps that is signage similar to "stop ahead" or "curve ahead" advisories.

Either would be relatively easy to install, easy to remove or move, and easily implemented as routine road work.

Consider pedestrian/multi-use paths where sidewalks may not be practical. Asphalt pathways are generally cheaper to install and can also be used by children on bikes. Darker, less-urban streets tend to present a greater hazard to pedestrians than all except heavy traffic roadways such as Estero Boulevard.

Meanwhile, some immediate mitigation.

If not already undertaken, a quick bus stop safety review should be had at all schools and at home.

Family members, please, flashing lights and/or reflectors on all backpacks and, preferably, a flashlight in hand - the typical trick-or-treating drill, every day.

When possible, an adult presence at the bus stop for all young riders and also for walkers heading to or from school.

And last, awareness by all drivers- especially in the morning hours and in the afternoon - that we share roadways countywide with pedestrians and bike riders.

Small pedestrians and bike riders.

Children, who trust adults, may not comprehend that their bus stop or route to school is not a "safe place," but a place to beware, a place where those adults they trust may not always be aware.

Layla's memorial service was Wednesday.

Rest in peace, little one.

And rest in peace, Alana.

Our thoughts, and the thoughts of an entire community, are with you and your families.

-Observer editorial



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