Darla Letourneau

I have always kind of followed two gut checks. I would say: ‘Am I having fun and am I making a difference?’ And if it wasn’t really maximizing those two, I was usually looking for something else.

Policies that were anti-bike lane” in Lee County a couple of years ago became a call to action for Darla Letourneau, who believed that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

So she and longtime local cycling advocate Dan Moser began organizing a group of like-minded bikers, plus transportation planners, health advocates and other community activists to respond with a “complete streets approach, making the community more livable, walkable,” she said. They reached out for support and now BikeWalkLee is backed by 58 organizations and headed by a steering committee of about a dozen.

In five years, they’ve convinced three local municipalities to pass ordinances for a more biking and walking friendly environment. They have worked on a Lee County bike and pedestrian plan, a county safety action plan and secured a large grant for their work.

Net gain: 150 more miles of bike and pedestrian terrain in Lee County, a 10 percent increase. Letourneau lives on Sanibel. She grew up in Lafayette, Ind.; her father was a university professor. She said “he really got incredible joy and satisfaction out of what he had chosen (as an occupation). He used to say at the dinner table, ‘Don’t tell anybody, I can’t believe they are paying me for doing this every day!’”

His daughter adopted the same attitude working in Washington D.C. for years, gaining skills as a networker and coalition builder, most recently as “budget guru,” she said, as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor. She had a seat at the table during White House budget discussions and appropriations. “I always felt like I was at Harvard Business School learning from this incredible group of people.”

She has always been an exerciser, she said, and that continued when she retired early and moved to Sanibel. What also continued was her insistence on enjoying life, even when – and maybe especially when – she’s working. “You need to enjoy the ride and take everybody along for the ride.”