Photo: Roberto Gonzalez
“Can we ever find a path that leads to bicycles and cars sharing the road in harmony? Many believe so. Here’s a bit of history and a look to the future. …Cyclists and many of Central Florida’s civic and government leaders have been promoting biking in recent years, whether it is the occasional weekend rider who throws his/her bike in the back of the SUV and heads out to a multi-use path like the popular West Orange Trail in Winter Garden or someone who pedals to work rather than driving a car.
Leading the push are people like Billy Hattaway, a former Florida Department of Transportation administrator who used to be primarily involved with building roads. A cyclist, Hattaway was hired last year by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to head up the city’s transportation department. Among his goals: getting more people to hop on bikes—and not just on the annual ride to work day that the mayor usually leads…
The problem facing Hattaway and any area cycling enthusiast is that bikes were not a part of the equation when Metro Orlando started to grow, even though Florida’s subtropical climate makes being outdoors a viable option year-round, albeit a hot, wet and muggy one through much of the year.
Starting in the years after World War II, the car became the main—and only—choice to get from Point A to Point B. Roads, as a result, were built wide and often straight, the sole intent being to move motorized vehicles at the fastest speed, practical or not.
Development became more dispersed over time with self-contained subdivisions springing up throughout the region, often connected to the rest of the community by major four- and six-lane roads hosting an endless string of strip malls anchored by a supermarket or pharmacy chain. Quite simply, people on foot or bikes were not really considered in the transportation plans…
Orlando, Hattaway says, has adopted a complete-street philosophy that contends roads are for everyone, not just cars and trucks. The city, as a result, has been adding painted bike lanes to roads and widening sidewalks from 5 and 6 feet to 12 feet to encourage everything from walking to biking to rollerblading. The City Council also passed an aspirational resolution in December calling for a ‘Vision Zero’ plan to eliminate deaths and serious injuries to pedestrians by 2040.
Orlando now has more than 300 miles of bike lanes and multi-use paths, with more planned. A $9 million pedestrian bridge is under construction at Colonial Drive near Interstate 4 and should open in the fall.
There are 26 bike-only or multi-use paths covering more than 150 miles scattered throughout Orange, Seminole, Lake, Volusia and Osceola counties. Some of those will become part of the planned 250-mile coast-to-coast bike-only connector that will link St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Mexico with Titusville on the Atlantic. About 69 miles of gaps need to be filled in. The proposal is more than $63 million short on funding, according to the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation.
Like many cities and counties in Central Florida, Orlando does not really have a budget dedicated solely to cycling. Instead, it typically will stripe in a bike lane with funds it has for repaving a road or if a street is torn up for new sewers and then rebuilt.”
“Peter Martinez, who helped start the Juice bike share program in Orlando five years ago, says those renting the sturdy orange cycles put out by his former company invariably stopped when they reached a major road like Colonial. Quite simply, he says, they wanted nothing to do with the traffic.
‘You have to know how to navigate the streets,’ he says about riding in Metro Orlando.
Local actor and filmmaker Ricardo Williams knows how to get about because he likely is the most prolific Juice biker around. He reckons he has ridden some 5,800 miles on the rentals since the spring of 2015. Most of his trips cover two to three miles, but he occasionally will throw in a 20-miler. He owns a car and drives it for longer trips.
The bikes, he says, are more convenient than driving because they relieve him of worrying about parking since he lives downtown and does much of his business there. Yet, as much as he rides, he often worries about being hit—which has happened three times in recent years. Fortunately, all the mishaps were minor, he says, and he escaped injury.
The Juice program now rents more than 200 bikes at nearly 30 locations throughout Metro Orlando. It started with four sets of racks and 20 cycles.
One group of riders has set out to dispel the notion that bikes don’t belong on Metro Orlando streets. They meet after work at Loch Haven Park on the last Friday of every month to ride seven to eight miles through downtown, then back to the starting point.
The ride, similar to ones held all over the country, is called Critical Mass. Usually 150 to 300 men, women and children pedal along, taking up an entire road lane—which bicycles are allowed to do, by law. The Orlando Police Department has no issues with Critical Mass, says department spokeswoman Michelle Guido.
‘It’s a pretty cool event,’ says Brandon Tuma, who participated in Critical Mass for five years. ‘We show up to ride bikes and have fun and to make people aware bikes are on the road…’ ”
— Dan Tracy, Orlando Magazine