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Orlando Sentinel: Advocates want more bike and walking paths in Winter Park

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The Osaugie Trail is an example of a rails and trails project.

Park Avenue sports a new train station and a commuter-rail stop, as well as some of the trendiest shopping and dining in Metro Orlando.

Now it needs a network of bike and walking trails, says a group of health advocates.

“It has extraordinary benefits,” said Forest Michael, a planner helping devise a proposed series of paths that would wind through Winter Park and could eventually hook up with the Orlando Urban Trail to the south and Cady Way Trail to the east.

Extra-wide paths closed to cars and trucks but open to pedestrians and cyclists, Michael said, would encourage people to exercise, likely improving their physical condition, and could even attract more shoppers and diners to Park Avenue.

Michael and others want to move about Winter Park by using a combination of city property and land owned by SunRail, though commuter-train officials have ruled out the latter possibility by saying it is not safe to allow bike/pedestrian paths to run alongside tracks used by trains.

But bike-path enthusiasts are not convinced SunRail’s stand is correct.
“Other communities are doing it and doing it safely. It can be done,” said Jill Hamilton Buss, who runs Healthy Central Florida and serves on the Winter Park bike/pedestrian committee.

According the U.S. Department of Transportation, 30 states have “rails with trails,” including places such as San Diego; Duluth, Minn.; and Portland, Ore.

Rick Geller, an attorney working on the bike/ped plan, said there are sections of the SunRail corridor that are wide enough to safely accommodate both uses.

He pointed out that SunRail officials are negotiating leases with businesses that already intrude on train property but are not considered a threat to operations. They are not certain how many encroachments there are along the route, estimating more than 100 and possibly 1,000 or more.

Usually, the intrusions are away from the tracks enough that they do not bother the train.

The first lease was signed in May, when SunRail leaders approved a five-year deal for a part of the corridor about 28 feet wide to a company managed by Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary that owns the closed Thomas Lumber and Supply building, 784 N. Orange Ave.

Lumberyard LLC is paying $8,300 a year to extend a parking lot and erect a fence between its property and the SunRail tracks. The building now houses several shops.

Leary said he supports the idea of more bike and walking paths but understands the position of SunRail.

“It’s a busy corridor,” he said.

He also is concerned about trying to put a path through Central Park, Winter Park’s signature downtown green space. He fears it might mar the park’s look.

“You have to take into consideration the reality of the land,” he said.

Hamilton Buss said the bike-path plan is far from complete.

“If this was a marathon,” she said, “we would be in the first half-mile.”

But Michael, the planner working with the bike and pedestrian committee, said something needs to be done to help bikers and walkers.

“You get on your bike,” said Michael, who often rides, “and your life is in their [motorists’] hands.”

dltracy@tribpub.com or 407-420-5444

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