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Orlando Bike Coalition: Q&A with Aaron Powell

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Aaron Powell, 42, is the founder of the Orlando Bike Coalition, a Facebook page dedicated to improving conditions for people who bike and walk. Powell intends to turn the coalition into a nonprofit 501(c) (3). Bike/Walk Central Florida talked recently with Powell, who teaches English as a second language and Spanish at Valencia College.

You live near downtown Orlando in College Park. Did that spark your interest in biking and walking?

Definitely. It’s always been a goal of mine to have alternate ways of getting around to places close to home. When I come home I like to leave my car and ride my bike. Run my errands, meet my friends for happy hour. I don’t want to have to get back in my car.

So you came up with Orlando Bike Coalition.

Back in December 2014, I was very aware of the lack of infrastructure for cycling. You have to be extremely aware. You were popping up from roads to sidewalks to do whatever you had to do to stay safe. Then, Orlando was ranked the most dangerous city in the nation for pedestrians and bicyclists. There were letters to the editor that were very hostile to bicyclists, essentially blaming them for the high fatality rates. It was clear to me the fundamental problem was the lack of infrastructure and lack of accommodations for people on bikes. I started the Facebook page.

Who are you working with?

Gordon Spears, who is an ecologist and works with land issues; Peter Martinez, who is the founder of the Juice Bikes bike-share program; Sarah Elbadri, who got her start with Juice Bikes, but is the executive director in DowntownSouth; and Patrick Panza, who is an urban planner.

How is Orlando Bike Coalition structured?

We are organizing as a 501 (c) (3). We thought about going as a 501 (c) (4) because that would allow us to do more political issues, more flexibility for political lobbying and endorsing candidates. Having seen some good faith initiatives by the city in recent times — the decision to add a multi-use pathway on Bumby Avenue and the mayor’s (Buddy Dyer) state of the city address highlighting connectivity and transportation infrastructure— we’re getting the sense the city is going to work with us or we’ll be able to assist the city.

Your No. 1 priority?

Comprehensive connectivity. Take neighborhoods like College Park, Lake Ivanhoe Village, Lake Formosa, Audubon Park, Baldwin Park, the Milk District, Thornton Park, down south Orlando and finding logical connections. There’s already some infrastructure in place, like the Orlando Urban Trail, but it is incomplete.

Is Orlando your main concern?

While we would love to see all of Central Florida become more friendly for people on bikes, our focus is to connect our neighborhoods in Metro Orlando with protected bicycling infrastructure — College Park to Ivanhoe Village to Audubon Park to Baldwin Park.

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Aaron Powell raffles out prizes at an April 14 launch party for the Orlando Bike Coalition. Hosted at St. Matthew’s Tavern in Mills 50.

Are you talking bike lanes or bike and pedestrian only paths?

We want it to be protected or off-road. A painted line down a road where cars are driving 45 mph is not interesting to us. We want it protected in some way, whether it is a cycle track like in Winter Park or like at Bumby, where the path is detached from the road.

What about people on bikes taking the lane?

Traditionally that has been the approach here. But we’ve been rated the most dangerous city in the nation for bicyclists and pedestrians. That’s just not working. The problem is you can do everything right and if there is an angry driver or a distracted driver or a drunk driver, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, you are still in danger.

How do pay for new infrastructure?

Becoming a 501 (c) (3). We’ll be recruiting membership with opportunities for donations.

Your goals are similar to those of Bike/Walk.

We very much support Bike/Walk in their initiatives and expect to work together to reach our common goals. Where Bike/Walk may have access to certain resources and leaders throughout the state, we are building a grassroots organization that will have more flexibility in how we go about pressing for true bikeability in the City of Orlando.

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