People On Foot

Bike/Walk “America” Road Trip Adventures

By Emily Hanna, AICP, CPM

Executive Director, Bike/Walk Central Florida

What an interesting time for travel! My boyfriend Charlie and I are taking our 19-foot long RV from Florida to California, then up the west coast to Seattle. From Seattle we are headed to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park, and then to points beyond. Sounds strange coming from somebody with an extensive planning background, but we have no timeline for this trip. We’re not doing everything at once, as we’ll store the RV at various locations. We’ll be flying back and forth and picking up where we left off. So, there will be starts and stops.

Being a bike/walk advocate, I’m excited to learn how different cities and towns incorporate walking and biking facilities into their transportation efforts, as well as how they are planning for post-COVID 19.

We’ll keep you posted along the way. (Posts below are from the newest to the oldest. Start at the bottom if you want to read our journey chronologically.)


Update #6: La Jolla

From San Diego we drove north along the Pacific Coast. Oh, what a beautiful drive!  Picture driving along sections of S.R. A1A in Flagler County, only with rocky hills and the Pacific Ocean to the west. We started by venturing into the coolest little city, La Jolla, filled with midcentury buildings, bustling streets, and breathtaking views.

From San Diego through La Jolla to Black’s Beach

Despite nearly everything being closed, people flocked to the streets. Kids were riding their bikes along the street edge; people were walking in pairs along the sidewalk and the somewhat frequent road cyclist would zoom by. While most of the stores were still closed, some local eateries were serving takeout orders. Lines formed out of the doors. Six-foot distance markers were on the sidewalks indicating where people in line needed to stand. The lines at some places wrapped around buildings and into the street. Some on-street parking spaces were full of people waiting. We continued through the small downtown and stopped along Coast Blvd. and took photos next to Seal Rock, which sure enough were rocks with seals on top.

Seal Rock near La Jolla, from a distance

Seal Rock, true to its name

We ventured farther north to a hidden beach a friend told me about, Black’s Beach. On the southern end of the Torrey Pines Golf Course lies a hidden beach where many of the locals go, and only those tourists brave enough to venture down the long, winding and steep trail that takes you 500 feet down from the cliffs above. The hike was intense, but so worth it! The trail along the way was reinforced with 2×4’s, old tires, big 6×6 posts and rocks. It was incredibly steep. Once we were down at the bottom, we began to walk down the beach. It was incredibly beautiful, and we admired the cliffs and the ocean around us.

The route we followed to get to and from Black’s Beach

It was a steep trek down to the beach. We did stay to the path and off the cliffs, as the sign advised.

Path to Black’s Beach

Emily attempting the climb wearing her mask

The steps down to Black’s Beach, where beach patrol was on the scene to make sure everyone was safe

On our way to Black’s Beach, we walked north along N. Torrey Pines Blvd. and La Jolla Shores Drive. The area seemed similar to Aloma Avenue in Central Florida; specifically, where Aloma Avenue crosses S.R. 436 into Winter Park. The road was four-lanes, with long distances between intersections. It had a mix of apartments and single family residential that backed up to the road. There were also buildings associated with the University of California, San Diego. On this walk, a few things specifically stood out, including trails made by people taking shortcuts and a lack of landscape maintenance that obstructed utilizing space on the sidewalk.

Notice the human-made trails above and below. These types of trails are worn from people creating their own path, either through a park or along the side of the road. We discovered one on our walk and took it to see where it led. It went through a stand of trees and cut some time off our walk. It is interesting that a sidewalk is adjacent. It also shows how people choose the most direct path between point A and point B, if given a choice.

Notice the human-made path adjacent to the perfectly good sidewalk

Next, let’s talk about maintenance. As a planner and a former site design and landscape plan reviewer, I love to see landscaping installed anywhere it can go, especially along side roads. Trees and landscaping add a tremendous amount of value, not only just to the aesthetic appeal of the environment, but also to shade the walk along the way. As we walked, we noticed the grass growing along the side of the road between the fence and the sidewalk had gotten WAY out of hand and grew into the sidewalk. At one point we had to walk in the bike lane to avoid the large plant. Lack of regular landscape maintenance can pose a hazard to those walking, whether it’s in Florida, California or anywhere.

Overgrown grass obstructs a portion of thee sidewalk

While on our short walk, we witnessed some very strange behavior from both bicyclists and drivers.  Two guys on road bikes, dressed in all the appropriate attire, came upon us on the portion of the sidewalk that was between a big tree and a subdivision wall. We jumped off the sidewalk over to the side as they continued past us, without even a glance or a wave or gesture.

Bicyclist on the sidewalk with an empty bike lane to the left

As we continued to walk, a motorcycle came rolling up in the bike lane and passed us. He rode in that bike lane the entire view down the road. As he passed, I stared at him and he did not even glance over, continuing to ride along as if he was doing nothing wrong.

I know we spend a lot of time and effort trying to educate people about safe driving, biking, and walking in Florida. But it appears the problem is a little more universal, as we observed in California, where some didn’t follow the rules and laws. It’s important to educate yourself on the rules of the road and to be safe and courteous to those around you!

Next on our adventure is Long Beach California!

Wrong type of cycle in the bike lane, ahead near the car

 


Update #5: San Diego

San Diego will be on my list for places to return once things open again in a post-COVID-19 world. What an incredible city! The different districts were decorated with individual themes. They were distinct and each felt special. The city was easy to walk around, had very wide sidewalks and roads, and seemed to support all modes of transportation.

Our walking route in San Diego

Our San Diego walking tour began in the historic Gaslamp Quarter. As you may have guessed, it is famous for gas lamps that still exist today. We are not sure if they are still gas-powered but the lamps are still there!

We set out early this morning. The Gaslamp district had many different building types, façades, interesting signage, and landscaping along the walk. It appears there is no shortage of things to see and things to do, once businesses fully open again. California, as is the case with many other states, is going about reopening in a phased approach. Plus, we may have been too early in the day for some re-opened businesses.

Fifth Ave., Gaslamp district in San Diego

Fourth Ave., Gaslamp district in San Diego

Fourth Ave., Gaslamp district in San Diego

Fourth Ave., Gaslamp district in San Diego

I also want to touch on micro-mobility for a moment. Scooters were abundant in the city and it appeared there was ample parking for them. The city took over on-street parking space to provide a place for scooters, which I thought was a smart move, rather than having sidewalks cluttered. I specifically liked seeing the micro-mobility parking at intersections as to not allow cars to cut into the parking space while making a right-hand turn. This also keeps those using the crosswalk in a better line of sight for cars, so it’s a win-win!

Designated bicycle and scooter parking in San Diego

Former traditional parking spaces turned multi-modal parking

Another look at the scooter parking

We continued our walk, north, into the Little Italy district. This quaint part of San Diego was busy!! A farmers market was open for business and people were walking, bicycling, and driving around this area. Activity abounded.

Little Italy was true to its name. The theme of Italy carried throughout the district, from the flags on the light posts to the architecture, and from the types of businesses and to the people. You certainly felt like you were in Italy in the middle of San Diego!

The farmers market being open during these current times surprised me at first, but then I remembered that many of our own farmers markets in Central Florida were also open. For example, Winter Garden’s farmers market, ranked best farmers market in Florida and 12th in the nation, has remained open “in an effort to ensure that fresh food is available to our residents.” Other Florida farmers markets also remained open or recently followed suit. (Click here for a list of Florida farmers markets.)

At the Little Italy market, it was good to see health and safety precautions in effect, as it was one-way in and one-way out. Only a certain number of people were allowed in at a time. So, they made sure there was plenty of room to social distance yourself. Smart!

Sharrows marking bike route down India St. in Little Italy, San Diego

India Street, Little Italy in San Diego

Little Italy farmers market open for business

A Little taste of Italy in San Diego

Little Italy had many restaurants with sidewalk tables within the district, however some of the sidewalks, street furniture and trees did not provide ample room for someone in a wheelchair or even two people walking side-by-side to pass. It seems this is common in many urban places, including Central Florida. How roll-able is your city?  It is something we all need to consider.

A tight squeeze down this sidewalk in San Diego

Another tight squeeze

Let’s take a look at public transportation here. San Diego seemed to have it all! They had busses and fixed guided light rail that traversed the city. Not many people were riding the bus or train, but they were all still operating. The busses specifically had mask requirements.

The light rail station

The bus route times and their COVID responses.

Great wayfinding signs and maps everywhere!

I was fortunate enough to also witness one of San Diego’s last mile options, the Circuit. Many of these types of mobility services are popping up in cities all over the U.S. When spending time in South Florida, I was able to ride in one of these small golf cart type vehicles, and they are fantastic for getting people to, and from, their transit stops.

Busses only lane. Downtown Orlando has exclusive bus lanes as well.

As we left Little Italy, we made our way toward the waterfront, and back to the Gaslamp district. When we crossed North Harbor Drive, we noticed faint white lines where a crosswalk should be. Looks like San Diego is adding to its crosswalks! Once we got to the other side, we noted an expansive area near the marina, which provided plenty of room for pedestrians, tourists taking photos, cyclists, and early morning runners. At a certain point along our walk, a detour for construction brought us to a dirt path adjacent to the road. I was puzzled by this at first. The crushed shell/sandy path was flat, level and provided a wide area.  Ideal for walking.

Anything with wheels could also easily traverse it. Being in San Diego, down by the water, it was nice to see a “beach path” if you will.

North Harbor Drive, white lines prepping crosswalk

Expansive walk along San Diego marina

We walked back to the Gaslamp district using West Ash Street. This street seemed to be the main boulevard, lined with beautiful palm trees and artistic lighting. The twisty metal structures you see in the photograph are streetlights; interesting, unique, and fit the theme of this area of San Diego.

As for walking around the town, it was hit or miss whether people wore masks. This was somewhat surprising to me considering California was hard hit, the LA area specifically, and was taking the virus seriously with preventative measures. As for me, I wore my mask.

Next stop La Jolla and the beach communities along the Pacific Coast Highway!

 


Update #4: Coronado- The Peninsula City

We arrived in San Diego as the sun was setting over the bay. It was a breathtaking view as we drove over a bridge into Coronado, a small city situated on the peninsula island just west of San Diego. Coronado is a beautiful little beach town with shops, restaurants and great big pedestrian sidewalks that meander through the peninsula.

The Hotel Del Coronado sits on this peninsula. It is one of the world’s most famous resorts. Built in 1888, the Hotel was ahead of its time and provided accommodations for many of our nation’s presidents, actors and actresses. It even played a part in The Wizard of Oz movie. What is also very interesting about the hotel is that Disney designed the Grand Floridian to look very similar to it. (Click here for a view of both.)

Coronado is severed by Orange Avenue, a major arterial road that bisects a walkable downtown. To the city’s credit, 30 mph is the top speed on this roadway. The sidewalks are wide and provide convenient bike parking near the restaurants, shops, and area activities. This Orange Avenue reminded me much of the potential of Central Florida’s Orange Avenue, portions of which fall under local jurisdiction, while other sections are designated as State Road (S.R.) 527. Could Central Florida’s Orange Avenue benefit from this type of policy; slow the roads down, widen the sidewalks in the central business areas and make it comfortable and interesting?  Sections of Orange Avenue in Orlando’s SoDo District, south of the downtown, have seen improvements and more work is ahead. By the way, Coronado’s Orange Avenue is a state road. So, if they can do it, so can we!

Orange Avenue, Coronado, Calif.

Spaced out dining along Orange Avenue in Coronado

Speaking of bicycle parking, I was fascinated by the two options offered. There were cute “bicycle” shaped racks that lined the streets, as well as these more utilitarian looking ones that were designed to hold the bike upright in a stand, by gripping the back tire. What was even more surprising to me was how the cute bicycle shaped racks were all empty, while the more utilitarian ones were used much more often. Maybe cute isn’t always effective.

Bicycle-shaped bike rack

More utilitarian bike rack

Coronado’s crosswalks were all very well lit. We walked around towards dusk, and I wanted to see how well the lighting performed along the streets and intersections. There was clear indication given as to where pedestrian crossings occurred along the side streets. However, some of the crosswalk markings were missing when crossing Orange Avenue, even though they had a beautiful pedestrian refuge in the middle of the road. Once at the pedestrian refuge island, the crosswalk became delineated by two white strips, nothing like the ladder at the adjacent street. Maybe the road had just been repaved and the markings hadn’t been yet installed? The asphalt looked fairly new. Still, it was a nice and comfortable walk as we crossed Orange Avenue.

No markings at this Orange Ave. crosswalk

Well-lit streets and crosswalks

Another interesting observation we noted were these signs that Coronado put at most of its crosswalks; making sure that bicyclists, inline skaters and skateboarders stayed safe by dismounting and walking across the crosswalk.

Reminding those on wheels to hop off for pedestrian safety

As we walked along Orange Avenue, we noticed a bicycle shop. They were closed, and clearly not renting any bikes because of COVID. But, it was great to see this type of business in a very bicycle-friendly city!

Window shopping at a Coronado bike shop

 


Update #3: New Mexico, Arizona Lost Dutchman State Park and Joshua Tree National Park

Though my blog is more geared towards streets and how they incorporate facilities for biking and walking, trails and parks have a special place in my heart. Trails serve many purposes, from recreation (hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, etc.) to active transportation (cycling or walking along the trail to get to a destination). Trails are vitally important today, as many people are using them to get outside and interact with the natural surroundings, while practicing social distancing due to COVID-19.

So, as we drove from San Antonio to San Diego, Charlie and I went off the beaten path to hike in different local, state, and national parks along the way. Florida does not have mountains, nor is it arid, but we were able to draw some similarities.

We hiked in New Mexico, on a trail that had some elevation gain (500ft!!). Not something that we are used to in Florida (the heat is though!). We hiked in Arizona at Lost Dutchman State Park where the trail looped and offered spectacular views. It was easy to lose oneself in the natural settings. But the best (obviously so) was hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. The picture below is why I want to include this in the blog.

One-way trail access for social distancing

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the first National Parks to open in California. This picture shows how the national park service turned a typical trail into a loop, requiring one-way traffic to provide social distancing for hikers and trail-goers. Most everyone obeyed these signs, and followed the path, keeping their distance. Of course, this is how it looked just before the Memorial Day weekend.

As we were leaving Friday, we observed lines and lines of cars parked outside of the entrance, all with people waiting to get into the park and celebrate a long weekend, outdoors. I wonder how it went. Did people do the right thing, follow the trail, and keep proper distance? Or, did it turn into what we saw at some beaches, pools, and other outside social settings across the country and in Florida?

Something to keep in mind as we move into the next phase of coping with the presence of COVID-19.

Speaking of home, there ample opportunities to get outside and hike trails in the Sunshine State. There are segments of the Florida National Scenic Trail that pass through our area. This trail starts near the Everglades and 1,300 miles through the State to the Panhandle. On its way it crosses through Osceola, Orange and Seminole County Parks.  You will want to check safety advisories issued by the Florida Trail Association during COVID-19, prior to setting out.

Many of our local counties have great trail systems. See for yourself through the links below:

Central Florida         Brevard County

Flagler County          Lake County

Orange County         Osceola County

Seminole County     Volusia County

Just another testament to how important trails are. And, kudos to those Central Florida communities that are making safe hiking, biking, and walking on trails a priority as we adjust to life during COVID-19.

One of the gorgeous desert trails we hiked

The road lined with the famous Joshua Trees

 


Update #2: First Official Stop — San Antonio, Texas

Welcome to the River Walk! I love the openness along the water (no railing), the wide side path and the pedestrian appropriate blade sign hanging adjacent to a decorative awning.

We arrived in San Antonio, our first official stop following our detour to Beaumont for repairs. After getting settled into the city, we made our way down to the historic River Walk.

What a beautiful place! Interesting factoid; River Walk almost didn’t happen. After a hurricane came through the City in the 1920s, many local businesses advocated for the city to fill in the canals, citing flooding concerns. Enter Robert H.H. Hugman, who had the vision and drive to pursue the River Walk dream. Hugman brought his plans to the city, and even called upon the San Antonio Conservation Society to help. There were bumps along the way. The great depression halted much growth and development in the city.

After years of designing the plan, advocating for the vision, and pursuing a walkable thriving destination, there was finally movement. In 1936, federal dollars from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and monies from a local bond initiative finally funded the project’s construction–at a whopping $380,000 price tag!  In 1940, the construction was completed. Today, the River Walk is an economic engine. It draws more than 9.3 million visitors to just the River Walk alone, produces $2.4 billion in revenue and generates 31,000 jobs. If interested, you can learn more about the River Walk’s history on this video.

What’s the correlation to Central Florida? Not everything can be a San Antonio River Walk, but there are plenty of great things happening. Take for instance extensive building of rail to trail systems throughout our area, where former rail beds are made into top drawing walking and biking spots, such as the West Orange Trail and Cady Way Trail. How about taking a former I-4 borrow pit that filled in with water and turning it into a walkable park, as Altamonte Springs did at Cranes Roost? How about the U.S. 17/92 road transfer from the state to Sanford and Seminole County, so Sanford Riverwalk could be extended by utilizing the road’s right of way that runs along Lake Monroe? And, since I’m a former planner at the City of Casselberry, how about the walkway and park built around Lake Concord, just behind city hall? The area was in need of renewal, and Casselberry is reaping the benefits. My point? Walkable places are some of the best economic engines in cities! The San Antonio River Walk and local projects here are proof!

What makes this walk so interesting are all the details, from the block stem wall to the twisted brick column, along with the lush greenery all around. All the different textures make the space feel rich and inviting.

 

Another interesting characteristic of the walk is the changing of the side path’s pattern and material. Every change seemed to bring a different ambiance to what I would call “outdoor living rooms.” Each outdoor living room seems to have a theme, either in accordance with adjacent businesses or in keeping with the theme at that particular point of the walk.

 

What I would deem to be a big deal and makes this walkable place one of the best are the elevators positioned around the River Walk. The river is actually below grade, so you have to travel down a flight of stairs or through a building to get to the river below. I really enjoyed seeing the elevator additions (I would imagine not a part of Hugman’s original plan) and though an afterthought to the original concept, the elevator shafts are designed to integrate into the walk’s themes.

 

The COVID-19 perspective: The River Walk was virtually lifeless, with only a few people walking along the banks. What we did find (which I assume does not happen often) were cyclists enjoying a bike ride along the river.

 

I loved these colorful umbrellas along the river, they sat empty as the restaurants were still mostly closed. This was despite the fact that the governor allowed the state to reopen.

 

Keeping my distance as I stroll along the River Walk

 

Outside of the River Walk, San Antonio is a walkable city. I was impressed with their scooter parking, using curb extension areas at intersections to park them. Due to COVID, there was little traffic throughout the city, so biking in the lanes was easy.

 

Additional signage can be found on buildings for scooter parking! Various larger buildings around downtown offered shelter for scooters and bicycles!

 


Stop #1: Commercial Area in Beaumont, Texas (Just off Interstate 10)

It’s interesting how the scenery may change, but certain things remain the same, depending where in town you end up. Charlie and I needed to stop to get the RV aligned. Last night, it was pretty scary driving in a storm that came through all of the sudden. The RV, though small, is a mighty road warrior. But in the storm, it swayed across the road and was difficult to keep between the lines. So, on this day, we found a large vehicle repair shop in this small town. The alignment on the RV was going to take about an hour, so we decided to grab lunch at a local favorite restaurant. We saw it was only a 16-minute walk and thought of it as a welcome break after being in the RV for a long time.

So, off we went. We left the shop and immediately realized how automobile-centric this part of Beaumont really is. This is remarkably like certain areas in Central Florida. We walked down a new sidewalk, which appeared to be just poured in front of the shop; a typical five-foot wide slab next to a two-foot wide grass strip, next to a five-lane major road. In a short distance, things changed. No sidewalk. We walked through tall grass, through parking lots, along power lines and eventually made it to the restaurant. We had a lovely meal and walked the .8 miles back.

When we returned, the lady at the RV shop asked if we had walked, and we told her “yes.” She said she was so worried about our safety and said, “No one walks here, honey.” It’s interesting how location, geography, and time zones might change, but certain challenges remain the same.

Where the sidewalk ends in Beaumont, Tex.

Bus stop with no sidewalk or place to wait

 

Walking along a side road with no sidewalks. Very little car volume so it was a comfortable walk

 

New sidewalk along the repair shop. Typical sidewalk section

 

The RV getting some TLC

 

Similar issue as those at certain locations in Central Florida; good transit loading pads and the ADA ramp from the pad; but the ADA ramps do not connect to any sidewalks. But there are truncated domes installed.

 

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