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Bike/Walk Planning / Change Makers / Featured / News / News To Use

Grassroot Groups Help the Movement Forward 

Bike/Walk Central Florida’s mission is to educate and advocate to make communities more walkable, bikeable, and rollable. Having hyper-localized groups advocating for their own neighborhoods’ unique mobility challenges helps express the urgency and need for the adoption of policies, programs, and infrastructure that are fair and accessible for all people who share the road. 

So, what inspires advocacy? The desire to facilitate change can come from a variety of places. It might stem from a personal frustration catalyzed by witnessing or experiencing a tragedy within one’s community, or it could be sparked by a seemingly mundane event, like waiting in a school carpool line, which illuminates more significant issues. 

From sitting in the carpool lane to leading a group of concerned parents… 

To combat his daughter’s dreaded school carpool line, Eric Grimmer purchased an electric Bunch Bike cargo bike to pick up his kids from school. “The wasted time waiting in line, the extra dollars needed to put additional gas in the tank to sit in a line, and the excess emissions being spewed into the atmosphere while we all sat in our cars with the engine running didn’t make sense to me,” shares Grimmer. 

AWARES leader Eric Grimmer photographed with his kids and cargo bike dubbed “The Bike Bus” on the first day of school this year. 

As he learned more about biking as a transportation alternative, he read extensively about how dangerous roadways could be for pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter users. Eric began to understand the need at a cognitive level. Still, he did not really “feel” those dangers until he was out on the roadways, using the painted but otherwise unprotected bike lanes on Avalon Park Blvd. with his young kids. That is when it all became very real. Eric also noticed that children and students walking, biking, or using their electric scooters were not protecting themselves. He witnessed some kids wearing earplugs and even some kids on their cell phones walking into an intersection. He remembers, “The Avalon Park area was having a big problem with bike and scooter users (especially students) being struck by vehicles. Luckily, there had not been any fatalities, but it felt like a matter of time. The community was upset and wanted change. I had been thinking of starting a group for a few months before that but had held off due to a variety of obligations. However, I knew that I could no longer sit by and wait for a community tragedy, which could potentially involve myself or my own family”. 

Grimmer decided to form a bike and pedestrian advocacy group called the Avalon Walkers and Riders Ensuring Safety (AWARES) that is specifically devoted to the Avalon Park area and aims to develop safe streets and roads to encourage micromobility in their community. The group also focuses on working with local and state elected officials for road design and infrastructure improvements to promote the safety of bike users and pedestrians and work to encourage the education of students on walking and biking to school safely. 

After forming, the AWARES team helped organize its first bike maintenance, helmet fitting, and bike parade in Avalon Park before the 2023 school year started, with more than 100 people in attendance. In September, they held a bike rodeo at one of their local elementary schools that was planned in coordination with school administrators. Eric also continues to advocate before our local government on the need for protected bike and pedestrian infrastructure and will be part of a committee assisting Orange County in drafting their Vision Zero plan. 

Eric learned early that although a group may share the same vision, keeping up the momentum is hard. “When I started AWARES, I thought there was sufficient emotion and momentum in the community to build a better and safer Avalon Park. We had a great turnout at our first meeting, bolstering my enthusiasm. But we have been unable to sustain it, and the community has diverted to its regular patterns. I knew it would be hard starting the organization, but I still did not expect how difficult it would be to overcome the inertia of the status quo, even where there seemingly existed a desire for change,” laments Grimmer.  

He also shares that it is important not to let the slow speed of the process derail you.  

Grimmer admits, “Once I became a daily bike user, taking my children to school and performing all sorts of daily tasks in the Avalon Park area, I quickly learned that the number one rule as a cyclist is always to protect yourself because the roadway design and the automobile drivers will not protect me. I always assume that no one driving a car sees me or intends to stop for me.”  Eric knew that this process would be a long game when he got into it, especially gathering a sufficient amount of community and local government support to build protective infrastructure for micromobility users and change how local roads are designed. As Eric puts it, “We spent decades digging this hole of car-centric city and transportation development and we are trying to change an American culture that the car is king. That does not happen overnight, but we’re dug in for the long haul.” 

He also understood that the construction of truly protective bike and pedestrian infrastructure as well as the implementation of safe roadway design would require collaboration with local elected officials and government staff, who would ultimately be making the decision to approve the improvements his group was requesting. Eric highly recommends seeking those decision-makers out, talking to them, and getting to know them. He recommends asking questions, attending public meetings, and actively getting involved. As Eric puts it, “this is not a game we can win from the sidelines.” 

She had enough of watching speeders from her front porch… 

Ginger Hoke lives on Park Ave. in Sanford. While enjoying sitting on her porch for meals and saying hello to neighbors as they walked by, she began to notice the speeders seemed more extreme and that there were more of them.  A planner by trade, she knew that the wide pavement width of Park Ave encouraged drivers to speed, and the newer double yellow lines were sending the same message to motorists: this is a road for vehicles. She felt that the grid pattern of the streets was a great design for distributing traffic and creating walkable neighborhoods. However, the north-south routes of the grid were not evenly distributed due to cars parking along both Magnolia and Palmetto Avenues and the narrow streetscape at the northern end of Sanford Avenue.  This caused motorists to avoid those areas of friction and more easily cross 13th Street by using Park Avenue. Efforts by the city to reduce speeds along Park Ave had been unsuccessful.  After discussions with neighbors with similar traffic complaints, she felt they might get more responses from the city as one voice requesting specific actions and formed the Park Ave Corridor Group. 

Ginger shares that their challenges have been getting staff to use master planning for the entire Park Ave corridor to increase project quality and appearance and to be sure that fixing one problem doesn’t create a new one. “They (planning staff) are shy to try new ideas (such as using temporary paint to test bulb-outs) and put more effort into accommodating traffic and motorists as opposed to considerations for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the neighborhoods along Park Ave,” states Hoke. 

The Park Ave Corridor group took its first steps in May 2023 by creating a comprehensive presentation that included reasons for concern along with suggestions for active mobility improvements. More than 15 neighbors met on the Hoke family porch with Sanford Mayor, Art Woodruff, to experience the vehicle activity firsthand and talk solutions.  

Park Ave. Corridor Group presenting to Sanford Mayor Woodruff from the Hoke family porch.

Hoke feels It is always helpful to try to influence a project during the conceptual phase so that concerns can be communicated early, increasing the chances of a final design that solves the identified problems. She notes that sometimes the lack of progress is due to written or unwritten policies that have existed for a long time. “Trying to identify and change these policies may help guide future projects throughout the city,” states Hoke. She also suggests showing decision-makers images of your vision and, if possible, using examples from nearby municipalities or counties. She recommends “Clearly communicating the problem(s) and possible solutions to increase the chance of your ideas being implemented.” 

Residents want the crashes to stop… 

Leah Milan had lived in Winter Park for only four months when a speeding vehicle crashed through her hedges into her front yard. After talking to other neighborhood residents, she quickly realized it was not an isolated incident. Many crashes have occurred all along the SR 426 corridor. Tara Gaffey, who resides on Brewer Avenue, had witnessed ten accidents during her four years living there. Milan and Gaffey are both part of another local grassroots group called Fix 426, which was formed by a group of concerned residents whose primary mission is to bring the community together, collaborate with leaders, and mobilize resources to create a safer road for residents, pedestrians, cyclists, and commuters. Their work to try and fix the speed on SR 426 has also received attention from local press

The group hopes to collaborate with both the city and FDOT, aiming to develop practical solutions to the issues of speeding and heavy traffic. They aim to have a planning meeting with the city and FDOT before the end of this year. 

Each group may have had their reasons for forming along with their own unique goals; however, the common thread throughout all groups is to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists throughout their areas. Creating change is hard and does not happen overnight with setbacks likely; however, these groups show that passion, persistence, and old-fashioned hard work can help start a conversation, inspire change, and move the active transportation movement forward. 

“Residents and grassroots groups are essential in making strides to improve the accessibility for active forms of transportation and the safety of their residents. It’s one thing to voice the need and another to take action. Groups such as the Park Avenue Corridor, AWARES, and Fix426 help bring spotlights and awareness to their community’s unique needs and challenges,” shares Bike/Walk Central Florida Assistant Executive Director Kayla Mitchell. “The bottom line is every person should feel safe to walk, bike, and roll in their own communities, and sometimes one person or small group of people must get the ball rolling. There is much work to be done, and nothing will happen unless the initial steps are taken.” 

If you need additional information on what is possible, we invite you to review our Best Foot Forward stories. If you need assistance on how to take action in your community, please take a moment to check some of the resources on Florida Department of Health’s website or if you have a specific question or a story to share, feel free to reach out to our Bike/Walk Central Florida team at [email protected]


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