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Orlando Sentinel: Better bike paths win out in Winter Park

Orlando Sentinel

By Beth Kassab

separted bike lanePoliticians in Central Florida say they are tired of this region being labeled the worst in the country for pedestrians and cyclists.

And maybe — just maybe — they are starting to prove it.

For too long, walkers and bikers who want to share roads with cars have gotten little more than lip service.

A committee has been meeting for months to talk about how to prevent more people from dying while trying to cross roads near the University of Central Florida. Eleven people have died walking near the campus during the past eight years.

But when the rubber hits the nine-lane, 45 mph road, there’s still no official plan for changes there.

Not a single project for the UCF area is listed in the region’s five-year plan for road improvements.

There is, though, a glimmer of hope.

Case in point: The Winter Park neighborhood near Brookshire Elementary is about to become the first in the region to get a cycletrack.

Say what?

If you haven’t heard of a “cycletrack” you’re not alone. Until recently, neither had I.

It’s one of the biggest buzzwords today when it comes to planning smarter roads that cater to more than just cars.

A cycletrack is an extra-large, fancy bike lane.

Usually, a cycletrack includes side-by-side bike paths that travel in both directions and are separated from cars by a curb or some other barrier.

After years of resistance, Winter Park is moving ahead this summer with construction of a nearly half-mile cycletrack along Cady Way between the Cady Way Trail and Perth Lane near Brookshire Elementary.

“We want to give parents more comfort to allow their children to bike to school,” said Rick Geller, a local father with two children at the school. He’s been pushing the idea for three years.

The point of enhanced bike lanes is to make cyclists — and their moms and dads — feel safer. Bikes get more space of their own, which reduces the time they spend competing with cars.

In Winter Park, plastic poles will separate the bike lanes from cars.

Cycletracks are criticized by people who say they put too much emphasis on separating bikes from cars when cyclists and drivers should learn to share the road.

Sharing the road may be the law. But it’s not the practical reality.

Like a lot of parents, Geller said he would never let his kids ride on their own to school today. But he will once the bike project is complete by the end of the summer.

“Unhesitatingly,” he said.

It’s possible cycletracks could become more common in Central Florida, though no one thinks they are a magical answer to our disastrous roads.

Many roads here are big and fast and contain driveways to stores and businesses every 25 feet. Every driveway is another opportunity for a car and a bicycle to tangle.

“A big part of the challenge for us in the transportation industry is the land development patterns of local governments,” said Billy Hattaway, a top Florida Department of Transportation manager who is in charge of making roads better for pedestrians.

In other words, local planners did a lousy job for decades of laying out sensible communities where it’s easy to get around.

And we’re left trying to retrofit their mistakes.

Hattaway’s efforts are another reason to be hopeful that politicians are beginning to put some money where their mouths are on road safety.

He’s leading the state’s “Complete Streets” program, which is nothing short of a culture shock for most transportation bureaucrats.

When evaluating roads, the questions used to be, “How much traffic will it move and how fast?”

Now cities, counties and the state will no longer view speed as the top priority.

Under the new mentality, traffic-slowing devices like roundabouts or reducing the number of lanes may even get some respect.

Take Robinson Street from Lake Eola to Orlando Executive Airport. Hattaway is looking at reducing the number of lanes and adding larger bike lanes and on-street parking.

How refreshing.

If only somebody had the same sense of urgency for UCF.

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