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Orlando Sentinel: Cyclists look to make Metro Orlando roads safer

Unknown-1Metro Orlando may rank among the deadliest communities in the country for walkers and bicyclists, but the area seemed pretty safe Tuesday when cycling experts took a four-­hour tour.

“I think it’s positive, definitely seen improvements,” said Bill Nesper, a vice president with the American League of Bicyclists in Washington, D.C.

Nesper has been monitoring Orlando and environs since 2004, when the city first approached him about how to make the place safer for bicyclists and word was spreading about the mounting number of cycling and pedestrian accidents in the region.

He rode with 12 other cyclists Tuesday on quiet neighborhood streets, busy roads such as Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, and bike-­and-­pedestrian-­only paths such as the Orlando Urban Trail. He even hitched a ride with his bike on the SunRail commuter train.

Connectivity, he said, is the key to making the area better for pedaling. For example, he is looking for bike trails that stop at a SunRail depot, or a bike­-only path that leads to a busy road with bike lanes that links to lightly traveled neighborhood roads.

“You want to make making biking safer and to feel safe,” Nesper said.

Ian Sikonia, who is in charge of biking initiatives in Orlando, said the city is committed to enhancing life for cyclists and has plans to build more bike paths, including a cycling-­and­pedestrian­-only bridge over Colonial Drive near Interstate 4.

“We’re hoping to make our community more bike-­friendly,” said Sikonia, who often rides to work at City Hall from his home about a mile away.

Next up for the city, Sikonia said, is the installation within three months of four maintenance stations for cyclists that will offer free air and tools for basic repairs. Costing up to $1,000 apiece, the units will be placed downtown, on Cady Way Trail, the urban trail and near Lake Underhill.

That kind of attitude, Nesper said, will make Orlando safer and lead to more people getting out of their cars and onto their bikes.

Despite Orlando’s temperate winters and warm summers, biking is not especially popular. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the number of work riders at about 500 in the city of Orlando, which boasts a population of 250,000.

Washington, D.C., by contrast, has nearly 4 percent of its population of 650,000 regularly riding, Nesper said.

To boost participation in Metro Orlando, Nesper said, people who only ride occasionally must be convinced they can get out on the roads with their family and not have to worry about being buzzed or hit by a car or truck.

Nesper and his group intend to gather Wednesday and trade ideas with city officials from Orlando, Winter Park, Maitland, Casselberry and Eatonville. The event is sponsored by Bike/Walk Central Florida and Healthy Central Florida.

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