Thursday, May 25, 2017

The best bicycle infrastructure in the country...is in Florida?

When it comes to transportation, most agree that things work best when every mode gets their own exclusive right of way. Mixing cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians, and trains results in poor or dangerous experiences for all. The speeds of the various modes aren't the same, which generate conflict, and the patterns of travel are different as well.

As such, many bicycle advocates look with envy at cities or countries that have invested great deals of money in keeping the transportation modes apart. Being able to bicycle to work, or the store, or to dinner, completely separate from cars, on a direct trail? Yes please. It's safer. It's more pleasant. It's FUN. Even substandard improvements, like 8-foot trails that spill out onto sharrows are major victories in places like New York. A protected intersection? Groundbreaking.

And so something like this is pretty much the holy grail.

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A 100% separated bicycle system. No merging into the roundabout and trying to take a lane. No crossing at the exits and hoping the drivers stop. Instead, bikes get their own tunnels, and even their very own exclusive roundabout, sending them off in 5 different directions.

Where is this thing? Denmark? The Netherlands? Maybe Davis, California?

Nope, Central Florida.

That doesn't quite add up. Year after year, Florida has topped the lists for being the most dangerous place for bicyclists and pedestrians. Here's news in 2009, 2015, and 2016. The State DOT is also known for being extremely inflexible when it comes to planning for bikes.

So how did this happen?

How did this town pop up with exclusive turn lanes that send bicyclists into the trail system?

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Or tunnels under arterials that include a bypass, so bicyclists don't have to go down and up again, and options, so trail users don't have to double back?

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Well, maybe there's one little catch.

Florida is full of retired people. Retired people who love to golf.
The centerpiece of The Villages is its numerous assortment of golf courses. The ability to play "Free Golf for Life" is a key component of The Villages advertising campaigns (though technically the statement is inaccurate as the costs are covered by the mandatory monthly amenity fees assessed on each residential lot). As of February 2017, The Villages operates 48 courses.  Wikipedia
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As it turns out, this exceptional fully separated trail system was not created primarily for bicyclists.

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But bicyclists are more than welcome to use the trails, (as are pedestrians). And it's a good option too, because the trails don't just function as paths to get from one hole to another, as is typical in many golf communities. It is a full transportation system linking homes, commercial centers, recreation areas, shops and more. (And yes, golf courses).

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Indeed, the city has been given a "Silver" award by the League of American Bicyclists, and the application they submitted shows why.
Planned, engineered and built by the developer over a period of more than 20 years, with more than 400 miles of roads suitable for cycling and 42 miles of paved multi-modal paths connect all of the residences, businesses and amenities within the community.  This is in stark contrast to most communities, which often require significant infrastructure changes to accommodate safe and convenient bicycling.  
Guidelines for Bicycles: Bicyclists have full use of the multi-modal paths and also have the legal right to travel on any of the roads in and around The Villages. Each cyclist, or each ride group leader, should make the choice base d on their skill level, current conditions and personal preference.  Cyclists using the multi-modal paths follow the same rules as golf carts, stopping and yielding to cars at all road intersections or entrances. Cyclists may travel at any speed that is comfortable for them, but should always be mindful of safety and courtesy toward other users.
There are also 39 tunnels under the avenues and 2 bridges over highways.

So maybe the developer wasn't a bike fanatic. And maybe the selling point is that you can sit in a golf cart all day. And maybe this guy is an anarchist who hates trails.

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But at the end of the day, it shows that this country is capable of building world class bicycle infrastructure. Well, as long as bicyclists are willing to share the space with a golf cart. And since those things have zero emissions and are capped at 20mph, I'm ok with it.

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3 comments:

  1. The thing is, as nice as a dedicated wide pathway might be, the actual environment looks absolutely awful for bicycling: giant over-engineered roads (which bicyclists will end up having to deal with at some point, regardless of the bike paths) connecting sprawled out car-oriented "destinations," with seemingly long trip distances.

    I would also be interested in how things are outside the paths: Is there reasonable bike parking? How walkable are commercial and residential areas?

    I mean, it's good that the bike paths are there, they presumably do make it much better than the same location without them, but ... this doesn't seem a good model to copy if you care about human-oriented non-car transportation...

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    1. Yes the land use is 100% suburban. Longer distances also scares people away because the weather is so hot and humid.

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  2. This is one a pretty small scale...the best bicycle infrastructure on a large scale in the US is in Minneapolis. They have bike "freeways" with on-ramps and off-ramps and under/over passes when crossing roads. Pretty remarkable.

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