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bicycle paths and lanes is emerging in east Orange

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Cyclists can see better road ahead

Multimillion-dollar plans will link trails and lanes so riders and hikers can go where they want.


Jan 19, 2005

By Scott Powers | Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted January 19, 2005

A network of bicycle paths and lanes is emerging in east Orange and south Seminole counties, leading some bicycle enthusiasts to dream of the day when packs of people might bike to and from work, school, shopping or entertainment.

Within a few years, bicyclists will be able to go from Winter Springs to Oviedo to the University of Central Florida to east Orlando to Winter Park and back on bike trails or bike lanes.

In both counties, as well as in Osceola County, bike paths and bike lanes are increasing steadily, fueled in part by the counties' commitments to dedicate a couple of pots of federal money exclusively for bike and pedestrian transportation. With that money, $5 million to $6 million a year, a region with few bike facilities two or three decades ago is on a spending binge.

"I don't see any reason preventing Orlando from having 20 percent trips by bicycle except for inadequate planning," said bicycle advocate Bettie Sommer, a retired UCF professor who has presented area planners with a study calling for an aggressive vision for off-road bike trails.

But even as the network comes together, critics -- including Sommer -- are attacking the counties' use of federal money to build bike lanes along busy roads instead of pouring everything they have into off-road trails.

Proponents of bike lanes, such as Mighk Wilson, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for MetroPlan Orlando, the region's transportation planning agency, defend the lanes as safer than people realize and critical to tying bike networks to the places people want to go.

Plans include:

# Seminole County, backed by not just federal highway dollars but also a $25 million bond issue approved by voters in 2000, is building the Cross Seminole Trail in parts of Winter Springs, Oviedo and south Seminole.

Mostly following an old railroad corridor, the trail will connect with others in Seminole and complete a route from Winter Springs to Oviedo, then run south along State Road 426 (Aloma Avenue) into Orange County.

A section from Hall Road to Mikler Road should be finished by July at a cost of $1.3 million. Construction of the next link, from Mikler to Red Bug Lake Road, should begin this spring and be finished next year at an estimated cost of $800,000.

A link from Red Bug Lake to East Franklin Street in Oviedo is under design with no firm cost estimate or construction timetable. That would hook up with the existing Cross Seminole Trail into Winter Springs.

# Orange County is extending the Cady Way Trail north, parallel with S.R. 426, to connect with the Cross Seminole Trail near Hall Road.

Including a $3.2 million trail bridge to be built over Semoran Boulevard (State Road 436), the $4.9 million trail extension should be open by the end of this year.

# Orange County also is extending the Little Econ Greenway west and east, parallel with State Road 50, eventually to connect with Cady Way in Baldwin Park and UCF.

New sections, from Goldenrod Road west to Forsyth Road, and from Rouse Road east past University High School to Alafaya Trail, should be finished this spring at a combined cost of $3.5 million.

The next phase, from Alafaya to the UCF campus, is still being planned and is unscheduled. Cost estimates range from $800,000 to $1.2 million. Orange County Parks and Recreation officials will ask county commissioners for money this spring, said Bill Thomas, a planner with the Parks and Recreation Department.

The final phase, from Forsyth west to Baldwin Park, where the trail would link with Cady Way, also is still in planning stages. It likely would include a bridge across S.R. 436, which drives up the cost estimates into the $5 million to $6 million range. That segment may be several years away, Thomas said.

# Bike lanes along Alafaya Trail complete a loop, connecting UCF with downtown Oviedo and the Cross Seminole Trail.

Other bike lanes are being considered for several roads in the area, including Semoran, Colonial Drive, Goldenrod, Rouse and Alafaya.

"It's all about connectivity," Thomas said.

Last year, MetroPlan commissioned Sommer to do a study on the Little Econ Greenway.

With $10,000 from MetroPlan and another $10,000 from the UCF Center for Advanced Transportation Systems, Sommer presented a report in December, laying out a high-tech proposal for the Little Econ Greenway and suggesting synchronized, timed traffic signals for bikes at road crossings.

Much of her 200-page report called for bold, new approaches to broader bike planning throughout Central Florida, urging MetroPlan and the counties to take their highway money and pursue new bikeway techniques or model them after successful programs in Europe.

Sommer particularly blasted the region's reliance on bike lanes, especially along busy, high-speed roads such as Alafaya, which she said few bicyclists other than confident, athletic men dare use.

"I'm tired of seeing our money spent on facilities people will not use," Sommer said.

MetroPlan's Wilson largely disagrees, although he concedes that bicyclists need both training and confidence to ride in bike lanes with busy traffic.

Such lanes are safer than sidewalks, he said, citing studies, including a 1994 MetroPlan study that found less than 10 percent of adult bicycle accidents occurred in bike lanes.

Not enough is known about who uses, or would use, the bike trails and bike lanes, Wilson said. He said the agency intends to conduct a major bike study this year.

Bicyclists who get comfortable with bike lanes prefer them, he said.

"To characterize cycling in traffic as something that requires a lot of testosterone misses the point. It doesn't require a lot of high skills," Wilson said.

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