Political complacency stalls biking progress
By Ron Cunningham, GLOB Correspondent
EDITOR's NOTE: Ron Cunningham is a Gainesville cyclist, journalist, and the Executive Director of Bike Florida. The GLOB's bicycle boy is ready to climb on his soapbox about the currnet lackadaisical plitical attitude about biking in Gainesville.
On the first Saturday morning in May, some 25 cyclists gathered at City Hall to participate in a "Ride with the Commish." It was a pleasant spring morning for a pedal-powered tour of many of Gainesville's "works in progress" - The Power District, Depot Park, GTEC, the once and future site of Kennedy Homes, the impressive new Sweetwater Park and so on.
Our host for the morning - the "Commish" - was Lauren Poe. Who at that point had just nine more days left in his term. One city employee accompanied Poe on his last official ride.
That's how the City of Gainesville kicked off National Bike Month: With a lame duck leading the way. The next Gainesville-sponsored National Bike Month event will be to usher it out, on May 27, with a small ceremony in the City Hall courtyard.
I only bring this up because Bike Month used to be a bigger deal in this town. That was back when mayors would run errands around town on bikes in competition with someone else doing the same thing in an automobile. And the mayors almost always won.
Gainesville, you see, was for many years the most bicycle friendly city in Florida. The only one city hold the League of American Bicyclist's silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community designation.
But we grew complacent. Several Florida cities have caught up and snagged silver designations of their own. And Gainesville's half-hearted attempt to qualify for gold-level status last year was, not surprisingly, dismissed by the League.
Signs proclaiming a street to be a "Bicycle Boulevard" do not make it anything more than a normal city street with unusual signage. An improperly designed "bike box" at NE 2nd Avenue and 13th Street failed to impress the League. Neither did a new 6th Street Greenway that seems designed less to facilitate cycling than to ensure that no cars on adjoining streets would be obliged to slow down, much less stop, for cyclists.
The surprise wasn't that Gainesville didn't get the gold. The surprise was that the League allowed Gainesville to hang on to its silver status. Don't get me wrong. Gainesville is still bullish on cycling.
The Gainesville Cycling Club is one of the largest and best organized in the state. For two years running GCC members have held the League's national record for most cycling miles amassed. Bicycle commuting is on the uptick in this university city. And sometimes it is easier to find a parking space downtown than a place to lock your bike.
It's not the cyclists who are falling behind. It's the politicians and bureaucrats.
For the first time I can recall we have a City Commission majority that is, at best indifferent and at worst openly hostile, to cycling. We have a mayor possessed of a classic suburban-mentality - who apparently thinks local government's highest priority is to make sure that cars can move through town as quickly and efficiently as possible. Commissioners actually turned down federal money to build a bikeway near Gainesville High School. And Gainesville got national attention recently when it decided to remove, not add, bike lanes - this in the interest of returning a nearly mile-long stretch of NW 8th Avenue to its former glory as Gainesville's most notorious speedway.
And our county commission is only slightly more progressive on cycling. Yes, the commission did reverse a previous decision not to extend the Alachua Braid Trail through Haile Plantation. But the county's makeover of 16th Avenue ensures that it will continue to be a high-speed urban "highway" and as bike-and-pedestrian unfriendly as it ever was.
What's the message here, Alachua County? Cyclists are fine as long as they stay in their place (i.e. separated trails) but if you expect to share the road do so at your own risk?
In short, we are experiencing a political backlash against cycling in Gainesville that I haven't seen before. The city commission of late has been making a mockery out of Gainesville's long-held "Complete Streets" commitment. And they're being cheered on by a Chamber of Commerce that professes to support cycling - just so long as it doesn't actually get in the way of the smooth flow of traffic.
Listen, I love this town. And I love cycling in and around Gainesville. But we're kidding ourselves if we think we can make Innovation Gainesville (aka a city where young entrepreneurs and creative types want to live, work and play) a reality by giving little more than lip service to walking, cycling and other alternative modes of transportation.
So happy Bike Month, Gainesville. And thank you, Lauren Poe, for showing up to lead a National Bike Month ride before giving up your "Commish" status.
Too bad there aren't more like you still left on the city payroll.
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Bill Thursday, 07 May 2015 21:57 Comment Link
Great article. As someone who has been hit by cars three time while on my bike ( car's fault each time; fortunately I was wearing a helmet), I appreciate this article. The good news is that Lauren is running for mayor.
Tim Hayes Thursday, 07 May 2015 12:02 Comment Link