I love this town. There are murals everywhere, and it seems that new ones are being painted on Gainesville walls every day. Here’s a collection of murals I photographed just today during my ride through the middle of town.
Next to the Friends of the Library building on North Main. Dogs in shades.
And this one.
A memorial to Breanna…and to love.
Here’s looking at you kid.
And finally, this intriguing, vine-covered image on NW 1st Ave. Just behind the new Midtown Wawa.
Listen, if you want to practice your social distancing on two wheels you could do a lot worse than a nice Sunday morning cycle tour of the Ocala Horse Country just south of Micanopy. Even before the lockdown traffic on these beautiful rural roads, most of them lined with Spainish moss draped oaks, is light to practically nonexistent. The scenery is spectacular as you alternatively roll past small cracker shacks, multi-million dollar horse farms…and at one point a wildlife refuge populated by zebras and other exotic animals. This is a favorite 28-mile route in and out of Micanopy that takes you through Evanston, McIntosh and Flemington. It’s an east ride and that you can do in just about two hours and change.
In April I was all set to give this presentation at a Bike Florida conference on bicycle tourism. But of course it got canceled due to COVID-19.
Still, I’m not one to waste a good speech so……
Could we just take a moment to talk about the real Florida please?
Because Florida is very much a state of mind.
Case in point: In 1980 I was covering the U.S. Senate race in Florida for the New York Times Florida Newspapers.
That year the campaign trail took me from Pensacola to Key West, and in the course of things I got a call from the Great Gray Lady Mother Ship in New York: AKA The New York Times.
They were sending down one of their national political reporters to do a story about the Florida race and asked me to show her around.
So I picked her up in Orlando. I don’t remember her name but right off she assured me that she knew all there was to know about Florida….having spent many a winter in Miami.
We were following Democratic hopeful Bill Gunter and our first stop was in Plant City, strawberry capital of the South.
We stopped at a diner where the produce haulers ate so Bill could press some flesh, and my guest from NY looked around in astonishment.
She said….and I am not making this up.
They’re eating grits!”
Apparently you didn’t get grits with your bagels on South Beach at that time.
Later we were on our way to Tallahassee by way of Perry, and while approaching the Osceola National Forest she was moved to remark
“Look at all those trees!”
I could have told her that developers had cut down all the trees in Miami years ago, but what was the point?
I bring that story up to relate to you Florida’s dilemma, especially but not exclusively when it comes to generating interest in bicycle tourism.
“Everybody” you meet knows all about Florida.
We are the home of Florida man, after all.
The problem is that “Everybody’s” idea of Florida starts with South Beach and ends with Disney.
What we need to do is figure out how to introduce these people to the other Florida.
You know, the real Florida.
Listen, some years ago my wife and I rode the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails from Pittsburgh to Georgetown in D.C.
Arriving in Pittsburgh we proceeded to get lost looking for the GAP trailhead. So I stopped a guy on a bicycle and asked directions.
We had a lovely chat and in the course of it I asked him if he had ever done any riding in Florida.
“I’d never ride in Florida,” he scowled. “It’s too damned hot.”
A few months later we had our spring tour in Lake and Polk Counties. And to this day the thing I most remember about our Orange Blossom Express tour is that temperatures were dipping down into the 30s most nights.
And this in March.
One night we ran movies in a middle school auditorium in Clermont all night long because nobody wanted to go back to their tents.
Welcome to too-hot-to-ride Florida pal!
Oh and then there was the time I put up a Bike Florida display tent during the annual Bike Virginia tour, this one in the Shenandoah Mountains.
The most common remark I got was “I won’t ride in Florida….it’s too flat.”
“Listen,” I’d tell them. “We have mountains in Florida….it’s called the wind.”
And here’s the difference between cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway and heading south on A1A battling a ferocious Atlantic headwind.
Every now and then you get to go downhill on the Parkway,, which is a nice little break. A cruel Atlantic headwind cuts you no such slack.
So here’s the thing I found most frustrating, and most challenging, during my tenure as executive director of Bike Florida.
If you want to convince people that Florida is really a great biking state you better bring your lunch.
I have ridden the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, the southern highlands of Scotland, Ireland’s Cliffs of More and Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands.
I’ve cycled the Rockies and ridden the south rim of the Grand Canyon, toured New York’s Finger Lakes and the Erie Canal Trail.
And I’ve found all of those experiences to be remarkable in their own way.
But I’ve done some of my best and most memorable riright here in the Sunshine State.
We may not have mountains. But as Clyde Butcher will tell you, Florida’s beauty is every bit as exquisite if infinitely more subtle.
We used to have a small group tour we called the Horse Country to the Springs Tour. Through the heart of Florida’s Eden.
We took riders down lovely no-traffic country roads that wound past cracker shacks interspersed with multi-million dollar horse farms – where you’d see a for-sale sign and know that yet another tort lawyer lost his case on appeal.
We passed zebras on our way to Micanopy.
We visited Marjorie Kinnon Rawling’s cracker citrus grove in Cross Creek, where enthusiastic docents filled us in on the nitty gritty of her Bohemian life style.
We stopped outside Gainesville to walk out onto Alachua Sink to get up close and personal with Gators who were well and truly on steroids.
Listen, nothing gets that big on its own.
Arriving in High Springs we pressed on to Oleno State Park – named after a once popular gambling game because this is Florida, after all – got off our bikes, and proceeded to throw ourselves into the gently-flowing, tea-colored water of the Santa Fe River.
And as we floated there a woman from Baltimore asked me, rather nervously,
“Are there any gators in this river?”
Since I cannot tell a lie, I told her, truthfully.
“Why yes there are.”
Then I pointed to the roped line of floatation devices that sectioned off the park’s swimming area and I said.
“But they aren’t allowed to go past that line.”
I dunno, she didn’t seem all that reassured.
I have been telling this remarkable state’s unique stories – some of them near to unbelievable for those of you who may have heard of the Wakulla volcano – for my entire journalistic career.
And when I got the opportunity to be executive director of Bike Florida I thought “This is great. Now I can show cyclists from all over the world my Florida.
That secret Florida.
The Florida that isn’t defined by South Beach and Disney.
I wanted to take my cyclists to Two Egg.
And tell them about that time our Confederate governor fled there to his plantation -lto fatally shoot himself upon hearing that the South had surrendered.
I couldn’t wait to lead tours to Wewahitchka – Tupalo Honey capital of the south – by way of the primeval Dead Lakes.
I wanted to show them Ormond Beach’s Loop, past wetlands that seemed almost primeval in their graceful beauty, and then on through a massive oak-canopied road that abruptly gave way to urban river life Florida style.
I’ve taken them the Old Sugar Mill ruins in New Smyrna Beach, where folks still argue over whether the sugar plantation’s owner was murdered by his slaves or by Indians.
And you know what impressed them most about these historic ruins?
That’s right….the cement dinosaurs that are still there from back when it was called Bongoland.
Yes, another Florida roadside attraction.
We’ve taken cyclists to Bok Tower. And ridden the Canaveral National Seashore.
We’ve cycled the Talbot Islands past great undisturbed stretches of Atlantic coast that still look something like they must have looked when Jean Ribault made landfall there in 1560.
And we’ve taken cyclists to St. Marks, and told them about that time Spanish conquistadors got trapped there by Apalachee Indians
Who were not at all impressed with their muskets and horses.
BTW: That’s one of my all-time favorite Florida stories.
Those conquistadors originally landed in Tampa Bay looking for gold. So they cornered the local indigenous people and demanded “Where’s the gold?”
Whereupon said indigenous people said “We haven’t got the gold. The Apalachee do.”
Which sent the conquistadors scurrying north in the direction of Tallahassee looking for fame and fortune.
Of course the Apalachee didn’t have the gold.
What they had was a reputation for being the nastiest, meanest and most warlike tribe in the entire region.
Thereby proving my longtime contention that Florida has always been a land of confidence men. But that’s another Florida story.
Heck, the Spanish ended up having to eat their horses and cut their hides into leather strips to make rafts and then launch themselves into the Gulf of Mexico…ultimately to end up washed ashore on Galveston Island, where most were either killed or enslaved by other Indians.
Listen, we have ridden through the rabbit warren of million dollar seaside mansions on Casey Key – just to see how the other half live – and then on to Boca Grande….where they told us that we couldn’t use their “private” bike/golf cart trail because they didn’t want “our kind of bikers” in their town.
Like we were the Hell’s Angles or something.
And speaking of which we once took several hundred cyclists to Soloman’s Castle, a big house apparently made of tin foil out in the middle of nowhere Hardee County…and had the great good fortune to arrive at the same time as the Tampa Bay chapter of Dykes On Bikes.
Is this a great state or what?
Listen, I could go on and on about the Florida stories we could tell….and show…to our cyclists.
Watching the sun rise on the St. John’s River in Welaka before heading out to Mud Springs…which isn’t really all that muddy. Some say it’s called that to discourage people from going there.
Like visiting Fernandina Beach so we could sit on a bench with David Yulee the railroad barron and talk to him about that time he had to get out of town real fast in one of his trains just before union troops could nab him.
Or riding to Mexico Beach…at least before it was reduced to rubble…so we could show them what a Florida beach town looked like before the condo kings got ahold of it.
I was brimming over with stories….and places..and I was absolutely certain that cyclists would beat a path to our door for the privilege of seeing My Florida.
And I am sorry to say that, by and large, I was wrong.
I will tell you that to this day I consider my biggest failure as a professional communicator was my inability to figure out how to market the Real Florid to cyclists from up north or from out west or oversees.
I hope that the people in this room will put their heads together and figure out how to do that.
Because Florida isn’t too hot.
And Florida isn’t too flat.
And our best places to ride aren’t South Beach or Disney.
BTW: Have you noticed that Disney packages cruise ship tours with resort visits…all the better to capture a target audience and keep them spending money on Disney enterprises.
Nobody from Disney has asked me, but if they did I’d suggest that they do another kind of packaging to attract people from Germany, Italy, France and other places where cycling is a thing.
Say, five or six days in the resorts followed by a five day guided bicycle tour.
And the beauty of that is – thanks to the commitment Florida is making to connecting greenways – Disney or anybody else will soon be able to offer exclusively on-trail tours of several days length for people who would love to ride a bicycle here but are scared off by Florida’s deplorable record for killing more cyclists and pedestrians than almost any other state.
Which brings me to the other really important message I have to deliver to you who came here today to figure out how to grow bicycle tourism in Florida.
Sorry, but I need to say this because I have been writing about these basic pubic safety issues for far longer than I’ve been interested in bicycle tourism.
Florida has for too many years led the nation in the number of pedestrians and cyclists it kills.
We are killing far too many people who prefer not to drive in order to get from here to there.
On one of my very first Bike Florida tours we lost a very nice man from Arizona after a teenager near Newberry dropped his cell phone, reached down to get it, and veered into the bike lane.
So let me be clear.
Florida desperately needs to take aggressive, corrective action to save the lives of people who don’t care to encase themselves inside multi-ton steel cocoons for the singular privilege of getting from one place to another.
Call it Vision Zero. Call it traffic calming. Call it Complete Streets.
Whatever you want to call the strategy, the only thing we can call the status quo is unacceptable.
If we do not do something about that then we can kiss our bicycle tourism ambitions goodbye.
My bottom line message to all of you is simply this.
We need a strategy, a vision, a plan to get out the message that Florida is open for safe and enjoyable cycling.
We should refuse to take a back seat to corn field-rich Iowa, or lumpy North Carolina or woody Oregon or any other state when it comes to being cycle friendly.
Seriously, folks, it’s time for Florida to grow up and cycle right.
He stands, day after day, staring out at the deserted street, a rough leathery hand arched to shade a weather-worn face.
I know, that could be any one of us these days. But I’m talking about the cigar store indian standing sentry inside Havana’s Wine and Cigar Lounge.
I frequently ponder his haunted gaze while cycling the empty downtown street that connects the unused Bo Diddley Plaza to the sealed Hippodrome.
This is Gainesville in a time of coronavirus.
Ah, but where there is hope there is life. Depot Park’s walking loops remain well-used. The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail is entertaining more cyclists, runners and skateboarders than ever. There are picnics and yoga on the lush green Thomas Center lawn. And the trail following Hogtown Creek through Loblolly Woods is a favored destination for social distance strollers.
I have been embarked on a sort of social distancing experiment of my own these past weeks, cycling hundreds of miles on Gainesville’s streets, avenues and trails. Studiously avoiding human contact while trying to keep in touch with all that is so unique, so alluring, so…well…so Gainesville.
Along the way I’ve been taking pictures and posting photo essays on my blog as a tribute to our university city.
And they’re not all pretty pictures. One day I followed the broken course of our ironically named Sweetwater Branch from where it flows out of a pipe at the Duck Pond until it finally empties into Sweetwater Preserve. Here a drainage ditch, there a lovely winding creek. We gutted it, buried it and used it to carry off our effluent – and then spent millions trying to clean it up.
On another day I rediscovered Gainesville’s truly spacey Solar Walk. How often have most of us driven past it, on NW 8th Ave., without giving those meticulously sited pillars a glance? Closer examination reveals a display that is simultaneously a mathematical salute to the solar system and a flight of artistic fancy.
Strolling the deserted grounds of the Tu Vien A Nan Temple, with its enormous Buddhist statues, was a revelation. Gainesville’s downtown parking garage, emptied of cars, turns out to be a fantastic street art gallery. And the heroic bronze images of Steve, Danny and Tim are lonely figures indeed when no one is there to do selfies with them.
On a narrow street near the Thomas Center I encountered a winged victory-like sculpture that looks to have been been carved whole out of a dead tree trunk. And taking a random turn onto a Florida Park street I came upon a historical marker commemorating the Cox Cabin, built in 1936 and still standing.
Cycling through a nearly deserted UF campus makes for a beautiful if somewhat eerie journey. The new baseball stadium is coming along splendidly and is sure to be ready when (if?) the next pitch is thrown.
Urban cycling has been experiencing a resurgence in this time of coronavirus, so much so that some cities have even closed streets to cars to better accommodate human beings. Gainesville is a more cycle-friendly city than most, blessed with miles of tree-lined old neighborhood streets and off-road trails that can facilitate two-wheeled meandering while avoiding much of the traffic.
Tired of staring out the window with a haunted gaze? Try practicing your social distancing on a bike for a change. You may be glad you did.
(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of the Sun. His photo-essays are posted at the top of his blog at https://floridavelocipede.com.)
I can’t even believe I just wrote that. Me, the holier-than-thou cyclist philosopher and constant scold of autoAmerican Anarchy.
But there it is.
And at this point I can only plead extenuating circumstances.
You see, I owned a 13-year old Nissan pickup trick. For years it sat in my driveway. And it was mostly my fallback transportation. I usually cycle downtown, or to campus, or to the Starbucks of my choice where I did much of my writing. But my mother lives more than three hours away, in Brevard County, and my favorite place to camp is Anastasia State Park, in St. Augustine. Plus, at my age, cycling in, say, a cold rain is no longer the thrill it once was.
Long story short, the old pickup was starting to cost cost money for repair. And so we finally traded it in for a 2017 Honda Civic. Smaller and more fuel efficient, it reduced my carbon footprint.
But here’s the thing. The Civic turns out to be the nicest looking car I’ve ever owned. A sleek, jet like, smoke-gray model that looks like something Capt. Kirk drove to the spaceport on his way to board the Enterprise.
And our next door neighbor has an overhanging hickory tree that has for years pelted whatever happened to be parked in my driveway with hard, dent-inducing projectiles.
So I resolve to make room in my half of the garage (my wife’s Subaru owns the other side) for the Civic.
One problem, though. What to do with the five bicycles that already had squatters rights in there? Not to mention the shelves full of God-knows-what, and the decades-old refrigerator.
First we got rid of the refrigerator (bye-bye emergency backup beer). Followed by lots and lots of accumulated junk.
Hey, am I the only American guy who kept large coffee cans full of nuts, bolts, brackets, washes, hooks and whatnot – all of it just sitting there waiting to spring into action?
I don’t even remember where all that stuff came from. Maybe I inherited from whoever lived there before us.
All I can say is that, in the 30-some years we’ve lived here, I can never remember dipping into any of those cans to pull out that one essential component I needed to keep the house from falling apart.
So I got rid of all that stuff….no doubt tomorrow I’ll have to go to Lowes and buy new nuts, bolts, washers etc.
But never mind that. After getting a junk hauler to haul all the junk away, I was still left with one final dilemma.
Let’s see, the Subaru on the left. The Civic on the right. And the little alcove in the back for the bikes and the shelves.
No kidding, it took me three days of arranging, rearranging and re-rearranging to finally figure out that I had one bicycle too many for a comfortable fit.
We’ve got two road bikes, Jill’s and mine. And two urban bikes that we use for everyday trips around town.
That left my touring bike. A sweet Surly Cross Check that I bought for multi-day road trips.
Getting rid of Surly wasn’t easy. It was the first bike I ever bought brand new. That was maybe seven or eight years ago and it set me back nearly $2,000 as I recall. Tough steel frame, fat tires and a three ring drive chain it was designed for the long haul.
And we’ve had some adventures together, Surly and I.
I once cycled the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal trails, from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. on it, carrying all of the clothing and gear necessary for a six day journey. I’ll never forget the night we showed up in Harper’s Ferry, Surly and me, covered in mud after an all day trek in stormy weather.
Not to mention our journey on the Erie Canal Trail, from Buffalo to Seneca Falls, fighting headwinds much of the way.
But truth be told, I hadn’t ridden that bike much in recent years. On the odd camping trip, mostly.
It was like giving up an old friend. But the truth was, Surly’s tires were all but flat from disuse.
So I just gave Surly away to a buddy, who seemed glad to have it. And all to the good, I suppose, because it’s a shame to see a good bike go to waste – languishing away on the hooks that kept it suspended up against the wall of my garage.
Yes, I know, 13th Street already looks finished. It cuts straight through town, north-to-south, along U.S. 441.
But that doesn’t make it a “complete street.”
Complete streets “are for everyone,” argues the urban planning group Smart Growth America. They are “designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”
If you think that’s already mission accomplished on 13th, just try navigating a wheel chair on the miserable excuse for a sidewalk between NW 3rd place and NW 4th lane…not to mention that stretch where the sidewalk simply vanishes just north of Museum Road.
Mostly 13th Street is a traffic funnel. Engineered to near interstate highway standards its wide multiple lanes facilitate the fast movement of cars and trucks at the expense of public safety. It is no coincidence that some of Gainesville’s most dangerous intersections – at Williston and Archer roads and University Avenue, to name three – are on 13th.
It is especially egregious that Gainesville’s arguably most bike-ped hostile corridor is the stretch of 13th that defines UF’s eastern border – UF harboring the city’s single largest concentration of walkers, cyclists, bus riders and scooterists.
And UF strategic plan envisions a campus that is even less car dependent than it is now. That includes making its northeast quadrant car free and running shuttles so commuters can leave their cars on the city’s outskirts.
“I’m dismayed that we have to spend the money we do on parking garages,” UF CEO Charlie Lane mused recently. “In 20 years we may be asking ‘what in the world were we thinking?'”
It’s time to ask that question right now in regard to 13th street. And if there is a single quality of life improvement project that should unite city and campus in mutual interest it is turning the length of 13th into a complete street and all that the term implies.
We know how to do it. Narrower traffic lanes, on-street bicycle lanes, better sidewalks and other “traffic calming” design standards will slow cars, save lives and, not coincidently, foster a more business friendly environment along the length of Gainesville’s transportation spine.
Reinventing 13th Street by design is a perfect project on which to expand and capitalize upon the nascent partnership between the city, UF’s Transportation Institute and the state. There’s more to the urban mobility revolution than autonomous shuttles.
And reimagining 13th starts now. On October 15th the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization will sponsor is a public workshop to solicit suggestions about how to make 13th “a safe and efficient corridor for all modes of travel.” Transforming 13th is second on the MTPO’s list of priority projects. The workshop will be held at UF’s Innovation Hub, at 747 SW 2nd Ave., from 6 to 8 p.m.
Ultimately, any MTPO recommendations need state Department of Transportation approval. But in recent years even the historically car-centric FDOT has been warming to the notion of complete streets for the sake of public safety.
“Creating Complete Streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads,” says Smart Growth America, “This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists—making your town a better place to live.”
It’s long past time to make completing 13th Street a priority on the town-gown list of things to do.
Soon there will be e-scooters strewn across the sidewalks all up and down Main Street. Anti-scooter vigilantes will be tossing them into Depot Park’s ponds.
And the carnage!
The Associated Press reports at least 11 e-scooter deaths since the beginning of 2018.
“Andrew Hardy was crossing the street on an electric scooter in downtown Los Angeles when a car struck him at 50 miles per hour and flung him 15 feet in the air before he smacked his head on the pavement and fell unconscious,” AP reports.
Having miraculously escaped death, Hardy concluded “These scooters should not be available to the public. Those things are like a death wish.”
Wait a minute. Shouldn’t the takeaway here be the absolute insanity of any motorist in any downtown in any city being able to drive 50 mph?
Still, nearly a dozen e-scooter fatalities in a year and a half sounds serious.
Until you consider that, In 2017, more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle collisions. Including 6,000 pedestrians and cyclists.
Oh, and bike-ped deaths are on the increase even as traffic deaths in general have been declining. People inside cars are safer than ever, while those on the outside grow more endangered with each passing year.
We’ve seen this movie before. Pedestrians are just distracted jaywalkers, no wonder they’re getting killed in record numbers. Cyclists are reckless rule breakers, so pity the poor motorist who accidentally runs one down. And now lawless scooterers (scooterists?).
Here’s what its come to: We routinely give 90 percent of the public transportation realm (roads, streets, highways) to mostly single-occupant motor vehicle use. And everybody else – walkers, cycles, people in wheelchairs and now on scooters – must cram themselves into the narrow slivers (sidewalks, shoulders) along the edges.
And that’s even presuming there are slivers available to cram into. Often there are not.
No question there are legitimate issues to be resolved regarding e-scooter and e-bike use. Who should be allowed to share sidewalk space or bike lanes and who should get precedence therein? And how do you control e-clutter in ride-share situations when the things can be picked up and dropped off anywhere a respective user cares to begin and end?
All of that conceded, the bottom line, whether one’s personal mobility device of choice be scooter, bicycle, skates, pogo stick or just good old fashion shoe leather, is the same.
We have deliberately designed our public streets for the convenience of people who encase themselves inside fast and powerful motor vehicles. Gainesville’s signature street, University Avenue, is a prime example.
We design everything from lane width to speed limits to intersections to pedestrian crossings to curb cuts to turning radius with the primary intent of enabling traffic to flow as quickly and as efficiently as possible through the urban landscape. Because being forced to stew in traffic is the closest thing to a cardinal sin in autoAmerica.
So now e-scooters are coming to Gainesville. Sound the alarm and hide the children.
But if this innovation city is serious enough to hire a Director of Mobility (yes, I’m looking at you, Malisa McCreedy) we need to give a lot more than lip service to the notion of “complete streets.”
The personal mobility revolution is coming. Is Gainesville ready for it?
(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Follow his blog at floridavelocepe.com)
INVERNESS: On a recent Tuesday I sent 500 cyclists to Crystal River.
And why not? What we try to do at Bike Florida’s annual spring tour is show our riders the very best this state has to offer.
And Crystal River is a treasure. A cluster of 50 springs that discharge 64 million gallons of water daily, it is refuge for all manner of wildlife. It plays host to hundreds of manatees and draws fishermen, kayakers and snorkelers by the thousands.
Still, I had some doubts about sending my cyclists there. And not because I thought Crystal River itself would disappoint.
No, it was having to send them through 20 miles of suburban dreck that gave me pause.
Because we – Floridians and snow birds alike – have larded Crystal River with subdivisions and strip malls and fast food restaurants and gas stations and motels and condos. Now you can barely see the water for all the steel and concrete.
And we let pesticides, fertilizers and the detritus of “civilization” wash into those crystal waters.
And we wonder where the algae blooms come from.
And we suck up vast amounts of groundwater to keep our lawns green.
And then wonder why the mighty Crystal River doesn’t seem quite so mighty anymore.
We are loving this Florida treasure to death. And I fear the ecological havoc is irreversible.
So why bring it up?
Because the main driver of all this ugly sprawl is a network of high-capacity highways that tie into the Suncoast Parkway and I-75.
The Suncoast is a money-losing toll road and I-75 is habitually congested. (Our staff went into near panic the previous Sunday when a pile-up on the interstate spilled thousands of trucks, trailers, SUVs and pickups onto the rural Hernando County road that we had just put our cyclists on.)
The movers and shakers in the Florida Legislature say the way to “fix” this traffic mess is to build still more of the same. More high-speed, toll-financed interstate-scale highways up and down the western side of the state. The better to tie the Suncoast and the Florida Turnpike and I-75 together all the way from Collier County to Georgia.
And to justify it they are pleading public safety.
Just in case we ever need to evacuate Florida in case of hurricanes.
Because the best place to be during a hurricane is in your car. Storm-hardened shelters are way too dangerous.
This is a scam, people.
It’s a greed-driven scheme to spawn more sprawl, sow more subdivisions, subsidize more strip malls, fuel more car dealerships and create more condos up and down vast stretches of the most rural and unspoiled (read “developable”) lands Florida has left.
Which brings me back to Crystal River.
Personally I think it’s too late to save it. But it’s not too late to save Wacissa, Aucilla, the Suwannee and Wakulla (the only Florida spring cluster larger than Crystal River).
It’s not too late to save Steinhatchee or Cedar Key or St. Marks or Fakahatchee or Big Bend or the rest of Florida’s out-of-reach-out-of-mind rural treasures.
You want to see The Villages to stretch all the way from Ocala to Cedar Key? Build those new highways.
You think we need to bail out the billionaire who bought half a million acres of land in Dixie, Taylor and Lafayette counties? Lay down that asphalt.
But don’t tell us it’s good public policy. It’s just more taxpayer subsidized despoliation (toll roads don’t always pay for themselves).
We may be gullible but we’re not stupid.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun and route coordinator for Bike Florida.
So there was this dead armadillo in the middle of East Gobbler Road. Clutching an empty can of Lite beer in his cold little paws.
“Definitely alcohol-related,” chuckled John, the retired Army master sergeant from Indiana who drives me around the back roads and country lanes of wherever it is that Bike Florida happens to be having its annual spring tour. In this just-concluded tour, that meant the best bike routes we could find in the Brooksville and Inverness area.
Anyway, we left the tipsy little guy where he lay for our riders to see. Presuming the turkey buzzards didn’t get to him first.
But I cannot tell a lie. John himself put that beer can in the critter’s paws. Because he’s acquired a bizarre sense of humor honed over years of drilling and terrorizing raw recruits. And because when you are driving endless miles in the wee hours of the morning, any little diversion is welcome.
Oh, I’m the sign guy.
I’m that guy who rises at 5 a.m. each day during BF’s annual spring tour – setting out in the predawn darkness with a pickup truck full of bright blue-and-yellow directional, cautionary and information signs.
Some hours later hundreds of cyclists follow in my path. Many will be riding the day’s metric (60-miles plus) route, some the shorter (usually 40 miles or so) route. And one day of the tour there will be century riders going the distance – presumably for the smug satisfaction of being able to say “Yeah, I rode 100 miles today, what did you do?”
Regardless of which route they choose, those riders will find the appropriate directional sign strategically positioned at each turn they make.
Or they might notice the cautionary signs I often line up alongside of the road in traditional Burma Shave fashion. One announcing “Riders On The Road.” Another saying “Watch For Cyclists.” Intermixed with “CAUTION,” and “Three Feet Please” signs for good measure.
All of the above signs placed to be seen, not by our cyclists, but the motorists who are sharing the road. I’ve noticed that while guys in big pickup trucks can blow by one of our signs in complete oblivion, they tend to take note when there are five or six in a row.
I have “Rest Stop” signs. I have “Obey All Traffic Laws” signs. I’ve got “Oncoming Traffic” signs. “Road Work,” signs, “RR Xing” signs, “Wrong Way!” signs, “Route Change” signs, “You Can Do It” signs, “You’re Not Lost” signs and more and more and more.
We’ve got several oversized triangular bright orange placards proclaiming “Mass Cycling Event.” The better to let motorists know that something special is happening on this road on this day.
And on the odd occasion when I encounter a road condition that we hadn’t planned for, I’ve got blank white sheets and black Magic Markers on which I can write my own warning signs. “Bad Road Ahead” maybe.
Signs, signs everywhere a sign.
Listen, I’ve posted signs in the driving rain. My flimsy signs have been bent over double and flattened against the ground by punishing winds. Once a roadside maintenance guy shredded several of my signs as he ran his giant mower up and down the roadside. And of course, our signs are often stolen by people who think that if they simply remove them, it will keep bicyclists out of their neighborhoods. It won’t. It’ll simply cause lost and confused riders to linger longer than they otherwise might have.
Then there were the teenagers (probably) in Hastings who kept moving our signs around for the fun of it because – well, what else is there to do in Hastings?
Once my driver and I had to think fast and improvise when, on a dark, dark morning in the Florida Panhandle, we suddenly ran into a thick wall of smoke and realized there was a forest fire blazing. We had to summon the police to head off cyclists already on the way and then reroute the entire tour in a different direction.
We’ve encountered horses and cows asleep on rural roads. In Port St. Joe I was repeatedly swarmed by no-see-ums each time I stepped out of the truck to plant a sign. I’ve had dogs howl and growl at me, a suspicious stranger, as I’ve gone about my merry signage ways
Sometimes its hard, dirty and even dangerous work. One morning in St. Augustine I was putting out signs well before sunrise when I began to notice blood smears on several of them. What I hadn’t noticed, at first, was that the blood was mine. Seems I’d stabbed myself in the arm while pulling a wire tine-side up sign from my truck.
Oh yeah, and after spending four or five hours in the morning putting all of those signs out, I get to go out again late in the afternoon and pick them up.
At my age, 71, I’ve often considered that being a sign guy is a young man’s game. But I’ve been putting them out and picking them up so long that I’ve come to consider route signage more an art than a science – and certainly not a routine, plant by the numbers affair.
Question: How do you position a turn sign so that outgoing riders can see it but inbound riders cannot? Answer: Artfully, very artfully.
So I keep signing because, well, I fancy I’ve gotten pretty good at it and I want to make sure our riders get where they are going safely and without incident.
I hate it when, on that rare occasion, placing sights gets so unexpectedly complicated that riders begin to catch up with me. And I’ve never understood the cyclists who rise before dawn and set out in the darkness to get a jump on the day.
Once near High Springs I discovered several of our cyclists riding on a road that simply wasn’t on the route. When I stopped and asked them why, I was told they had stopped at a local restaurant where somebody assured them that our route was too dangerous and there was a much safer way to go. And never mind that we had spent months in planning and exploring, and consulted with plenty of experienced local riders, before deciding on a route.
On the other hand, technology is making the job easier than it used to be. No more following paper maps or calculating distances by odometer. GPS now tells us exactly where we are and shows us exactly where the route turns are.
Oh yeah, and I hate the DOT.
Most of the time I hate the DOT because its traffic engineers habitually supersize our roads and highways so motorists can drive as fast as they want – and kill as many pedestrians and cyclists as might happen to get in their way.
But on spring tour week in particular I really really hate the DOT for its fiendish alchemy – it’s uncanny ability to turn roadside grass and dirt surfaces into almost concrete like surfaces.
Really, I don’t know how they do it. All I know that that half the time when I’m trying to drive the wire tines of my Share The Road directional signs into ground the wires just crumple under the unyielding resistance of the rock-infused roadside grassy strips.
I have an impressive collection of bent, mangled and mutilated wire sign supports.
Which is why I use a prodigious number of zip ties. I just find a strategically placed stop sign or route sign, or even a utility pole, and, zip!, my signs are on securely affixed and on prominent display.
Also, duct tape tends to come in handy as well.
But that’s pretty much true of all of life’s situations. Right?