GNV Meander

Listen, “Cycling is red hot!” I heard that on NPR, and who am I to argue with NPR. Plus I noticed that the last time I walked through Walmart there were hardly any bicycles left.

The good news is that Gainesville is a great cycling city, especially if you stick to neighborhood streets. This is a nearly 13 mile ride I like to do that takes me through some of the the great neighborhoods of Gainesville proper. The best way to see a city is on the back of a bicycle. So why not take the GNV Meander? Here’s the Ride With GPS link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/54807124

I begin in Forest Ridge because everybody has to begin somewhere and that’s happens to be where I live. Home of the world famous Alfred A. Ring Nature Preserve.

At 1.1 mile I enter Oak View neighborhood (be careful crossing 13th Street, wait for a break in traffic.) It’s an appropriately named neighborhood because it’s got some of Gainesville’s best tree canopied streets. Plus I saw this nifty classic Ford pickup that, according to the hand-written sign on the back window, still has its original engine and runs great!

At 1.6 miles enter Grove Street neighborhood (be careful crossing 6th Street). It’s home to the world famous C&G Brewery, Mo’s Garage and the Monday Farmer’s Market. Plus its got kickass murals and street art. What’s not to like?

At 2.2 miles you are in Pleasant Street. One of my all-time favorite neighborhoods it’s got historic buildings, classic shotgun houses and an intimate feel. Plus the Big Red Church! You can feel the neighborhood renewing itself all around you.

At 2.5 miles you will arrive at Main Street (be careful crossing). If you want to refresh I recommend Charlie’s Snow Shack for saved ice or, just across the street Vine for something hotter. Also, before you cross Man Street check out the murals right around the corner from Charlie’s. They’re great.

Cross Main and you are in the Duck Pond. Sweetwater Branch meanders through here. You’ve got the Santa Fe Spring Arts House, the LaCosta House, the weird wooden winged sculpture and the world famous “Dump Trump” sign. Great neighborhood.

At 2.6 miles you have arrived at the Thomas Center. Giant oak trees, great fountain, wonderful Spanish style architecture and a sculpture that looks like dried fish hung out to cure. You will likely see folks doing yoga or picnicking on the lush green lawn. Need a break? Go inside and catch the latest art exhibit.

Continue your meander through the Duck Pond and, at 3.5 miles, you will enter the Bed & Breakfast District. You’ll know you’re there when you see the oddly disturbing mural on the wall of the convenience store just on the other side of University Avenue. Cross with the light. The old homes turned B&Bs are spectacular. Not to mention the quaint cracker style cottages that dot the neighborhood.

At 3.9 miles you enter Sweetwater Branch Park. To the right is the Matheson Museum complex. It’s a skinny park and before you know it you’ll exit where the library headquarters faces off against the federal courthouse. The courthouse is where Nixon tried to railroad the Gainesville Eight, but failed in the face of stubborn Gainesville jurors who had a better concept of justice than the whole Justice Department. (By the way, for about half a block you’ll be headed the wrong way on a one-way street, so maybe use the sidewalk for that stretch).

Downtown is Hipp! What more is there to say?

At 4.6 miles you are back in the B&B District. Why? Why the hell not? It’s a great neighborhood to meander through.

At 5 miles you are going to take a right onto the rail-trail that will take you through Springhill to Depot Park. Check out the Cotton Club and Perryman’s Grocery. But whatever you do don’t miss the collection of murals on the GRU walls at SE 5th Avenue and SE 8th Street. They are spectacular!

If I have to explain why you want to ride through Depot Park (at 5.5 miles) you might as well stay at home. It’s simply Da Bomb!

At 6.8 miles you will get onto a rail-trail that will take you past First Mag Brewery (where you can cycle-through to buy beer), after which you will skirt Porters and enter the Innovation District. Watch out for sunbathing students.

At 8 miles you will cross University Avenue at the light and enter UF campus. Gator Country! And you will be in the heart of the old historic campus district, which will one day be car-free if the UF strategic planners are to be believed.

At 8.6 miles you are going to make a right out of Newell Drive (which nobody drives on since it’s a pedestrian mall) onto University Avenue. You will immediately get into the turn lane and turn off University Avenue onto NW 16th Street (ALL THE WHILE BEING VERY CAREFUL TO WAIT FOR A BREAK IN TRAFFIC SO YOU CAN CROSS SAFELY). Now you are in Midtown, home of more student apartments than is humanly possible to count. But it’s got some great restaurants and cafes as well.

At 9.1 miles you are going to cross University Avenue at the light to once again enter campus. This so you can see The Swamp, the O’Dome and other monuments to athletic braggadocio. Get your photo taken with the big gator or the three UF football legends.

BTW: When I did this ride Stadium Road was closed for construction so I had to retrace my route back to Emerson Hall and then proceed west on University Avenue (there’s a bike lane) to get to NW 23rd St. If Stadium Rd is finished when you go proceed west and then take a right just past Presley Stadium. From there you can cross University Avenue at 23rd Street (AFTER WAITING FOR A BREAK IN TRAFFIC TO CROSS SAFELY OF COURSE).

At 10.3 miles you will enter Palm Terrace, one of Gainesville’s great hide-in-plain-sight neighborhoods. It’s very classy with a few Tara-like mansions and what not. But the best thing about riding through Palm Terrace is the steep hill that will take you down to 8th Avenue. It’s a thrill ride. Short but sweet.

OK, 10.7 miles and you have arrived at NW 8th Avenue. If you want to linger and maybe add some mileage, hang a left and follow the Solar Walk exhibit to Loblolly Nature Preserve. It’s well worth the extra effort. Otherwise cross 8th and take the boardwalk that will connect you to Mason Manner.

At 11.5 miles you are going to turn right on 16th Avenue (wide sidewalk and bike lane, take your choice) and then turn left unto NW 23rd Street (ALWAYS BEING CAREFUL TO WATCH FOR TRAFFIC AND CROSS SAFELY) for a brief swing through Brywood and back to Forest Ridge.

End of ride. Congrats. You’ve done the GNV Meander.

Just another ride

Things I saw on my ride today from Micco to Sebastian, Fl. Suffice it to say it’s a happening place.

Wanted to make a phone call but she just kept talking and talking

What can I say? He’s hooked.

The route to the brewery and back. If you even want to come back.

Sometimes you go down some strange roads in search of a beer.

Not sure what to make of this. Either someone’s got a really bizarre sense of humor or you can literally get away with murder if you are in the agritourism business in Florida.

There are times when your mouth can really get you into big trouble.

Her name was Rosie. His name was Gus. Gus Gator. They were made for each other.

Signs of the times.

A short walk off a long pier.

Birds of a feather. And Karen.

The regular people play at the Hardback Cafe.

Rumor has it that you can’t eat just one.

Just another brick

One of the joys of cycling in Gainesville is coming across murals that I haven’t seen before. Today while meandering through Springhill on my way to Depot Park I spotted a freshly painted wall on SE 7th Street behind the old GRU complex.

The artist who did this wall put me in mind of the classic old Yes albums designed by Roger Dean. So I’ve taken the liberty of adding some old R&R lyrics from the old days to add, um, context.

When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay. Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan.

With apologies to teachers everywhere.

Deadheads never die.

Cue the posse.

Yes lives.

These last few murals I found on an obscure wall tucked away in one corner of the Cade. Gator stuff but sort of surrealistic nonetheless.

I love this town.

Cycling mural city

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.

This one is on the wall of the old Walker Furniture building on North Main. They look very angry, except for the cat who looks bored.
Just a block or two later, still on North Main. She’s got a lot on her mind.

Next to the Friends of the Library building on North Main. Dogs in shades.

Same place.
Gainesville’s newest murals, on a wall on SE 5th Ave. in the Springhill neighborhood behind GRU.

And this.

And this one.

And these.

A memorial to Breanna…and to love.

Child’s play.

Here’s looking at you kid.

And finally, this intriguing, vine-covered image on NW 1st Ave. Just behind the new Midtown Wawa.

Is this a great town or what?

A ride on the wild side

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.

Here’s a link to the Ride With GPS route. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32397279

Searching for Florida

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.

It’s time for all of us to ride our age.

Riding out the virus

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.)

So long Surly

Oh the ignominy.

I just gave away one of my bicycles.

To make room for my new(ish) car.

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.

Surly I hardly knew ye.

Complete 13th Street

Gainesville-UF strategic partnership priority: Complete 13th Street.

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.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at floridavelocipede.com)

Why I ride

People are all the time asking me why I ride.

Isn’t it dangerous? Don’t you worry about getting hit by a car? I would never ride on the road with all those automobiles.

And I get that. Navigating your way safely through autoAmerica is no walk in the park.

And, listen, I have never tried to convince anyone who is not comfortable with the idea to get on a bicycle and see for themselves what lies in store.

Instead I give them Ron Cunningham’s Acme Anvil Theory of Risk Management.

It goes like this: You can spend your entire life avoiding that which makes you supremely happy because doing so may lead to discomfort, pain misfortune or death.

But then, one day, you walk out your front door.

And an Acme Anvil falls on your head.

So you might as well stop worrying and enjoy the ride.

And so I ride.

I ride through space and time.

Around Florida

Around The USA.

And Europe

And Canada

And so far, no anvil. Fingers crossed.

So why do I ride?

Because getting on a bicycle take me places that I never dreamed I’d go and shows me things I never quite noticed before.

And under my own power. My own terms. My own resolve. To go. To do. To see.

Because a bicycle is not just a bicycle. It is form, function and freedom of movement. And a work of art.

All the signs point to roads not yet taken and paths not yet discovered.

Oh the places you’ll see.

And the things you’ll do.

And the life you’ll experience.

Under you own power. On your own time.

I am not traffic.

I do not ride to live.

So much as live to ride.

Where to now?