Time for WHEELS
Today we welcome back guest blogger Herb Hiller. Herb advocates for ecotourism, trails and bicycling. He grew up on Long Island, NY, holds BA and JD degrees, serves on the Florida East Coast Greenway Committee and lives in Deland, Florida.
WHEELS: from the Great Putdown to Green Mobility
Picture the scene.
Two cyclists who had struggled to revive the old League of American Wheelmen (LAW) are meeting with Linda Crider and me in Tallahassee. We’re talking with the #2 man at the Division of Tourism in the since-scrapped Department of Commerce. It’s 1979. Bob Graham is governor. The LAW duo are the league’s longtime executive vice-president Phyllis Harmon and Keith Kingbay, the public face of Schwinn, the all-American brand that prepped kids for cars.
Linda and I wanted the tourism division to market Florida to cyclists. I was starting up Suwannee River Bicycle Tours in White Springs. Linda and I figured this could be the start of something big.
“How many visitors do you expect to attract to Florida to ride bikes?” #2 asks. I say maybe 200 the first year.
He calculates that Florida is already attracting some 10 million visitors a year. He divides 10 million into 200, comes up with some after-the-decimal number full of zeros, factors in the minutes he had already spent with us, and declares that bicycling has already gotten all the attention it deserves. He gets up and leaves.
Today he’d be asked to leave.
In that Year of the Great Putdown few knew about bike lanes. But thanks to Dan Burden, paved shoulders soon became standard for most new and retrofitted state roads. There wasn’t yet any Tallahassee-St. Marks State Rail-Trail, but by the mid-‘80s this first popularized trail led to a network that the Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) estimates now includes 256 paved multi-use trails across 1,314 miles, and thousands more miles of unpaved trails.
Dan spurred the big change after 1980 when Graham appointed him Florida’s first bicycling coordinator. Dan’s work led to bike-ped-trail coordinators in DOT districts, at MPOs and in counties and cities. OGT began its work in 1993, Ken Bryan opened the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Florida Field Office, Linda led the formation of Florida Bicycle Association and of Bike Florida.
The talk at that early Tallahassee meeting was about touring. Today bike talk is more about transportation.
Emphatically transportation will focus the mega-event WHEELS that rolls out November 11-15 in metro Miami. Graham, Dan, Linda, Ken and I – all still at it – will be among thousands focused on bikes, trails and transit for getting people out of cars. Ryan Gravel, who launched the Atlanta Beltline, will keynote the WHEELS conference. FDOT Office of Policy Planning Director Carmen Monroy will close it.
Among others sharing national and state outlooks will be immediate retired League of American Bicyclists president Andy Clarke, Kevin Hicks of Chapel Hill’s Spoke’n Revolutions, Dennis Markatos-Soriano of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation Executive Director Dale Allen, and Meg Daly, whose leadership is transforming Miami-Dade County’s 11-mile M-Path into the brilliantly re-conceived Underline.
And why bikes and trails as transportation? Millennials aren’t wild about cars. They want choices. The middle class can’t escape debt. People hate their car commutes and, as taxpayers, aren’t willing to pay for more highway lanes that will attract more cars. Climate change? Our messed-up health?
WHEELS asks what we might instead accomplish by mentoring people ready to make the change, by videos, by showers in the workplace, by electric-assist bikes and by incentives to get people to bike to work, like free transit for cyclists on rainy days.
South Florida’s three commuter rail lines already allow bikes on board free. So will a fourth opening in 2017. SunRail in Central Florida carries bikes free. Bikes on buses get people to trains. Bikes make first and last miles workable.
It’s time to make cycling and trails part of transportation – especially transit — culture.
If you want to experience the euphoria that comes from thousands of people all getting the message together, register for the WHEELS conference and stay for the fun. It’s all free. Check it out at http://www.wheelsflorida.org.
See you in South Miami. It’s a long way from 36 years ago.
Herb Hiller of DeLand is a longtime figure in the Florida trail and cycling movements. He is also the coordinator of WHEELS, southeast region program consultant to the East Coast Greenway Alliance and member of Florida Bicycle Association Advisory Board. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: Bike Florida and Florida Bicycle Association share a common cause in bicycle education for residents and visitors to the Sunshine “Bike-Ped” State. Share the Road license plate proceeds benefit Bike Florida and Florida Bicycle Association to further these bicycle educational efforts. What’s on your motor vehicle? Get the Share the Road license plate!
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