Lee County and the rest of Southwest Florida is an amazing paradise in many ways. One of the things fitting that portrayal is our cycling atmosphere. While the area is nowhere near to being a bicycling Mecca, Southwest Florida is on the edge to join other parts of the Sunshine state as an place for those wanting to make cycling the focal point of their vacations. They are starting to think of it as a way to improve their overall experience when visiting places such as Sanibel Island. Sanibel is really an exception for family oriented cycling because it has been deemed by the League of American Bicyclists, a bicycle friendly Community which is very well deserved.
Over the past few years, the importance of being able to get around by bike or making cycling a central part of a vacation has gotten the attention of tourism promoters as our roads have changed for the better. Finding your way around and seeing signs posted particularly for cyclist and pedestrians, is part of the reason for this increased awareness. Some examples include: the 36-mile Tour de Parks and 9-mile University Loop being two marked routes on the east side of the Caloosahatchee River. Or even the Cape Coral’s 90-plus miles of routes which will soon be signed and marked by the end of this year. Even as we speak, Pine Island’s 14-mile path which runs the length of the island linking to Cape Coral is also now currently being considered. On the whole, things are looking pretty good in terms of both on-road and separated pathways around much of Lee County. The current surroundings stand to be even better once TIGER grant improvements are completed.
When taking a look at bicycle tourism elsewhere, those in and around Orlando know an opportunity when they see one. This city is the number one tourist destination in the state. But don’t think it is because of Universal Studios or Disney, because it’s not! This is all because of a somewhat small group of cycling aficionado’s who acknowledged the potential of something new, and that is cycling. A bike tour will be launched on the first weekend in August which will include the just up and running SunRail service between downtown Orlando and its bordering neighborhoods to the north.
The SunRail tour will begin on the train in Orlando, and then change to a bicycle tour at the present end of the line in DeBarry. Plans are currently in progress to move this further north. The bike tour will be a week long and travel along the St. Johns River-to Sea trail (length is 260miles), which is one of the longest multi-use trails in the southeast U.S. It currently passes through five different counties and and when completed, it will run from Key West to Maine. Sponsors of this opening tour include Florida Office of Greenways and Trails, VISIT Florida, Florida Bicycle Association, East Coast Greenway Alliance Bike Florida and various other local tourism offices along with the chambers of commerce. The hopes are very high for this brilliant and simple idea, one that will not have the need for a tour operator. Everyone attending will be need to purchase a train ticket, make his or her own lodging and dining arrangements, and follow the maps and GPS coordinates, all of which will be adding to the tourism economy.
For the Lee County area to truly become a place where the average person wants to ride, whether resident or visitor, we motorist must become more aware and accepting of cyclists on our roads and within intersections. Communities elsewhere around the country that are known for being bike friendly – and that reap the benefits of that reputation – have an environment of respect and tolerance between all users of the public rights of way, something we must attain here. All the infrastructure and way finding in the world won’t help if we continue to lack mutual cooperation.
Summertime means quite a drop-off of cycling and running events in Southwest Florida, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening. Summer fun runs are taking place all throughout the area so there’s still plenty to do. Until next time, see you on the pathways and stay safe.