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Jacksonville wins bicycle friendly award  to the surprise of ma

The Florida Times Union: Jacksonville wins bicycle friendly award — to the surprise of many area cyclists

They agree that while the city has improved, there’s still a long way to go.
BY LARRY HANNANSTORY UPDATED AT 5:50 AM ON TUESDAY, NOV. 17, 2009


James Reed has heard all the criticism of cycling in Jacksonville.

There are no bike lanes. Motorists seem willing to run you over. People throw things at cyclists.

There is validity in all of those criticisms, concedes Reed, a city planner who is also the city’s bike coordinator.

“One of the biggest issues we have to deal with is the perception that cycling is terrible,” he said. “I’ve had people throw sodas at me, so I understand where they’re coming from.”

But Reed, an avid cyclist himself, argues that it’s unfair to take a completely negative view of cycling in Jacksonville. His desire to focus on the positive was recently bolstered by the League of American Bicyclists awarding Jacksonville an honorable mention in its list of 2009 Bicycle Friendly Communities.

Meghan Cahill, spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists, said the award does not imply that bicycling is good in Jacksonville.

“An honorable mention means that a city has potential and is putting out an effort to be more bike-friendly,” Cahill said. “It’s our way of telling them to keep up the good work.”

The honorable mention surprised many local cycling enthusiasts.

“I don’t think it’s deserved,” said Matt Uhrig . He founded BikeJax.org, a Web site with a mission to establish Jacksonville as a cycling-friendly city.

The League of American Bicyclists lists a lot of little things, like bicycles on public buses, the annual bike to work day, and the city’s proclamation in support of cycling. But the truth is that Jacksonville lags behind most American cities when it comes to bike accessibility, Uhrig said.

Phil Foreman, co-owner of Champion Cycling, which has stores in Arlington, Mandarin and Jacksonville Beach, said the honorable mention puzzled him.

“It’s certainly true that it’s gotten better in the last few years,” he said. “But compared to other communities, we are still way behind.”

But Jim McDonald, store manager of Champion Cycling in Mandarin, said the honorable mention is justified.

“Judging by the last five years I think it’s deserved,” he said. “Everyone comes here and talks about how bad the cycling is. But it’s a lot better than it used to be.”

New roads like the Wonderwood Connector from Mayport to Arlington are much more cycling friendly than older roads, and he sees steady progress in making the area more cycling friendly, McDonald said.

This is the second year Jacksonville applied for an honorable mention, having been rejected in 2008. Reed said the process of applying showed him a lot of positives.

“One of the reasons we were rejected in 2008 was that we hadn’t done a comprehensive inventory of our facilities,” Reed said. “We did an inventory this year and were surprised to find that we have 150 miles of bike lanes on our roadways.”

The flaw is that the 150 miles of bike lanes are not connected to each other. Looking at a map of the bike lanes, there are random green lines all over the city with no rhyme or reason to them.

“Unfortunately, we’re still very disconnected,” Reed said.

Most of the bike lanes were installed in the past 10 to 20 years as new roads were built or existing roads were widened. Reed said connecting all the bike lanes will require some ingenuity.

Signs and street marking technology could make it better, similar to the way people drive safer when they see crosswalks in school zones, Reed said.

Putting up “share the road” signs, and painting bicyclists on the road will remind motorists that bikers have the right to share the road with them. Installing more bike racks downtown could do the same thing, he said.

The city planning department is trying to come up with a comprehensive plan for how to make cycling better, Reed said.