Bike Advocates: SunRail Could Give Cycling a Lift
In central Florida a network of wide highways link sprawling cities. But now two machines - the locomotive and the bicycle, which saw their heyday in Florida more than a century ago- are making a comeback, thanks to two different transportation movements.
For a glimpse of how commuter rail could change the central Florida transport landscape, look no further than Winter Park- a city built in the late 1800s.
Winter Park sustainability coordinator, Tim Maslow, is planning how to incorporate cycling into the city's transportation plan. He says the new SunRail and Amtrak station which will be built at the site of the old railway station in Central Park, could be a hub for bike sharing.
“We see having a station here with maybe ten bikes at first to see how it goes," says Maslow.
"You could go up to 20 bikes per station with some of the companies we’ve been looking at.”
One company talking with Winter Park is the Wisconsin based b-cycle, which is backed by the bike manufacturer Trek.
B-cycle launched in Denver in 2010, and sales director Lee Jones says commuters riding the mile high-city's light rail system use bikes to go the last mile to their destination.
He says it could work in central Florida, even in the heat of summer.
“You know the nice thing on a bike, once you start moving there’s a fair amount of momentum, and there’s always a breeze coming at you, although obviously in Orlando it’s going to be a warmer breeze than in other parts of the country," says Jones.
In fact, bike sharing already has a foothold in South Florida, where Broward County has started a system.
Jones says bike share stations around SunRail may have to be positioned to avoid the busiest roads.
“From my time there in the Orlando area, I did find some of the very wide streets, basically three lanes across, it was almost like being on the interstate. Whereas in downtown Orlando there were areas where the traffic was fairly calm.”
Some cities along the rail line are ideally situated for this back to the future approach to getting around.
Tim Maslow, Winter Park’s Sustainability coordinator, points out his city was designed so passengers could easily walk to and from the train station.
“That was before the automobile was so prevalent in everyone’s lives, so when they came down to the train station theyactually had to go to different locations that were no longer than a 15-20 minute walk, because in Florida no one would walk that far.”
A return to cycling as a primary means of transportation may seem a bit old fashioned. But when the bicycle first appeared in America, it was high tech. In the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman's character shows off his bicycle with the words "meet the future"
Cassidy and Sundance were real life train robbers in America's old West in the late 1800s. In Florida at that time rail barons were building a network of train lines the state.
A cycling craze had also gripped the nation.
“It was huge in this country," says Tim Bustos, the executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association. He says even though cars dominate the roads today, it wasn’t always the case.
"Next to the railroad, bicycling was like the most powerful transportation lobby out there," says Bustos.
"They were expensive, so it was mostly well to do and influential people that could afford them.”
And in the late 1800s, well-to-do people were taking the train to cities like Winter Park to spend their winter vacations.
Winter Park’s not the only place where rail and cycling could make a comeback. The Florida Bicycle association’s headquartered in Deland, and Tim Bustos dreams of making the city a cycling hub. He says SunRail’s completion in 2016 could help, by giving riders better access to a network of cycling trails. Bike share could also be part of the mix.
“People that would have rented a car five years ago, are now using bike shares. It’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s more enjoyable.”
Some DeLand cyclists have reservations- they say a safe route has to be found from the train station to the city’s downtown, five miles away.
But Central Florida bike advocates agree that SunRail’s arrival brings with it a chance to begin a new chapter in the shared history of cycling and rail.