Bicycling in Jacksonville not for faint of heart

Avid cyclists want safe, dedicated bike lanes

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

For a city that has one of the nation’s most eclectic neighborhoods with environmentally-friendly residents and those who can be considered minimalists when it comes to bicycling over driving, Jacksonville has a terrible reputation. In fact, it has been rated the worst city in the U.S. for bicycling and the third highest for bicycling fatalities, according to the website Transportation for America.

In May 2010, Bicycling magazine named Jacksonville one of the three worst biking cities in America, along with Birmingham, AL and Memphis, TN. City Planner and Bike Coordinator James Reed said the article was unfair. At that time, according to the article, Reed said the city needed to brag about its cycling successes more.
But ask serious cyclists, like Drew Johnson of Avondale, whether Jacksonville is a cyclist-friendly city and the answer is a resounding “No!”

“Over the past several years I have seen multiple road projects in Jacksonville that have not provided bike lanes, or made it more dangerous for cyclists,” said the owner of World Famous City Cycle on Park Street. “The S turn on St. Johns Avenue in Avondale was redesigned without bike lanes, and removed the median that cyclists used. The redesign and construction of San Marco Boulevard (a major bicycle route that connects the only bridge over the St Johns that bicycles can use) did not include bike lanes on San Marco or on the bridge.”
Johnson also noted that the construction in front of The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens removed a lane and made it very dangerous for cyclists on a primary road connecting Riverside, the Arts Markets, and the Northbank Riverwalk to Downtown.

“In every case they [city planners] responded with poor excuses as to why they did not do their job correctly,” said Johnson. “In all of these cases, bike lanes were not even considered, which is why Jacksonville has been rated the worst city in the U.S. for cycling.”

There are many cyclists in the area, particularly the Riverside Avondale area, and the potential for many more, as long as there are adequate bicycle lanes.

Unfortunately, city planners and the Florida Department of Transportation have said “no” to bike lanes, according to Johnson, who said they did not put any effort or consideration into adding bicycle lanes. He added that such a stance violates Florida Statute 335.065, which states “Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be given full consideration in the planning and development of transportation facilities, including the incorporation of such ways into state, regional, and local transportation plans and programs. Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be established in conjunction with the construction, reconstruction, or other change of any state transportation facility, and special emphasis shall be given to projects in or within 1 mile of an urban area.”

There are three provisions for not requiring bicycle and pedestrian ways to be established: Where their establishment would be contrary to public safety; when the cost would be excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use, and where other available means or factors indicate an absence of need.

However, it seems that it’s not just bureaucrats leaning on law who stand in the way of dedicated bicycle lanes. There are even some bicyclists that present obstacles.
At a Riverside Avondale Preservation meeting in May, a group of cyclists which included City Planner James Reed, Steve Tocknell, chairman of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and Jeff Holstein, First Coast Chapter Director of the Florida Bicycle Association, gave a presentation advocating against dedicated bicycle lanes, declaring them dangerous.
Instead, according to Johnson, this group promotes riding in the road alongside vehicular traffic (see www.iamtraffic.org). “They are extremists who believe they have the right to be in the road, and want to teach everyone how to ride in the road safely, with cars,” said Johnson. “I have nothing against teaching everyone how to ride in traffic better, but I do not want to, and most people do not want to. We want to be as far away from cars as possible.”

Fred Dale, one of Johnson’s customers at City Cycle, attended the May 22 meeting as a member of a sub-committee working on a neighborhood parking pass proposal. He thought that the informal vote for shared lanes (sharrows) instead of dedicated bike lanes was not a good move. In a letter to Johnson, Dale shared, “I do not believe that most motorists understand or follow those shared lane signs. This is not just wild speculation; I’ve had a number of motorists yell at me to get off the road, while I was following the law. If the motorists are not paying attention now to an area already designated as share lane, that makes all of our neighborhood roads, in essence, shared lanes already, and this is a dangerous prospect.”

In the meantime, back at City Hall, a position was approved back in February 2012 by the Special Committee on Context Sensitive Streets for a Planner III level bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

According to Johnson, “We were told at the BPAC meeting in May it [the job opening] would be announced, and it was not. It was not announced at the June meeting. We did not find out the job was posted until 4 p.m. the last day it was accepting applications on June 13. I was told that they would give James Reed this position.”
Reed, as readers will recall, was one of the three people who gave the presentation against dedicated bike lanes at the RAP meeting. At time of press, Reed had not returned a call from The Resident asking for confirmation or denial of the position.

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