Tuesday, June 12, 2012
In central Florida the car rules. A network of wide highways link sprawling cities.
But now two machines which saw their heyday in Florida more than a century ago are making a comeback: the train and the bike.
With the arrival of the SunRail commuter train in 2014 some cities are looking to bicycles as a way to get passengers to their final destination.
In Winter Park -- built in the late 1800s -- the city's sustainability coordinator Tim Maslow is thinking about how to incorporate cycling into the transportation mix. Maslow says the new SunRail and Amtrak train station could be a starting point 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. In Denver, the company has some 50 bike share stations where users can rent their bikes, and B-cycle says the system works well with the city's light rail line. Train passengers use the bikes to go the last leg of their journey after getting off the train.
Bike sharing already has a foothold in South Florida, where Broward County has started a system. Sales manager Lee Jones went for a ride around Orlando on a recent visit. He says bike share stations around SunRail may have to be positioned to avoid the busiest roads.
“I did find some of the very wide streets, basically three lanes across, it was almost like being on the interstate," he says.
Some cities along the rail line are ideally situated for this back to the future approach to getting around.
Tim Maslow, from Winter Park, 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 they actually 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,” says Maslow.
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 Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman's Cassidy shows off a bicycle with the words: "meet the future."
The movie was set in the late 1800s, when the real-life Cassidy and the Kid were robbing trains in the American West.
In Florida at that time, rail barons were laying a network of tracks across the state, and the whole country was gripped by a cycling craze.
"It was huge in this country, huge," says Tim Bustos, the executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association.
"Next to the railroad, bicycling was like the most powerful transportation lobby out there. [Bicycles] 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 hub for cycling in the state.
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," he says.
"It’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s more enjoyable.”
Some DeLand cyclists have reservations- they say a safe route first has to be found from the train station to the city’s downtown, five miles away.
“We’re researching routes that could be bike friendly," says Ted Beyler, who owns the Deland Cyclery, one of two bicycle shops in Deland. Beyler’s on a chamber of commerce committee looking into the problem, and he says if that can be worked out, bike sharing could take off.
"That’s the major hindrance that I see is the proximity of the station to downtown Deland," says Beyler.
However, central Florida bicycle advocates agree that SunRail’s arrival brings with it a chance to begin a new chapter in the shared history of cycling and rail.