Honor the past. Celebrate the present. Plan for the future.
Those sentiments might well have been the central themes of this year’s Share The Road Celebration of Cycling event, held in Gainesville on Oct. 28-29. It was a time to remember those who came before us, to recognize those who continue to work on behalf of safe cycling and to set the stage for a more prominent role for cycling in Florida – to transform Florida into The Cycling State.
Honoring The past:
Saturday, Oct. 29 dawned a clear, crisp autumn morning. Dozens of cyclists assembled on the campus of the University of Florida to embark on a two-mile Ride of Silence.
With a Gainesville Police Department escort in the lead and Bike Florida’s own Share The Road van bringing up the rear, the cyclists made their way to downtown Gainesville’s newly opened Depot Park.
Anchoring the northeast corner of the park are six “rammed-earth” sculptures – memorials created in 1997 by friends and family members of a group of cyclists who left Gainesville the morning after Christmas in 1996 on a ride to St. Augustine.
Two of the cyclists would not return.
At about noon on that day, on a lonely rural road in Clay County, while riding in a pace line, all six cyclists were run down from behind by a distracted driver in a pickup truck. The driver was not tested for alcohol use and was never charged for his deadly act of negligence.
Two cyclists were killed and the others were severely injured. Among the dead were Margaret Raynal – one of Florida’s most respected safe cycling advocates – and Doug Hill, manager of a Gainesville bike shop. The accident, and the failure of police to charge the offending driver, sent waves of shock and outrage throughout Florida’s cycling community.
Bike Florida recently raised $16,000 to restore the sculptures, and the Oct. 29 dedication was a time to remember the victims of that crash – and to resolve anew our collective determination to make Florida roadways safe for all users. At the suggestion of the sculptures’ artist, Eric Amundson, the site was renamed the Share The Road Memorial. And newly installed signage asks visitors to take the Share The Road Pledge to “CONSIDER THE SAFETY OF BICYCLES, PEDESTRIANS AND MOTORISTS ALIKE WHEN USING THE PUBLIC ROADWAYS….”
Celebrating the Present:
At our Oct. 28 award luncheon Bike Florida and the Florida Bicycle Association presented this year’s Share The Road awards to those organizations and advocates that continue to work to make Florida a more bike-ped friendly state. Among this year’s honorees:
Leadership Award: To Ft. Lauderdale, for being the first city in Florida – indeed, in the entire southeast United States – to adopt a Vision Zero plan. The City’s ambitious goal is to eliminate traffic-related fatalities and injuries by employing a range of enforcement, engineering, education, encouragement and evaluation strategies.
Visionary Award: To Ryan and Jamie Altman, founders of Gainesville’s Freewheel Project, a non-profit bicycle collective established to help make cycling safer, more accessible and more affordable for low income residents, children and others.
Founder’s Award: To B. Kraig McClain, director of the St. Johns River To Sea Loop Alliance, for his years long championship of rail-trail development and expansion.
Advocate’s Award: To Erica Bea Pucket, founder of Tallahassee’s Joyride Bicycle Collective, an organization dedicated to making cycling a more family-friendly and inclusive activity in Florida’s Capital City.
Volunteer Award: To Earle and Lois Richards, for their years-long work in support of numerous cycling events throughout Florida. Earle Richards passed away this year and his contributions to cycling will not soon be forgotten.
Media Award: Dedicated to Wayne Ezell, a longtime Florida newspaper journalist who, since his retirement, had become a key member of the North Florida Bicycle Club’s leadership team. Wayne was killed this year in a crash while riding in Iowa’s RAGBRAI tour.
President’s Award: To Ron Cunningham, who is retiring after four years as executive director of Bike Florida.
Planning for the Future:
One key to making Florida safer for all cyclists is to get more people on bicycles. The more cyclists on the roads, the more aware motorists are of the need to pay attention and drive responsibly. Moreover, getting large numbers of cyclists on the road – especially non-Floridians – not only makes cycling safer for everyone, but holds an economic bonus as well.
The theme of this year’s Share The Road Celebration of Cycling was “Cycling Is The New Golf: Can Florida Be A Major Destination For Cycle Tourism?” A series of speakers and panel discussions fleshed out the economic implications of marketing Florida as a cycling destination.
What implications? Well according to Adventure Cycling Association – whose executive director Jim Sayer was a key speaker at our event – bicycle tourism generates: $400 million a year in Oregon, $924 million annually in Wisconsin, $427 million in Minnesota, $88 million in Arizona.
Oh yes, and $57 billion a year in Europe.
Florida, with a great climate and cycle-friendly terrain, should indeed be a major destination for cyclists from all over the world. The good news is that Visit Florida – the state’s tourism promotion agency – was a major sponsor of and active participant in this year’s Share The Road Celebration of Cycling discussions. With strong marketing support from Visit Florida in partnership with touring organizations like Bike Florida, a boom in cycle tourism could indeed help transform Florida into The Cycling State.