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BEACON PHOTO/JEFF SHEPHERD LET’S RIDE — Dozens of youngsters are ready to ride the Beresford Trail from Lake Beresford Park in DeLand to Blue Spring State Park in Orange City Aug. 14, under the watchful eye of volunteers with the West Volusia Police Athletic League. PAL Director Willie Johnson speaks to the group before they take off on their 5.8-mile journey. The youngsters ranged in ability from very skilled to still on training wheels.

I have been infuriated by the bicycle policy in Volusia County for more than a decade.

Eli Witek

The county, like much of Florida, is relatively flat. There is a good system already of interconnected roadways. These are intrinsic assets that not every locality can claim. And, of course, bicycles are environmentally friendly, and good for our health.

So why, unlike many other places, do we not ride our bikes as a form of transportation?

Because, simply, we do not have the policies in place to think about bicycles as transportation.

There are so many simple solutions to make towns here more bicycle-friendly, but they are all held up by the erroneous belief that bicycles belong on trails, and not the road.

That’s where the focus is — trail riding, or recreational riding. But if we think about bicycles as a form of transportation, then trails just don’t get us anywhere. They don’t get us to our jobs, or to our homes.

It makes no sense to continue a policy of only thinking of bicycles on a trail that is also intended for pedestrians. Among the myriad reasons:

Bicycles are, legally speaking, vehicles. An average speed on a road bike is 14 to 18 miles per hour, far beyond that of your average pedestrian.

Bicycle/pedestrian trails require building an entirely new road system, which is, frankly, the least cost-effective way to do it.

We already have a system! And it’s called roads.

Let’s take the example of the plan around the proposed SunRail station in DeLand. There is an incomplete trail from Blue Spring in Orange City to DeLeon Springs that is smack in the middle of the proposed station, which is intended to be a transportation hub.

Say you ride SunRail into DeLand. Well, to reach either section of the trail that actually exists, you would need to bike on roads that have no dedicated bike lane, and no signage indicating bikes are welcome. Maybe you make it over to DeLeon Springs, and want to wander into Downtown DeLand for dinner. Well, the trail dead-ends at the place where Grand Avenue meets West Minnesota Avenue, way past the west side of State Road 15A.

Here, there is a great opportunity. Most of Minnesota Avenue into DeLand can never be widened even 3 feet. If it was even possible, it would require years and years of planning and the laborious process of negotiating with homeowners for easements they have no desire to give, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. And that’s just for a bike lane, not a 6-foot trail.

But, Minnesota Avenue is also full of stop signs the whole way, and is not a main thoroughfare on the other side of 15A.

Why not make the road multiuse? All this would mean is painting a big white picture of a person on a bicycle. It’s a symbol to drivers to be aware, and it’s a symbol to bicyclists to know that they belong.

We need to think of the system as interconnected, and use the variety of tools we have — bicycle and pedestrian trails, but also bike lanes, and multiuse roadways.

Infuriatingly, there is actually a bike lane on 15A. That’s because it is a state road, and the state has a transportation policy that includes bike lanes on the road. There are numerous studies showing that that policy is actually safer than a bike trail for a bicyclist, which is why the state, and the federal government, focus on bike lanes rather than trails.

But, we don’t. The county and DeLand, in particular, have a bicycle and pedestrian transportation policy — mistakenly conflating the two very different methods of travel.

Ultimately, that means that we are paying more for less.

Worst of all, that eco-friendly future, one where we use environmentally friendly forms of transportation to get around — y’know, the one we need in order to prevent climate change from destroying the world as we know it — will struggle for years to materialize.

We have to rethink what we once assumed in order to have a better future. It’s time to rethink what a road is, and who a road is for.

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