Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
If you grew up like I did, in a rural area, your experience with safe bicycle riding practices was different than you might experience here in Lakewood Ranch.
On some of the roads where I lived, the over-under on cars seen in a day hovered around six.
All the roads were "crowned" so you didn't have to worry about bicycle lanes.
And if a car was headed your way, you got out of the way. It was simple logic, a ton of steel vs. tin.
Whether bicycle riders needed to be familiar with all the rules of the road was debatable. If there was something about having your friend sitting on the handlebars, I sure didn't know it.
It should also be noted that many of us used bicycles as transportation. If a certain fitness benefit was involved, it was an accidental workout.
A different world has evolved here, where cycling has become a staple of a healthy lifestyle and a deserted road is about as rare as a white tiger.
Normally tranquil Lakewood Ranch gets frenzied at rush hour, which is accompanied by a certain meanness in those driving their BMWs. Bicycles on the roadway are more like pests than human beings. On a quiet Tuesday afternoon, cyclists might get a thumbs up from passing motorists who aren't in a frenzied state of mind. At rush hour, the signal could involve a different finger.
Simple logic? Forget about it.
It all begs that question ... Is Lakewood Ranch a bicycle friendly community?
I posed the question to Tom and Cindy Mannis, members of the Sarasota Manatee Bicycle Club who have been cycling together since 1987. On Wednesday, they join their fellow club members to tour Lakewood Ranch.
The couple, who are League of American Bicyclists certified instructors, have tons of practical experience.
"We've done a lot of cycling trips in Europe and we have participated in events with a couple of dozen of riders and events with several thousand riders," Tom said. "We have witnessed unsafe cycling practices, and even one death."
Tom volunteered that Lakewood Ranch is, indeed, a bicycle friendly community for the most part and therefore a weekly destination for the club. He said one exception is Hidden River Trail, which connects Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Lorraine Road. The road, a favorite route for bicyclists, has a "no bicycles allowed" sign that has become a touchy subject with the cycling community.
Whether or not the county has the right to ban bicycles from the road remains cloudy, but without a clear interpretation, Tom maintains it can get dangerous because it forces cyclists and vehicles to be in close proximity when the vehicles get "trapped" behind a cyclist who was taken the road. The drivers get frustrated and forge past in an unsafe manner. Tom said Hidden River Trail is one of the few places he actually rides on the sidewalk.
Hidden River Trail aside, most members of the Sarasota Manatee Bicycle Club love riding in Lakewood Ranch.
Emily Krueger, who lives at Perico Island, comes into Lakewood Ranch on Wednesdays to ride with the club for the "exercise, views and the people."
Tara's Bruce MacLeod said he enjoys riding in Lakewood Ranch. "I think it is fairly bike friendly," he said. "But if you go left on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard toward University (from Main Street), there are no bike lanes. Otherwise it's pretty good."
MacLeod, who said he believes the majority of drivers in Lakewood Ranch are courteous, makes his own rules to increase safe riding. "I don't ride when school is in session until after 9 a.m.," he said.
Osprey's Ralph Monti, who is on the board of directors for The League of American Bicyclists, said he enjoys cycling in Lakewood Ranch and considers it a safe place. "The roads are clean," he said. "They are not pitted and they are maintained. Lakewood Ranch does a good job in that way."
However, he said if Lakewood Ranch wants the designation of being a bicycle friendly community, it needs to add more bicycling infrastructure, such as making an investment in more bicycle lanes.
"Do you have complete streets designed for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians?" Monti asked. "Do you have bike safe to school routes? Do you have bicycle racks? Our culture is changing. It's not like yesterday's Florida. This is a good marketing opportunity."
Lakewood Ranch Executive Director Anne Ross is listening. She scheduled Tom and Cindy to teach a bicycle safety class at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall in June. She said they will address the Lakewood Ranch Safety Committee as well. More safety seminars, so that both cyclists and motorists can learn the laws, will be scheduled.
In the meantime, Tom and Cindy, who have been pelted while riding their bicycles by everything from French fries to bottles, stress that everyone would be safer by learning the rules of the road. The simple logic I used as a child remains important.
By and large, bicyclists have the same rights as drivers, even at rush hour. If both "sides" would agree on that fact, it would make things better.
Cindy notes that motorists are allowed to cross a double yellow line when passing a bicycle. Did you know that one?
And Tom adds some information for motors, well, just because.
"When motorists honk at us, it scares us to death," Tom said.