Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Importance of the Legacy Trail Bicycle Bridge in Venice, Florida

I'm adjusting the seat of my bike at the side of the Legacy Trail near Venice, Florida, and I notice near 80 year old woman unsuccessfully wobbling up the bridge on her bicycle. One-half way up the bridged her bicycle begins to wobble and she comes to an unsteady halt. She turns around and comes back down and stops right beside me to adjust her helmet. The new bridge rises over the Route 41 bypass highway (Tamiami Trail). This bridge is the only "hill" on the entire trail. She looks over sheepishly.

"I guess I'll need more of a run up to climb over that bridge."

I say, "Nothing wrong with that. How's the trail? It's our first time riding it."

"This's really a beautiful trail and it's nice to get out in the air for some exercise. Except for this bridge it's flat and straight. The trail has a few crossings, but it's safe. Sometimes I have trouble getting up and over this bridge. I don't like pushing my bicycling uphill, so I'll need a running start."

She then rides down the trail about 100 yards and turns around. She builds up speed on the flat run up to the bridge and gives us a wave as she passes by. She tackles the hill with white hair bobbing out from under her black helmet. She slows and wobbles a bit near the crest, and then rolls right over the top and picks up speed drifting down the other side. She looks like a flying angel.

Older woman riding over bridge on her bicycle
Bicycle Bridge over Route 41 Bypass, Venice, Florida
Photo by Doug Barnes

Without this bridge she would have had to make a dangerous crossing over the Route 41 Bypass Highway (Tamiami Trail). The bridge is new and beautiful. With graceful arches and pastel shades of beige, the Mediterranean style bridge is topped with red Spanish tile. It spans one of the busiest 4 lane roads in Florida. Prior to the construction of the bridge pedestrians and bicyclists had to divert to a long stoplight and scurry across the road. Irritated motorists stopped to allow for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the road, but then gunned their engines roaring through the intersection.

The Legacy Trail was opened only 8 years ago in 2008. The 10 mile trail connects with the 5 mile Venetian Waterway Park bike trail creating continuous pathway from Casperson Beach in Venice to Sarasota. Plans are under way for another bridge over Laurel Road and a 7.5 mile extension of the trail to the Payne Park in downtown Sarasota. The bridge was built with Federal Stimulus Funds approved in 2009 only one year after the opening of the trail.    

View of Legacy Trail bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Route 41 Bypass Venice Florida
Ground Level View of Legacy Trail Bicycle Bridge, Venice, Florida
Photo by Doug Barnes
I take a look at maps before getting on the trail and know that it cuts through or borders about 7 parks. After riding past the bays we roll through Florida's tree covered scrubland. In 4 miles we make it to Oscar Scherer State Park, which is at a midpoint on the trial. This park is known for a wide variety of birds, including the endangered Florida Scrub Jay and Bald Eagles.

This scenery certainly does not match the beauty of some of my other rides including the mountains of Pennsylvania or along the shores of Nova Scotia, but it has its merits. It is off road, meticulously maintained, and wide enough for three across. Nice rest stops called stations invite cyclists to stop and talk, making the ride more social than solitary. The speed limit is 15 miles per hour, but violators are common. They don't seem worried about Florida's famous 300 dollar speed traps overseen by local sheriffs, a sunshine tax on those Northerners like us flying south for the winter. The faster riders are very courteous, always voicing "on your left" well in advance of passing. Most don't use their bells even though there’s an occasional polite ring. The age of the riders is clearly reflective of Florida, with the elderly mixing with the young. It doesn’t hurt that that trail is flat and the surface is road quality pavement. At the southern terminus of the Legacy Trail is a restored railway station that inspired the architecture of the bridge. Ample parking is available for those want to reach the trail by car.

In a previous post I have discussed the problems involved in locking bicycling into neighborhoods. Bridges such as the one over the Highway 41 Venice bypass (Tamiami Trail) connect both trails and people. The construction of this bicycle and pedestrian bridge has increased ridership on the trail to over 170,000 trips per year.  

View of crest of Legacy Trail Bridge over busy highway
Bridge View of Legacy Trail Bicycle Bridge, Venice Florida
Photo by Doug Barnes
The bicycle superhighway has many benefits for the local population in Venice and Sarasota. This includes mental and physical health, ease of getting around, recreation, connection to a dozen parks, a touch of local history and a sense of community along the trail. This was evidenced by a Sarasota Board of County Commissioners meeting several years ago in which all members affirmed that they had not heard anything negative about extending the trail to downtown Sarasota, a rare occurrence in politics today. Bicycle projects often meet resistance early, but once completed they engender growing support in communities. Once people begin to use the trails, they love them. The feeling of safety and comfort encourages riders of all ages to use such trails, reflecting the need for more projects that are more than just paint on the road. The original portion of the Legacy Trail and the bridge cost approximately $30 million (including value of land). The extension to Sarasota is estimated to cost $15 million to build, with the land cost still not know.

Safe bicycle riding for all is an achievable goal with public support, good planning and a level of financing necessary for constructing trails that can compete in quality with local roads. I understand the consequence of such commendable efforts in Venice, Florida as I watch a near 80 year old passing over a dangerous highway, with white hair flying in the wind.

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References

Friends of the Legacy Trail. The Legacy Trail History. https://www.friendsofthelegacytrail.org, Accessed 2017. 
Becnel, Thomas. 2011. “Cyclists cheer Venice's Legacy Trail Overpass.” Herald Tribune, Sarasota Florida. http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20111104/cyclists-cheer-venices-legacy-trail-overpass, Accessed 2017.

Herald Tribune. 2015. “A longer Legacy Trail.” Herald Tribune, Sarasota Florida. http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20150111/a-longer-legacy-trail, Accessed 2017.

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