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Sam Kouvaris: Cyclists and mtorists looking for compromise

The FDOT is looking to add bike lanes to a 7 mile stretch of Hendricks Avenue.
The FDOT is looking to add bike lanes to a 7 mile stretch of Hendricks Avenue.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While Jacksonville is a growing city, growing pains are part of the process.  The way we live, work and play are important parts of the city’s culture as well as the weather and environment.

So when the Florida Department of Transportation held an open house on Tuesday to talk about the repaving of parts of northern Hendricks Avenue, passionate opinions were in place on all sides of the issue.

Despite its status as the largest land mass city in the lower 48, Jacksonville also has the fewest miles of bike lanes of any city percentage-wise and according to population.  Yearly, Jacksonville ranks at or near the top of pedestrian and cycling fatalities when it comes to interaction with motor vehicles.  At the same time, that part of Hendricks Avenue is full of businesses, professional and otherwise, that have been part of the community for decades.  Many of those count on “street parking” for their employees and clients as that part of Hendricks and San Jose have transformed from a pastoral drive from downtown to the suburbs to a busy business thoroughfare.

“You’re looking at a balance here,” Ron Tittle, FDOT’s Jacksonville public information officer said at Tuesday’s meeting. “You have vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians and we’re looking for some harmony for safety and efficient roadways.”

One of the projects about to get underway on the Fuller Warren Bridge will have a pedestrian/bike path connecting San Marco and Riverside because of public comments and ideas presented to the FDOT engineers.

“That wasn’t in the original plan but after the public comment, the engineers found a way to have both safety and traffic taken car of,” Tittle added.

“I’m willing to say there should be a compromise,” said Dr. Craig Kelly, a dentist on Hendricks Avenue whose practice has been there for 42 years. “We rely on the parking spaces (on the street) to run our businesses. If they put bike lanes in without any parking, it will have a negative effect on all of the professional and retail businesses in that neighborhood.”

Numerous businesses along Hendricks were represented at the meeting along with cyclists who use that part of Hendricks to commute back and forth to work as well as recreational cyclists who ride that stretch of road to either get to the Acosta for some “bridge work” (that’s the only elevation found in North Florida) or are headed downtown or to Riverside/Avondale for an extended ride. 

Everybody at the meeting agreed there was a compromise in there somewhere, but finding it might be a difficult task.  Incorporating a bike lane without eliminating the parking would take some creative thinking on the part of the FDOT engineers when it comes to space necessary to accommodate moving and stationary cars as well as bikes.  Widening the road, eliminating the medians, making smaller lanes for cars were all ideas bandied about as everybody got a look at part of the proposed plan.

Leigh Burdett, owner of Ready to Ride Bike Tours thinks safe bike access is essential to the quality of life in town.

“I do agree there can be a compromise,” she said at the meeting “ We need to recognize that’s there’s a real need for a compromise because being able to get in and out of the city safely on a bike is a great thing to have here in Jacksonville.”

Over the years, the rules regarding cars and bikes have evolved, with cyclists now having the same rights on the road as motor vehicles.  But in a bike/car accident, the cyclist is at a distinct disadvantage.  Better education regarding the laws involving bikes by both the cyclists and motorists are essential to improving safety on the roads. It’s an equation where both sides share the blame equally.

“Cyclists are the most guilty party when it comes to creating people who are not fans of cyclists,” Burdett, an avid cyclists, added.  “We are vehicles and we're responsible for following the rules of the road. No tricky little moves.  That’s not acceptable on a bike.”

As a cyclist myself, I’m often asked if bikes aren’t subject to the same traffic laws as other vehicles.  Dr. Kelly asked me that question at the meeting.  “Absolutely,” I responded.

“Well, they don’t and that’s a problem,” he continued.

“You’re exactly right and those that don’t should be pulled over and ticketed,” I said.

And that’s one of the first steps to getting this issue solved.  If motorists are supposed to respect the rights of the cyclists, than those on bikes have to respect the rules of the road. 

“Predictability” one cyclist said to me.  “If they know we’re going to follow the rules, they’ll be able to better operate with us out there.”