There is great news coming out of Tallahassee for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Our state Department of Transportation will be spending about $16 million
over the next several years to create a continuous
pedestrian trail from the west to east coast of Florida. This trail, known as the
Coast to Coast Connector, will fill in the gaps between several existing
pedestrian trails to create a seamless route from the Gulf to the Atlantic.
The funding will be used for 11 projects that will close gaps in several
central Florida counties across the state. Work will be done in counties
including Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Sumter, Lake, Orange, Seminole, and
Volusia. Eventually, this will allow a motivated user to go from St. Petersburg
to the Space Coast entirely on pedestrian trails.
People who don't walk, run, or ride might wonder how this project will
benefit them. Fortunately, the trail is likely to have substantial economic
benefits across Florida. "Bicycle tourism" is already a big business in Europe and other states such
as Oregon. Economic studies show bicycle tourists spend money on lodging,
food, bicycles and bicycle maintenance, and many other items. In fact,
they typically spend much more money than "day tourists" who
visit the same areas.
Florida has enormous potential in bicycle tourism. It's blessed with
great weather and abundant sunshine. There may be no place in the continental
United States with a better climate for being outdoors all year. It is
already an established tourist destination with two major airports (Orlando
and Tampa) near the Connector's route.
Many of the rural counties in central Florida along the route have economies
based on agriculture or mining. Neither of those are growth industries.
There will be jobs in construction and engineering to be done in those
places as the new sections of the Connector are built. For the long run,
a completed trail should give them a shot in the arm as lodging, bike
shops, restaurants, and stands spring up along the route.
Again, many of the trails which will make up the Connector already exist.
The Pinellas, Suncoast, and Withlacoochee Trails have been popular with
serious athletes and weekend warriors for years. Thus, we need not worry
that no one will show up and use the Connector; we know the clientele
for it already exists. Making the connections will just give users more
options and make the whole thing more attractive.
As discussed in this blog many times, Florida has a poor track record for
bicycle and pedestrian safety. I've often been critical of state and
local government's apparent lack of concern about this problem. While
the state has a long way to go in addressing that, it certainly deserves
credit for committing the money to make the Coast to Coast Connector a reality.