A little less than a year ago, we reported that Florida would be funding
construction of a continuous pedestrian trail across the state known as
the Coast to Coast Connector. This year, there is more good news for pedestrians
and bicyclists. An additional $25 million in annual funding has been approved
to construct and maintain a network of regional trails. Those regional
trails, referred to as the SunTrail system, will be part of Florida’s
larger system of greenways and trails.
The new law defines SunTrails as paved trails which are physically separated
from car traffic. They will be designed to go to and from places of public
interest, such as state parks, beaches, and conservation areas. SunTrails
are not part of the Coast to Coast connector, but some will join existing
trails. This will continue the process of creating a larger trail network
instead of a patchwork of isolated routes.
The physical separation from car traffic will be a key feature of the SunTrail
system. As this blog has discussed many times, Florida is still a notoriously
unsafe place for
bicycle riders. Many people intimidated by traffic will find trails more inviting than
streets with bike lanes.
Dedicated pedestrian trails also tend to have less debris, such as broken
glass and trash, than regular multi-use roads. Again, this will make them
more appealing to people concerned about flat tires and obstructions.
In the meantime, we are seeing considerable progress in our area. We recently
opened a pedestrian trail along the Courtney Campbell Causeway, and will
soon open a new segment of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail in north Hillsborough
County. The Causeway trail runs all the way from Tampa to Clearwater,
while the Upper Tampa Bay Trail segment will run north from Van Dyke Road
and connect to the 40-mile Suncoast Trail at Lutz Lake Fern Road.
Andy Gardiner, the President of the Florida Senate, deserves credit for
helping to make SunTrails a reality. As many people have heard, this year’s
legislative session almost ended in disaster after the regular session
was aborted without a budget. Both houses of the legislature had to reconvene
in a special session to hammer out a budget deal. Gardiner and others
had their hands full addressing multiple budget priorities such as health
care funding and education in that session.
There was plenty of acrimony between both houses and Governor Scott before
a budget finally emerged. In fact, bad blood is still lingering over Scott’s
veto of certain budget items, with some lawmakers in his own party - including
Gardiner - suggesting petty retaliation and score-settling.
Under those conditions, it was quite a feat for Gardiner to attain a significant
and secure increase in funding for Florida trails. It may have helped
that Gardiner, an Orlando area Republican, happens to be a cyclist and
fitness enthusiast himself.