West Volusia doesn’t have sandy beaches or Mickey Mouse. What it does have is excellent bicycle rides, and cities and the county are making plans to take advantage of that attraction.
And there should be plenty of people on two wheels to respond — thanks, in part, to COVID-19.
According to J.C’s Bikes and Boards owner J.C. Figueredo, the pandemic drove many people into his shop and onto the area’s bike trails.
“People took to outdoor activities where you weren’t on top of each other,” he said. “On the trails, any given day, between people walking and rollerblading and riding bikes, it’s almost crowded.”
While sales have slowed down from a pandemic peak, there are plenty of new bike owners looking for their next great ride.
“It’s just more fun to discover a new place by bicycle,” said Maggie Ardito, president of the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance.
Ardito moved to DeLand, in part, to take advantage of the great cycling offerings in West Volusia and to work to bring awareness to the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, a bike trail that, when complete, will run 260 miles, connecting the St. Johns River with the Atlantic Ocean.
West Volusia is situated well along three long bike trails, including the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, and also hosts the county’s Spring-to-Spring Trail.
Local city governments, and Volusia County, are beginning to find innovative ways to take advantage of the trail systems and to make the roads more friendly for cyclists — but much more remains to be done.
The City of DeBary has made a strong commitment to support bicycling, and was recently named the “Bike Friendly Community of the Year” by the Florida Bicycle Association.
“What we’re trying to build here is a lifestyle in this southern area,” DeBary City Manager Carmen Rosamonda said. “We’ve taken a big-picture approach toward creating a lifestyle.”
The approach focuses on ecotourism, incorporating trails and parks.
DeBary has also come up with a way to pay for these bike-friendly improvements.
In 2019, the city introduced mobility fees to pay for transportation infrastructure not centered on cars. Traditionally, the majority of funding for transportation improvements, like all roadways, came via the gasoline tax.
Developers and builders looking to build in DeBary must, in addition to road impact fees, pay the mobility fees, which can be used to pay for bike lanes, bike trails and other transportation features.
By introducing these fees, Rosamonda said, the city is pushing toward a future where developers think about alternate transportation methods from the start of a development’s plan.
This all fits neatly into the DeBary Mainstreet plan, a planned multiuse development centered around the city’s SunRail station.
All four trails we describe go through DeBary, which also has a SunRail stop. Rosamonda wants more people to visit DeBary with the intent to make use of the miles of trails the city connects to.
Another project, known as Riverbend South, would also create a bike trail along the perimeter of Alexander Point, a DeBary parcel that runs along the St. Johns River.
Jerry Mayes is in charge of economic development and ecological tourism for the City of Deltona. He’s also a member of the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance. Mayes is determined to make Deltona a destination by ensuring the city is bicycle-friendly and — like DeBary — takes advantage of its proximity to the county’s trails.
After all, Mayes said, city officials want to bring people to Deltona, but the city needs an attraction.
“We don’t have a theme park or the Atlantic Ocean washing up on us,” Mayes said. “With that in mind, we decided it would be ecological — trails, nature parks, things like that.”
Deltona also has its own bike trail, the Lakeshore Loop Trail.
This trail runs across the city from east to west on the northern bank of Lake Monroe, connecting some of Deltona’s parks with other bike trails like the Coast to Coast trail and River to-Sea-Loop.
In the coming years, Mayes said, the plan is to create a trailhead for the Lakeshore Loop Trail with lodging opportunities and a bike shop, known as the Lakeshore EcoVillage. Another planned trail, the Providence Drive Trail, would bisect the city from north to south, connecting sites like City Hall, the Deltona Regional Library and Lyonia Preserve.
“It always comes back to being a destination,” Mayes said. “Having a place where you can go walk, where you can bike, and where you can take a nature trip.”
With the plan to bring SunRail service to DeLand, Ardito hopes to see DeLand join the cities expanding amenities for bike-trail users.
The Downtown DeLand Community Redevelopment Agency is eyeing a possible project to beautify West Voorhis Avenue. Voorhis Avenue and Euclid Avenue, Ardito suggested, could serve as a thoroughfare to get cyclists from the DeLand SunRail Station to DeLand’s Downtown hub — keeping them off busy and truck-laden State Road 44 and offering a more pleasant ride.
Bike improvements are much more than making trails accessible to riders, though. Sometimes, what needs to be done is as simple as making sure bicyclists can safely ride through town.
DeLand City Commissioner Charles Paiva, a cyclist himself, told The Beacon improving the city’s sidewalks and bike paths is a goal of his.
“I think this next year, this next budget coming up, will be strong on capital expenditures,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that a lot of that will go toward sidewalks and expanding bike offerings.”
One planned expansion will be to the city’s Charles Paiva Greenway, named after the commissioner. The greenway currently runs some 4 miles from Earl Brown Park to Minnesota Avenue. The expansion, Paiva said, will bring the trail farther north to U.S. Highway 17-92, where it will connect with a county trail.
Using the city’s budget, along with grant money from the Volusia ECHO program, Paiva said, he hopes to first see expansions and improvements to the city’s sidewalks, and later bike trails.
With the planned extension of SunRail to DeLand in the coming years, Paiva also said the city has discussed a bike path from the DeLand Station on Old New York Avenue to the city’s Downtown hub.
If trail guru Ardito has her way, that bike path will run along Voorhis and Euclid avenues, not State Road 44. Stay tuned.
As far as bike-friendly West Volusia cities, DeLand has some work to do, Ardito said.
U.S. Highway 17-92, aka Woodland Boulevard, a main road through the city, she said, is about the worst-case scenario for bikers.
“There’s barely any shoulder and then there's a curb. I mean, it’s just impossible. It’s not only not bike-friendly, it’s bike-hostile” Ardito said. “So, the more urban an area is, really the harder it is to make it bike-friendly, but it's still possible. You just have to be innovative and willing to do it.”
Bike-friendliness is a matter of careful urban planning. The leisure aspect is important and necessary, especially in Florida where the environment is such a draw, but transportation is important, too.
“People really have the right to be able to get from point A to point B without going way far out of their way,” Ardito said.
With SunRail coming to west DeLand, the need for safe travel into the heart of town is necessary — and thinking of the ways to fulfill the needs of bicycle commuters is paramount.
The missing link between recreation and commuting
While the trail system provides recreational opportunities, there are fewer resources for people who commute by bicycle. Trails, multiuse paths, and bike lanes may dot the cities, but the connections between them in West Volusia, so far, are incomplete.
For bicycle commuters, even multiuse sidewalks, intended for bicyclists and pedestrians, may not fit their needs.
Retired Florida Department of Transportation employee and enthusiastic bicyclist Jeff Shepherd pointed to an example of the “Alabama Avenue Greenway Trail” in DeLand.
The path runs along part of North Alabama Avenue, connecting a loop around Painter’s Pond just north of Downtown DeLand to Earl Brown Park.
“The Greenway doesn’t accommodate my needs,” Shepherd said. “If I’m going down Alabama Avenue, I might just as well go on Alabama Avenue rather than get off on that side road where there’s additional points of conflict.”
The greenway, acting more like a sidewalk, adds points of conflict by pushing cyclists onto roads running east to west, Shepherd noted. And, at one point, the trail switches sides of the street, meaning a bicyclist has to turn left across what amounts to four lanes of traffic.
“That’s the way traffic-safety people look at it — points of possible conflict. So you go and you’re turning left on a driveway, and you have oncoming traffic. And then you’ve got the sidewalk or the bike path, and it’s just kind of not sensible, as far as safety,” Shepherd said.
For Shepherd and many other bicycle commuters, riding on the road, preferably in a dedicated bicycle lane, is a better way to travel, especially if you’re headed to the grocery or bank, where leisure trails seldom run.
J.C.’s Bikes and Boards owner Figueredo also stressed the importance of education. With more people taking advantage of West Volusia’s cycling opportunities, safety is important.
“I was recently almost hit by a truck, and when I confronted the guy about it he told me to get … out of the road,” he said. “I think education is needed if they want to turn this into a more pedestrian- and cycling-friendly community.”
Figueredo said DeLand could, through signage, bulletins and social-media promotions, for example, increase awareness of the rules and laws for bicyclists and motorists.
The trail offerings are good now, and in the coming years, West Volusia will only become more bike-friendly with extended and completed trails. If cities and developers focus on the importance of accessibility when it comes to transportation, all of us will benefit from safer roads and sidewalks.
Disconnect between cities and state
While cities and cross-county trail groups focus on large multiuse paths off the roadway, the state thinks of a bicyclist in the same way they do a car.
The legal definition of a cyclist falls under the motor-vehicle traffic-control section of state statute and reads: Every person propelling a vehicle by human power has all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle.
“If you look at state roads, State Road 15, they have a bike lane. That was an FDOT project. I would go on that and feel safe,” Shepherd said. “That’s a good example where the state roadway has accommodations with a bike lane. It’s in their design criteria to provide for that.”
The state roads that crisscross around and through cities often incorporate bike lanes, but where the state road ends, so does the bike lane.
One solution, Shepherd pointed out, would be to have a comprehensive plan in each city that designates streets as connection points between trails, bike lanes, and multiuse paths.
“[Orlando] has roadway design designations for sharing the road. There's bicycles that are on the road because it's mapped and designated as a way for them to go through town,” Shepherd said. “So that would be connections, designated connections.”
“There’s really plenty of ways for bicycles to go. It’s just that a lot of them are cluttered with cars,” he added.