From the heart: BWCF Board Member Lisa Portelli on Bike 5 Cities

From my heart and the seat of my bike

By Lisa Portelli, Winter Park Health Foundation program director, Bike/Walk Central Florida board member and Bike 5 Cities visionary

It seemed like a good idea: show people where they can ride bicycles on bike-friendly roads.

So many people ask, “Where do you ride?”  To answer, our goal was to create a regional bike-friendly map and then have a ride to guide people looking for comfortable routes along these roads and trails. We knew the map would have gaps, but it would also be a valuable advocacy tool to continue our push for more bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

We couldn’t have predicted the demand for this ride assistance… Bike 5 Cities “sold out” in one week! On Saturday, May 6, 2017, we accomplished the goal with 250-plus riders who inspired us to do even more. Most of our riders were beginners, and many had never ridden 28 miles before rolling out of Mead Gardens.  They were brave. A big group ride was new to most of them too, making it an incredibly risky adventure because group rides require skill. We were happy to take on the challenge with these new riders in the interest of sharing our love of the sport.  At the Family-Friendly rides and events hosted in each city, there were dozens of children looking to have fun out on their bikes.  They rode trails or had police escorts through the neighborhood streets.

The 5 Cities Ride, the bike-friendly route map and the push for awareness of the effort was all to further a loftier goal of encouraging our decision-makers to build more bike-friendly roads with slow speeds and special infrastructure like cycle tracks and trails.  It’s a great cause, and Bike 5 Cities proved it is what people want. It took a team; we had the best one.

The “Team” — Host cities, volunteers, staff and all friends

Our Host City staff in Winter Park, Casselberry, Maitland and Eatonville were incredibly supportive of the cause. We stopped to visit these cities along the route at events organized and hosted by local city staff and volunteers.  The elected officials in many cities came out to greet us! What a win to be able to show them the demand for comfortable cycling roads and trails as more than 200 people rolled into their towns.

Each community had a distinction.  Winter Park offered a great location with a party spot right off their Cady Way trail (which now connects to a much larger trail system in central Florida). Casselberry has a beautiful trail in a small “hometown baseball park” with a tranquil loop course thru the woods.  Maitland’s Mayor and elected officials/staff welcomed us as we rode in on the city’s marked bike routes to a blow-out party in the stunning tree canopied Maitland Community Park.  Eatonville celebrated the short life of a young boy, Camari Dennison, by spending the day teaching children how to ride bikes safely and to always wear helmets. (Thanks to Orange County’s Walk-Ride-Thrive and FDOT’s Safe Routes to School programs for providing support in Eatonville).  Casselberry, Maitland and Eatonville offered police support to get our large group through busier intersections, and Eatonville Police even escorted us through town. Thanks to all the towns who made riders feel so welcome with festive events as rest stops along the way!

To our ride volunteers, all of whom are experienced cyclists and many who are close personal friends, there are no words. We could not have done it without you.   All of you clearly understood how risky this was because you ride and yet you were willing to come along and help coach so we could reduce that risk. Most of you gave up your normal Saturday ride to join us in pursuit of a goal for a better cycling community.  You believed in this crazy idea, and we will never ever be able to express how much your support mattered to the safety of all of our riders and to this writer personally.  I admire you. Thank you.

Who are “we”?  

Healthy Central Florida’s Jill Hamilton Buss whose magic touch inspires hundreds of people to care about their health and the health of our community. Peloton Cyclist Club team, experienced group ride managers who provided professional ride support, SAG service and mechanical help. A special shout out to their mechanic, ‘Santa Paws,’ who stayed behind in Eatonville to do some repairs on the bikes owned by the Eatonville Police!

Finally, the dedicated Board and small but powerful staff at Bike/Walk Central Florida who put dozens of hours into preparing for and coordinating the event.  We are inspired by the professional leadership of Amanda Day, our executive director and a passionate advocate for safety on the roads.

Some say the best indicator of success is when your idea is copied.  On the day after our ride, the Florida Freewheelers, a local highly respected cycling club, conducted the ride on the same route again. A simple FB post on their website brought out a dozen or so riders to try this beautiful route on central Florida’s bike-friendly roads.  The power of a good idea…

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