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The Villages: Building a Bicycle Friendly Community in Florida
In our Spring 2018 round of Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) Awards, The Villages, FL, moved up from its previous award level of Silver to Gold BFC status. The Villages, located in Sumter County in the central part of the state, is a planned retirement community that has made great steps in becoming safer and more inviting for cyclists.
On Monday, June 25, Ralph Monti, Chair of the League of American Bicyclists’ Board of Directors visited The Villages to present their Gold BFC Award. Here’s what Diana Mirkin, Chair of The Villages’ Bicycle Friendly Advocacy Council, had to say about the event:
“We were honored to have Ralph Monti, President of the League of American Bicyclists’ Board of Directors, come to The Villages to present our Gold Bicycle Friendly Community award. Recipients included members of Bicycle Friendly Advocacy Council, the Director of The Villages Recreation and Parks Department and local and state officials. More than 100 members of the cycling community gathered at the waterfront restaurant, RJ Gators (a Bicycle Friendly Business), to view the festivities and to enjoy happy hour, food and camaraderie before and after the presentation. We are so proud!”
(On podium L-R: Janet Tutt, John Rohan, John Komoroske, Bob Thompson, Diana Mirkin, Rose Jordan, Bob Jordan, Ralph Monti, Dave Lawrence. Audience members in foreground: heads of Lady Lake Police Dept., Sumter County Sheriffs Dept. and The Villages Community Watch Dept. )
Below, we are featuring some of the entries from The Villages’ BFC application to show how the community has supported — and plans on continuing to grow in supporting — the essential elements of a Bicycle Friendly Community, also known as the 5 “E”s: Education, Engineering, Enforcement and Safety, Evaluation and Planning and Encouragement. (Read more about the 5 “E”s here.)
What are the most positive outcomes of your community’s support for bicycling?
Bicycling is the ideal fitness activity for seniors, and many retirees have moved to The Villages specifically because it is such a great environment for cycling. The ability to ride 365 days a year provides seniors with excellent cardio exercise, balance and leg strength with minimal impact on joints. They also gain enhanced social interaction by riding with friends or joining the organized club rides that are offered virtually every day for all skill levels.
As the community has grown, so has the number of cyclists and the amount of traffic on roadways and multi-modal paths. Over the past several years, The Villages’ Recreation Department, BFAC and bicycle clubs have worked together to increase awareness of safety standards and practices among drivers of all types of vehicles. We believe that these educational efforts and extensive media coverage have had a significant positive impact on the community’s bicycling environment.
What has The Villages done to improve cycling since your previous application?
Adopted charter for the Bicycle Friendly Advocacy Council (BFAC) to coordinate safety and education efforts (see Supplementary Materials section). The BFAC serves all of the functions of an advisory committee in a more traditional jurisdiction, with many additional initiatives.
Organized a League Cycling Instructor (LCI)-led class conducted in The Villages resulting in six new LCIs (total now 10). The LCIs have initiated outreach to neighborhoods, clubs and regional schools and conducted numerous presentations on bike safety and skills.
Gained greatly expanded media coverage to raise awareness of cycling in The Villages
Developed and disseminated The Villages App, a free, comprehensive tool for wayfinding, via roads and/or multi-modal paths, to any destination within The Villages.
Prepared "Cycling the Villages," a comprehensive bicycle planning and guidelines document adopted in 2016.
Initiated a monthly Bicycle Safety and Skills course for new and returning cyclists, conducted by LCIs through The Enrichment Academy (the new continuing education vehicle of The Villages Recreation Department).
Formulated bicycle-related questions included on The Villages annual survey in 2017 that quantified — for the first time — the number of bicyclists and frequency of ridership on the various types of roads and trails. This annual data, compiled from the survey sent to the more than 50,000 households in The Villages, will permit tracking of trends and provide concrete evidence of the growing importance of cycling for the community.
What are The Villages’ plans for future improvements?
An after-school bicycle safety and skills program for The Villages Charter School will begin in spring 2018, conducted by our LCIs and other cycling volunteers. The Villages Charter School serves 3,000+ children of employees of businesses in The Villages (who do not live in The Villages because no residents under age 19 are permitted).
Another LCI class has been planned for 2018, with more than 20 residents expressing interest so far, along with Recreation Department staff and local law enforcement officers. We expect to add several new LCIs in The Villages as a result of this training. These new LCIs will greatly expand the resources for cycling education within The Villages and volunteer participation in the surrounding communities.