ORLANDO – Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise agency has cancelled plans for a pilot program that would have created bike paths on the State Road 417 bridge over Lake Jesup, a proposal that one county commissioner called a potential “deathtrap.”
Harry Barley, the executive director of Metroplan Orlando, the regional transportation partnership and planning agency, notified the board members today during the monthly meeting of the Metroplan board of directors that the controversial project was dead, and Metroplan would no longer be required to vote on whether to recommend it for state funding.
“As you know, we had a spirited discussion about this last month,” Barley said. “The plan was to allow bicycles on State Road 417 across the Lake Jesup Bridge, and this wasn’t looking like a good thing to approve.”
In the section of Seminole County where State Road 417 crosses over Lake Jesup, motorists can easily cross the bridge, but bicyclists can’t – meaning if they’re riding along State Road 434 through Longwood and Winter Springs, they have to bypass the bridge altogether and cycle all the way around the lake itself.
Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, which operates as a separate business unit of the Florida Department of Transportation, had proposed spending $1 million to create bike lanes on the SR 417 bridge, and had submitted the idea last month to Metroplan for the agency’s approval.
However, several of the board members called it a dangerous plan, since it would put bicyclists next to cars speeding along a busy highway.
“I’m not willing to spend a million dollars to build a deathtrap,” said Metroplan Board member and Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari, while Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who also serves on the Metroplan board of directors, warned, “I think we’d create hazardous situations where vehicles should not be comingling with bicyclists.”
As a result of that discussion, Barley announced today that “The request has been rescinded.”
In a letter sent on July 19 to Brandon Arrington, the Osceola County commissioner who serves as the chairman of the Metroplan Orlando board of directors, Diane Scaccetti, executive director of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, noted the proposal was being shelved.
The bike path had been proposed, Scaccetti wrote, in response to a directive from the Florida Legislature that the Department of Transportation establish pilot programs to open limited access highways and bridges to bicycles. The Lake Jesup Bridge was selected, she wrote, after working in partnership with the Bicycle/Pedestrain Partnership Council in Orlando.
“While understanding the legislative requirements, the Turnpike has kept in mind the goals of safety and expanded access for our cycling community,” she wrote. “The proposed Lake Jesup project is a 5.7 mile bicycle facility which permitted cyclists to cross the Lake Jesup Bridge. The roadway’s shoulder, which is ten feet in width, would be made available to cyclists.”
Bicyclists have already been allowed on limited access highways in 19 other states, she wrote, with support from the cycling community.
“These programs have been successful,” Scaccetti noted.
However, she added that FDOT has “chosen to not move forward with the Lake Jesup Pilot Project, and will select another bicycle project that meets the legislative requirements.”
This was intended to be a two-year pilot project, although as Jacobs noted, it didn’t seem logical to encourage bicyclists to ride on a busy roadway, particularly on a bridge, or to eliminate the breakdown lanes for the cars.
The project had been endorsed by Dan Stephens, chairman of Metroplan’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, who said this proposal was not a new idea to Greater Orlando’s bicycling community.
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