Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Add cycling to our tourism menu

What would it take to boost Southwest Florida’s bike tourism?

To answer that, we first need to define what kind of tourism you want. Is it the touring bicyclist, where bikers would come to and through Southwest Florida as part of a larger and longer ride? Or is it the recreational rider drawn to visit Southwest Florida by many different attributes, including (but not limited to) its biking options?

For touring tourists, our area would have to be part of a larger whole, a state-spanning bike system with all the necessary infrastructure to allow multi-day multi-rider rides seamlessly. That’s a tall order, one our part of the state is years (decades?) away from even considering. That doesn’t mean the hardy (and very self-sufficient) cyclists won’t tour through our region. But our lack of a connected bike system on our roadways – let alone a stand-alone bike trail with the necessary rest and support stops – keeps the touring to a very small (and determined) group.

Bike tourism could be a part of Florida's future
But when it comes to making cycling a more robust offering on our tourism menu, success could be in sight… if we wanted it.

We’ve seen an increase in bike facilities, and in connecting those facilities in a way that makes them usable and more user-friendly to those who want to use their bikes for more than just a brief ride.

Sanibel clearly leads the way in this, with a well-promoted and -used system of bike paths that can take tourists from their hotels and condos to shops, restaurants and other island amenities. The island also has a robust rental system giving visitors access to bikes for an hour to a week or more. The only cycling challenge the island may face is its popularity, as the shared-use path gets crowded in season and more athletic cyclists often must resort to the island’s narrow roadways to escape the slow-moving masses.

Nevertheless, our region has the weather (most of the year), the numbers (likewise) and the terrain to make cycling a draw for visitors. What’s missing?
  • Connections. While it’s getting better, many of our bike/ped facilities don’t really go (or get you) anywhere. They’re good for recreation, but not for transportation.
  • Consistency. We have bike paths and lanes that stop and start depending on the road design du jour when that street or project was built… or that just stop dead, leaving a rider stranded unless they’re willing to play with the big dogs in on-road traffic (which many simply will not do).
  • Directions. Either our bike facilities have no signage at all, or what they have doesn’t help a visitor get from Point A to Point B (or tell them why they’d want to). The wayfinding signs for the Tour de Parks routes are the exception that should become the rule, with verbiage that is directed at visitors and not just residents (who probably already know the way).
  • Decorum. It’s gotten a lot better, but there are still too many motorists who view cyclists as an afterthought (or worse). If you invite someone here to ride their bike and then endanger them, belittle them, ignore them and leave sharp objects in their path… yeah, they won’t be coming back.
  • Infrastructure. Beyond bike paths, lanes and trailhead parking(don’t get me wrong, we need these, too), to boost bike tourism we need more bikes. Local (non-island) bike shops do rent bikes on a short-term basis, but that’s not their focus (and it shows). And we’re not at that critical-mass phase where a bike-share program is economically feasible. But if hotels, motels and condos could provide their guests the option to bike by having some bikes on hand, that would be a start. So would a bike-rental program – even just a bike shop – in our more metropolitan areas such as downtown Fort Myers… which rightly works to draw cyclists, but doesn’t have an easy way for visitors to go along for the ride.

Meeting some of these needs could be easy… better signage takes more will than money, for example, and decorum improves incrementally as more people bike or see others on them. Better and more consistent facilities is a heavier lift, drug down even further by the severe backlog in bike infrastructure funding that leaves good projects stranded behind a long and equally deserving line.

Nevertheless, when it comes to tourism draws, we’ve got beaches and boating, Blueway and baseball. Why not add bicycling to the mix?

Ready to ride or run?

Run? The running season won’t start in earnest until late September, but you can celebrate Labor Day with a 5K on Monday, Sept. 5, starts at 7:30 a.m. at Lowdermilk Park, Naples. (

Ride? Critical Mass rides rule (but you may want to confirm the times, as summer may force changes): Friday, Aug.26: Cape Coral Critical Mass ride. Gather at 7:30 p.m. for an 8 p.m. roll-out at 4706 SE 11th Place for a family-friendly ride through the Cape. Lights required, helmets recommended. Saturday, Aug. 27: SW Florida Critical Mass will offer a starter/sightseeing ride on Saturday; gather at 9 a.m., roll at 9:15 a.m. from 2160 McGregor Blvd. Distance is 6 miles, includes group ride instruction. Friday, Sept. 2: SW Florida Critical Mass ride. Join a family-friendly slow ride through Fort Myers. Front and rear bike lights required. Grab your helmet, bring all your friends and meet in the open field next to Publix (beginning at 7:15 p.m. for an 8 p.m. roll-out) at First Street Village, 2160 McGregor Blvd. Fort Myers. (

Both? On Saturday, Sept. 3, head north for the Venice Sprint Sept. 3 ( – or stay put and be part of the Galloway Captiva Tri Weekend Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 10-11 ( Looking ahead, there’s the Siesta Kay Sprint Tri Sept. 24 ( and the Marco Island Sprint Oct. 2 (
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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at


Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.

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