By Dr. Joe Barnett — November 2, 2010
A couple riding across the United States recently complained that they found Tallahassee to be very difficult to bicycle through. Really?
With that in mind, three long-time bicycle commuters — Roger Holdener, Bill Edmonds and I — met Monday at Joe’s Bicycle Shop on Lake Ella. From this central location, we planned our “exploration” to find a safe bicycle passage west to Tallahassee Community College and back to Lake Ella.
First we headed across Monroe Street, which has five busy lanes of traffic and no bike lanes. We have heard plans are to provide a badly needed pedestrian-controlled light. We made it across to the left turn lane and entered the very large parking lot of the Publix shopping center. Few drivers there use turn signals but usually are driving slow. We exited right onto Martin Luther King Blvd for a short ride to Tharpe Street. One driver did block “our” bike lane waiting for a light.
We turned left on to Tharpe, which surprised me with very nice bike lanes. We stopped for a short repair at Milano’s Pizzeria. We passed two school ball fields, Godby High School, a few restaurants and mostly residential community. We crossed Old Bainbridge Road, then High Road, where a long line of cars was in the right turn lane. I counted two of seven drivers using turn signals. I was surprised and pleased there were many big live oaks along this good bicycle road for shade and beauty.
At Ocala Road, the bike lanes on Tharpe ended and the lanes narrowed as they climbed a big hill, and drivers were traveling fast — all this made it dangerous to continue on Tharpe, the most direct route.
So, we turned left onto Ocala Road, which had nice bike lanes and smooth pavement. There were some hills and a closed entrance to Mission San Luis. We debated contacting the Florida Park Service for possible opening of this closed entrance (the old Mission Road) to cyclists as a safe way further west. A block further, the Ocala Road bike lane ended near Tennessee Street.
There is an old off road bike path or wide sidewalk running along Tennessee. But every one of the many driveways made it too bumpy for road bicycles. Near White Street, I just missed being injured by a car turning left from Tennessee. The walk sign was flashing but the driver gave me a look like it was my fault.
Later, we spoke with a Tallahassee Community College student from Fort Lauderdale. He said it was too dangerous to use the crosswalks, and he, too, was almost “clobbered” once. We all agreed sidewalks should not be recommended for cycling, unless there are no crossing roads or driveways. Tharpe Street eventually had five lanes on our side of the road going west.
We saw the signs to TCC, so we crossed Appleyard Drive and waited for the light to cross scary-wide Tennessee going south. Four- to six-lane Appleyard had bike lanes. Most bicyclists feel bike lanes are the safest situation for commuting. Cars respect the bike lane most of the time. And cars leaving side roads and driveways are much more likely to stop for us than when on sidewalks. We do have to watch our mirrors for cell-phone drifters, drivers blocking the bike lane at intersections and drivers passing us then turning right into us. Cyclists must always be alert.
We saw lots of students bicycling. Most were not wearing helmets and several were listening to iPods through ear buds — can’t hear traffic that way. And many rode on the sidewalk against traffic, all of which all considered dangerous. One student practicing all three unsafe habits said he’d never had any close calls. Then we turned back east onto Pensacola.
Pensacola was a busy stretch. The speed was listed 45 mph. There were no bike lanes. We tried the sidewalk but it was too narrow and bumpy. We tried riding on the street but quickly were yelled at by a young couple who told us to get off the road. There were many shops and exiting drivers to be wary of.
So we turned right onto Ocala Road for a short ride to residential and two-laned Belle Vue, where we again headed east. Belle Vue was pretty with shade trees but poorly maintained, no shoulders, significant traffic and faster drivers than expected. At Hayden, we turned left, which led us to an underpass tunnel to the Florida State University’s Doak Campbell Stadium and planned end of the St Marks Trail.
From Stadium Drive we took Hendry Street, a short link to Jackson Bluff Road. We saw lots of students bicycling and walking in the area. I watched a student take a risky move to cross Jackson Bluff by running between two cars that refused to slow down. Jackson Bluff had sharrows, Share the Road signs and wide outside lanes. It is a good candidate for an east-west route from Florida State to TCC, once it has bike lanes and other safety improvements. This connector is in great need, especially for students, and will be an important asset to Tallahassee’s safe cycling routes.
We turned back north onto Lake Bradford Road near the stadium. We passed numerous old and new businesses, as we rode West St. Augustine Street, South Woodward Avenue and West Madison Street to cross Railroad Avenue. Past the Civic Center, at the newly revitalized Doug Barnett Park, we turned north onto South Boulevard Street, which quickly named-changed to Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Cyclists should keep MLK in mind — this was a nice neighborhood street with lots of great shade trees and brick intersections, all in sight of our city’s trademark state buildings, with little traffic, and what was there was traveling at slow speed. Excellent!
MLK dead-ended at Oakland Cemetery. We chose to take a short cut through the peaceful and pleasant burial ground, which would be worth revisiting sometime. At the other side of Oakland Cemetery we regained MLK and continued to 10th Avenue, which quickly turned us back to the Publix parking lot near Lake Ella. Some fast work across busy North Monroe and we completed our 13-mile exploration from Lake Ella to Tallahassee Community College and back.
Over refreshments at the Black Dog Café, we considered what we’d found.
Things we liked:
- Tharpe Street and Ocala Road their bike lanes.
- Smooth pavement.
- Shade trees.
- Safe drivers.
- Drivers who used their signals.
Things we didn’t like:
- Fast roads without shoulders or bike lanes.
- Disappearing bike lanes.
- Making many detours to get to TCC and back.
- Inattentive drivers.
- Bumpy roads.
- Drivers on cell phones (some texting!).
- Bike lanes work.
- Tallahassee and Leon County should put bike lanes everywhere possible.
- Tallahassee and Leon County need to connect the dots — fill in the stretches that have no bike lanes.
Tallahassee has beautiful neighborhoods. They are not very far to get to but completing safe biked routes is critical. We rode a lot out of our way to make it to TCC and back.
Intersections can be trouble, especially if using a sidewalk. Many drivers fail to look or respect people in crosswalks.
Students could save a LOT of money if they could safely use bicycles instead of cars (saving $7,000+/year, says AAA). Tourists may “flock” to Tallahassee if we make our town a bicycle destination.
A Canadian race team scouted our area several years ago but concluded the drivers were hostile. We don’t agree, but we see the need for greater traffic enforcement and education of drivers on how to safely negotiate an environment of commuters on bikes, on foot, on buses and in trucks and autos.