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Analysis: Jacksonville needs more accessible bike lanes

A wheelchair-user can make his or her way around Jacksonville quite easily, with the availability of wheelchair-accessible vans, entrances and doors. In fact, it is required by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act to consider those with disabilities in the design, construction and alteration of every building and facility in America – and rightly so.

But a person on another set of wheels – a bicycle – is not afforded the same rights.

The government established the ADA to allow the 54 million Americans with disabilities to participate in everyday social, leisure and work activities by ensuring the connecting link – transportation – would be seamless, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

This same government should consider the far-from-seamless link for the 750,000 Americans who commute daily on bicycles, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.  A lack of bicycle paths and sidewalks is frequent, and the number of cities in America that strive to seamlessly accommodate bicyclists is few.

And Jacksonville is definitely not one of them.The First Coast city provides limited streets suitable for safe riding and has been slow to reconstruct the paths – a problem for the growing interest among Jacksonville residents.

“The [Jacksonville Baldwin Rail] trail is great, but we’ve outgrown the place,” said North Florida Bicycle Club President Dennis Glasscock in a Times-Union article. “And what good is it to drive 15 miles just to bike 15 miles? Jacksonville needs to make its streets more bike-friendly.”

The NFBC joined 2,000 bikers last fall for the inaugural Night Ride. Sponsored by Bike Jax, another local bicycle organization, the Night Ride was intended to encourage Jacksonville residents to start pedaling, said Matt Uhrig, the founder of Bike Jax, in a Times-Union article.

The event included a group ride that started at the Fuller Warren Bridge and ended in the heart of downtown – a vast leap forward for an expanded city like Jacksonville.

Many cyclists complain there are not many options to ride from the surrounding neighborhoods to the business hub of downtown. The Night Ride is proof it can be done but raises the question: Without 2,000 cyclists surrounding you, would it be safe to ride into downtown?

City officials should think about providing safe and sufficient bike lanes across the bridges into the business center – especially considering the rising fuel prices and strains families are facing to commute to and from work each day.

With prices hitting a record high  and obesity on the rise in America, the option to leave the pump and pounds behind is becoming ever more favorable.

Americans drove 11.3 billion fewer miles in March 2008 than the same month in 2007 – an estimated 4.3 percent less, according to the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration.

But Jacksonville has seen very little of that decrease, which might be because the city spends more money – $800 million – on building and restoring highways than taking the time to provide safe bike lanes.

The First Coast city needs to look to the ADA for a guideline on how to take one set of wheels to the same level of accessibility as the other.

E-mail Holli Welch at [email protected].

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