More bicyclists are on the road in March than any other month, a good reason March is designated Florida Bicycle Month. Imagine how wonderful it would be to have a statewide, connected system of greenways and trails that promotes economic development, facilitates public access to Florida’s natural environment and advances health, recreation, transportation and tourism. This system would connect our communities, nature preserves, parks, beaches, rivers and springs with biking, hiking, paddling and equestrian trails, allowing citizens and visitors a scenic, safe and healthy transportation alternative to Florida’s crowded highways ... and revitalizing communities along the connected routes spanning the state.

Stop right there, you don’t have to use your imagination. While there is a dearth of recreational trails in southwest central Florida, there are hundreds of trail segments that will eventually link to form The Florida SUN (Shared-Use Nonmotorized) Trail.

When one of my cycling buddies offered to plan a trip to Venice to ride the trails, I jumped on my bike one cloudy morning, rode over to his abode and racked my bike on his SUV. We’d meet up with one of his buddies over there, and the wives would spend the day at the beach while I rode with the guys. It was a windy day, but we figured the weather and that it was Monday would hold down the crowds—sections of the trails can get quite crowded at times. We rode about 45 miles, saw plenty of fellow cyclists and other folks enjoying the day, but it was at no time crowded.

The Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Park are two of the most popular recreational trails in Sarasota County. Over 225,000 walkers, joggers and cyclists use these trails per year to exercise, commute, connect to their community and experience nature. Two stepped overpass bridges are steep enough to require you to shift through your gears, and offer a thrilling descent. The multi-use trails are asphalt-paved or concrete. Speed limit on the trails is 15 m.p.h., and the trails are dog-friendly, though all dogs must be kept on a hand-held, maximum six-foot leash.

Trail users should remember the three “C’s” of trail use: courtesy, consideration and control. Kiosks with a trail map showing your location and the complete rules are located along the trail. Both trails feature 911 Emergency Location Markers, located on the center of the trail every half mile. The trails are open 6 a.m. to sunset. Multiple trailheads provide access with free public parking.

The Legacy Trail is 12.5 miles and extends from Sarasota to Venice. Voters recently approved $65 million funding for an extension which will extend the trail eight miles to downtown Sarasota and provide a better connection with North Port. The measure won in 99 percent of the precincts, with 71 percent voter approval. Formerly a railroad corridor, the trail passes through a variety of unique habitats and includes a series of interpretive signs and rest stations.

The Venetian Waterway Park is a multi-use trail that follows along both the east and west sides of the Intracoastal Waterway. The 3.8-mile east section connects to the Legacy Trail near the historic Venice Train Depot and travels south to Shamrock Park. Cross the Intracoastal and the five-mile west section takes you south to Caspersen Beach Park. The trail provides great water views and wildlife sighting opportunities. Both trails connect with roadways with marked bike lanes or neighborhood routes identified with the outline of a shark.

Load your bike and drive over to the west coast for a great ride.

Information/advocacy

Venice Bike Map (downloadable): www.venicegov.com

Florida Bicycle Organization: floridabicycle.org

Florida Legislative session opened March 5. floridabicycle.org to find out how you can support safe cycling initiatives.

A) To expand the current Move Over law to include PEOPLE, support HB 71 and SB 158.

B) To make texting while driving a primary offense for all drivers and pass a handheld device ban, support HB 107 and SB 76.

C) Create an E-Bike statutory definition to match national efforts.

D) Clean up statutory language with regards to definitions of sidewalks, crosswalks, lane position of bicyclists and other related matters.

E) Support FDOT’s SUNTrail and Complete Streets initiatives, in addition to funding initiatives for natural surface trails.

Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation: fgtf.org

FDOT Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Program: floridasuntrail.com

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