A Bicycle Friendly Community
If you have explored the roads and paths in and around The Villages, you cannot have escaped noticing the numerous well maintained and widely used bicycle paths. Bicyclists can be seen everywhere, sharing the roadways with cars, golf carts, and pedestrians. Fitness experts have long promoted cycling as a form of exercise well-suited to older people. While delivering the cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits of more high-intensity workouts, bicycling is a low impact activity which creates less stress on joints.
The health and safety of our residents and guests is a top priority at The Villages, and bicycling is one way in which residents can have fun and keep fit. Bicycle paths abound, and bicyclists can be found sharing the roads with golf carts, cars, and pedestrians. Bicycle clubs arrange group rides on and off the property and provide safety and other information for members.
The hard work and dedication of The Villages’ bicycle clubs were awarded recently with a Gold-level rating from the League of American Bicyclists, recognizing The Villages as a bicycle-friendly community, an improvement over the Silver-level rating the community has held for four years.
The League of American Bicyclists began their bicycle friendly community program in 1995, as a way to recognize communities who make efforts to promote cycling for recreation and commuting and provide safe areas for cyclists to ride. The League recognizes five levels of achievement: Diamond, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable Mention. The League has received over 1500 applications since the program’s inception, and 400 communities have been recognized as Bicycle Friendly Communities.
Of those 400, only 31 have been awarded Gold-level status. The Villages is one of only two communities on the East Coast, and the only community in Florida, to achieve a Gold-level rating.
The League of American Bicyclists establishes 10 building blocks for a bicycle safe community, and, for each category, awards a score of 1 (needs improvement) to 6 (excellent). To achieve Gold-level status, a community must score well on all of these categories.
The categories considered are:
- The number of high-speed roads (over the 35mph speed limit) with bike facilities and what types of facilities exist (paved shoulders, designated bike lanes, protected or raised bike lanes).
- Bicycle network mileage as a percentage of total road network mileage.
- Bicycle education in schools.
- The share of the community’s transportation budget spent on bicycling.
- Bike Month and Bike to Work events.
- Active bicycle advocacy groups in the community.
- Establishment of a bicycle advisory committee.
- Bicycle- friendly laws or ordinances.
- Community-wide current or pending bike plans.
- The number of bike program employees compared to the community’s total population.
The LAB also considers crash statistics, including the total number of bicyclists who have been involved in an accident with a motor vehicle, and the number of bicyclists who have been killed in accidents involving motor vehicles.
Some categories apply to some communities and not others; bicycle education in schools and bike to work programs are not applicable to The Villages; therefore, other aspects of the community’s application are considered.
Since residents of The Villages are not as likely to have school-aged children as those in other communities, members of the Bicycle Friendly Advocacy Council, an organization created to apply for recognition by the LAB and to promote bicycling in The Villages, instituted a bicycle course option to the Cam Village scheduled for 2017, and started a extracurricular summer cycling class at The Villages Charter School.
The Council has since begun teaching bicycle safety classes at nine different schools near The Villages. Bicycle safety classes are also taught to Villages residents, as part of the Council’s ongoing mission to promote safe cycling and reduce accidents.
The Villages received its Gold-level rating after making some recommended changes after its Silver-level designation in 2014. These include adopting a charter for a bicycle advocacy council and implementing a bicycle education program using the LAB’s Smart Cycling guidelines. Other improvements included removing some speed bumps, installing additional bike racks, improving signs on bike paths, and installing light beams that can be triggered by bicyclists at entrance gates. The League of American Bicyclists also encourages Bicycle Friendly Communities to establish partnerships with local law enforcement agencies
After the Gold rating, the Council hopes to continue its mission of promoting bicycle safety and may eventually win the rare Diamond-level status. Until then, residents and their guests will be able to attend free safety classes and can participate in an adult riding program offered by members of the Council as part of the Villages’ Enrichment Academy. Check out one of the bicycle clubs, or just get your bike out, don your safety gear, and hit one of the numerous bicycle paths around the community.