Venice nationally recognized as bike-friendly

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SARASOTA COUNTY - The League of American Bicyclists has just given the City of Venice a silver designation for being bicycle-friendly. City leaders say recent efforts such as connecting the Legacy Trail with the Venetian Waterway Trail helped.

The trails not only encourage a healthier community, but also stimulate the local economy.

Venice has now mapped out miles of biking trails. Now the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C. has taken notice. "We came in at silver which is tremendous. There is really only about 15% or 20% of all the designated cities at the silver level."

A big help is of course the Legacy Trail, which now features an overpass over the U.S. 41 Bypass. Add that with the recently completed Venetian Waterway Park, and you have 21 miles of contiguous trails.

"We have been working on this for a while," says Venice Mayor John Holic. That work includes signage, extra room on roads, and bike racks. The city also added additional amenities into their comprehensive plan for future growth. "We want it to be some place where people who like to bike can feel comfortable doing so."

It's promoting health and the economy says Monty Andrews with Bike/Walk Venice. "This is going to go into biking magazines. There is going to be all the people who read that."

Bike enthusiasts travel the country to visit places to ride. Holic says it's not something lost on local leaders. "If they are staying up in Sarasota or Osprey or down in North Port, they can come up via a path and enjoy the some shopping, have some lunch."

Some of those visitors are perhaps staying for good. Counters have the trails growing in usage by 40% in the past few years, with now more than 100,000 riders annually.

Andrews says they are looking to grow. "We would like to connect other trails from east and bring them into the city and vice-versa." That project is called the Ribbons of Venice and plans are already peddling along. "It is just phenomenal."

Something else that went a long way is Venice's recent addition of six officers patrolling on bike. This Friday a local business called "Real Bikes" will be donating six new bicycles to officers.

A community celebration of the award takes place Friday, Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. at the historic Venice Train Depot.