NORTH PORT, Fla. (WWSB) - Florida is known to be bicycle and pedestrian friendly, and here on the Suncoast, local governments have funds available to make sure that reputation is upheld.
Right now, the Florida Department of Transportation is finishing up a project in North Port where they’re constructing a multi-use path off of U.S. 41 from Tuscola Boulevard to Ortiz Boulevard. But there are some concerns with this new project.
It covers about three miles on both sides of U.S. 41, but on some sections of this new trail, the path is only a few feet away from the busy roadway, which has been seen as too close for comfort in the last week.
“There were too cars, and it was raining, and they skimmed and hydroplaned. One car flipped over and made it a few feet across, and I don’t know if it actually made it on to the bike path, but if not, it was pretty close,” Lonny Ammaz, a bicyclist in North Port, told us.
Thankfully, there were no pedestrians or bicyclists in the area during that crash, but when the path fully opens at the end of September, officials expect it to be used by many residents.
“It goes to show that there has to be a combination. When you’re driving, expect that people are going to be walking, and biking. This is Florida. It’s been wet lately, but usually when it’s sunny, people want to be outside enjoying the weather,” Josh Taylor, the City of North Port’s Public Information Officer, explained.
That’s exactly why some say FDOT should consider additional improvements to the multi-use path.
“It’s a very nice thing that they’ve done, but I think they need to put a few more safety features incorporated into it,” Ammaz added.
According to FDOT, there will not be any protective barriers on either path because that is only required if trails are less than four feet away from a road.
“These paths are probably safer than most sidewalks that you would find anywhere. Ninety-plus percent of sidewalks in the world are immediately right next to a street, and often times other bike lanes are actually on the street only separating with a white stripe, so I would have to say that these particular bike paths are actually safer than most,” Taylor expressed.
However, aside from guard rails or barriers, bicyclists are hoping that officials will consider putting signs up warning drivers about the path, so that there are no surprises along the almost three miles of North Port.
“You know, saying ‘Bikes Only’ or ‘No Cars Allowed.' I’m afraid some of these old people might get confused and think it’s a road. It’s a pretty wide bike path, and it runs very close to 41," Ammaz said.
As of right now, there are no plans for any additional features on this multi-use path. It is expected to be completed and opened by the end of September.