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5 Steps for Enhancing Downtown Orlando's Northern Gateway

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5 Steps for Enhancing Downtown Orlando's Northern Gateway

Cities are places to enjoy being in the presence of other people, creating with others, sharing ideas and transacting business. Those all depend on easy access and connectivity, comfortable and attractive public space and inviting gateways, which are key elements of Project DTO, Orlando's downtown vision and new redevelopment plan. A key part of the emerging Project DTO vision is of an "awesome outdoor city with highly connected neighborhoods and districts; a city with an iconic visual identity, built for the future so that open space supports recreation, air quality, tree canopy cover and water quality needs." Downtown Orlando's relationship with its lakes, a signature feature of the City Beautiful, is a centerpiece of that vision.

Downtown Orlando's northern boundary offers a wonderful opportunity to support the vision. It lies along a series of small to mid-size man-made lakes, known collectively as Lake Ivanhoe, created for fill as part of the 1960 construction of I-4 from Lakeland through Orlando, and used for stormwater retention for most of the downtown basin. Interstate 4 bisects Lake Ivanhoe, bringing commuters and freight to and through Downtown Orlando. Across its tranquil shores lie the tidy neighborhoods of College Park, Orlando's 1920s and 30s first ring suburb, and Ivanhoe Village, a dynamic mixed use district of bungalow homes, industrial uses, warehouses, specialty retail, bars and restaurants along North Orange Avenue. Gaston Edwards Park, on the lake's eastern shore at the intersection of Virginia Drive and N. Orange Avenue, offers a boat launch, an Italian restaurant with outdoor dining, exercise trails, volleyball courts and a fishing pier.

The boat launch at Gaston Edwards Park serves many types of users.
The boat launch at Gaston Edwards Park serves many types of users.

The lake is in the Lake Jesup drainage basin, a part of the Middle St. Johns River Basin, drawing from some 16,000 acres in central Florida, from Lake Dot in Downtown Orlando to Lake Jesup in Seminole County. The basin, principally Lake Jesup itself, is trying to recover from decades of growth. Each rainfall flushes lawn fertilizers, motor oil and other contaminants into the streams and lakes, fostering undesirable, mucky sediments that degrade habitat quality and reduce sport fish populations. Efforts to restore Lake Jesup occur through the Lake Jesup Interagency Restoration Strategy, of which the City of Orlando is a participant to improve water quality through its Greenworks Orlando sustainability initiative.

The turn on I-4 at Lake Ivanhoe is the first opportunity for southbound travelers to take in the full grandeur of Orlando's lakeshore skyline. Lake Ivanhoe also offers a scenic vista for those able to take the slower surface street routes, such as along North Orange Avenue linking Florida Hospital Orlando's Health Village and the Ivanhoe Village Main Street District with Downtown, or Edgewater Drive and Lakeview Avenue, connecting Orlando's venerable College Park neighborhood to downtown. Their confluence is at the mini Statue of Liberty, amid a sea of flowers. Gaston Edwards Park shimmers under a canopy of Live Oaks and other trees, a winding path offering convenience and comfort through the park to connect offices, hotels, antiques and restaurants.

The historic Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center building - a former OUC plant - is in dire need of a rehab.
The historic Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center building - a former OUC plant - is in dire need of a rehab.

But Downtown Orlando's northern gateway could be so much more. The I-4 Ultimate makeover will offer some opportunity to brighten up the dark and dreary overpass above Lakeview Street, but it really feels like Downtown Orlando has turned its back on its front door. Letting a disjointed convergence of interstate highway ramps, one-way surface streets, discontinuous off-road paths, disconnected commercial buildings and impenetrable flora dominate the landscape hinders the creation of publicly accessible and visible space that could serve as an iconic gateway for Downtown Orlando. Stemming from mostly unintentional actions, there is a significant barrier to access and connectivity of adjacent northern neighborhoods to Downtown Orlando.

The Ivanhoe off-ramp creates a visual and physical barrier to Downtown Orlando.
The Ivanhoe off-ramp creates a visual and physical barrier to Downtown Orlando.

The enjoyment of Downtown Orlando's iconic Lake Ivanhoe should not be limited to those who live along the lake or who can launch a boat to fish, paddle around or ski across its surface.  It should also welcome those who want to experience the lake habitat from the shore. There are more than 30 acres of publicly owned land, including right-of-way, on Lake Ivanhoe's shoreline. It may be time to open up access to Lake Ivanhoe as part of an overall strategy to better connect Orlando's neighborhoods with Downtown, create an awesome outdoor city, celebrate Orlando's iconic visual identity, and sustain the city and its natural resources for future generations. With the idea that more visibility and access goes hand in hand with better understanding and sustainability, here are five ideas that could help further that vision:

Lilly pad flowers blooming adjacent to I-4.
Lilly pad flowers blooming adjacent to I-4.
  1. Expand Gaston Edwards Park to include a lakeshore beach and public swimming area.Bring back a prime public spot for beach blankets, wading, kayak launching and swimming, drawing people from surrounding neighborhoods. Perhaps Winter Park's Dinky Dock shoreline provides an example. Access from nearby hotels, residences and businesses would make this a popular draw.

2. Re-new efforts to create a shared use path around Lake Ivanhoe. 

This city initiative died about 10 years ago amid vociferous neighborhood opposition, but maybe it's time to try again. The linkage between College Park and Downtown Orlando is difficult at best, and the lack of well-defined and comfortable path around Lake Ivanhoe is a huge missed opportunity. A growing retail, jobs and entertainment destination on the east side of the lake is an increasing draw for residents of all parts of the city and visitors. Creating continuous linkages between neighborhoods, retail and downtown, with Orlando's Urban Trail as the spine, is critical for shared success.

3. Create interpretative wayfinding signage to convey habitat and resource information.

Providing interactive visual and informative clues about natural character, distances to other destinations and a display of  historic and cultural or artistic resources is the connectivity lubricant of a city. This could help create an emerald necklace among all Downtown Orlando parks and natural areas, from Lake Ivanhoe to Lake Eola, Lake Davis and Lake Lucerne.

A Florida Snowy White Egret feeding among the shore grass.
A Florida Snowy White Egret feeding among the shore grass.

4. Establish public access/fishing areas underneath I-4 as part of the Ultimate I-4 makeover.

A fishing pier underneath I-4 linked by a walking path would be amazing.
A fishing pier underneath I-4 linked by a walking path would be amazing.

Lake Ivanhoe is a stocked lake and part of Fish Orlando! intiative of Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Walking/cycling paths to enable people to fish under the I-4 bridge, perhaps with a pier out into the lake, would add destination appeal.

5. Encourage and support events and festivals along the shore.

Opportunities abound for surprise and delight. Acoustic concerts beneath gangly Live Oaks and Cypress trees at the water's edge; rehabbing and repurposing the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts building for performance and recording space; restaurants showcasing their menus with an "A Taste of Ivanhoe Village" event; water craft and ski shows on select days and times, and street parties on N. Orange Avenue between Ivanhoe Row and the lakeshore with the street closed could make this a more visible and attractive downtown destination.

The future is beckoning. Let's make it happen, Orlando!

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Bike Sharing Cruising Across the Country

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Bike Sharing Cruising Across the Country

TBBS.jpg

Bike Is The New Black

Bike is the New Black
Bike is the New Black

Bicycling is becoming a trendy way to travel in place of the automobile, aided in part by the growing prevalence of bike share programs in cities across the U.S., like DC, Boston, Chicago and many others. These bike share programs can vary depending on the city, but generally, bicycle stations placed at specific destinations or neighborhoods have bicycles available at the swipe of a card or the entering of a PIN. The bicyclist can then drop it off at a station near their destination for another user to take to the road.

It is likely that at some point in the past two months you heard about New York City’s newly launched bike share program, Citi Bike. Of course, NYC  does everything bigger and better than anyone else (seriously, an 18-month public planning process?), but Citi Bike is already a successful program that is still in its infancy. This interactive infographic from The New Yorker shows the geographic usage of the bikes during its first month. While it starts out slow, usage picks up a couple weeks in and clearly becomes widely used for commuting to work. Citi Bike has now become popular enough to warrant inclusion on rental postings as featured amenities.

Tampa Bay Bike Share

Tampa Bay is undertaking its own bike share program, and as a Tampa native and bicycle lover, I’m really excited. Tampa Bay Bike Share is set to launch this fall, with phase one calling for 300 bikes at 40 stations in the Tampa area. Nearby St. Petersburg is also looking to create a similar bike share network to connect the two cities. “It's not about replacing cars, but about giving people an alternative mode of transportation that connects neighborhoods, embraces healthy living, reduces carbon pollution and is cost-effective,” says Andrew Blikken, program director of Tampa Bay Bike Share. Unlike many of the other bike share programs popping up across the country, Tampa Bay Bike Share is more flexible by allowing riders to lock up anywhere, instead of strictly at bike stations. However, there is an incentive to leaving bikes at stations; parking bikes outside of “designated” bike share areas results in an extra retrieval fee. The costs for renting bikes have not been finalized, but a yearly pass will cost less than $100.

Former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn biking on the Tampa Riverwalk
Former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn biking on the Tampa Riverwalk

Florida is one of the most dangerous states for bicyclists, with the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area having a large share of Florida’s bicyclist deaths. To alleviate this problem, it’s not enough to have more bikes; Tampa needs more bikes lanes and trails. Many strides have been made in recent years to improve safety for bicyclists by adding new bike lanes and trails, such as the future completion of the Tampa Riverwalk, the creation of the Selmon Greenway through downtown Tampa, and the Courtney Campbell Trail set to open in 2014 that will connect Tampa to Clearwater. However, it will be vital to the bike share program’s success to create a culture of bicycle transportation in Tampa Bay. In addition to building a network of bike lanes on streets with continuous traffic flow, capacity and safe speeds, Tampa will also need a bigger focus on education and enforcement of rules of the road, for both motorists and bicyclists. One of the biggest deterrents for people to switch from driving to bicycling is the perception of lack of safety on roadways. Addressing these considerations will make roads safer to help people get over their fears, get out on the road and make bicycling a more visible and viable method of transportation for Tampa Bay residents.

Update: Here's an updated list of the 25 Best Bike Share Programs in the world.

–Alana Brasier, Cities That Work Blog

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Creating a Culture of Bicycle Transportation

cyclist in bike lane When I want to get from A to B by bike, I try to find routes where I can reach my destination most efficiently and comfortably. Living in Central Florida, which is mostly pancake-flat, I don’t have to worry about hills. I want a direct route that has minimal conflicts (with pedestrians, other bicyclists, debris, roadkill, what have you) and the ability to maintain a good pace. Off-road trails offer mobility, but they often lack access to destinations and feature hazards of their own, like dogs on long leashes or groups of slow-moving walkers. So I take the streets, often busy with commuters, delivery trucks and distracted drivers.

Creating a culture of on-street bicycle riding takes time and education, but it does not have to take a lot of money. Well-designed bicycle networks provide economic value for the same reason highways and rail lines do: they improve access and mobility. When integrated into a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plan, the two elements of access and mobility have the greatest power of improving the culture of bicycling as transportation, and defining a positive brand identity for a region, community or neighborhood, generating economic returns in several ways.

Street from cyclist's point of view

Different types of bicyclists clearly need different strategies to account for varying levels of experience and comfort. Destination-oriented cyclists benefit from a direct, well-defined routing plan that offers good flow and reduced conflicts. Most cities and urban areas have the basics for such a network already in place using existing streets. Lower speed streets (

Which Bike Facilities?

The knee-jerk response of many agencies is to add bike lanes or other expensive retrofits for separated on-street facilities. They are often poorly designed to reduce costs.

Even when properly designed, that approach results in a patchwork of roads with bike lanes and no real continuity of network for most communities.

What's needed is a coordinated strategy creating a lower cost shared network to make cycling more accepted and inviting. By using streets that best exhibit a few key traits, a plan for shared streets serves motorists and bicyclists equitably, offering both mobility and accessibility. Using shared lane pavement markings (“sharrows") and clear signage does not require right-of-way, offering a more cost-effective and publicly-accepted way of building a network providing mobility and accessibility, generating greater demand. It can have the added benefit of slowing down motorized traffic in appropriate locations, and there is evidence that bicyclists spend more money than auto drivers.

Six Key Considerations

bad bike lane

Selecting the right streets to place bicycling on a more equitable level as cars can have profound effects on personal mobility and economic development. There are six considerations to creating a preferential on-road network offering shared space for bicycle- and car-drivers:

  1. Continuous Traffic Flow. A network of well-spaced collector or minor arterial streets with few stop signs or signals that traverse a city or neighborhood is good for motorists as well as bicyclists. It serves as the backbone of a good bicycling community. A smooth asphalt, non-brick, surface is important. Too many stops at signs or signals disrupts the flow and introduces safety issues for cyclists. These are the bikeways or bike boulevards that link different parts of a community together east to west, north to south.
  2. A Connected Network. Cyclists don't mind riding 1/2 mile or so out of direction to traverse a network of streets offering good flow and fewer conflicts. Stitching this network of different types of streets with distinctive signage, pavement markings, banners and clear maps further reinforces the emphasis on primary routes where cyclists are invited and should be expected.
  3. Capacity Availability. Very experienced cyclists will ride in heavy traffic, but it's intimidating for others. There are many 2- and 4-lane roads operating well below capacity much of the day, making it easy for motorists to safely pass cyclists controlling the lane.
  4. Acceptable Speed Differential. As traffic speeds rise, the need for designated bike lanes or paths increases. Roads with operating speeds of 25 to 35 mph create a more comfortable environment for bicyclists averaging between 10-20 miles per hour without the need for physical separation. Shared lane markings and the presence of bicyclists using the lane can help keep traffic at the desired target speed.
  5. may use full lane signEducation. Many motorists don't get that sharing the road means one at a time, not riding side-by-side. Similarly, many cyclists do not follow the laws of the road. Using sharrows and adding signage reinforces a message that bicyclists belong and where they should ride in the lane. This must be augmented by educational messages and specific training for law enforcement, cyclists and motorists.
  6. Enforcement. Laws vary state to state, but roads with travel lanes less than 14' wide are not suitable for side-by-side sharing. Police play an important role in educational and enforcement efforts so that both car drivers and bicycle drivers operate safely and with respect for each other. It’s critical to get law enforcement on board for an on-street cycling strategy.

Taking those steps to build a citywide network one street at a time will prove effective at both attracting riders and sustaining economic vitality for a more mobile and accessible community.

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