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    Bike trail sets new standard

    It's relatively inexpensive and winds through the hilly, natural areas of Hernando and Pasco counties.

    By DAN DeWITT

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001


    The Suncoast Parkway might be controversial, but it is hard to find a dissenting opinion on the accompanying bike trail, the first of its kind in Florida.

    "This is the one part of the project that everybody is eagerly awaiting," parkway spokeswoman Joanne Hurley said. "No matter what group I talk to, people think the trail is a good idea."

    The cost, $9-million, comes to less than 2 percent of the $507-million price of the total road project. The design of the trail -- a 12-foot wide swath of asphalt that is separate from the roadway, undulates with the terrain and is landscaped with native pines and oaks -- has drawn praise from planners.

    "It's first class," said Dennis Dix, Hernando County's transportation planning coordinator.

    "They attempted to keep as much of its natural surroundings as possible. It rolls with the topography. It has a much different feel than (flat and straight) rail-trails."

    The trail, which eventually will run 39 miles from Lutz Lake-Fern Road in Hillsborough County to U.S. 98 just south of the Citrus-Hernando line, was the first in the state to be built next to an expressway, she said. That, she said, helped keep the cost down because the state did not have to acquire additional right of way or hire a separate contractor to build it. If it is successful, and most people informed about bike trails think it will be, this practice will become standard for turnpike projects in Florida, she said.

    It came about because the road was being designed, in the early 1990s, just as the state Department of Transportation began to think seriously about accounting for cyclists and walkers.

    Early on, Hurley said, planners saw that this kind of facility helped distinguish the parkway from other road projects.

    "It's been part of the plan since the beginning," Hurley said.

    Many cyclists are unhappy about the construction of the parkway, but as long as it's being built they are glad it is coming with a bicycle trail.

    "I'm thrilled to death," said Glenn Weber, owner of San Antonio Cyclery in Pasco County.

    "If you could connect it with the Withlacoochee (Trail State Park) and then down to the Pinellas Trail, then we'd really have something."

    Some of these connections are planned, but are still years away, Dix said. In fact, the trail itself is not finished. Only 21 miles of the parkway -- from the trailhead just south of State Road 50 to the proposed Ridge Road exit -- are complete, Hurley said. Workers have not completed landscaping the southern 8 miles of the path, and some of it has not been paved.

    It does not extend all the way to Veterans Expressway, the southern terminus of the parkway, Hurley said.

    * * *

    Trail activities

    Here's a few do's and don'ts from by the state Turnpike District for the bike trail that runs parallel to the Suncoast Parkway. Counties may make additional rules, said parkway spokeswoman Joanne Hurley. Hernando, for example, already has decided to ban pets on leashes, and unlike the Pinellas Trail, which is swept every day, inline skaters will have to be alert for obstructions such as pine needles and acorns.

    Allowed: cycling, inline skating, running and walking.

    Not allowed: motorized vehicles and horses.

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