Saturday, August 25, 2007
By Gary White
The first challenge of cycling is finding safe places to ride. Some riders might not mind merging with cars on busy roads lacking designated outer cycling zones, but I, for one, prefer a country road where vehicular traffic is relatively light.
How to find such roads? Word of mouth is always a good approach; find experienced local riders and ask where they do their pedaling (or join them on a ride to find out for yourself). Another option is to check a map and scope for roads that look promising. But a standard road map won't give any indication of traffic volume, road width or the presence of bike lanes.
Fortunately, a specialized map for cyclists fills in the details. Polk County Sports Marketing, a government-controlled agency, publishes a cycling map of the entire county, with thoroughfares shaded in green, yellow or red. The legend explains each color (original syntax left intact):
Green - Roads with light traffic. Bicyclists should use caution.
Yellow - Roads with medium traffic, or roads with heavy traffic with paved shoulders/bike lanes. Bicyclists should use caution.
Red - Roads with heavy traffic and/or exhibit other conditions which make them dangerous. - These roads should be avoided by bicyclists.
My map, a few years old, shows several green stretches in central Lakeland - notably the circle of Lake Hollingsworth Drive (which has a bike strip on the inner shoulder) and spokes running out on Buckingham Avenue, Hibriten Way, Johnson Avenue and Success Avenue. Several yellow roads head westward, the direction generally favored by cycling groups.
Of course, rampant development means any map of Florida is somewhat outdated by the time it's published. My map is a few years old. Kris Keprios of Polk County Sports Marketing said the most recent version came out last summer, before the Fort Fraser Trail, running along U.S. 98 from Bartow to Lakeland, was completed.
Keprios said limited copies of the current map are available, and his agency will publish an updated version at some point. To order a copy, call 800-828-7655 or go online to www.visitcentralflorida.org.