BFC: Indian River County, FL
Last week, we announced the latest round of Bicycle Friendly Communities. Indian River County, FL, is one of the 42 new and renewing communities this round, and the new Bronze-level community is aiming to be the best in the region. This guest post comes to us from Tad Diesel in Indian River County.
An oceanfront community known more for tropical tranquility than vigorous endeavors, Indian River County establishes the climatological border to the topics. It is a placid locality on Florida’s sunrise coast 100 miles north of Miami’s cosmopolitan pace and 100 miles south of Orlando’s tourist attractions. Indian River County offers 16 miles of soft sand ocean beaches — regarded among the best Atlantic shoreline in America — that are rarely crowded. Its fame comes from citrus fruits and nesting turtles.
Good environment — in every sense of the word — is important here. The Indian River Lagoon which cuts a north-south swath through Indian River County is the center of a regional ecology dependent on clean waters for active fishing, farming and tourism industries. And of course, the fabulous Florida climate allows for long bike rides nearly every day of the year.
At the heart of Indian River County sits Vero Beach where economic development retains a constructive old-school appeal imbedded by generations of farmers and small businesses. It’s hard work and everybody is expected to chip in. Even bicyclists.
Under the tent of accountability to contribute, a coalition of civic and business leaders and bicycle enthusiasts was created to promote Indian River County as a bicycle friendly destination, and to put together a plan to make the county even friendlier to future cyclists. Some members of the coalition have been working, planning, doing for decades and the products of their work is everywhere in the county. But when they formed a coalition, things really accelerated.
In 2013 a decision was made to educate school kids on the bicycle rules of the road. In its first year members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, in cooperation with law enforcement, trained more than 3,000 elementary school children on matters related to bicycle safety. In addition to the training, the MPO staff donated and fitted every kid with a new bicycle helmet. The program has become a yearly exercise for Indian River County school children.
In 2015 the Vero Beach business improvement organization, “Main Street Vero Beach,” partnered with Vero Cycling Club announcing the first “Hibiscus Ride,” a signature cycling event, in conjunction with the successful annual Hibiscus Festival. The Hibiscus Ride offered routes ranging from 11 to 100 miles -– the Hibiscus Century! On a spectacularly sunny April morning, more than a hundred cyclists from throughout the region experienced Indian River County’s most beautiful landscape along wide, safe bike lanes that emphasized just how much the county has done over the years to welcome the biking community.
Putting together a signature cycling event is important, to be sure; and it was lots of fun! Yet perhaps the greatest contribution to cycling during the past year has been the energetic advocacy for expansion of the county’s bicycle hospitality. Working in conjunction with the Metropolitan Planning Organization in developing a long term plan for the community, cycling took a central place in conversations. Safer designs, more bike lanes, improved accommodations for the cycling public were all discussed and will certainly occupy significant attention as the county government effectuates its plans for the future.