A group of St. Johns County residents is citing widespread safety and accessibility concerns as the driving factors behind their push for the addition of a 10-foot, multi-use trail along the west side of SR-A1A, from Vilano Beach Town Center to Mickler Road in Ponte Vedra Beach.
“The traffic situation on A1A has been getting denser over the years,” said Al Aldrich, a Vilano Beach resident and president of the North Shores Improvement Association. “Families along Ponte Vedra South—some of them say they’re trapped in their neighborhood unless they have an automobile to get out. It’s a painted line 4 to 6 inches wide that separates the bike path from the traffic, and little kids and a lot of people – with all those cars going by at 60 to 70 miles per hour – they just don’t feel comfortable.”
Aldrich believes that the most practical solution to these concerns would be the proposed trail, which would be designated for use by pedestrians and nonmotorized vehicles, such as bicycles, wheelchairs and baby carriages.
“With the multi-use path, we’ll have a 3-foot grass buffer, then the 10-foot path, and then another grass buffer that goes to the end of the right of way,” he explained.
If approved, funding for the project would come from the Florida Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Network through the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). An official request for funding was submitted last week, but according to Aldrich, this isn’t the first time such a trail has been proposed.
“It was a core priority [for the state] back in 2006,” he said. “It never got accomplished, and one of the reasons was they never had anyone champion the project. It just fizzled away. North Shores Improvement Association is going to be the champion of this project, and we’re going to push, and push and push until we get our trail.”
Given the amount of support the proposal has already garnered, their efforts seem to be working. Among the trail’s backers are Friends of A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway, East Coast Greenway, the North Florida Bicycle Club and several homeowners’ associations, among others.
For Mark Atkins, president of the North Florida Bicycle Club, a multi-use trail would mean increased safety for cyclists on a dangerous road.
“As you go up and down A1A, the bike lanes are sometimes obstructed by people who park in the bike lanes – even though that’s not legal – or they’ve got their trash pail or recycling bin sitting in the bike lane,” he said. “[Cyclists] have to keep popping out of the bike lane into the traffic lane to get around those obstructions.
“I think what we’re seeing from our petition is that there’s a lot of interest in having a safe corridor up and down A1A, and I think that it will be well-used by people along this entire corridor,” Atkins added.
To date, the group’s online petition has been signed by more than 400 people, and not all of them are locals. People from all over the United States have weighed in on the proposal, and even some from other countries.
“As a visitor to the area each year, it would be a boost to have a safe place to walk and cycle,” wrote Liz Paterson, of the United Kingdom. “These exercises have become particularly stressful in the last few years with the increase in traffic.”
According to Aldrich, the support of visitors and tourists can be just as influential in the approval process as that of St. Johns County residents.
“I talked to FDOT, and they said that it’s wonderful to hear what the visitors want,” he said. “All those comments make a difference.”
As he continues to focus on raising support, Aldrich said he is optimistic about the proposal’s odds of approval.
“I think things will work out,” he said. “A person that abuts up on the road might have some objections, but the people that live behind them in the subdivisions want the trail to be able to get their families on their bicycles, go out of the subdivision and onto a trail.”
Those looking to sign the petition or learn more about the proposal can do so at www.gopetition.com/petitions/a1a-multiuse-trail-vilano-to-mickler.html.