PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Getting around Palm Beach County by bike can be a bumpy ride, but some cyclists and their advocates say their rides are getting smoother while admitting a lot more work needs to be done.
The signs of improvement are everywhere. There are increasingly more bike lanes in the county, and last year, the county adopted a bicycle master plan designed to make cycling a viable form of transportation in the county. Cities are putting in more bike racks. Plus, there's more emphasis on bicycle safety.
"It has improved," said Bernie Kite, a member of the Boca Raton Bicycle Club, recalling five years ago when his club was in a battle with the state to include bike lanes on State Road A1A. "We've gotten more official bike lanes — they're marked."
There even have been small, but symbolic improvements. In January, the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization launched a Web-based application called BIKE Palm Beach that allows bike riders to plan the best routes for bike riding. A mobile version is in the works and will be available in about a year.
But even with those accommodations, Palm Beach County isn't as bike friendly as it could be, say cyclists.
"There is much more to do," said Jim Smith, a Delray Beach bike and pedestrian advocate.
Bret Baronak, the Palm Beach MPO's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, agrees that the county has just "scratched the surface" when it comes to accommodating cyclists.
Still, he points out that bike lanes have expanded 25 percent in the county in the last five years.
"That's a pretty good jump," he said. "The infrastructure is better in Palm Beach County than it was 10 years ago."
Consider Lake Worth. Its Community Redevelopment Agency adopted a bicycle master plan in 2009. Last year, it completed more than 7 miles of new bike lanes in downtown Lake Worth. On narrow roads that couldn't accommodate bike lanes, the CRA put in "sharrows," a bike symbol and arrows on the road that remind motorists to share the road with cyclists.
Later this year, the CRA plans to install bike racks in the downtown. Eventually, the plan calls for more bike lanes, bike lockers and bike paths, including one along the Florida East Coast Railroad.
With the large number of bike riders in the city, improving the infrastructure just made sense to ensure cyclists got around town safely, said Chris Dabros, Lake Worth CRA project manager.
"It was also to encourage people to use bikes when possible to cut down on the vehicular traffic in the downtown area," he said.
In Boca Raton, which since 2003 has been named a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Cyclists, officials have added colored bike lanes to residential streets to better differentiate them from the rest of the road.
"It provides more of a calming effect [on traffic]," said Joy Puerta, the city's transportation analyst.
This increased interest on the part of cities and the county to accommodate cyclists is part of a shift in mindset.
"It's more mainstream than it's ever been," Baronak said. "There are people out there who want to do the right thing."
Smith agrees. He's working with developers of the Atlantic Plaza project in downtown Delray Beach to encourage them to provide bike facilities, such as lockers and showers for employees who get to work by bike. That's something he thinks developers wound not have considered five years ago.
People may be noticing the changing environment for cyclists and are willing to hit the road more. In West Palm Beach, the number of people commuting to work by bike nearly tripled between 2006 and 2011 from 256 to 753, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
But that could be a reflection of what's happening nationwide as more people use bikes for transportation because of gas prices or to decrease their carbon footprint, Baronak said.
Some are calling it a national cycling renaissance as more cities transform roads to make room for cyclists.
Don Braverman, a longtime Palm Beach County cycling advocate, said there are clearly more cyclists in the county.
And he's grateful for the increased emphasis on safety for cyclists. The Florida Department of Transportation approved signs for A1A, a haven for cyclists, reminding motorists to give cyclists 3-feet of space when passing them but also reminding cyclists to follow the law and not ride more than two abreast. Some cities have also put out electronic message boards touting the same messages.
"It has been easier," Braverman said. "We've definitely seen improvement thanks to advocacy groups and the help of the municipalities."
Still, Bob Sabin, who serves on the Palm Beach MPO's bike advisory board, hasn't been that impressed with the county's progress. While the county did approve a bike master plan, it stopped there.
"That was good," he said. "Not much has happened since then."
Budget constraints are hindering much of the proposed improvements. And the cycling community is hesitant about
making a big fuss because of tight budgets, Sabin said. But he points out inexpensive measures could be done like simply designating shoulders as bike lanes with a little paint.
"We've increased the awareness in the county of the desire and needs of the cyclists," he said. "But cyclists need to communicate more."