Monday, July 19, 2010

Cycle Chic: Jacksonville Beach Style

I Have to admit that throughout the three and half years of Bike Jax there is one section of town I have neglected. That being the area of town known as "The Beaches." While all of it is within and included as part of Jacksonville. The Beaches are three separate municipalities that are made up of Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach. All of which ironically could boast without any doubt or argument as the area of the city with the highest use of bicycles as transportation.

Why have I so rudely forsaken the beaches? Mostly because it's just a pain in the ass to get to and away from. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Jacksonville and its size. It is flipping huge and the largest city in the US for land mass. Just for some perspective, If Jacksonville were a country it would rank 176th out of 233 countries in land mass. Getting anywhere within Jax takes time. Taking a bus from Downtown is 2+ hours roundtrip. Driving while much quicker, at only about an hour roundtrip means traveling down Atlantic or Beach Blvds. Both of which will cause the most calm and subdued of drivers to gouge someones eyes out by the time they arrive at the beach or for the return trip home. Biking to the beach and back? Forget about it. Your only road option for cycling the 19 miles to the beach is Beach Blvd.. It is the only roadway to the beaches that has a bridge with cycling/pedestrian accessibility to cross the Intracoastal Waterway. And if driving on Beach Blvd. isn't a challenge enough for you, try doing it on a bike.

While all the above are valid reason for neglecting the beaches inclusion in Bike Jax. They really don't make up for my laziness and unwillingness to venture out to the beach and enjoy its bike culture.

This weekend I finally got off my ass and made the trip out to the beaches for the inaugural ride of Cycle Chic Sundays hosted by Katie of Cycle Chic Jacksonville. It was not only a bit of culture shock seeing so many bikes in use. It was like a euphoric male dream come true to see so many women on bikes wearing such a wide variety of styles and states of dress.

We met up at Champion Cycling on 3rd st. where I was shocked to not only find bike a shop open on a Sunday, but also packed to the gills with customers. I guess that explains why there are something like 8 bike shops within 2 miles of each other. Bicycles are big business at the beach. And despite my feelings of guilty for doing what I consider as the dumbest thing possible, (but is a necessary evil with Jacksonville's size and lack of planning) driving somewhere to ride a bike. Katie and the rest of the crew of Champion Cycling made me feel very welcome.

Jacksonville Beach should be the bench mark for area planners. They have done just about everything right to make the use of bicycles the best option for transport. The have narrow gridded streets with very low posted speeds (15 - 25 mph) which is heavily enforced. They divert the automobile traffic at certain intersections allowing only bikes and pedestrians to continue and they have very limited public parking which deter the use of cars. I wish the rest of Jacksonville would learn the lessons taught by Jax Beach. If you make the use of the automobile less desirable, people will choose other options in the form of bicycles, walking and mass-transit.

About 20 people showed up for the ride with about half being male. The ladies (thankfully) more than made up for the guys lack of chic. We rode and talked while getting better aquatinted for about an hour and then ended the ride at The Lemon Bar. That is where I got my second big culture shock of the day. Bike parking. It was available everywhere. Outside of the beaches you're very lucky if you can find a bike rack. But at the Lemon Bar alone they have 5 large racks packed full of bikes. I think there were somewhere around 200 bikes attached to just about anything that would hold still long enough to throw a lock around it. And that was just for this establishment. Each business I saw had some sort of bike parking available. What a freaking breath of fresh air it was to see.

There is one more thing I noticed about beaches biking. No culture of fear. I saw only one rider wearing lycra and a helmet. Not once did I get the stink eye or questioned because I wasn't wearing a helmet myself. The beaches with its laid-back lifestyle has it figured out. The only thing you need to ride a bike is a bike... and a place to put your beer.... and few pretty girls or guys to ride with. And that's all you need.

To see all the Beaches Style Cycle Chic goodness, Click HERE.


David J. said...

I go to the beach by way of Beach and Atlantic. I ride Beach to St. Johns Bluff, then get on Atlantic. There's a nice bike lane all the way to the Bridge. I haven't been on Beach since they started building the new bridge.

If you go on a weekend morning Beach Blvd. can actually be kind of nice. There also various sidestreets to take to avoid crappy areas like the Beach/University intersection.

Google maps is a great way to find nice cycle routes and discover parts of Jacksonville you never knew existed.

And if you want to get plastered at the beach you can ride the bus back.

Of course, proper cycling attire and a road bike make the trip less painful. You can stow your chic threads in a pannier or backpack.

Ohmboy said...

We ride from Atlantic and Hodges to the beach regularly. The key is to get off Atlantic as you cross the ditch (Intercoastal Waterway). There are no bike lanes on either Atlantic or Beach, so you are religated to ride the sidewalk and cross at least 100 business entrances and all the danger that involves. The buses and pick-ups rip along pretty close to the curb, so street riding is not safe. All the work the city of JAX has done to get bike lanes on the major roads, and the lanes dissapear once you hit the beach communities. Poor planning and not as bike friendly as you mention. No bike lanes on A1A, either, even though they are completing a major re-work (I thought the city was bound by law to add bike lanes any time the road work was considered "major")?
The key to get off Atlantic is to take Florida Ave., which starts right where the Mayport Road flyover takes a turn to the north. It is under the bridge, and goes to the right (south) before turning east toward the beach. Florida has a nice multi-use path on the north side, and goes all the way to 3rd avenue (A1A), where you can go north or south on the side streets to get where you need to be.

Anonymous said...

I found that Atlantic is a much safer route to get to the beach as well. I start at Southside and Deerwood parkway, to Gate Parkway, go past (or behind) Town Center, go through the UNF, and head North along the great Kernen bike path to Atlantic.

It is fine until you pass over the inter-coastal bridge, then you need to find a bike friendly route such as Florida Ave which someone else suggested.

On the southern side I have biked up from St Augustine up A1A, or up the route starting from Phillips Hwy (US1), going up palm valley road, and traveling up the slightly risky shoulderless mickler road.

In either of these South routes, when it reaches micklers landing at A1A I chose to stick to the meandering sidewalk path along A1A until I got to the JTB intersection and could get to the roads next to the beach. But, there is Pontre Vedra Blvd (SR203) that looks like it might be a better option. I just have not tried that route yet. Terry S.

Cait said...

Is this still going on?? I know a TON of girls at the beach that would love to be involved, but I haven't heard of anything going on as of late...