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Car-centric Apopka approves plan to build network of walking, biking trails

APOPKA, Fla. — Seeing the success other cities have had in creating walkable communities, Apopka leaders are hoping to steer the city away from its car-oriented habits and encourage more people to enjoy the outdoors on their own two feet.

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Wednesday night, city council members approved a plan to build a network of walk and bike paths through the city to connect downtown to parks, restaurants and grocery stores.

The long-term proposal, acting as a type of master plan, expands upon the small number of paths already in place or under construction, and mainly follows roads with enough existing right-of-way to accommodate the extra eight feet of asphalt.

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Staff members and Bike/Walk Central Florida, which partnered on the proposal, broke the plan into two phases, starting with linking downtown to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Trail network via Binion and Boy Scout roads.

“I don’t want this to be a coffee table book, something that you just stick in your office and say ‘Look how pretty it is,’” Apopka Transportation Coordinator Pam Richmond told council members Wednesday night. “This is actually a plan that we want to use.”

Another staff member explained that the network was created with as many loops as possible to accommodate people who used it for exercise, which feedback sessions showed was a top priority. Routes were also chosen to help link Apopka’s network to the greater network of bike paths being built throughout the county.

When the network is complete, staff said more than 46,000 people would live within a half mile of a trail, up from 25,000 today.

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The plan is being supplemented with additional proposals to construct on-street bike lanes and close sidewalk gaps on quieter streets.

Part of the decision to bring a vote before council this week was so staff could begin working with developers on the construction of the network. City leaders do not plan to pay for the entire project themselves. While the city will fund some of it, they’re looking at available state and federal programs – and hoping to use the path as a bargaining chip when negotiating with developers who want their projects approved.

“To help point developers in a direction to say, ‘This is why we need this type of roadway improvement, or this is why we need the segment of right of way to build this trail, or this is why we need you to build that section of trail, and here’s what those standards might look like,” Emily Hanna, Executive Director of Bike/Walk Central Florida said.

There is no timeframe for the network’s completion and staff described it as more of a “living document” that could be adjusted and modified as conditions allowed.

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However, the plan was greeted by a unanimous council vote – as well as cheered on by audience members and joggers around town the next day.

“Yeah, for sure,” Archie Simon, who jogs on the street where sidewalks aren’t available, said. “Just because doing this three to four times a week, you just got to be careful.”

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