Park Avenue workers embrace alternative transit

Winter Park is pushing for more cyclists, walkers and bus riders with a new program.

Winter Park is pushing for more cyclists, walkers and bus riders with a new program.

Tim Freed

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Winter Park residents and shop owners along Park Avenue switched up their daily routines on Dec. 20 by walking, riding bikes and taking buses instead of driving, an initiative set in place by the Florida Department of Transportation to get residents thinking of cheaper and more efficient ways of commuting.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s reThink program helped residents adjust to the change by setting up carpools for the public and giving free bus passes to city employees and local merchants.

The FDOT program promoted the idea that many residents may live close enough to walk or ride a bike to work, saving them time and money while freeing up the roads for residents who don’t have a choice but to drive, FDOT spokesperson Jessica Keane said.

“Our goal is always to have people rethink their commute,” Keane said. “Some people aren’t aware of how easy it might be to actually get on the bus and get to downtown Winter Park.”

“It’s really just to benefit everyone.”

The push on Dec. 20 was much more than a brief change of pace, it was a hopeful glimpse into the future along Park Avenue, Winter Park Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Chapin said.

An initiative to cut down the number of drivers along Park Avenue has been in the works for almost two years, set in motion following the approval of the new SunRail station nearby. The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and Rollins College partnered with FDOT to get people used to the idea of commuting without the hassle of sitting in traffic.

The Chamber hoped that giving people a chance to change the way they commute for a day would begin to smooth out the transition into a new era of SunRail travel, Chapin said.

“The future is we have to look for alternative ways to commute,” Chapin said. “The traffic situation in Central Florida is just out of control. With SunRail, I think that’s really going to open people’s minds and get people in the mindset like the they do in the Northeast where, ‘Hey, people commute to work, they don’t necessarily drive to work.’”

Motivating residents to ride a bike or walk to work could free up parking spaces in the city’s downtown, making room for visitors and other residents to park and shop along Park Avenue, Keane said. The shortage in parking along the Avenue has been a recent focus for the City Commission and city staff, who most recently freed up 29 parking spaces near City Hall last month to boost foot traffic for local shops during the crucial holiday season.

Fewer drivers on the road could do more than open up parking spaces, reThink Operations Manager Courtney Miller said. Fewer drivers means less smoke emissions coming from tailpipes, and more oil being conserved.

But one of the biggest benefits for residents leaving their car keys at home may be found in their wallets, Miller said.

“A lot of folks only consider how much they spend to fill up their gas tank,” Miller said. “Well, that’s not all it costs to drive.”

The Your Driving Costs publication from AAA for 2013 reported that the average driver pays 61 cents per mile to drive, including gas, maintenance and insurance.

That adds up to $10,000 per year for the average driver, Miller said.

The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and Rollins College will host a SunRail Breakfast at the Alfond Inn on Jan. 30, where they will outline plans to create new bike share and carpool programs for the city, Chapin said.

“We’re one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities; our walkability score is extremely high,” Chapin said.

“This is really the first step in educating our visitors and residents on different transit opportunities.”

SunRail itself is set to be up and running in May 2014.