State bicycle summit planned, and money available for projects

I have been bicycling in the countryside for fun and exercise for nearly two decades. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 was to make most of my short, in-town trips by bicycle once spring arrived.

Spring arrived last Wednesday. Despite below-freezing temperatures in the morning and a cold afternoon wind, two trips downtown and one to the University of Kentucky campus went well. Since then, it has snowed. And snowed.

Oh well, one of these days the weather will catch up to the calendar. When it does, more Kentuckians will be looking to bicycles as a means of transportation, an enjoyable form of exercise and even a vehicle for economic development.

To jump-start those efforts, the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council and several other organizations are planning the first Kentucky Walk Bike Summit, April 11 and 12 at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort.

WalkBikeThe summit was modeled after the Lexington Bike Summit that Mayor Jim Newberry’s administration helped put together in 2007. It gave momentum to several Lexington efforts, including new bike lanes and the highly popular Legacy Trail.

Bill Gorton, a Lexington lawyer who is chairman of the state Bicycle and Bikeways Commission, said the goal of the summit is to share stories and strategies about successful projects around the state with people in other communities who want to do their own.

“We want to create a place where people get together and meet other people and share the stories about how they made these things happen,” Gorton said. “We’re hoping some of the smaller communities will work with the Transportation Cabinet and other sources of funding and say, ‘You know what, we can do that!'”

Among an extensive list of speakers and panelists are Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, a cyclist who as Louisville mayor began a 100-mile trail around the city; Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock; David Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists; and representatives of state cycling groups and the Federal Highway Administration.

Gorton said the Transportation Cabinet has become more supportive of bike lanes and trails, such as the one connecting Lexington and Wilmore that was built along old U.S. 68 when the road was widened several years ago.

“It took the engineer in the district to say, ‘Hey, we can do that,'” Gorton said. “But these things need continued attention and advocacy.”

In addition to making existing roads safer for cyclists, Gorton said recreational trails can become important economic development assets. They are a part of the Beshear administration’s focus on “adventure tourism.”

One such effort involves converting abandoned rail lines into trails. Kentucky has only about 30 miles of those trails scattered around the state, and most are short. The most ambitious project now under way is the Dawkins Line, which would be a 36-mile trail in Breathitt, Johnson and Magoffin counties.

“There’s lots to see and experience in rural Kentucky, and by creating a destination like that, it can serve as the nucleus of other tourist activities,” Gorton said. “If you could link these with Kentucky State Parks, which are some of the best in the nation, there are great opportunities. You’ve got to have people see the potential.”

For more information and to register for the Kentucky Walk Bike Summit, go to Kywalkbikesummit.com.

I see the tourism potential for road cycling in Central Kentucky every Memorial Day weekend, when I run a rest stop at the annual Horsey Hundred ride. The Bluegrass Cycling Club, of which I am a member, has sponsored the two-day recreational ride for 35 years.

The Horsey Hundred is two days of supported rides of between 26 and 100 miles. The event attracts about 2,000 participants each year. I have met people at the Horsey who came from across North America, including a big group of Canadians who spend more than a week each year riding our back roads (and spending money at our hotels, restaurants and stores).

The Bluegrass Cycling Club makes money on the Horsey and gives most of it away to bicycle-related philanthropic projects in Central Kentucky. Grants are in the $2,000 to $4,000 range. For more information about applying, go to Bgcycling.org. The application deadline for this funding cycle is May 15.

Surely by then the snow will be gone.