The rise in the popularity of e-bikes and continued user growth of bicyclists on the Pinellas Trail is calling for some improved signage and messaging.
During a Thursday Pinellas County Commission work session, Whit Blanton with Forward Pinellas, Joan Rice with Public Works and Paul Cozzie, the parks and conservation resources director, presented an update on the user status of the trail and changes.
To date, the 67-mile trail attracts over 2 million visitors annually. With the high usage, issues have surfaced such as trail courtesy, speeding on the trail, and the somewhat lack of the common pedestrian and biker knowledge to “keep right except when passing.”
When the trail was first developed, the cyclists and pedestrians were separated on the trail, which the trail markings can still be seen today, but over the years, the county said the standard “keep right” knowledge is what’s used today but needs to become more prevalent.
Commissioner Dave Eggers said it may be “culturally morphing” but it’s evident that not enough users are courteous of others while on the trail and the rules must be clear.
“The ‘keep right’ philosophy is used in lots of trails not just in the State of Florida, but nationwide. We do have segments where the pedestrian area splits off to one side. Until those areas are resurfaced and the grass is removed, and it becomes the same width everywhere, we suggest the pedestrians still use that, but keep right,” Rice said. “Just like in a two-lane roadway and you have oncoming traffic, you need to slow down and wait your turn and then go around. There’s common courtesy and you have to realize the trail is for everyone and not just the bicycle.”
As a result, Rice said there will be new pavement markings and online tools.
The update comes as a new 6.7-mile section was completed that runs through the Countryside area of Clearwater to John Chestnut St. Park in Palm Harbor. Meanwhile, construction will start next year for a pedestrian bridge over the Lake Tarpon Outfall Canal that would be completed in the summer of 2024.
The presentation by staff also included the increase of e-bikes on the trail.
The county conducted a three-week survey in April about the types of bikes used on the trail and discovered the following from 2,000 respondents:
- 52% use traditional bikes
- 20% use e-bikes only
- 19% use both types of bikes
- 9% are non-bicyclist
The survey found that the majority of people use e-bikes due to physical disabilities, limiting their mobility, and they are used to commute to destinations quickly, and are a clean energy alternative when compared to traditional vehicles.
The survey showed 80% of the non-e-bike users cited safety concerns as to why they don’t utilize e-bikes.
“It is embraced [e-bike usage], but just like how pedestrians are upset by the traditional bike rider, they [e-bikers] can fly by them and not have the courtesy to forewarn them they are passing,” Rice said, highlighting the concerns that people have voiced such as the e-bikes being so quiet that it’s difficult to know if they are about to pass them.
Blanton said e-bikes are the fastest growing market of bicycle sales and the county, as well as neighboring municipalities, allow e-bikes.
However, whether it be e-bikes or traditional bikes, the county staff shared the unified message – the trail is for everyone, and everyone must follow the rules.