Sasa and Marc Deutscher walk their dog, Cory, on the paved bicycle
and pedestrian path along A1A in Boca Raton. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Margie Plunkett
A paved bicycle and pedestrian path along State Road A1A is about to make Boca Raton a trailblazer — as the city is set to become a link in the planned 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway Trail System that will someday connect Calais, Maine, to Key West.
Boca Raton would be among the first in Palm Beach County to connect with the East Coast Greenway, if the city’s designation is approved in November.
The existing bike and pedestrian path that runs 5½ miles through Boca Raton along the west side of A1A is under consideration for the Greenway designation.
“The launch of the ECG is considered one of the nation’s most ambitious long-distance urban trail projects,” said a memo from City Manager Leif Ahnell to the mayor and City Council.
The East Coast Greenway Alliance envisions its eastern seaboard trail serving local and long-distance bicyclists, pedestrians and other non-motorized travelers for transportation, recreation, exercise and tourism, according to the resolution Boca Raton Council passed at its Oct. 10 meeting endorsing the planned designation.
The Greenway encourages people to spend more time outside for better health and fitness and will have economic benefits as well as encourage biking and walking as transportation modes, the Alliance says.
Boca Raton has “something that they like,” Assistant City Manager Mike Woika said. “We have a well-used path segregated from the road.”
The path was created in partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation some time ago, Woika said.
The local trail section follows other county designations in Jupiter and West Palm Beach, both with paths along the Intracoastal Waterway, according to Bret Baronak of the Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO is working with FDOT and the Alliance to assemble the trail in the county.
The full Greenway currently connects 15 states and is still being assembled. Florida, too, is under development, with segments identified in the Keys and north Florida, among other areas. When finished, the state will have some 300 miles of Greenway.
“It’s tough to say” when the Greenway will be completed in Florida, Baronak said. “It could be several years down the road.”
The completion will be determined by how long it takes to identify the pieces to the Greenway puzzle.
“As we’re working in the dense urban portion of the county, these areas just don’t exist,” Baronak said. “We have to figure out where we’re going to fit parts of the pathway.”
There’s been talk of constructing a path in the railway right-of-way of the Florida East Coast Railway, an initiative to add rail transportation to potential passengers from the state’s eastern coastal communities, Baronak said.
Building the 86-mile bike path tied to the railway is uncertain and depends on the success of the latter project. “It could take a lot of work to get it on the burner,” Baronak said.
“Until then, we’ll piecemeal it together,” he said, noting the East Coast Greenway is one of the priority Greenway corridors throughout Florida.
The Alliance doesn’t actually build the Greenway trails, but, like in Boca Raton, negotiates to designate segments that are already built or that municipalities and counties are funding.
The Alliance is “encouraging counties and cities to build trail heads and bathrooms and add furniture — like fountains — and wildflowers to beautify the trails,” said Herb Hiller, the Alliance’s Southeast program consultant, who covers Florida and Georgia.
Hiller has biked some of the local trails en route to the Keys, noting the mix of tropical beauty and industrial settings.
One very industrial 18-mile segment prompted Hiller’s comment: “There ain’t no feng shui there.”
The Alliance’s Trail Committee is meeting Nov. 17 in Richmond, Va., to address Boca Raton’s designation as well as others, according to a memo from Baronak, who is the MPO’s senior planner and bicycle, greenways and pedestrian coordinator.
The trail in Boca Raton first needs FDOT endorsement before it goes to the Alliance’s committee, because most of the city’s trail is on FDOT right of way. After endorsement, signage intended to clearly mark Greenways Trails can go up on Boca Raton’s path.
The Greenway project isn’t the only trail system here. “Thousands a year ride the trails in Florida,” said Baronak. The nonprofit American Trails recognized Florida for having the best trails in the United States in 2008.
“Long-distance bicycle touring is a growing pastime,” said Baronak. “The demographics show those bikers have a better than average income. They’ll come down here and spend some money.”