Promising leadership forms for the Greenway and for trails in Jacksonville

What a ride it’s been and it only gets better!

2010 marks the start of my 34th year in adult cycling and my fourth with the Greenway Alliance. Whatever I may have learned so far seems ready to peak in the new year in outreach to fellow cyclists, to fellow Greenway supporters, and to the transition of public policy toward sustainability. Sustainability is the rising wind at our backs.

Blowing that favorable wind are growing numbers of organizations, agencies and individuals that grasp how transformational a long-distance trails system can be. The Greenway is more than just a safe route for getting from here to there. It’s also a prescription for much that ails America. In the same way that the route cuts through cities that it connects, it’s also most promising for helping cure a nation desperate for fitness, for cost efficient transportation alternatives, and for recovering its sense of place.

In Jacksonville, I’m inspired by leadership ready to innovate by engaging bicycling, trails and ecotourism, though let me note that if I’ve learned anything from advocacy, it’s that advocates always have to proceed cautiously. When we’re not putting up our own money, even the best ideas count less than they otherwise might.

In Jacksonville we’ve been blessed with the leadership of Mayor John Peyton. As he nears the end of his two consecutive terms in office, the mayor has become willing to turn to non-traditional solutions to policy issues. Early in the new year, he has scheduled himself to appear at the re-launch of the First Coast Trails Coalition, a mix of advocates, officials and private sector people who grasp how trails and bicycling can contribute to improving downtown Jacksonville, while also benefiting quality of life and transportation diversity.

Meetings will also take place early in the new year with the leaders of the public-private Downtown Vision and of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, a mayoral agency. These meetings, as well as the re-launch of the regional trails coalition will also focus on downtown but also on finishing a 10-mile inner city trail loop that stands to benefit long disadvantaged sections of town.

Establishment figures have been crucial in getting things done, notably EverBank of Jacksonville leader David Strickland and lawyers John M. Welch, Jr., and Robert M. Rhodes, both of Foley & Lardner — Rhodes a cyclist. Banker Strickland last year already arranged critical funding for a milestone tour of northeast Florida for the leadership of the Coastal Georgia Greenway. Almost 20 learned while cycling from achievements and mistakes that northeast Florida has so far experienced. Now David is backing an ecotourism initiative that works hand in glove with trail building and cycling and that also encompasses downtown as integral among Jacksonville’s exceptional heritage resources.

Indispensable to Jacksonville efforts has been Trail Council member Steven Davis ASLA. Steve has worked with the Greenway Alliance since our milestone board and council meetings in Jacksonville almost three years ago. At a time when the economy has slowed professional demands, Steve has seized the chance to learn all he can about trails advocacy. When the economy more fully turns around, his skills will be more valuable than ever.

Thanks very much, Steve, and all. Happy New Year!

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