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Bike-Minded

The results include other biking- and walking-related initiatives such as road-safety education for children and adults and a free bike program. A storefront in the Andy’s Market building houses Simsbury Free Bike and Connecticut Adaptive Cycling, which together loan bicycles, helmets and accessories, as well as handcycles and recumbent cycles for the physically disabled, to residents and visitors alike. Other outgrowths of the trail are bicycle stations and racks around town, riding rallies and town-wide events. “I think [the trail] has put the town on the map,” says Steve Mitchell whose family-owned car dealership donated some of the land for the trail. A cycling enthusiast, board member of the East Coast Greenway and one of the movers who spearheaded the drive for the bike-friendly designation, Mitchell says local businesses have not only benefited from the traffic along the trail, they have become involved themselves.

Beginning this month, the Simsbury Inn offers bicycles, supplied by Simsbury Free Bike, to its guests. The Mitchell Auto Group, whose showroom and car lots are across the street from the inn, allows hotel guests to ride through the property to gain direct access to the trail. At the north end of Hopmeadow Street, Kane’s Market sets out picnic tables for bicyclists who want to grab a sandwich in the store and eat outside. Benny’s of Simsbury, a new restaurant on Hopmeadow, has cleared land behind the building and down to the bike path and plans to apply for a permit for a deck and outdoor seating. Last year, a Connecticut Beer Trail-sponsored bicycle ride began and ended with bikes and beer at Plan B Burger Bar on Railroad Street.

Volunteers and cycling enthusiasts are also working on other projects, including the leap from bronze to silver status in the League of American Bicyclists ranking, and linking the trail to downtown Hartford. “We’re really looking forward to [that] next step,” says Sandy Fry, principal transportation planner for the Capitol Region Council of Governments, whose vision includes biking trails in urban areas. Mitchell, whose pet project is the Simsbury-to-Hartford connection, understands that vision.

“We believe that it would close the gap from suburbia to the city,” he says.

Fry says that the teamwork among the volunteers and town officials and the community support have been impressive. “They’ve been able to imagine a different place, a place where people can bike, or a place where a bicycle can be used for transportation,” Fry says. “If [a person] is not a regular bicycler, it can be hard to imagine ‘This is how I can go by bike.’ But when you see the change, you realize it’s not impossible.”

At least one town resident can point to the trail making a difference in his life.

Phil Plona relies on a motorized wheelchair to get around. “It was a godsend to me,” he says. “I can get on the trail and go to church, to the library, and to the supermarket and drug store. I go downtown; I go all over the place.”

Many other townspeople have also embraced the trail year-round. “When we put in the trail, there was supposed to be no winter access,” Glassman says. “But we found that people walked the trail in the snow. Now, we clear the path.” After Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm, volunteers cleared debris from the paths, says Ann Marie Potter, a town resident who works on the bicycle project.

Glassman is proud of the way government and citizens have worked together, particularly during challenging economic times. “We couldn’t have done it alone. Due to the economic situation, there have been no [town] budget increases in four years,” she says. “The town couldn’t do this alone, although the volunteers couldn’t do it without the support of the town. We’re able to accomplish so much more with community support.”

If one person can make a difference, then this group of like-minded individuals is unstoppable. They have momentum on their side as they race toward their goals – to improve and enlarge the opportunities for biking and walking, to move from bronze to silver and, eventually, to the gold standard of a bicycle-friendly community.

Linda Giuca is a freelance writer based in Deep River.

2012 CONNECTICUT BIKE RACE SCHEDULE


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