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The Villages
Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Villages honored for gold-level support of local bicycling community

In recognition of its commitment to bicycling, The Villages received the Bicycle Friendly Community Gold Level Award from the League of American Bicyclists on Monday evening at RJ Gator’s restaurant at Lake Sumter Landing.

The national organization had evaluated The Villages, along with its residents’ bicycle clubs, in several criteria, ranging from the number and miles of bicycle-friendly roads; educational initiatives in area public schools on bicycle safety; bicycle-friendly laws and ordinances; to the number of events conducted during National Bike Month.

“More than 1,500 communities have applied to be assessed since the League began its Bicycle Friendly Community program in 1995. Only 450 have reached the Gold Standard,” explained John Komoroske, president of the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club (SLBC), who also served as the ceremony’s emcee. 

The Villages becomes the first community in Florida and the first retirement community in the country to be so honored. 

The application had been submitted by the Bicycle Friendly Advisory Council – a cooperative venture of three of The Village’s bicycling groups: the SLBC that has some 900 members; the Village Bicycle Club with more than 150 enthusiasts; and the 200 participants of the Florida PANTHERS Tandem Club. 

League of American Bicyclists Board Chairman Ralph Monti presents the designation to Villages District Manager Janet Tutt.

Ralph Monti, chairman of the Board of the League, presented the award to Villages District Manager Janet Tutt and especially praised The Villages’ bicycle clubs for their establishment of the BFAC; their 10 nationally certified bicycle instructors; and the development of Cycling in The Villages, a document for residents on how to get around on bikes through the community.

Diana Mirkin, the Council’s chair and guiding force in the application’s development, described the process and the role of the League.

Prior to the ceremony are John Komoroske, Bob Jordan, Diana Mirkin, Rose Jordan, Bob Thompson and Dave Lawrence.

Komorske earlier had introduced several dignitaries, including state Sen. Dennis Baxley, who had supported the Florida’s “Move Over for People” legislation to protect bicyclists and other vulnerable road users, and Becky Afonso, the executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association.

He also welcomed Villages officials Richard Baier and John Rohan; as well Chief Chris McKinstry of the Lady Lake Police Department, and Lt. Robert Siemer representing the Sumter County Sheriff Department.

Komoroske also singled out Dick Campbell, president of The Villages Hospital Auxiliary Foundation. “In the past two years, the SLBC’s Hearts For Our Hospital events, which are directed Pat and Lori Gillis, have raised $125,000 for the hospital and health scholarships for area students,” he said.

Finally, he acknowledged presidents Bob Thompson of the Florida PANTHERS Tandem Bicycle Club and Chris Schmidt of the Village Bicycle Club.

Enjoying each other’s company are members of the Florida PANTHERS — Partners Aboard Neat Tandems Happily Enjoying Riding Simultaneously.

The Villages was designated a Bicycle Friendly Community four years ago, said Dave Lawrence, the SLBC’s director of safety and Board of Directors secretary. 

“We all have worked to establish rules of riding safety and standards that coincide with local laws and regulations, as well as emphasize non-mandated regulations such as ensuring bicyclists’ proper hydration, and their use of helmets and daytime safety lights,” he emphasized.  “We want to be predicable to drivers.”

The League of American Bicyclists was founded in 1880 as the League of American Wheelmen. These pioneer bicyclists, then called wheelmen, were “challenged by rutted roads of gravel and dirt and faced antagonism from horsemen, wagon drivers and pedestrians.” An early goal was the paving of roads. 

Today, the Washington, D.C.-based organization, on behalf of its 20,000 members in every state, works to “celebrate and preserve the freedom that cycling brings to our members everywhere.”

Monti had praised the efforts of bicyclists throughout Florida, whose community organizing and legislative accomplishments have raised the state’s ranking from 28th to 15th place in the past four years.

Lori Gillis, center, takes orders for the newly designed SLBC shirts from Ed Deichler and Cindy Carpenter.

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