As the City of Marco Island’s bicycle pathways master plan nears completion, increasing bicycle traffic island-wide supports the maxim that “if you build it, they will come.”
When the Bike Pathways Committee was formed in 2006 to “promote safe and convenient bicycle access to all parts of Marco Island,” there were no in-road bike lanes or shared-use paths on the entire island.
14 years later, there are only a few pieces of the city’s comprehensive master plan left to complete. You can access the 2020 bike path map here: www.cityofmarcoisland.com/bc-bpvc.
Shared-use paths (8-foot-wide sidewalks) on either side of Collier Boulevard entering the island are currently being completed, providing safe cycling for the entire length of the island’s main north-south artery.
A major section of the shared-use path along the island’s main east-west artery, San Marco Road, was recently completed from Barfield Drive to Marco Island Academy. That path is scheduled to be completed later this year. Upon completion, the path will run the entire length of San Marco Road, from the Stan Gober bridge to Residents’ Beach.
It is currently possible to cycle just about anywhere on the island on a shared-use path or low traffic road.
Residents and visitors alike are flocking to the new paths.
“They appreciate the wideness of the paths,” said Matt Walthour, owner of two Island Bike Shop locations, one on the island, the other in East Naples. Walthour is also a member of the bike path committee and a title sponsor of the YMCA’s annual Tour de Marco bicycle event coming up on Sunday, February 21.
“People love it,” Walthour said. “They’re surprised. It’s been great. I think the paths on Collier have been a good thing, and I’ve noticed a lot more people riding over the bridge. I’ve had people rent a bike at my Naples shop and just drop the bike off here. That’s about a 15-mile ride. They’ll do it on a cruiser or hybrid. It’s been great. People are even comfortable riding on the in-road lanes because people are courteous. They see ‘em in the road and they go around.”
Walthour has owned the Island Bike Shop on Bald Eagle Drive since 1997. He’s been amazed at the growth in cycling on the island. He credits a lot of that to the island’s network of in-road bike lanes and shared-use paths.
“I think the bike pathways committee, what we’ve done, for an island this size, it’s amazing,” Walthour said. “People are just amazed at how good the facilities are here for such a small little island. I get a lot of repeat folks who’ve been coming here 15 years renting bikes. They say, ‘Every year it gets better and better.’ It’s great; it’s a testament to the city.”
You could say cycling is in Walthour’s blood. It goes back to his great-grandfather, Bobby Walthour, a two-time World Champion. It continues today with several of Walthour’s cousins in the bicycling hall of fame. Matt’s happy fixing bicycles.
“When people ask me why I don’t race,” Walthour said with a laugh, “I tell them it’s a lot easier to fix them than to ride them. Bicycling has pretty much been my life. I’ve been lucky.”
Walthour certainly has his finger on the pulse of the island’s bicycling community. He deals with a lot of tourists who are cycling on the island for the first time.
“I kind of tell the beginners to stick to the shared-use paths,” he said. “I send them out on a 10-to-15-mile route. It’s perfect for a day out. They’ll stop somewhere for lunch. I try to send people to the museum because they’re into history. People are fascinated by the history of this island; it’s pretty cool. We give ‘em the map, tell ‘em to use their bells. People on the island, for the most part, are courteous. I tell people renting bikes to ride with traffic, be courteous, stop at the stop signs. I’ve never heard of an issue with anybody. It’s been good. I rent mostly cruisers. I never have any problems with bike rentals. I rent road bikes, but I tell them to get out early if you want to get some serious mileage in.”
Walthour has seen an increase in rentals during the pandemic. Another segment of his business, bike sales, is another story.
“We’ve been busy with rentals,” he said. “Sales have been down because we can’t get any bikes. We got 20 in today, but we didn’t know they were coming. They just show up. They come right off the ships to us. It probably won’t be normal until next year. They tell us we’ll get some bikes in June, July, August.
“We had a lot of people rent bikes who lived here during the pandemic. People were stuck here, so they had to keep their rentals. There were people who had these bikes in their garage for years and never rode them. They’d bring them in, we’d fix ‘em up and they’d ride them. I can’t tell you how many locals have come in and said, ‘I can’t believe how great it is to ride here!’ They’ve lived here for years and never knew how great the riding was.
“I’ve had so many people say, ‘I’ve lost ten pounds from riding,’ and they keep it up! It’s awesome. They have these old, crappy bikes, but they’re riding. Then they come in and they want to upgrade. They say, ‘This is great. This is a great place to ride.’ You can see a lot more bicycling than you can riding around in your car.”
Like many islanders, Walthour was impressed with the amount of tourists on the island during the recent holiday season.
“This was the busiest holiday season I’ve ever seen on the island, for sure,” he said. “I think we sold out of rental bikes a couple of days. That’s the first time we’ve done that at Christmas. We have a lot of bikes. We have a lot of monthly rental people. They do it every year. They’ll rent for a month or two.”
Walthour sees bicycling activity on the island growing.
“Oh, for sure,” he said. “People buying bikes. Even at Fiddler’s it’s getting bigger. All of the developments. They’re all perfect for biking around. What are you getting in the car for? I think the more people see people biking, the more they want to bike. That’s always the thing. They see other people doing it. They talk to their friends; their friends say they got their bike here and they’re loving riding. I mean, another thing is couples who live in condos and only have one car—they get a bike, baskets in the front, baskets in the back. What do you have two cars for? Go to Winn Dixie, go to Publix. Perfect; and the weather’s great.
“These tug-a-trailer things people get. Go to the grocery store, put their stuff in it. Go to the beach, put your beach chair in it,” he says with a chuckle. “Marco’s a beach town. What do you need a car for when you can go to the beach in a half a mile?”