Scenic Highways and Byways
By Mike Savidge
Back roads are the best roads. I've never been a “get there as quick as you can” rider. I avoid the interstates with a preference for any two-lane that curves through the countryside. Quick enough to feel the breeze, slow enough to enjoy the scenery and way from the hustle of the ever expanding urban landscapes.
How do you find these roads? We've got dozens of them on our website map page (see link below). The maps are from the archives of Go For A Ride magazine which featured a map as the centerfold in each issue. That idea was the result of the time I spent working for Mad Maps helping to design their Florida scenic ride maps.
Doing research for both those projects I discovered the Florida Scenic Highway Program. It was started in 1996 and is similar to the National Scenic Byway program that the Department of Transportation operates. That program began in 1991 as a means to give recognition to some of the more scenic but less traveled roads across the country in an effort to spur tourism and economic development. This was an attempt to undo some of the effects of the national interstate highway system. Those multi-lane, high speed, no traffic signal highways allowed travelers to cover more miles in less time than ever before. That convenience came with a cost. Small towns and businesses along the old highways and state roads that were dependent on the travelers struggled to survive. Travel the famous Route 66 now and you'll find abandoned business, tourist attractions, and even a few ghost towns. The new Service Centers along the interstates offered everything a traveler needed at one location.
For those of us who aren't in any particular hurry to get somewhere, the Florida Scenic Highways are a salvation. Presently there are 27 stretches of roadway that have been designated. Of those, six of them also carry the National Scenic Byway badge and two of them, the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway and the Florida Keys Scenic Highway, have qualified as All American Roads, which is the top scenic highway crown. This honor is reserved for roadways that are a destination unto themselves and if you've toured on either of these roads, you'll likely agree.
What makes a stretch of road qualify at the state level? The Florida Scenic Highway website says it should be a “public road that has been designated through an official government agency declaration to protect and promote its special cultural, historic, archaeological,recreational, natural, and scenic resources”. While it doesn't say “guaranteed to put a smile on a motorcyclist's face”, it could.
One very cool aspect of the program is that any person or group can nominate a road to be considered for designation. But it's not a simple nor quick process. First, there's the Eligibility Phase which includes forming a nomination committee and putting together a very detailed package that explains how this roadway meets the criteria for the program and showing that there is support for it from all of the municipalities involved. If it's approved, the process moves onto the Implementation Phase. The road signs get installed and proclamations are made. But the work doesn't end there. A Year One Work Plan must be followed and annual reports are required to ensure the roadway and its resources are properly maintained and promoted.
The state's scenic highways can be found from the Keys to the Panhandle. They include some beautiful coastal rides as well as the hidden treasures of Florida's interior. Two of them, the Bradenton Beach and J.C. Penney Memorial highways, are only 3 miles long. At 233 miles, the Indian River Lagoon is the longest. Most unusual designation goes to the Suncoast Scenic Parkway which, while scenic, is a four-lane toll road north of Tampa.