Steven Mitchell learned the hard way that bikes and cars don't always play well together, especially on roads designed for motor vehicles.
The vice president of Mitchell Auto Group in Simsbury, Conn., was on a cross-country bicycle tour in the late 1980s when a distracted driver sent him crashing backward into her windshield. Mitchell was not seriously injured.
"I love cycling and the freedom it gives you, but most state agencies refer to bicyclists and pedestrians as 'vulnerable users' because you are very vulnerable," Mitchell said. "Part of my mission is to make it fun and safe whether you're a motorist or cyclist."
His passions as a lifelong cyclist and third-generation auto retailer came together when the dealership group gave up a slice of an employee parking lot for a bike trail in 1997.
It was part of a much larger "rails to trails" program promoted by local governments and cycling enthusiasts who were turning abandoned rail lines along the East Coast into bikeways.
"In the mid-1990s, the rails-to-trails effort in Connecticut was advancing very nicely, and they were turning the rail line from New Haven to Northampton, Mass., into a bike trail," Mitchell said. "And they have been doing that for the last 20 years."
Mitchell became a big advocate of the program spreading across the East Coast generally and in the Farmington Valley where his family's dealerships are located specifically. He fought for the extension of the trail that runs along two dealership properties in Simsbury even when it meant butting up against neighborhood groups that argued the trail would bring crime and depress property values. In fact, proximity to the trail is now a selling point in the local housing market.