Miami-Dade County is facing a tricky situation on Bear Cut Bridge. Predictably and sadly, it is choosing to prioritize motorized traffic at the expense of the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. This much became clear at the January 2013 BPAC meeting. Given current plans, it will almost be inevitable that the bridge be close to pedestrian and cycling traffic during construction (except for those cyclists going with traffic, which they are allowed to do).
As many may have heard, parts of the Bear Cut Bridge have become so dilapidated that they have to be replaced. This is not the time or place to go into details why it is that such a situation suddenly springs upon the County – blame is already being passed around. More news reports here, here and here.
The County Public Works and Waste Management Department has gone through several iterations of planning. The latest approach – and the most detrimental to safety for pedestrians and cyclists wishing to enjoy Crandon Park or other destinations on the Key – is to take away the pedestrian and bike path heading east to create more throughput for cars and trucks. The current plans call for re-routing pedestrians and cyclists to the north side of the bridge via a signalized crosswalk by UM’s Rostenstiel campus, where cyclists and pedestrians going both ways are supposed to share the space. Then, should you desire to return to the south side, you would use the marked crosswalk where pedestrians and cyclists have been constantly ignored by drivers in the past.
If you are now scratching your head, you are not alone. The reaction of BPAC members appeared to be rather unanimous: it was negative. The entire operation does not appear to be well thought out regarding the treatment of pedestrians and cyclists. And that is an understatement. There are so many things wrong with the current plans that it is difficult to figure out where to start. It is unclear how separation between fast and slow cyclists, runners and walkers going in two directions is supposed to be managed. According to the Miami Herald, the County even considers closing the roadway for cyclists and pedestrians entirely. According to Interim County Engineer Antonio Cotarelo the county “would have to figure out if there’s any impact, and how bad it is with traffic, and take whatever necessary action to adjust it or close it if necessary — meaning closing the bridge to all pedestrians and cyclists.” It is apparently perfectly fine for the County to close down the only access for pedestrians and recreational cyclists to Crandon Park entirely while vehicle traffic to and from Key Biscayne is allowed to flow through four lanes, just as before.
What county personnel did not state clearly and were rather guarded about is the following: if current lane usage is to be maintained (two lanes in each direction) and with the existing ped / bike path removed, it will be impossible to maintain the ped / bike path on the northern side once construction begins. It is hardly conceivable that the county – having decided to close down the footpath at this point – will restrict motorized vehicle access once construction begins for purposes of reinstating the foot path.
There was talk of more law enforcement, but when pressed on whether the Miami-Dade Police Department would actually enforce the rules on the unsignalized cross-walk on the east side of the Bear Cut Bridge, the officer present seemed to be taken aback.
It comes down – as is the case so often – to a question of prioritization. If the County wants to go beyond the usual lip service, it is time to step up to the plate. Over the last years, we have seen people get killed on the Causeway and numerous people getting injured. The County under the leadership of Mayor Gimenez has done little to nothing to improve the situation. Along comes a tennis tournament and it appears that the County snaps to attention rather quickly. The bridge is in dire need of repair from everything we can ascertain. There is no doubt about that.
The question is whether the County should prioritize the needs of car drivers at the almost complete disadvantage for families and individuals that want to be pedestrians, runners or cyclists. This episode shows how little the County – and its mayor – support non-motorized traffic. Not only is the situation made more difficult, but rather it is also made more dangerous. And it does not seem to matter to decision-makers. Those decision-makers sometimes take part in bicycle rides when it suits their needs of being elected. When it comes to having to make decisions over whether find a suitable balance that interest seems to wane entirely.
While the county plans are still in flux, the removal of the foot path seems to be the option that the county has chosen. It is also the only way from what we can tell (and we are happy to stand corrected) to not have to close pedestrian and a lot of bicycle traffic. Yet again, the county and its leadership has chosen motorized traffic over the interest of other users. While touting bicycling in other forums and using such opportunities to create the image of being supportive for bicyclists, county leadership on this and many other projects is sorely lacking.
You should let Mayor Gimenez know that you are against current plans (firstname.lastname@example.org). Our attempts to reach out to his office so far have been futile. More voices may be necessary.