When you live on an island, you understand that you live on land that is surrounded by water; and that to get to the mainland you need to cross that water. For the Island of Key Biscayne, the way in and out is the Rickenbacker Causeway and its two bridges. The Powell bridge (aka Mount Miami) and the Bear Cut Bridge (aka the small bridge) connecting Virginia Key to Key Biscayne. And this smaller bridge is in serious trouble.
I am not a reporter, and I have not scoured the public records to see what happened when and my intention is not to give a history of how we got to this state. I just know we are here, and there are a lot of angry people. The beams supporting the bridge on the outbound/ocean side (leaving Key Biscayne) are corroded and it is no longer safe for cars to travel on that part of the bridge. This means one of the outbound lanes is closed.
For a couple of days, the entire outbound side of the bridge with its two car lanes were closed. This meant that for a bicyclist, you could travel from inside Key Biscayne all the way to Virginia Key without having to ride next to a car. I had a feeling this was not going to last and so I took my boys, aged five and seven, on a bike ride there. Normally the road is filled with cars, many of them speeding, and though there is a wide bike lane I would never dare take them.
The feeling was somewhat surreal. Here we were, riding on probably the country’s widest bike lane without a care in the world. The boys were excited to be on the “forbidden” bridge and began to zig zag through the lane dividers. At first I told them to stop, it seemed as if they were doing something illegal but they weren’t and they had a blast going up and down the bridge without a care in the world. We stopped for a water break, we were interviewed by a TV station, we saw our Mayor riding to inspect the situation and had a great afternoon.
There are many cones, cops and confusion and all of it led to traffic and backups.
Eventually, a second outbound lane was opened and congestion was alleviated but the repairs on the bridge could take over one year to complete. And we still only have one inbound lane. During the Sony Ericsson Tennis Tournament thousands of cars pour into the Key, as well as in the summer months were hundreds others bring their boats to Crandon Park Marina. There is legitimate concern that major back-ups could occur. And if you, like me, were to live here you too would think that’s a problem.
“They should not be allowed on the bridge” said a friend. “They should go cycle somewhere else,” said another. “This is an emergency situation and they need to respect that we need the ability to get on and off our island.” This is what I hear from several residents on the one hand. On the other, cyclists outcry that the multi-use path should be kept, that we don’t need another car lane, that this is just because of the tennis tournament, and that this is harassment.
Its very difficult to be in the middle and that is where I find myself. I understand both sides and I have been called “wishy-washy” though I like to think of myself as “diplomatic”. My limit, my trigger point if you will, is if we are told bicycles and pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge. That is when I join an outcry, but until then, there are ways around this situation.
Nothing has happened yet, and the situation on the bridge is very fluid with new ideas and solutions being thrown around every day. Right now, no one knows the final answer as to what will happen to the pathway.
The emergency situation is not traffic. The emergency situation is that the bridge is falling. Why we got to this point is a whole ‘nother story and probably what we should really be upset about. While Bear Cut is being fixed, everyone will need a little patience. The length of the bridge is approximately half a mile and the world won’t end if a bicycle that can maintain the speed limit (though right now its unclear what that is) chooses to use the car lane to get across. Cars should give them room to do so as you cannot safely pass the bicycle with a three feet separation. You are not going slower, you are going at the reduced speed limit on the bridge. But the world will not end if a bicycle who rides slower, or sees that there is a bottleneck, chooses a different route. The bicycle can either use the pathway, or when that is no longer there, use the bike accommodations that will be put in place to cross over to the outbound side of the bridge. It could also turn around and head out of the causeway or into Virginia Key.
So this Bear of a problem could either increase the tension between cars and bicyclists or it could serve as an opportunity for all of us to respect each other a bit more. I am both a diplomat and an optimist that the majority of us who go on the bridge in one way or another will use our common sense, call on our patience, and maybe even calm down and enjoy the beautiful scenery this half mile affords.