This has been a tough time for all those crossing the Bear Cut Bridge, a critical link between the mainland and Key Biscayne. During the year required to rebuild the bridge, all users of the structure will be challenged. The situation has tried the patience of motorists, but it’s been especially difficult for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Like most states, Florida law considers bicycles to be vehicles, entitled to use all roads except expressways. For several months after construction on the Bear Cut Bridge started, two bicycle lanes and a sidewalk were reserved for pedestrians and those cyclists unwilling to ride in motor-vehicle traffic. Also, the speed limit on the bridge was lowered to 25 mph. Groups of bicyclists continued to use the motor-vehicle lanes, as they are legally entitled to do.
Soon the entire north side of the bridge, the oldest section, built in 1944, will be demolished. The bicycle-pedestrian access on the north side has been closed, and all pedestrians are now required to use a 5-1/2-foot paved path separated from the construction site by a chain link fence and from the motor vehicle traffic by a concrete jersey barricade. The path is far too narrow to be used by large numbers of cyclists. The only alternative for slower bicyclists now is to walk their bikes across the bridge on the 5-1/2-foot path.
To accommodate bicyclists and in recognition of bicyclists’ legal right to the roadway, in early August the Miami-Dade County Department of Public Works and Waste Management (PWWM) painted “sharrows” (arrows combined with the standard bike symbol) on the bridge’s right lane roadway in each direction. Used increasingly in communities throughout the country to promote bicycling, sharrows indicate that a roadway is to be shared by both motor vehicles and bicycles. Signs proclaiming “Share the Road” or “Bicyclists May Use Full Lane” further alert motorists to the presence of bicyclists and their right to the roadway.
As regular users of the bridge, we can testify that few motorists observe the 25 mph speed limit and enforcement has been spotty. When we have driven our cars on the bridge at a steady 25 miles per hour, other vehicles have passed us at an excessive rate of speed. Because of the obvious dangers, we have deliberately avoided bicycling on the roadway even though we’re legally entitled to do so.
The real problem on the Bear Cut Bridge is not bicyclists in the travel lanes but speeding cars. Experienced bicyclists crossing the bridge can travel at about 15 miles per hour and even faster on the gradual downhill side. But none of them is a match for motorists going 45-50 miles per hour. Motorists on the Bear Cut Bridge are simply refusing to take what would be, according to our calculations, a bit more than one additional minute to cross the bridge by slowing down.
As a result, when bicyclists exercise their right to ride on the roadway, which is bumpy and hazardous already, conflicts between motorists and bicyclists are bound to occur.
The situation came to a head on Aug. 13 when the Key Biscayne Village Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the Bear Cut Bridge. The discussion quickly turned to the presence of bicyclists on the bridge and the newly installed sharrows. The meeting ended with the council passing a unanimous resolution calling for the authorities in Miami-Dade County to “restrict bicycle and pedestrian traffic to a segregated bicycle-pedestrian path during the period of reconstruction.” In adopting this resolution, the Key Biscayne Village Council refused to consider that measures might be taken to slow traffic on the bridge and enforce the speed limit.
Fortunately, to date the county’s response to the village’s request has been a respectful “No.” We hope the Public Works Department and the county elected officials will continue to enforce the 25 MPH speed limit so the bridge can be used safely by both motorists and bicyclists during the period of reconstruction.
John Hoffman is an attorney with offices on Brickell Avenue who lives in Key Biscayne and commutes across the Rickenbacker Causeway by bicycle. Eric Tullberg is a retired engineer and longtime Miami-Dade County bicycle advocate.