Crews are set to begin long-promised, long-delayed improvements to the road through Crandon Park on Key Biscayne that engineers say will significantly boost safety for cyclists along the most popular — and deadliest — bike route in Miami-Dade County.
The five-month $2.2 million county project will resurface the stretch of Crandon Boulevard between Bear Cut and the entrance to the village of Key Biscayne and redraw the narrow bike lanes along the roadway’s edge that have been criticized as hazardous. The existing bike lanes, in place for years, put only a thin double white line between cyclists and motorists hurtling by at high speeds and are badly cracked and buckled in many places.
The new on-road bike lanes will be separated from motorized traffic by a two-foot-wide striped buffer zone. That zone will be delineated by vibratory strips to alert drivers if they cross into the cycling lane. The asphalt in the bike lanes will be painted bright green to increase visibility and clearly distinguish those from the motorized lanes — a technique that experts say measurably improves safety for cyclists.
At the same time, the two lanes for motorized traffic in each direction will be narrowed by a foot to accommodate the expanded bike zone. County engineers say that will have the added benefit of reducing automobile speeds that often exceed the posted limits, which range from 30 to 45 mph near the Key Biscayne entrance. Because Crandon Boulevard is listed as a state historic road, its overall width cannot be increased.
The start of work, expected as soon as Wednesday evening, comes six months after two cyclists riding in the Crandon bike lane were struck, one fatally, by a hit-and-run motorist who was charged with DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident in which someone was injured.
The death of business executive Walter Reyes, 51 — the third hit-and-run cycling fatality on the road to Key Biscayne in five years, and the fourth fatal collision between a cyclist and a car on the roadway since 2006 — renewed calls for safety improvements on Crandon Boulevard and the Rickenbacker Causeway, which connects the island and neighboring Virginia Key to mainland Miami. Originally designed as highways to the two islands, the scenic, connecting Rickenbacker and Crandon roadways have in recent years become the spine of one of the county’s premier recreational areas, drawing cyclists, walkers, runners, triathletes and beach-goers by the thousands, especially on weekends.
After Reyes’ death, cycling advocates called for creation of a physical divider between cyclists and motorists along Crandon, in the form of plastic poles or a concrete curb or wall. They say the new Crandon bike lanes, while a marked improvement over the existing facility, won’t do enough to protect cyclists from drunk, speeding or careless drivers. County engineers have said that solution would be costly and impractical.
But advocates say they hope the county will eventually reconsider.
“I think the county should be commended for doing something to address what everyone recognizes is an untenable and dangerous situation for cyclists and motorists as well,” said lawyer and cycling-safety advocate Eli Stiers. “We will continue to ask for broader protection for cyclists and for pedestrians. The only way you can truly have a meaningful and useful path on Crandon is to create a physical barrier. I hope this can be a first step in that direction.”
The Crandon revamp, though necessitated by the road’s aging pavement, has been a key piece of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s pledge to improve safety for cyclists along the Rickenbacker following two highly publicized hit-and-run deaths of cyclists on the causeway — Christophe LeCanne in 2010 and auto-dealer executive Aaron Cohen in 2012. The mayor, who described himself in a statement as “someone who enjoys bicycling,” was once struck on the causeway, though not seriously injured, while out riding his bike.
“The safety of Miami-Dade’s bicycling community continues to be a high priority for me and my administration,” Gimenez said in a statement. “This project provides us with an excellent opportunity to extend bicycling safety improvements along one of the County’s most scenic bicycling routes.”
Those promised improvements, though, have been slow in coming, in part because of severe structural problems in the Bear Cut Bridge between Virginia Key and Key Biscayne that required emergency reconstruction.
The Bear Cut work delayed the start of the Crandon repaving, but the county’s public works department took advantage of the bridge project to install expansive paths in both directions along the span for cyclists and people on foot. Those upgrades, widely seen as dramatically improving safety along the bridge, include marked, broad on-road bike lanes for fast road cyclists, as well as wide, striped pathways behind low protective concrete barriers for casual riders and people on foot. One of the cyclist fatalities in recent years happened on the bridge.
The county also completed a separated, paved path on the north side of the causeway for casual cyclists and runners that connects MAST Academy to Bear Cut, linking up with an existing trail to Key Biscayne through Crandon Park. The new path is similar to the existing, separated path that runs along the beaches on the south flank of the Rickenbacker. The county also installed vibratory strips along the Bear Cut and William Powell bridge bike lanes and flashing signs that warn motorists if they exceed the speed limit — something that occurs constantly.
It’s because of those high speeds that a group of advocates led by prominent Miami architect and planner Bernard Zyscovich, an avid cyclist, is pushing a Rickenbacker roadway redesign that would create a physically separated lane for cyclists as well as expand park space. The group has also proposed a pilot project that would install plastic poles along the bike-lane striping on the causeway to test the idea’s feasibility, Stiers said.
Next week, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado will ask the city commission to approve a resolution urging the county to implement the pilot project and the so-called Plan Z, which has drawn interest from Gimenez.
Bike safety improvements
Work on the Crandon Boulevard repaving will take place between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays and is scheduled to conclude in December. At least one lane for cars and one lane for bicycles will remain open in each direction at all times.