Streets for People / New Staples Avenue Bike/Ped Bridge Coming This Fall
By Chris Hamilton. Story is cross posted at KONK Life on June 23, 2023. Support ($) our local journalism here. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook and Twitter.
As the Salt Run Channel and extension of the Riviera canal crosses the middle of the island in New Town, it leaves only three places cars can get across or up and down the island. N. Roosevelt Boulevard, Flagler Avenue and South Roosevelt Boulevard. But bicycles and pedestrians have a fourth and safer option to cut across the City. The Staples Avenue Bike and Pedestrian Bridge. It’s a key segment in the Crosstown Greenway bike trail, with over 7,000 people crossing it each week.
Three years ago, alerted by Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen who had been canoeing under it and took a bunch of pictures of rotting metal, we did a story asking the question, “Is The Staples Avenue Bike Bridge Safe?” The City’s Engineering Department said the bridge was structurally sound for non-motorized traffic but was nearing the end of its useful life. So, with planning and engineering now complete, the City expects construction bids to come in during the first week of July. Once a contract is in place at the end of the summer, a grand re-opening should take place before Christmas.
Best of all the new bridge will be wider. At 15 feet the replacement structure will accommodate two-way bicycle traffic and a separated pedestrian walkway. No more pesky bollards in the middle to crash into. No more bikes vs. pedestrian incidents. Easier to cross. Safer for everyone. Kudos to the City. When we make it safer and easier for more people to bicycle, we all win. Let’s look at the history of the bridge and some other projects of the time, check out the details of the new and improved span and look at what’s happening today along the Crosstown Greenway.
Days of Yore: 25 Years Ago, Creation of the Locals Secret Bridge Leads to Today’s Crosstown Greenway
The Staples Avenue Bridge dates back to the late 1990’s. Here’s how Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen remembers it:
“I think the bridge was installed about 25 years ago. There was a very contentious community and commission meeting preceding it with many young kids in the audience. (How can you vote against a bunch of young kids?) The residents were worried about scooter traffic, so bike traffic was routed onto the sidewalks instead of being a straight run like the city engineer recommended and bollards were installed on the bridge. The biking community wanted a straight approach but was tired of fighting the neighbors at that point.”
During that same period, Tom and then Bicycle Coordinator Jim Malcom initiated a few projects including the bike/ped only path from 12th Street to Kennedy Street along the edge of the Housing Authority’s property and a path through the parking lots at the Wickers Sports Complex, that along with the Staples Avenue Bridge created a safe “Locals” bikeway through the middle of the island so people didn’t need to use the speedy, unsafe and heavily car-trafficked Flagler Avenue or N. Roosevelt Boulevard. The path is now officially known as the Crosstown Greenway.
With the adoption of a comprehensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan in 2019, the City has embarked on investing in improving the Crosstown Greenway. We’ve done stories on it here and here and here. Those improvements include an upcoming multi-million dollar project to construct a safer and separated path through the Wickers Sports Complex and construction just started on putting in brand new bike lanes on United and South Streets at the downtown end of the Crosstown Greenway. So, the new Staples Avenue Bridge is part of this continuing investment.
Our Mayor, Teri Johnston on the Project
For years Mayor Teri Johnston consistently asks staff to find ways to put in more bike facilities and we’ve documented some of that here, here, here, here, here, and here. She was understandably pleased when we asked her about this project, saying:
“I want to congratulate our Multimodal Coordinator, Ryan Stachurski, and our engineering team for this thoughtful plan to improve safe passage for pedestrians and bicycles across our Staples Avenue Bridge. Over 7,000 bikes and pedestrians depend on this bridge to get to and from Key West each week.”
Wider Is Better
The current bridge is 10’8” wide, with bollards down the middle to prevent larger vehicles from trying to cross it. Those of us who use it regularly can attest that it takes some effort to cross it without falling off of your bike. And if there’s anyone else on the bridge at the same time, well, everyone just takes a deep breath and navigates with extreme caution. It just isn’t safe for multiple users.
The new replacement bridge will be 15-feet wide. Allowing for a 4-feet wide pedestrian crossing and a 9-feet wide, two-way bicycle path with no bollards, just a stripe down the middle. There will be a guardrail separating the bikes and pedestrians. Easy to navigate. Safer for everyone. Wider is indeed better. Here’s what the City’s Multi-Modal Coordinator Ryan Stachurski says of the project:
“Staples Bridge has been around for a couple decades, providing a safe and comfortable route for bicyclists and pedestrians avoiding the noise and exhaust of the auto-centric Flagler Ave or North Roosevelt Blvd. Hundreds of Key West bicyclists likely rely on Staples Bridge for their daily commute. As the existing steel bridge reaches the end of its useful life, we hope to replace it with an aluminum version that includes some safety upgrades for those who may be mobility impaired. Though we look forward to the improvements, the construction will cause some temporary inconveniences. Non-motorized traffic will be temporarily diverted to Flagler Ave during this time.”
While plans are still being finalized by the City’s Urban Forestry Manager, it is anticipated that the trees in the middle of the approach on both sides of the bridge will be relocated to the sides. About $10,000 has been set aside for landscaping.
When We Make It Easier and Safer to Bike, We All Win
The City should be commended for continuing to invest in the Crosstown Greenway and the new and improved Staples Avenue Bike/Ped Bridge will make it easier and safer for more of us to use bicycles to get from one end of town to the other. That’s a good thing because more of us biking helps our little island paradise fight traffic and parking congestion, improves our environment and makes us healthier, more prosperous and happier too.
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