Streets for People / Brand New Bike Lanes Coming to United and South Streets

Now that the utility work is complete, construction starts in the coming weeks on a $4.8 million investment in a new, improved and rebuilt United Street between Whitehead and Grinnell Streets. All new curb and gutter that includes narrower and safer pedestrian crossings at most intersections, fresh and smooth asphalt, lots of new trees, and best of all a brand spanking new, wider is better, extra-width bike lane – where none had been before – for the entire length of the project heading out of downtown. 

The new bike lane will connect up with bike lanes on Reynolds Street, White Street and the Crosstown Greenway cutting across the middle of the City, helping to create a more connected network of facilities. And in a couple years the same thing will be done with the rebuilding of South Street adding a new bike lane coming into town. Think of this as similar to the Fleming and Southard pair of bike lanes. Mayor Teri Johnston has been asking for staff to find places for new bicycle facilities and they are delivering! That makes safer streets for cars and bikes and is a win for Key West.

Mayor Johnston On the United Street Project

If you’ve been following our column for the past few years, you know we’ve quoted Mayor Teri Johnston on numerous occasions consistently asking staff to find ways to put in more bike facilities (here, here, here, here, here, here and numerous others, but you get the idea). She was understandably pleased when we asked her about this particular project, saying:

“Dedicated bicycle lanes are essential in Key West. It is the solution for taking bikes and e-bikes off of the sidewalk and into a safe, dedicated lane in the street. With some thoughtful planning we can accommodate the same number of on street parking spots, add a bicycle lane and create a better flow of vehicular traffic.” 

What the New United Street Bike Facility Will Look Like

Interim Engineering Director Gary Volenec and Multi-Model Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski of the City’s Engineering Department have been looking for opportunities to provide the Mayor and Commission with safer streets that include bike lanes. They also note this helps fulfill part of the City’s Strategic Plan as the community has asked for safer streets.

With each new construction project comes an opportunity to redesign with complete streets in mind. United Street doesn’t quite have enough room for safe bike lanes on each side of the two-way street. So, the solution, is to have an extra wide bike lane on one side of the street – going out of downtown and a Sharrow or shared lane on the other side. But a block away, with South Street scheduled to be rebuilt next year, the idea is that another wider-is-better bike lane can be built coming into to down. The pair will then act as a safer way to get in and out of downtown, working similarly to the Fleming and Southard Streets pair – but safer because they are wider. 

Here’s what Ryan Stachurski has to say about the project:

“The United Street project that’s under construction now includes a number of complete streets elements that have been called for by members of our community, our strategic plan, and our City Commissioners. It will provide dedicated space for Key West’s large number of bicyclists (electric & otherwise) that many should find comfortable to operate in. It includes bicycle wayfinding signs to help keep users on course, and the large number of street trees going in will improve our canopy over time in addition to making it more enjoyable to take a stroll down United Street.” 

New Bike Lanes and Signage Enhance the Network Effect

There are many examples in Key West of pieces of bike trails and lanes that just end, leaving riders with no choice but to mix with cars, often on our most crowded and busy streets. In surveys across the land, people say that the lack of a connected network of safe bicycle facilities to get them to work, shop and play, is what inhibits many people from riding a bike for transportation. The new United and South Street bike lanes will help better connect with a growing network on this side of town. 

The bike lanes map here shows the new Unite dand South Streets pair connecting to the Reynolds Street bike lanes which take you to Higgs Beach and beyond that on the Atlantic Boulevard Trail to the Bertha Trail and onto the S. Roosevelt Promenade. So, this gets people safely from the beaches into downtown without having to mix with traffic. Similarly, those using the Crosstown Greenway from the top of the island at the Cow Key Channel will now be able to get downtown on a safe bike lane. Mr. Stachurski tells us that new signage (depicted by the red dots in the picture) will help orient people to various points along the safe bike network.

Better, Safer Bicycling = Better Key West

We applaud Mayor Teri Johnston for her relentlessness in consistently asking staff to consider new bike infrastructure with every street rebuilding and repaving. That along with some new leadership in the Engineering Department and the Mayor’s mantra is finally being heard and acted upon. The start of the United Street project and South Street next year is good news in helping build a connected network of safe bicycle facilities.

Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most places. According to the U.S. Census 15% of Key West residents’ commute to work by bicycle. That’s a lot more than some of the top “bike” cities in the country. Key West bike rental companies continue to do a record business. So, there’s a lot of bikes and now e-bikes and e-scooters mixing with golf carts, scooters, and cars. As so many of these people on the street are visitors from car-centric mainland places, they aren’t used to this jumble of vehicle types and that’s a dangerous mix. And that is why we need a seamless, connected, and safe network of bike facilities.

The United Street project represents progress toward that end. To make our little island a bicycle paradise that will help us fight traffic and parking congestion, improve our environment, and make us healthier, more prosperous, and happier too. Let’s applaud the Mayor and staff for moving the ball forward. 

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For more information on bicycling in Key West visit our Getting Around Key West by Bicycle page.

Chris Hamilton is founder of the local advocacy group Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led nationally renowned efforts promoting transit, bike, walk and smart growth for Arlington County, VA’s DOT. Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a few non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here and his blog here.

You can find three years’ worth of KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and here and the 10 most recent stories below:


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