Streets for People / Do We Need a Traffic Light at Duck Avenue and S. Roosevelt?

FDOT is busy in Key West this month starting three new projects. A 2-year $24M rebuild of S. Roosevelt between Bertha and the end of Smathers Beach. A 6-month $2.6M rebuild of Whitehead Street between Truman and Fleming. And a $1M repaving and repainting of S. Roosevelt between Flagler and the Triangle. In each case, opportunities to put in new and safer bicycle infrastructure will be ignored in favor of existing car convenience. 

Today we bring you the case of the smallest of these projects, where the City’s Crosstown Greenway bicycle facility on Duck Avenue meets four lanes of fast-moving traffic on S. Roosevelt Boulevard. We ask the question, could this facility use a traffic light or HAWK Light to get bicyclists across the highway and make travel safer and more convenient between Key West and Stock Island? And while we’re looking at this from the perspective of people on bikes – hey, cause that’s what we do – it would seem that people in cars have difficulty at this intersection and could use some help too.

The City Encourages People to Use the Crosstown Greenway

The Crosstown Greenway is a designated bicycle route identified in the City’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan and 2019 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan stretching from Reynolds Street on one end along VonPhister to Staples and Duck and ending at S. Roosevelt where it meets 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic. Over the last few years, the City has been doing pilot projects and planning safer segments, like the Wickers Trail, because this facility is the safe and quick alternative for bicyclists to get from one end of the island to the other instead of traffic heavy N. Roosevelt Boulevard or Flagler Avenue. The Crosstown Greenway provides a wonderfully quiet, safe, and direct passage right through the heart of the City. 

An yet the bike lane on Duck simply dead ends at four lanes of traffic. Shouldn’t there be a safe way to cross here?

More People Are Using Bikes Between Key West and Stock Island

Traffic volume is up over the Cheryl Cates Bridge between Stock Island and Key West and that includes people on bicycles. This is especially true as the 240 units of workforce housing at Wreckers Cay are about half occupied now and more units are on the way at the Garden View Apartments (104), Roy’s Trailer Park (132) and the Key West Harbor Yacht Club (151). According to FDOT data more than 1,000 bicyclists a day use the inbound side of the bridge where the official Multi-Use Trail is that flows into the Promenade on N. Roosevelt Boulevard. While we don’t have good data at the moment on the bicycle volume on the outbound side, we do know that more than 700 bicyclists a day cross the middle point of the Crosstown Greenway on the Staples Avenue Bike/Ped Bridge. 

I bike past this intersection about six times a week on my daily travels and can attest that lots of people on bicycles use the sidewalk on the outbound/south side of the road. It makes sense. For the many people coming around the Triangle on the outbound side, if they aren’t going to stay on what becomes the Low Stress Promenade and go all the way around the island by the Airport and Smathers Beach to get downtown (an extra 1.3 miles out of the way), they’ll cut across S. Roosevelt to Duck Avenue and use the Crosstown Greenway. Trying to cross 4 lanes of high-speed traffic – two lanes in each direction – is the very definition of High Stress. There’s no acknowledgement in the roadway that that this is the crossing to the City’s official Crosstown Greenway. For the Greenway to be useful for people coming and going to Stock Island the intersection should be treated accordingly and made safer by demarcating it as a crossing and slowing the cars down.

Does that mean a HAWK light like the five we have on N. Roosevelt Boulevard that are only activated when a person requests a crossing? Or does it mean a full blown 3-way traffic light? Or perhaps something else like speed bumps or paint and signage indicating that people and bikes are crossing here? 

FDOT Says Nothing Is Needed

We asked FDOT officials if they had considered some sort of crosswalk at Duck Avenue. Here’s their response in full:

“During the Design phase of this project, the Traffic Operations Office performed a review of the request for a crosswalk from Duck Avenue across South Roosevelt Boulevard. This review determined that it was not warranted.”

We don’t exactly know what “not warranted” means. Do not enough people cross here? Of course, even that might be a chicken and egg question as if there was a crossing, would more people use it? Or does FDOT think it makes sense to get on the narrow-side sidewalk and go two blocks down to Flagler, cross with that light and then come two blocks back? Which, given human nature no one would do, so…

We just don’t know how FDOT squares a major bicycle facility just dead ending at their road and ignoring it. This surprises us because on other projects like the rebuilding of S. Roosevelt in front of Smathers Beach it was actually FDOT that had the safer more progressive recommendations that were turned down by the City. 

While We’re At It Let’s Widen Sidewalks Around the Triangle

Most of residents of Stock Island live on the south/outbound or County side. So, many never navigate the long light to get over U.S. Route 1 at Cross Street and take the bike path to N. Roosevelt. Rather they simply stay on the narrow sidewalk past the retail, over Cow Key Bridge, around the bend at the Triangle and then use the Crosstown Greenway to get into town. The problem is the sidewalk is a narrow 5 feet for much of the way and is less when you encounter poles and foliage. This makes it difficult when pedestrians are present, when bikes are coming in another direction or when faster bikes need to pass. There’s plenty of room to make the sidewalk wider. Especially if the Navy gives up a few feet of unused grassland behind their big chain link fence. Time for the City, County, FDOT and Navy to talk.

When we asked FDOT about this they said:

“The section of sidewalk that you mention (along the south side of the road from the bridge to the triangle) is outside our project limits.” 

We Need to Make It Safer to Bike Between Key West and Stock Island

In our June 17, 2022 story 10 Things to Make It Safer to Bike from the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West and our September 2, 2022 story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West we make the case that we have great conditions in Key West and Stock Island for bicycling as we’re flat, compact and have good weather 12 months of the year. 15% of us already bike to work. But more of us should and would if it were safer and easier to do so. With much of our workforce living on Stock Island, the City, County and FDOT need to work together to mitigate the impacts of the unsafe segments in our bicycle network to create a seamless and safe way to cross the Cheryl Cates Bridge on bikes to get to work instead of defaulting to a car. We’ll fight congestion, parking problems and make for a cleaner, more prosperous, and happier community if we get even more people biking more of the time.

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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.

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