Streets for People / First New Bike Lane in Five Years Installed on Bertha Street Is Half a Loaf for Bike Safety

As we near the end of what seems like a decades long rebuilding of Bertha Street, we’re happy to report a tiny victory that’s been unveiled as final repaving is being done. There’s a brand-new bike lane on the westbound side of the street between S. Roosevelt Boulevard and Flagler Avenue. This is the first new bike lane in the City since lanes were put in on Butler Boulevard in the brand-new Truman Waterfront Park in 2018 and the first new lane on an old street, where there wasn’t one before, since Reynolds Street got bike lanes on each side of the street in a 2017 repaving. Yay! Sort of. 

But what’s sad is on the eastbound side of Bertha on the 3-block stretch between Flagler and Atlantic, there’s no bike lane so that we can instead accommodate six private car storage spaces. Yes, you got that right, six car parking spaces along an entire 3-block stretch. We’re being told to accept this modest achievement on the westbound side as half a loaf is better than none. I suppose in a city that routinely favors car convenience over bike safety we should accept our tiny new piece of infrastructure and be happy. But somehow the little win seems hollow in the face of what could have been. We need a whole, connected, and safer network of lanes, protected lanes and trails that makes it easy for more of us to choose to get around by bike. When we do, that’s good for our little island. 

Plenty of Missed Opportunities For Bike Lanes Around the City, Including Bertha

As nice as this new westbound lane is, we won’t sugarcoat the fact that over the last few years we’ve missed some opportunities to include improvements for bicycles, as prescribed in the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, on Palm Avenue, S. Roosevelt Boulevard, Whitehead Street, Simonton Street, Duval Street and on the First and Bertha Streets corridor. The Bike/Ped Plan calls for a separated trail, similar to what you find on Atlantic Boulevard on the entirety of First and Bertha – thus connecting one side of the island to the other with a safe, protected trail. But as we’ve detailed in multiple stories (here and here) that was ditched in favor of keeping car parking. 

What We’re Getting On Bertha Is Half a Loaf at Best

Instead, we’re getting half a mile of bike lane on one side of Bertha between S. Roosevelt and Flagler. Don’t get too excited, they didn’t take any car parking away to put in this lane. There never was parking on that side of the street, they simply narrowed the already too wide lanes a bit, which should help reduce speeding. We asked the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski about the lane and here’s what he said:

“I’ve seen happy bicyclists riding in the bike lane along Bertha – and there are only a few crossings, and they have good visibility, so it feels pretty safe. The speed limit is 20mph. I know a lot of people wanted to see more bicycle infrastructure, but I feel like this is a tempered improvement. With it we’re also improving pedestrian crossings, sidewalks, and improving visibility at intersections.”

While we appreciate Mr. Stachurski’s take, we’d point out that the problem with this bike lane is that it doesn’t connect to anything on either end, as there’s no bike lane on S. Roosevelt onto the Bertha lane. Everyone is on the Promenade and bike trail side of Bertha anyway. We can’t imagine anyone on a bike getting off safe multi-use trail to cross traffic to get to the bike lane and when the multi-use trail turns onto Atlantic there’s no safe way to navigate from there to the new lane. It’s a disconnected mess. 

Six Car Parking Spaces Along 3-Block Stretch Instead of Eastbound Bike Lane

What’s particularly maddening about the tiny victory on the westbound side is that it would have been very easy to put in a bike lane on the eastbound side. But instead, we’ll get six private car storage spaces along an entire 3-block stretch. My one block on Fleming has 12 and 14 car parking spaces on each side of the block. So, what’s the deal here? Well, there are so many driveways and curb cuts and sightline issues that the street engineers could only find space for six car parking spots along three entire blocks. There’s literally more striping for “no parking” than there is parking. So why in the world didn’t they simply bag the parking and put in a bike lane as on the other side of the street? In fact, the width of the parking would allow them to put in protected bike lanes (with the 2 feet of extra width) on each side of the road.

We Need a Network of Bike Facilities Not Disconnected Half a Loaf Pieces

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 it is why we need a seamless, connected, and safe network of bike facilities.

Yes, this little piece of new bike facility represents some progress, or half a loaf. But if we really want 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, we need the whole loaf please. 

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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.

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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