Friday, February 23, 2007

The bumps on the levee path

I and a lot of other riders got really excited last summer by an idea that right now looks like it might not fly.

You may remember when the state Department of Transportation (DOT) put engineers to work designing a four-lane Krome Avenue between Tamiami Trail and Okeechobee Road. Rather than include the bicycle lanes that state law otherwise calls for, the DOT proposed to pave the top of the Water Management District levee west of the highway.

Bicyclists quickly embraced the idea of an improved path along the levee. The levee top would provide a great view into the Everglades to the west and other protected wetland to the east. It would link to a similar path in Broward County and could eventually allow a rider to travel all the way to Lake Okeechobee. It would connect busy Hialeah to fast-growing West Kendall for people who need or prefer not to use motor transportation.

Our county Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) endorsed the idea, and so did riders from the Everglades Bicycle Club who attended a DOT public hearing. All of us, I believe, eventually acquiesced in giving up the on-road bicycle lanes -- and the design went forward without them.

This week, DOT's consulting engineer brought a progress report back to BPAC. His colorful slide presentation was a depressing recital of unexpected costs, extraordinary difficulty and possible impracticality of building the path that had seemed so inspired a choice just six months ago. Everything from alligators and boa constrictors on the path to the danger of a rider plunging over a 25-foot hill of rip-rap was thrown up as a possible reason not to build the levee path. Who would rescue an injured rider? Who would keep motorized ATVs off the path? Would the DOT's paving contractor have to drive truckloads of steaming asphalt backward for miles along the 12-foot-wide levee top to dump them into a paving machine? And uh, oh, the levee path is now projected to cost just as much as one built right on Krome Avenue.

The state's consultant, José A. Muñoz of BCC Engineering, strongly suggested that if the path ever is built it won't provide the smooth riding many of us had imagined. "Don't try to pass this off as a bike facility. It's not," said a clearly annoyed BPAC chairman Ted Silver.

Muñoz never said the state wouldn't build a levee path, but he got close enough that Silver shifted gears and started pressing for something wider than five-foot shoulders along Krome, delineated with white lines. At least the riders who dared could use the shoulder and have some distance between their panniers or handlebars and the heavy trucks and farmworker buses that keep the road busy day and night.

As far as I can tell, the story of this path isn't over. I'll be talking to some more people at DOT, the water district and the county's parks department to see what develops. Meanwhile, if you were planning on a ride along the edge of the Everglades you had better let people know it's important to you. You might start with Muñoz, at 7300 N. Kendall Dr., Suite 600, Miami, FL 33156.

No comments: