Managers of the Rickenbacker Causeway want to convert to SunPass toll collection, and how they carry out that change will have important safety implications for many of the thousands of bicyclists who ride the causeway.
Michael Bauman, the causeway division chief from Miami-Dade Public Works, reported to the county's Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee this week that two different proposals are going before the Transit and Infrastructure Committee of the County Commission on July 15.
One proposal, which Public Works has been asking to carry out for a number of years, is to keep the toll booths and simply convert from the homegrown CPass, used primarily by residents of Key Biscayne, to the SunPass, now in wide use on Florida's Turnpike and the MDX toll roads such as the Dolphin Expressway.
The other proposal is open-road tolling, a concept that's growing in popularity because it uses cameras and electronic sensors to identify which cars should be charged a toll. The new express lane on Interstate 95 would be an example. On the Rickenbacker, only one or two booths would remain, for drivers who lack a SunPass.
Hundreds of bicyclists do training rides out the causeway and back, and out again, every weekend and sometimes more often. The riders' turnaround is less than 100 yards from the toll booths. Riders come back from Key Biscayne, merge left as they near the mainland, then shoot through the causeway office parking lot and across the outbound lanes to regroup and start again.
If you think of the toll booths simply as fare-collection points, the choice for the county would seem to be easy. But toll booths here also serve as traffic-control measures, making drivers slow down a bit before they venture out past the beaches on that first island before the tall Powell Bridge. If you remove the booths, cars equipped with SunPass can be traveling at highway speeds as they pass the point where today they must pause and wait for a gate to open. Even from a full stop, it doesn't take many seconds for most cars to reach 45 mph, which is the top legal speed you'll see posted on the causeway.
"Open-road tolling is a great solution on the highway," Bauman said Wednesday night during his report to BPAC. "But the Rickenbacker is a shared road" -- one of South Florida's finest recreational areas. Last Saturday, Bauman's staff counted 950 riders making the circuit I described above between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Two weeks earlier, the count was 650.
A photograph Bauman showed the advisory committee was more powerful than my words. Seen from the top of a toll booth, dozens of riders are crossing the causeway as two or three cars in the foreground pause to let them cross. Consider the implications of removing the toll booths. My next post, probably tomorrow, will relate how BPAC tried to address the issue.