Imagine the Rickenbacker Causeway not as a highway but as a waterfront park. That's what Miami architect Bernard Zyscovich did, and when he showed his idea to a citizens' committee tonight the members applauded his vision.
"It's an amazing concept," said Susan Kairalla, a member of the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Moments later, the panel recommended the Zyscovich proposal to the Metropolitan Planning Organization for inclusion in plans being devised by Miami-Dade Public Works.
The Zyscovich plan has four parts:
- Lower the functional classification of the causeway, so it can be treated as a park road and not a highway such as U.S. 1.
- Narrow the three-lane sections of the causeway to two motor lanes. The psychological impact of that on drivers would be to slow them down. And with just two lanes all the way from the mainland to Crandon Park, drivers wouldn't be tempted to zoom around to the right and have to merge back when the road narrowed at the Bear Cut Bridge.
- Use the "liberated space" from step 2 to create bike- and pedestrian ways separated from the traffic lanes.
- Transform the causeway into a park.
The causeway is already a prime attraction for Miami and its visitors. Thousands of runners and bicyclists use it every week. Other pleasure-seekers throng Hobie Beach, swim and kite-surf, travel to dine at the Rusty Pelican or visit the Seaquarium or Crandon Park. Weekend boaters haul their craft to and from the marinas. Then add in the commuting habits of a growing number of year-round residents in Key Biscayne.
The Rickenbacker also is a lightning rod for controversy, following the car-crash deaths of three cyclists on the causeway in the past four years. Safety improvements followed the first two deaths, and the latest one, of Aaron Cohen in February, brought new urgency to further plans for improvement.
Zyscovich said that when he started his self-assigned causeway project he approached it pretty much in terms of bicycle safety. But he wasn't satisfied, in part because his fellow cyclists, however numerous, are only part of the community that uses the causeway for work and pleasure. So he stepped back and looked at what the causeway represents to greater Miami -- a precious recreational asset in and adjoining a city that needs more parks.
At least in concept, Zyscovich was returning to what the causeway's designer, William Lyman Phillips, had in mind. Tony Garcia, who also has advocated a park concept here, notes this Facebook post from the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park.