VERO BEACH — A group of bicycle enthusiasts is upset with the current plan for repaving Indian River Blvd. north of the Barber Bridge. The dispute involves the width of new bike lanes.
Plans call for five-foot bike lanes. The bicyclists, represented by the nonprofit group Bike Walk Indian River County, want a seven-foot wide bike lane, and they want a small two-line buffer between the bike lane and the road.
Getting wide bike lanes on Indian River Blvd. has been one of BWIRC’s top priorities for many years.
“The reason is that Indian River Blvd. is just a really good connector,” BWIRC Director of Safety and Education Hugh Aaron told Hometown News. “It’s the same reason that so many people use it for cars. It connects a lot of different, important places, like the medical complex district and Miracle Mile. Indian River Blvd. is an important part of the transportation network.”
The debate has taken on a sense of urgency, as the county and the Florida Department of Transportation are currently planning the resurfacing of Indian River Blvd. from the Merrill Barber Bridge to 53rd St. It will be at least another ten years before the next resurfacing project allows for the size of the bike lane to be reconsidered.
At the request of BWIRC, the county held a workshop on April 8 to discuss the repaving project. Some of the bike riders who attended that workshop were not happy with the conversation. They wanted and expected a chance to argue for the seven-foot buffered bike lanes. Instead, they say, the five-foot, unbuffered lanes were presented as a final decision that could not be changed due to cost.
“I noticed that the project was coming up for design late last year,” Mr. Aaron said. “I requested that the county have a workshop. (County Administrator) Jason Brown has been very amenable to the idea that we have more public input on these transportation projects. Historically we haven’t had much public input and we’ve had some really badly designed projects from a bicycle rider’s perspective. Our public works department has been historically focused on moving around cars, and anything having to do with bicycles is incidental. If there’s leftover time, space, money, they’ll work on bicycles.”
The bikers expected the workshop to explore the issue of how wide the bike lanes should be. Instead, Mr. Aaron and others said, they were presented with a fate accompli of five feet.
“It was six months getting to this meeting, because as soon as I heard they were thinking about working on the design, I said let’s meet before you do the design,” Mr. Aaron said. “They didn’t do that. They had already decided on what the design was. They didn’t bring DOT to the meeting, they did not bring any of the consultants who they outsourced the design to. It was pretty clear that they were just having a workshop because the public said they wanted a workshop, but it really wasn’t a workshop, it was a joke.”
To the bikers, the dispute is not simply about riding comfort, it is about safety.
“Florida is shifting to seven-foot buffered bike lanes on high speed roads,” Mr. Aaron said, noting that cars traveling on Indian River Blvd. often exceed 45 mph. “At that speed, bike riders don’t want to be that close to cars. They want as much space as they can get between them and these cars, because if somebody’s not paying attention and is drifting a little bit over, there’s very little room for error. If you’re in the middle of a five foot bike lane, your handle bar is a foot from the edge of the travel lane.”
“With a seven-foot buffered bike lane, which is the new DOT standard, it has double white lines on the left hand side of the bike lane, which is a no-man’s zone. The bikes aren’t supposed to be in there and the cars aren’t supposed to be in there. And that’s 18 inches. So it forces the bike rider over to the right-most third of the seven feet. The buffered bike lanes also stand out more to motor vehicles.”
Mr. Aaron noted that the 17th St. repaving project that was done a few years ago has seven-foot buffered bike lanes. The new A1A project is going to have seven-foot buffered bike lanes, and the new 510 project is going to have seven-foot buffered bike lanes.
“With a seven-foot buffered bike lane, many people will feel more comfortable riding on a road that they otherwise would not ride with a five-foot bike lane. My big concern is that the county is spending over four million dollars and building something that the vast majority of bicycle riders in Indian River County are going to be uncomfortable using.”
Mr. Aaron’s wife Laura, also an avid cyclist, added that the wider bike lanes make passing slower riders much safer also.
“Not every bike in the bike lane travels at the same speed,” Ms. Aaron said. “If you want to pass in a five-foot bike lane, the only option is to go out into the traffic lane. If you have a seven-foot buffered lane, you can pass in the bike lane and stay out of traffic. This makes both passing bikes and dealing with pedestrians safer.”
Several attendees of the workshop said they were told that widening the bike lanes was cost-prohibitive. They say they were told that the county doesn’t want to do anything that raises the estimated $4 million price tag, which is the cost of the entire project, not just the bike lanes.
Ed Barsotti, the bicycle infrastructure assistance program director for the Florida Bicycle Association, suggested that one cost-effective solution might be to reduce the width of the car lanes from 12 feet wide to 11 feet wide, which he said is generally acceptable to FDOT under certain circumstances.
“From FDOT’s Greenbook, assuming this is an arterial road, and if speed limits are limited to 45 throughout, 11 foot lanes could be used,” Mr. Barsotti said. “No additional pavement needed, no additional construction cost.”
Hal Lambert, a local bike rider who went to the workshop and is a member of Vero Cycling, suggested in an email to County Administrator Jason Brown that the county “go back to the DOT and say that after receiving public input, we need more money for seven-foot bike lanes for the sake of public safety.”
Mr. Lambert also suggested that, since this project is “infrastructure,” the county should seek to include funding for wider bike lanes in Pres. Biden’s infrastructure bill.
Vero Beach resident David Cerchie said “Indian River County since missing this opportunity to address possible improvements will likely mean that a major thoroughfare will not be useful for a large part of the population here in the area for a significant period of time. Based on the changing demographics, many brought about by the COVID situation, it is not hard to imagine Indian River County seeing explosive growth over the next 10 years. The time to address upgrading travel routes is when the opportunity presents itself. This is certainly the case regarding Indian River Blvd.”
For more information about this and other safe biking issues, visit www.bikewalkirc.org.