Flagler Bridge – Why Johnny still won’t be able to ride to the beach

Rendering of Proposed Flagler Bridge
Rendering of Proposed Flagler Bridge

This post discusses the proposed bicycle and pedestrian accomodations on the new Flager bridge, the implications of the Flagler Bridge to overall bicycle network, and some low cost suggestions to improve the bicycle and pedestrian accomodations on the new bridge.

For  a walker or cyclist the new bridge will be very similar to  the Royal Park Bridge to the south. The bridge will feature 8′ wide sidewalks and 5′ of the 8′ wide auto shoulder will have a painted white line to designate it as a bike lane. This will be an improvement over the existing bridge which lacks shoulders and has narrow sidewalks. Here is a cross section of the proposed bridge:

Proposed Flagler Bridge Cross Section (Dimensions in red added by walkablewpb)
Proposed Flagler Bridge Cross Section
(Dimensions in red added by walkablewpb)

New bike lanes will be provided from Olive Ave. (Federal Highway) to Bradley Place / Cocoanut Row. The east end of the bridge has been designed to allow for the future passage of the Lake trail. In the future, Lake Trail could extend from its current terminus at Sunset Avenue, through Bradley Park to the south side of  Royal Poinciana Way. Also, notable is that the grade separation at Flagler Drive will be replaced with an at grade intersection. Here is map depicting the proposed bridge bike lanes and the potential to expand our nascent bike network out from  the Flagler bridge.

Proposed Flagler Bridge bike map and potential connecting routes
Proposed Flagler Bridge bike map and potential connecting routes

These are big improvements, but they don’t go far enough. Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota Colombia, who was instrumental in constructing the City’s bike path network said it best:

We cannot continue to deceive ourselves thinking that to paint a little line on a road is a bike way. A bicycle way that is not safe for an 8-year old is not a bicycle way.

A recent study has shown, biking will not be adopted by the majority if we continue to construct traditional bike lanes. I’m aware of two fatalities where cyclists were killed on shoulders of FDOT intercoastal  bridges. Both fatalities would have been prevented with protected bike lanes. Placing bike lanes behind the same barrier that protects the sidewalk is the solution. Other DOTs are considering this type of design as shown in the below rendering:

Proposed rendering of Douglass Bridge. Note protected cycle tracks. DDOT

Vancover, BC recently removed a travel lane from the Burrard Street bridge to add a protected bike lane.

Protected bike lanes on a bridge may seem like an new idea, but there was once a time when you could ride your bike safely between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. In addition to the railroad the original Flagler Bridge also had a wheel chair bridge. In that period a wheel chair referred to a human powered tricycle taxi. The wheel chair portion of the bridge was used by pedestrians, cyclists, and wheel chairs. The bridge didn’t accommodate cars. Here is a photo of the original bridge:

Original Flagler Bridge
Original Flagler Railroad and Wheelchair Bridge

The original Flagler bridge may have been West Palm Beach’s first protected cycle track.

So how can we make the proposed Flagler Bridge better? The bridge will be posted for 30 MPH, but it will have 12′ wide travel lanes. This is the same lane width that is provided on I-95. These lanes can reduced and their excess width reallocated to other portions of the bridge. 10′ or 11′ lanes are appropiate for a bridge with a 30 MPH speed limit. In fact the existing Flagler bridge has 10′ wide lanes with no shoulders. Assuming that FDOT will not allow 10′ lanes, two concepts are presented to reduce the lane width from 12′ to 11′ as shown below:


The left side of the bridge depicts the extra width used to provide a 2′ buffer between the bike lane and the travel lane. This also benefits the motorist as the shoulder is increased from 8′ to 10′ in width. In the highway design literature 8′ is the minimal shoulder for a broken down vehicle to not block a lane, but 10′ is the preferred shoulder width in this situation. This is a very cheap and beneficial change to the design and there is already precedent for this as FDOT has already installed buffered bike lanes on the Blue Heron bridge in Palm Beach County as shown below:

Blue Heron Bridge - Buffered bike lane
Blue Heron Bridge – Buffered bike lane

The second concept, shown on the right half of the bridge is to reallocate the 2’ feet from the lanes to the sidewalk. This would increase the sidewalk from 8’ to 10’ in width. A 10’ wide sidewalk is considered wide enough to be a multimodal path. On intercoastal bridges it is a common occurence to see cyclists use the sidewalk, because they don’t feel comfortable in a bike lane. It really makes sense to provide a sidewalk wide enough to accommodate non-vehicular cyclists and pedestrians. This can also be done at low cost as the width of the bridge remains unchanged from the original design.

Walkable and bikeable cities are tourist meccas. Think about all the cities that people go to for vacation: Savannah, Charleston, St. Augustine, Paris, London. What do they have in common? Hint, it is isn’t for their convention centers, casinos, or stadiums. It is Walkability!

If we are serious about having a transportation system that benefits our economy then we need world class bike facilities that connect the Palm Beach / West Palm Beach Arts and Entertainment District. Building a bridge where a tourist feels safe letting their eight year old ride their bike from West Palm Beach to Palm Beach is going to bring a lot more economic benefit than widening a highway to attract Walmart or Bass Pro Shop.

The new Flagler bridge is going to be around for at least 75 years so it is important that we get this right. Let’s bring back some of the golden age of West Palm Beach with world class bike facilities.

(P.S. if the lanes were reduced to 10.25’ then you could have both an 18” wide bike buffer and a 10’ wide multimodal path)


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