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Broad consensus for no new sidewalk, but wider A1A bike lanes


Island residents, county commissioners and the Metropolitan Planning Organization are now united in their opposition to a new sidewalk along the east side of State Road A1A and in their support for a wider, safer bike lane along the same 6.74-mile stretch of road. Local cycling groups also support improved bike lanes.

To that end, county officials have asked the Florida Department of Transportation to reduce the speed limit to 45 mph from the current 50 mph on the section of A1A north of John’s Island when the seaside highway is resurfaced next year.

Support for the speed-limit reduction and bike-lane widening was unanimous at the MPO’s Sept. 12 meeting.

“Based on what was said at the meeting, it was obvious most of the people don’t perceive a pedestrian problem, just a bike-safety problem,” MPO Staff Director Phil Matson said. “The county is 100 percent behind the bike lane widening.”

FDOT’s $7.5 million project, scheduled to begin next summer at Tides Road (north of Jaycee Park) and conclude a year later at Coco Plum Lane (near Wabasso Beach), includes traffic-light and drainage improvements, new signage and pavement markings, and – as of now – the addition of a 6-foot-wide sidewalk along the east side of A1A.

Current plans do not include any widening or buffering of the existing 4-foot-wide bike lanes, an omission members of the Vero Cycling Club and Bike-Walk Indian River County said violates FDOT’s preferred standards on the local roadway most used by cyclists.

The cycling groups and county officials want FDOT to install 7-foot-wide, buffered bike lanes they say are needed to enable cyclists to safely ride along a two-lane highway where the speed limit varies from 35 mph to 50 mph.

A buffered bike lane is a conventional bike lane paired with a designated buffer space separating the bike lane from the adjacent motor-vehicle travel lane. FDOT standards recommend 5-foot-wide bike lanes with 2-foot-wide buffers.

Despite an email campaign launched by the local cycling groups last month, FDOT officials said the approved project required only the repaving of the existing 4-foot-wide shoulder. In addition, FDOT could delete some or all of the existing bike-lane markings along the 50-mph stretch – because its new 2018 standards prohibit designated bike lanes on roads with a speed limit of 50 mph or higher.

The speed limit on A1A for most of the project is 45 mph, but there is a 2-mile section in Indian River Shores where it increases to 50 mph.

County officials hope reducing the speed limit from 50 mph to 45 mph will require FDOT to amend the project to include the wider, buffered bike lanes.

“I can tell you that being one foot from cars traveling at 45 mph is not comfortable and, frankly, is dangerous,” said Hugh Aaron, president of the Bike-Walk group, a bike-safety instructor and an avid cyclist who claims to ride nearly 100 miles per week on A1A.

“My biggest fear is someone (driving along the road) becoming distracted and drifting into the bike lane,” he added.

County officials shared his concerns.

“The wider, buffered bike lanes make it clear to drivers that bicyclists are on the road,” Matson said. “They also provide enough room for bicyclists to pass other bicyclists, which happens a lot along A1A.

“It’s not just the most-traveled bike lane in the county – and by a good margin – but there’s also a wide range of expertise and experience among the bicyclists who ride there,” he added. “There’s no question wider, buffered bike lanes would make riding there significantly safer.”

At the same time, homeowners along the project’s path were “pretty much in agreement” in their opposition to the proposed sidewalk, Matson said.

Matson said the homeowners complained that installing a sidewalk, which they believe is unnecessary, would require the destruction of a sizable stretch of mature landscaping in the state-owned right-of-way alongside the road. They also argued that the sidewalk money would be better spent on widening the bike lanes – especially since there already is a wide, and mostly-unused, sidewalk on the west side of A1A

“They don’t want the sidewalk,” Matson said, “which they saw as an expensive investment for very little benefit.”

Matson declined to predict what FDOT will do, saying only that he was encouraged by the public input and impressed by the civility shown during the MPO meeting.

“We had a good discussion with a lot of robust public involvement,” Matson said. “Who’d have thought bike lanes would evoke such passion?