The mixed-use Pensacola Bay Bridge track is set to open to the public nearly a year after traffic shuttles to the new bridge bridge.
The mixed-use pathway, which will finally allow bicycles and pedestrians to cross safely from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze, has experienced multiple delays, including a redesign of the fence. The reason for the recent delay was the inability of the vibration safety testing team to travel from Spain to Pensacola due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This will be a wonderful day out, not only for people (to enjoy) riding or walking, but also a safety feature for people who descend from this bridge,” said Senator Doug Brooksson, referring to that multi-use trail. Finally opens. “It is a real danger to pedestrians and people on bicycles.”
Without the track, pedestrians had no legal way to cross the bridge, and cyclists had to ride in traffic. Some have chosen to use the central emergency lane to cross, although this is not permitted.
There are very few companies in the world that can perform a vibration safety test that ensures that the track, which hangs under the road portion of the bridge, can withstand high winds.
Brooksson said the contractor found a team from Canada at the University of Western Ontario who could take the test a few weeks in advance. Now that the results are back, officials can open the way, he said.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of excitement,” Brooksson said. “Of course, it’s a bit hot now, but I’m looking forward to riding it on my bike during that beautiful day and watching the traffic right over my head. I think that’s exceptional.”
Ian Satter, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, asked questions about the road opening for Brooksson.
The delay in opening the track has raised concerns from local cycling advocates and others interested in walkable communities. Some, even Brooksson himself, called for the track to open earlier this summer without testing the integrity of vibrations and to close it on high wind days.
Drew Buchanan, a former mayoral candidate, pleaded with local officials to find an alternative, such as a shuttle service, for those who needed to cross the bridge but could not access a car. He said he often gets involved in issues of walkability and bicycles and is concerned about those who cannot access cars.
“That’s why it’s so important to me. For someone, I like to use the track but I do it just for fun. I think of people who have to work on the beach or in the bay breeze and vice versa, and if I think about it, how do they cross without taking the bus Buchanan said. “Now they can finally do that and that is a great achievement.
Buchanan said he now hopes local officials turn their attention to the bike infrastructure directly before and after the bridge to help cyclists travel more safely.
Bike Pensacola CEO Christian Wagley said he plans to put together a small, physically distant group ride along the route once it opens.
Wagley said he has been involved in advocating a regional system of bike paths and lanes, and the Pensacola Bay Bridge is an important link in that potential system. He hopes to someday see a continuous path between Blackwater River State Forest and the beaches.
“We definitely want to celebrate this because it’s been so long ago and it’s a great step forward for Pensacola,” Wagley said. “We’ve been talking for months about organizing a small group excursion that is clearly physically distant given the time we’re in, just to enjoy it and celebrate it and raise awareness among our supporters.”