With hordes of cyclists huffing and puffing across the Rickenbacker Causeway every day, it’s hard to imagine a time when seeing a cyclist there was a rare occurrence. But in the early 1970s, that was it.
I had enrolled at the University of Miami in 1968, and in 1972 I was still trying to rack up enough credits to graduate. When I realized that a few evening classes would be enough to cross the finish line, my days suddenly rose to seek gainful employment. So I did what any future graduate would do: I applied for a job at the local bike shop.
At that time, Joe Avalos owned two bike shops: Dade Cycle in Coconut Grove, with a staff of 20, and Key Cyclery in Key Biscayne, with a staff of two. After six months at the Coconut Grove store, I was appointed Key Biscayne store manager. My favorite way to commute from my apartment in Coconut Grove was, of course, by bike.
I loved then (and still love) the freedom of riding a bike instead of being stuck inside a car. But in those days, crossing the road by bicycle was a daunting prospect. Before the William Powell Bridge opened in 1986, Key Biscayne was connected to the mainland by a drawbridge designed in the 1940s, when cars were still king. With only a low wall in the median, no shoulder and no cycle path, the drawbridge was precarious.
On those rare occasions when I met another cyclist, we always gave a warm wave. In those early years, I don’t remember seeing a group of cyclists riding in a peloton.
When the bridge opened, conditions along the roadway improved dramatically, not only for cyclists but also for walkers and runners. Shoulders were added, a higher divider wall was installed in the median, and a new fitness trail was constructed from the toll booth to the Bear Cut Bridge.
Pavement improvements coincided with a health and fitness craze then sweeping the country. It wasn’t long before the lonely efforts on the pavement gave way to a relentless stream of cyclists and a parade of runners and walkers.
Rickenbacker Causeway provides the perfect setting for outdoor recreation, with Miami’s scenic skyline to the north, a welcome breeze and sparkling Biscayne Bay to the south. With the added challenge of climbing the 80-foot-tall bridge – known to many as “The Miami Mountain” – Key Biscayne has quickly become the go-to destination for recreational and serious cyclists.
Further improvements came soon after following a push from Cliff Brody and the other members of the Key Biscayne Council. In 1989, the county built a five-foot-wide, 2.2-mile-long bike path along each side of Crandon Boulevard from the Bear Cut Bridge to the Calusa Park roundabout. The Key Biscayne Property Taxpayers’ Association had given design approval for the bike paths, but wanted them to continue further south to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.
Anyone who regularly drives, bikes, walks, runs or travels on the pavement these days has to wonder if we have become victims of our own success. It seems like we are so often at or above a safe capacity for cyclists these days. Much discussion has focused on improvements that could be made to the roadway, including the controversial Plan Z.
Here’s another idea: what if the county focused on providing safe alternatives for cyclists to ride elsewhere? Sure, Rickenbacker Causeway is a great place to ride, but what if cyclists had additional safe and scenic options, especially in South Dade? If the county were to improve other roads — making them smoother and more bike-friendly — bicycle traffic on the roadway would likely decrease. As it stands, it’s like the Key has the only football field in the county and everyone wants to come and play here.