The Pensacola Bay Bridge multi-use path is scheduled to open to the public Monday afternoon, almost a year after traffic was transitioned onto the new bridge span.
The multi-use path, which will finally allow for bicycles and pedestrians to safely cross from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze, has gone through multiple delays, including a railing redesign. The latest delay was caused when a vibration safety test team couldn’t travel from Spain to Pensacola because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That will be a great day, not only for people (to have the) pleasure of either riding or walking, but a safety feature for people getting off that bridge,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, referring to when the multi-use path finally opens. “It’s real dangerous for pedestrians and people on bicycles.”
Without the path, pedestrians had no legal way to cross the bridge, and cyclists had to ride in traffic. Some opted to use the center emergency lane to cross, even though that is not allowed.
There are very few companies in the world that can perform a vibration safety test that ensures the path, which hangs under the road portion of the bridge, can withstand high winds.
Broxson said the contractor found a team out of Canada at the University of Western Ontario that could perform the test a few weeks ago. Now that the results are back, officials can open the path, he said.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of excitement,” Broxson said. “Of course, it’s kind of hot now, but I look forward to riding across it on my bike during that beautiful day and watching the traffic right above my head. I think that’s phenomenal.”
Ian Satter, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, directed questions about the path’s opening to Broxson.
Delays in opening the path drew concerns from local bicycle advocates and others interested in walkable communities. Some, even Broxson himself, called for the path to open earlier this summer without the vibration safety test and to close on days with high winds.
Drew Buchanan, a former mayoral candidate, petitioned local officials to come up with an alternative, like a shuttle service, for those who need to get across the bridge but don’t have access to a car. He said he often gets involved with issues related to walkability and bikeability and is concerned about those who don’t have access to cars.
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“That’s why it’s been so important for me. For one, I’d love to use the path but I’m just doing it for fun. I’m thinking about the people that have to get to work on the beach or in Gulf Breeze and vice versa and if you think about it, how do they get across without taking the bus?” Buchanan said. “Now they can finally do it and that’s a great accomplishment.
Buchanan said he now hopes local officials will turn their attention to bike infrastructure immediately before and after the bridge to help cyclists travel more safely.
Christian Wagley, executive director of Bike Pensacola, said he plans to put together a small, physically distanced group ride along the path once it opens Monday.
Wagley said he’s been involved with advocating for a regional system of bike paths and trails and the Pensacola Bay Bridge is a critical link in that potential system. He hopes to one day see a continuous trail between Blackwater River State Forest and the beaches.
“We definitely want to celebrate this as it’s been a long time coming and it’s a great step forward for Pensacola,” Wagley said. “We’ve talked for months about putting together a small group ride, obviously one that’s physically distanced considering the time we’re in, just to enjoy it and celebrate it and raise awareness to our supporters.”