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Cyclists eager to pedal the wide open bike lanes of new Southern Boulevard Bridge, opening Sept. 1

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

WHEN IT COMES to great places to ride a bicycle in South Florida, it’s hard to beat the scenic waterfront routes along State Road A1A and Flagler Drive in the Palm Beaches.

But for avid cyclists, that has always come with a disclaimer: When pedaling across one of three Intracoastal Waterway bridges connecting downtown West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, avoid the Southern Boulevard Bridge and its practically non-existent bike lanes.

The South Bridge’s narrow bike lanes, barely 3 feet wide, can feel like a trail of terror, with motor vehicles whizzing by within inches of cyclists.

That’s about to change.

On Sept. 1, the new and improved Southern Boulevard Bridge will open to traffic, following a five-year, $94 million construction project that replaced the old span built in 1950.

The new bike lanes are 7 feet wide, a foot wider than the minimum required by state law. The new motor vehicle lanes, one way in each direction, are 12 feet wide. The bridge will also have 6-foot-wide sidewalks, separated from the road by a railing.

Bird's-eye view of new Southern Boulevard Bridge in July 2022. That's West Palm Beach at top of photo. (Florida Department of Transportation)

That’s great news for motorists and pedestrians, but it’s even greater news for area cyclists who for years have either walked their bikes across the bridge's narrow pedestrian sidewalk or avoided the bridge altogether rather than risk getting clipped by a car.

“It's going to make riders a lot more comfortable. They will be more at ease now with not having to deal with what they've had to deal with before,’’ said Jim Graham of LC Tri Shop, a high-end bicycle store in West Palm Beach.

“Without a wide bike lane,’’ he said, “it’s kind of hairy.’’

So hairy that, in the past, many cyclists acted like the Southern Bridge didn’t exist, opting instead for longer rides to cross at the Flagler Memorial and Royal Park bridges to the north or the Lake Worth Bridge more than eight miles to the south.

The old Southern Boulevard Bridge, built in 1950 and shown in this 2017 photo, had no dedicated bike lane. The dark gray stripe at the far right of the eastbound lane was the pedestrian walkway. (FDOT)

In many ways, the new bridge will feel like a brand-new bike route.

“After five years of construction, cyclists will now have a nice cycle path from West Palm to Palm Beach,’’ said Juan Orellana, president of Connect West Palm Beach, an advocacy group for walkability, bikeability and public spaces.

And it’s not just leisure riders who will benefit, he said, pointing out that many service workers at places like Mar-a-Lago rely on bicycles for transportation.

“I know many of my cycling friends will pass by this new bridge every weekend and rest a little more now that it’s safer for us, the most vulnerable users of the roads,’’ said Orellana, who owns UpCycle bike shop in West Palm Beach.

The new bridge will open to traffic starting at 6 a.m. on Sept. 1.

A bicycle rests in the new wide bike lanes at the west end of the new Southern Boulevard Bridge's eastbound lane. (Joe Capozzi)

To prepare for the traffic switch from the temporary bridge to the new bridge, crews will direct eastbound and westbound traffic on Southern Boulevard between Washington Road and east of the bascule bridge from 9 p.m. Aug. 31 to 6 a.m. Sept. 1 while the roadway is re-striped.

Police officers will direct local traffic at the intersections of Flagler Drive and Southern Boulevard and at Washington Road and Southern Boulevard as traffic signals are modified. Marine traffic will not be impacted.

Although the bridge will open to traffic on Sept. 1, construction related the replacement project will continue into early 2023, the Florida Department of Transportation said.

Map of detours starting Aug. 31 through the end of the year while Flagler Drive north of Southern Boulevard is rebuilt. (FDOT)

At the west end of the bridge, Flagler Drive will be closed between Southern Boulevard and Monroe Drive beginning at 9 p.m. Aug. 31 through the end of the year as it is reconstructed. Traffic will be detoured to Washington Road. Access for local traffic will be maintained.

DOT crews will soon dismantle the temporary bridge that was built in the first phase of the project to allow a continued flow of traffic, including the motorcades carrying Donald Trump to Mar-a-Lago while he was president, as the old 1950 bridge was replaced with the new one.

Construction on the bridge started in 2017. The project's cost, $97 million, is $4 million more than the initial estimate.

The opening of the Southern Boulevard Bridge ends a more than 22-year period when at least one of the area’s three bridges was under construction. The rebuilt Royal Park Bridge opened in 2004 and the Flagler Memorial Bridge opened in 2018.

The bridges are designed to last 75 years from the time they are put in service, a DOT spokesperson said.

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020.View all posts by Joe Capozzi.


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