Pain in the Bike Lane

A compromise to widen A1A could kill

Save Our Seacoast also hired a conservative lobbying firm, Southern Strategy, to help spearhead a mass-mailing blitz. The company came up with a brochure that advocated leaving A1A essentially as it is. In early January 2004, full-color Save Our Seacoast fliers/petitions landed in 36,000 mailboxes in Delray Beach. Edick also had, according to his own fundraising letters, raised almost $50,000 to lobby against any changes to the road. Save Our Seacoast had a novel idea regarding the bike lanes. "None is better," said a report the group published that summer. "Leave AIA alone. Just repave it as-is. Not broken; don't fix it."

The city's new mayor, Jeff Perlman, who took office in March 2004, wasn't happy that Save Our Seacoast decided to take matters into its own hands. "We told them not to," he says. "I didn't like their tactics, and I didn't like their mailing." He jokes, "Instead of Save Our Seacoast, it should have been Save Our Keypads," referring to the electronic devices homeowners use to gain entry to gated driveways.

Soon, the city -- influenced by a study prepared by Southern Strategy and the moneyed voices of Edick and his neighbors -- had second thoughts about letting the state have its way with A1A. Delray leaders began talking with bicycle riders, beach homeowners, and businesses about a compromise. But hard-core cyclists wouldn't budge from the five-foot lane, and homeowners didn't want to surrender an inch of landscaping. "What's rotten about the anti-bike-lane lobby," urban planner Clemente says, "is they were able to paint the cycling community as a special-interest group of scofflaws who ride wherever they want, whenever they want."

Would you take a private jet to Tallahassee for this?
Colby Katz
Would you take a private jet to Tallahassee for this?

Most people who ride the beach in Delray are just regular folks. But some die-hard bikers are a little more aggressive. "Personally, I don't require a bike lane," says cyclist and self-described "wayward songwriter" Mike Tague, who says he has no trouble keeping up with traffic. But Tague insists that clearly designated lanes will make biking safer for kids and families. In his nine years of biking in Palm Beach County, "I've had bottles, quarters, and fish thrown at me," Tague reports. "They'll still scream obscenities at me, bike lane or not."

Edick admits he's not pleased by the packs of cyclists who speed twice weekly past the walls of his property. "But the reality is, it's only a relatively small number of people" who use A1A for bike riding, he insists.

Negotiations dragged on for months and were often heated. Mayor Perlman recalls: "At one point, they were arguing over six inches," he says. The issue has all but dominated his first year as mayor. "Not why I wanted to be in office," he admits, adding that he never imagined five feet of grass and trees could constitute such a contentious issue.

By March 2004, Delray Beach adopted the "consensus plan" that called for three-foot shoulders. Richwagen immediately came under attack. "The bike riders accused me of accepting bribes," the bike-store owner says.

On June 16, the Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Office OK'd the plan and sent it to the state for approval. "It's in their hands," Perlman says, "and it's their road." But Tague and another cyclist have asked the Florida Attorney General's Office to determine whether the consensus committee meeting violated the state Sunshine Law, which requires public notice of government activity. "I've elected to pursue this thing," Tague says. "It seemed like something fishy was going on."

Both the Palm Beach Post and the Sun-Sentinel have derided the compromise.

In the meantime, back in his office off Southern Boulevard, Clemente sits at a desk that is stacked with paperwork and recommendations regarding the importance of bike lanes on busy urban streets. "A state statute has been brushed under the rug for the benefit of wealthy beachfront property owners," he mopes. "They've placed landscaping over lives.

"I'm just trying to find out," he says, "how did we lose?"

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