We’ve all heard the idiom “Death by 1,000 cuts.” We could turn that one upside down and come up with what will ultimately be the only way St. Augustine’s parking and traffic issues will ever be eased. Call it “Mobility by 1,000 tweaks.” And notice we did not say that these issues will be “solved.” They won’t.
This week the U.S. Coast Guard turned down a request by the city to smooth a few wrinkles out of the Bridge of Lions’ span openings. The gist was to decrease span openings and closings during peak automobile traffic times.
In truth, had the request been granted, it would have made barely a dent in the traffic snarls there.
This is, we believe, at least the third time St. Augustine has approached the Coast Guard, seeking to streamline openings.
Motorists each time were vocal in their complaints about the Coast Guard’s resistance to changing bridge openings.
The Coast Guard’s letter stated that it is committed to balancing the needs of land transportation with the reasonable needs of navigation.
It concluded that further restricting draw span openings would cause “a significant negative safety impact to maritime traffic.”
The Coast Guard is not responsible for the city’s traffic woes, but it is responsible for boater safety on the 1,500 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway stretching between Florida Bay and Boston.
The bridge span is among the smaller along that route, and St. Augustine is considered among the more unsafe passages along its length.
The Coast Guard notes on Coastal Pilot that: “Caution is advised because the tidal currents, particularly ebb, run at right angles to the bridge. It is advisable to drift large tows through this opening at slack water. Normal flood currents of 1 knot and ebb currents of 1.5 knots may be expected. Several mishaps involving the bridge being hit by vessels, which have lost maneuvering control during periods of ebb currents, have occurred. Caution is advised when transiting the area.”
The span height is only 18 feet when the bridge is down and at mean high water. The horizontal span is just 79 feet.
Perhaps the longest tenured outright fights in the city’s history was in the early 2000s, when the new-bridge brigade waged a bitter battle with the save-the-bridge brigade.
The new bridge folks wanted a bridge with a vastly extended height, two traffic lanes, an emergency lane and a bicycle lane. The horizontal span was to be widened to 125 feet, for maritime safety concerns.
The preservationists prevailed, much to the chagrin of the new-bridge brigade, whose rallying cry came from one well-known opponent who made the objection that the Bridge of Lions was not historic (built in 1927) and that he owned undershorts that were older.
So, right or wrong, we got what we asked for — which was a bridge with no more carrying capacity than it was designed to handle in the Roaring Twenties.
None of this is going to change until the brigades square off again 60 years down the road.
Until then, when the bridge goes up, loosen your tie, roll the windows down, smell the sea breeze and chill. Fume at your own peril.
We do have one pertinent question, though. How come the bridge never gets stuck down?