You know that thing you do when your car battery’s about shot and you have to drive around to get it charged enough to get to work? Yeah. Like that. A bunch of years ago, having nothing much else to do, I road-tripped up to the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Figured an afternoon walking the bridge would make up for the aimless battery-charging duties.
Closed. And, it was going to be closed for a long time as repairs got underway for the massive, multi-year re-build of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad bridge. Oh well, as a friend says, fiddlesticks.
Today I’m two for an irritable two. Last week, post a meeting in Marathon, Ranger Ed and I were all agog over plans to stop at the newly re-opened Old Seven Mile, which opened again on Jan. 12. We’d brought along our walking shoes. The weather was perfect, albeit a bit windy and we were, as kids said when I was a kid, psyched.
Bummer. (Also an old-fashioned bit of slang, but effective.)
With a line of cars sticking their backsides out into the southwest bound highway, it was all but certain we weren’t going to get onto the new Old Seven Mile Bridge. And we didn’t. And we won’t. And you probably won’t, either. Unless you’re a big shot for whom the bridge parking lot is ceremoniously closed so a ribbon can be cut and congratulatory photos can be shot.
Oops. We forgot the parking at the Old Seven Mile Bridge
Somewhere in some piled-high-with-paper office in Tallahassee or similar governmental location, someone has to be sick-making wondering if they shouldn’t just ‘fess up and be done with it. Because, oops, there’s no way to get to the Old Seven Mile Bridge itself. We forgot to plan the access.
Getting into and out of the new Old Seven Mile Bridge park, turning left or right on the Overseas Highway, navigating between speeding cars and hidden sight lines and praying that a walker or biker doesn’t cut right in front of you cannot possibly be what the assorted planners had in mind for this $41-million-plus, five-year project.
Realistically, there’s no way to provide enough parking to meet the demand, which is, as we all know, a Florida Keys thing. Land is scarce and it would have been tough (cynical joke ahead) to get the permits to build a 10-story parking garage. I get that part. It’s a walking, biking, meandering, linear kind of park. Starts down at the bottom of the “hill” toward Marathon and pushes upwards to the bridge. Tickles maybe a mile on the incline. But the catch is, there’s no parking down there, either.
Heaven help you if you think you’re gonna cheat, turn into the Isla Bella Beach Resort on Knight Key at the bottom of the grade. They’ve already installed a plethora of “park here and you’ll be sorry” kind of signs. Even if you’re game for rolling the parking czar dice, you still have to climb the berm and pray you’ve got enough energy left to play dodge car crossing the highway.
Ranger Ed and I pulled into the parking area before realizing it was full. There are two lanes of traffic (in and out) and one lane of parking, which isn’t obvious until you’re already committed. Because there’s no exit, our only way out was to execute a three-point (or five, depending on how many other lost souls just did what we did) and turn around the way we came in.
By late morning, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department had a car on the scene, it, too, trapped as bikers, walkers and cars did an awkward shuffle to avoid gridlock — with more cars piling up at the entrance and spilling into the highway.
We called it quits after I hopped out of the car onto the side of the highway, jumped the guardrail (well, not jumped exactly since I am past the jumping age) and grabbed a couple of pictures and a quick video. Proof, you know. We weren’t about to drive back down into Marathon, hunting a parking place a mile or two away, risk getting towed, walk back up to the bridge park and then out onto the big blue bridge.
I so wanted this new Old Seven Mile Bridge to be a really cool thing. Like so many of us, I’d followed the progress on those two miles of blue paint, happy to see new trees and sustainable landscaping and such lovely access to a truly remarkable piece of Keys history. I’ll try again. Maybe that day was a fluke.