Officials address ‘chaos’ at Bixby Bridge

SALINAS – Monterey County is juggling multiple state and federal agencies in search of solutions to the tourist congestion on and at Bixby Bridge that is being called “dangerous,” a “chaotic disaster” and a “crisis.”

The long-running effort seeks to get unruly drivers and pedestrians to stop dangerous practices such as illegally darting in front of cars and tourists stopping cars in the middle of a lane so passengers and drivers can jump out to snap photos of the iconic bridge.

Supervisor Mary Adams, whose District 5 includes the bridge and neighboring areas, is championing the effort to address the situation with multi-pronged approaches. On Tuesday Randy Ishii, the director of the county’s Public Works, Facilities and Parks department, updated the Board of Supervisors on what effort’s been made and the challenges the county faces.

The view of Bixby Creek Bridge along Highway 1 is photographed in Big Sur in 2020. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Any solution will require permitting from several state and federal agencies, Ishii said, including Caltrans, the California Coastal Commission, California State Parks, the U.S. Forest Service and others.

“There are challenges, but not without potential solutions,” Ishii said.

The situation has a lot of people living in the area asking for more enforcement of traffic laws at the bridge. Martha Diehl, the vice-chair and District 5 representative on the Monterey County Planning Commission said the situation is a health and safety emergency.

She said there is a need for increased law enforcement and cameras in the area. She suggested raising funds to pay the California Highway Patrol for stepped-up enforcement on all holidays and heavy weekends. Diehl estimated it would cost roughly $75,000 a year for the added law enforcement.

RELATED: Save the railings! A battle cry for preserving a historic Big Sur bridge — and spectacular coastal views

Trish Jackson, a resident of Bixby Canyon, called in to the Board of Supervisors meeting and said she agreed with Diehl’s approach.

“All the policies don’t mean anything without enforcement,” Jackson said.

A phone call and email to the Monterey Area CHP Wednesday morning from The Herald asking what its enforcement policies were at the bridge were not immediately returned.

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Rachel Goldberger, a program manager with the Community Association of Big Sur, spent hours watching traffic at the bridge and raised the issue of dangerous behavior of pedestrians who would dart out in front of traffic. Some motorists traveling an estimated 55 mph wouldn’t be able to see the pedestrians because they are coming out from in front of parked cars.

Goldberger at one point counted 226 pedestrians per hour crossing the road and then back again to their own cars.

Adams, who placed a referral to have the issue addressed by the board, has heard from people living along Old Coast Road who are worried about cars blocking access to the road for first responders. Old Coast Road turns off at Bixby Bridge and then runs somewhat parallel with Highway 1 for about 10 miles before emptying out near Andrew Molera State Park.

People cross Highway 1 to their cars parked on Coast Road near Bixby Creek Bridge in this Oct. 2015 photo. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald Archive)

The view of Bixby Creek Bridge along Highway 1 is photographed in Big Sur in 2020. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

Southbound traffic on Highway 1 over the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur in 2019. (Monterey Herald file)

Rocky Creek Bridge on Highway 1 in Big Sur on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. The bridge, built in 1932, is one of six historic arch bridges along the Big Sur Coast that CalTrans has proposed rail replacements to bring the facilities up to current traffic safety standards. The other bridges are Big Creek Bridge, Bixby Creek Bridge, Garrapata Creek Bridge, Granite Canyon Bridge, and Malpaso Creek Bridge. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

Rocky Creek Bridge on Highway 1 in Big Sur on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. The bridge, built in 1932, is one of six historic arch bridges along the Big Sur Coast that CalTrans has proposed rail replacements to bring the facilities up to current traffic safety standards. The other bridges are Big Creek Bridge, Bixby Creek Bridge, Garrapata Creek Bridge, Granite Canyon Bridge, and Malpaso Creek Bridge. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

BIG SUR, CA.- APRIL 15: The iconic Bixby Creek Bridge catches the late afternoon sunlight along the dramatic California coastline, Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in Big Sur, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Fog clings to the waters edge at Bixby Bridge in Big Sur on Friday June 17, 2016. (David Royal – Monterey Herald)

Runners cross Bixby Creek Bridge during the Big Sur International Marathon on Sunday, April 28, 2019. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

(LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California, on Saturday, October 6, 2018. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

From left, UC Berkeley seniors Sabrina Kassam, 21, Ingy Omar, 21, Hira Aly, 21, Salma Madi, 21, and Faiz Moosa, 21, visit Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California, on Saturday, October 6, 2018. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

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“Over the past decade, Bixby Bridge has become a destination for the millions of Big Sur visitors each year,” Adams wrote in her referral. “Unfortunately, due to a lack of proper infrastructure, parking ordinances, enforcement personnel, and geographic space, the area has become an unsafe bottleneck with visitors stopping and parking directly on Highway 1, barricading access points and illegally crossing the highway in order to take a photo of the iconic bridge.”

One challenge for anyone trying to tame the chaos is that the bridge is highly promoted internationally. The California tourism bureau – Visit California – singles out Bixby Bridge as a “favorite attraction for photographers, from professionals to those in search of the ultimate depth-of-field selfie.”

The Visit California website even encourages motorists to “pull over at numerous turnouts to get amazing views, particularly from the (Bixby) bridge’s south end at sunset.”

Even Monterey County’s own website lets tourists know that the bridge’s “graceful arch over Bixby Canyon makes this one of most photographed bridges in the west.”

While there could be solutions to the problem, no one is saying it will be a quick fix, particularly in light of all the various jurisdictions that must come together to form a single set of policies. The next report back to supervisors will be sometime this summer. In the meantime, the chaos continues.

“For anyone who’s driven on this bridge, it’s a disaster,” said Supervisor Wendy Root Askew. “It’s a crisis situation.”

 

 

 

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