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.
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.
(LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)
“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.”