Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

A fabulous new bridge not for fishing

You are in sneakers, sun beating down, sky all around, wind in your hair. You are high over the water, a couple of dolphins curving below, an osprey above.

As you walk east — or bike, or run — you see big jets streaming into Tampa International Airport. Behind you is Clearwater, and over there the dome of Tropicana Field, just past the high-rises of downtown St. Pete.

It is, in a word, spectacular.

The quietly just-opened pedestrian bridge that parallels the south side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway between Tampa and Clearwater is as wonderful a perk for these parts as the Friendship Trail Bridge before it. (Sadly, the old bridge-turned-recreational-trail closed when it got too old.)

So good news: A somewhat similar trail — officially, the Courtney Campbell Trail — again showcases the best we have going. It's weather, sky and water, and a ribbon of road on which to enjoy it.

But even with this federally funded wonder comes controversy. (As former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco used to say, pave the streets in gold and someone will complain about the glare. Yep, that's us.)

People who fish want to use the bridge. Hey, they pay taxes. Why shouldn't they have the same rights as those runners and cyclists and power-walkers?

And here I was so ready to line up beside the fisherfolk.

Until I got up there.

The new span rises a cool 45 feet but is only 16 feet wide. People with chairs and coolers casting hooks even at its edges cannot coexist with people riding by on bikes or pushing strollers.

There just isn't room. It isn't safe.

And remember, this project was all about making it safer in a place with a grim reputation when it comes to people who dare try to walk or pedal.

Then there's the mess.

If you have fished off a pier, dock or bridge, you are likely familiar with the social compact a lot of us Floridians grew up with: You do not leave behind empty plastic ice bags, drained Pepsi bottles or fish innards for the next guy. You trust he will do the same for you.

But be it at a city pier or public park, there are always those who cannot seem to see the garbage cans at the ready for that dirty diaper or McDonald's bag, lacking in the most basic outdoor etiquette.

That morning on the bridge, I stepped over dead fish and fish guts. I threw away a broken pole lying across the concrete path in a tangle of snarled line. In the parking lot, I gave away some expensive-looking tackle with lots of lethal-looking fishhooks, also found on the path.

Dismayed by similar findings, early users of the bridge sent photos and concerns to the Florida Department of Transportation. (Some were grosser than fish innards. Trust me on this.) So the pedestrian bridge is officially closed to fishing, not that that's ended the war. Monday, someone had yanked up the no-fishing sign.

Now, in a perfect world, someone would come up with a great plan to share this cool new bridge, maybe allowing fishing at limited times and forming volunteer crews to get rid of the garbage.

Then again, in a perfect world, bikers, walkers and runners wouldn't need a separate bridge to be safe. And you wouldn't need to clean up after the last guy, just so you too could enjoy the best of this place.

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