County Engineer George Webb: Okeechobee Boulevard to be reconfigured to multiway boulevard

In a major policy shift at last night’s county workshop, County Engineer George Webb announced that Okeechobee Boulevard east of I-95 will be reconfigured into a multiway boulevard design similar to those that have been successfully implemented on other American arterials.

Citing Victor Dover & John Massengale’s new book and a recent meeting with livable streets transportation engineer Ian Lockwood as inspiration, Webb says reconfiguration is scheduled to break ground by end of year:

You know, I heard a lot from the New Urbanists at Congress for the New Urbanism 20 at the West Palm Beach Convention Center. The convention center is a county project and so is the new hotel going up next to it, and Okeechobee Boulevard is a county road. My Twitter feed was inundated with folks who couldn’t cross Okee safely and comfortably and I’ve been mulling over the problem ever since. The Palm Beach Post has been doing a series of stories on the fact that we have one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the country. This is simply unacceptable. No more of this “stroad” masquerading as a boulevard.

East of I-95, the land uses are dense and urban enough to support a multiway boulevard. The value capture potential is there. West of I-95, it’s lined with strip malls, constant access points, and parking lots. I’m afraid there is little that can be done for that stretch of roadway until adjacent land uses fundamentally change. That area needs a complete do-over. That will be the career-defining work of my successor and the challenge I pass to them.

Webb cited examples of successful reconfiguration of the earthquake-damaged Central Freeway in San Francisco, which became Octavia Boulevard, as well as Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. “Ironically, the side access lane will permit cars to flow freely in the through lanes and capacity will be increased, along with a huge boost to property values along the access lane frontage. It will become a place for people” says Webb.

Some example photos of successful multiway boulevards that Webb cited:

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  1. Ryan Feller

    Kudos to Webb – looks like a win for safety and business in downtown WPB, and even improves traffic flow. I look forward to seeing the proposed design.

    Does anyone know the land use regulations governing Okeechobee west of I-95, whether the deep setbacks and huge street-facing parking lots are allowed for new construction on the corridor?

    • Unfortunately Ryan, this was a satirical piece we wrote for April Fool’s Day, sadly. If only something like this were on the table. Can’t hurt to get people talking about it and thinking about it though, so we did.

      West of I-95, there is a small section of older suburb known as the Westgate area that is part of the Westgate CRA. I believe that portion of the stroad has a form-based code and encourages good, value-creating design. But along most of Okeechobee, to my knowledge, it’s about as sprawl centric as it gets. Thanks for the comment.

    • Thanks for the comment, Edward. I know part of the walkability study Jeff Speck is conducting is to look at Okeechobee Boulevard in downtown. I hope that something of this sort will come out of that project. Do you think a multiway boulevard could be an optimal solution to improve safety and accessibility for all users, but still providing the vehicle carrying capacity that traffic engineers are most concerned with?

      • That is the definition of a multi-way boulevard. I would suggest undoing the one-way pair east of 95, and explore the multi-way section west of 95.

        The downtown has an amazing grid and balanced uses. The lessons from the north south streets should be carried on this east/west road. The lessons on these other streets attracted investment and created billions of dollars of investment for West Palm Beach.

        • I’m soliciting an enlightened transportation engineer to help with a basic plan, pro-bono work. Something that could address the obvious objections “It will slow down the cars! “It will cause delays” and create some visuals to get people excited. I’m going to need help on this one.

  2. George Webb

    Great story. But, none of this is possible without the involvement and approval of the Florida Department of Transportation – and they weren’t even mentioned! And if Ian Lockwood were the inspiration, he would probably propose this as a two lane road with multiple roundabouts along the corridor.

    Nice job on the article and, after circulating it, I enjoyed a few chuckles with those that have had some historical involvement in developing this stroad!

    And to repeat — APRIL FOOL!

    • Joe R

      As a West Palm Beach resident, it would be awesome to see something happen to Okeechobee Stroad. It really is scary to walk/bike or to cross. Any of the above mentioned suggestions would be great! Even the two lane street 😉

      So is Okeechobee a state road, or how does that work? Does FDOT have engineering standards that counties have to follow? I know Broward County is pursuing more of a “complete streets” plan – does that help them when dealing with FDOT?

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  4. Baron Haussmann

    Multiway boulevards are rare in the usa, but west palm beach already has one. Palm beach lakes boulevard from okechobee to I-95 is a multiway boulevard.

    The access roads on palm beach lakes aren’t perfect. They are too wide and live oaks would be a better street tree than the palms. The live oaks provide shade and a buffer between the main road and access road.

    The nice thing about a multiway blvd. is that you don’t need bike lanes. the access roads
    are sharrows and provide a cycling experience that is superior to a bike lane that is next to a car traveling at 50 mph. The dutch already know this:

    • Very interesting. I hadn’t thought of Palm Beach Lakes as a multiway boulevard before, but you’re right. It would seem to be an area with lots of potential for redevelopment and value capture if the adjacent land use regulations were more supportive of mixed-use, urban buildings. Thanks for the comment.

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