Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns

Victor Dover and John Massengale’s excellent new book, “Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns”, was the topic of a talk given Monday night at Palm Beach Dramaworks. It was truly a community effort to make this happen, with the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Neighborhood Association, Dramaworks, Beth Dowdle and many others asking for this message to be disseminated to our community.

It was a packed house and great to see so many public officials attending. Commissioner Materio was in attendance, Raphael Clemente of the DDA made the introductions, Jon Ward, CRA Director, attended, and Mayor Muoio made an appearance. Many board members of the Downtown Development Authority, the Downtown Action Committee, and the Downtown Neighborhood Association came.

Victor Dover started with a brief history of streets. He contrasted the streets we have made historically, through the accumulated trial and error of centuries, to those we’ve experimented with only in the last 50 or so years.

Our task now is to remake streets into places where people want to be. This requires us to think holistically and be generalists to create a bigger vision of placemaking. Streets are places for people that accomodate the car, not the other way around. Best quote of the night: “If it’s not beautiful, it’s not a complete street”. Amen.

Victor honed in on Okeechobee Boulevard and how it bisects our neighborhoods, cutting off Cityplace and downtown from the neighborhoods to the south. It needs to be fixed. We should also consider our approach to roundabout design and consider the context of the area, instead of applying engineering standards without regard to the context of an area (eg Pioneer Plaza).

If you want to make it safer, you have to make it slower. In a 20 mph crash, a pedestrian is over 90% likely to survive. Increase the speed to 30 mph, and that drops to only 50%. A driver’s ‘vision cone’ (what they can focus on) drops dramatically as speed increases.

Who leads in street design? Government. Once a street is designed as a place and investors have certainty, private investment will follow. So much of our public realm is utterly depressing that it does not provide a platform for long-term value, but rather short term gains. Good streets are a public good with benefits that accrue to the citizenry at large and cannot be privatized. Only local government can do this job; in fact, it is at the core of what good local governance is all about. I asked Dover what are some of the best investments a local government can make to provide a quality street, public investments that will attract people and private investment? Street shade trees and bicycling, he said.

This was a fantastic event leading up to Jeff Speck’s walkability study release. See you on the 27th at 3 pm for the release of the study.  Oh, and Clematis Street is today’s “Street of the Day”! Go Clematis Street!


Follow the excellent “streetoftheday” hashtag on social media for daily postings of the best streets. Also, one of our local advocates posts the evil nemesis of the Street of the Day, the “stroadoftheday”. Follow that as well as #dangerousbydesign for lots of pictures of the dangerous, expensive, and poor return on investment “stroads” we have been building in recent decades.

No Walkable West Palm Beach meetup this month. Join us for Jeff Speck’s report presentation. We’ll be working to carry its recommendations out, organizing a group of advocates locally. If you want more livable streets and walkable communities, now is the time to get involved. Watch for a meetup announcement in early June.

[update:  The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach, on Clematis Street, has a copy of “Street Design” for those interested in these ideas. Thanks to Joe Chase for helping to add this excellent book to the collection]


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