Fern Street to become a great street

The City of West Palm Beach is about to begin final design on Fern St. improvements. The project received a grant from FDOT for construction in the amount of $660,000. Kudos to City staff for putting together a successful grant application. In this post we will discuss the design proposal in the grant application and provide some alternative designs for Fern St.

The project hopes to achieve the following for Fern St.:

  • “complete street” offering multiple transportation options
  • pedestrian enhancements
  • beautification enhancements. e.g. landscaping, decorative street lights.
  • better bicycle facilities
  • reduce stormwater discharges

Fern Street has 80′ right of way with 13′ wide sidewalks, two travel lanes, and angled parking. Here is the existing typical section:



and a Google street view of what most of Fern St. looks like; followed by view of the improved section of Fern from Sapodilla to Rosemary:




The amazing thing is that the two sections of road in the photos above are geometrically identical. Street trees make all the difference. Decorative street lights and patterned / colored crosswalks are nice, but a tree canopy makes a great street.

The City proposed in their grant application to replicate the section of Fern from Sapodilla to Rosemary with the addition of sharrows and bioswales. For those not familiar with bioswales you should check out this video from street films about the Indianapolis cultural bike trail.  One thing to note in the video, is that the cultural trail had long runs of bioswales where no had to step out of  a parked car.

The proposed sharrows, a.k.a. shared lane markings, in the grant application are troubling as it is a well known fact that bicycle facilities shouldn’t be placed in streets with head in parking as cars backing out don’t always see cyclists. If the City wishes to utilize the Fern concept then the solution is to change the parking to head out angled parking. Here is a great video explaining head out angled parking. The problem with head out angled parking is that it can be a tough sell.

Presumably, the City prepared their grant application for Fern prior to All Aboard Florida’s plan to close Datura and Evernia and without the knowledge of the subsequent increase in traffic that Fern will experience.  Painting sharrows, adding street trees, and converting to head out angled parking will make Fern a better street, but it is disingenuous to believe that this will bring any meaningful increase in cycle ridership.  Painting sharrows was probably added to the design so that project scored higher on the grant application. Dedicated bike lanes or cycle tracks provide a much better cycling experience than sharrows.

At walkablewpb we take a holistic view of street design and don’t think that every street in the City needs a bike lane or a protected cycle track. However, the City does need a strategic cycle network. The strategic cycle network as envisioned would be akin to what the interstate highway system was intended to be before it became a tool of suburban sprawl and to paraphrase Enrique Penalosa, it would be built to standards that you would feel safe letting your eight year old ride their bike on. If we are serious about providing a City where a person doesn’t need a car for every errand then one of the most important routes on the strategic cycle network would be from the Tri-rail / Palm Tran bus station to the downtown area and the future All Aboard Florida station. With the proposed closure of Datura and Evernia, Fern street is the only logical street for a continuous east-west strategic connection. Datura and Evernia have merit, but these streets won’t be a straight connection to the proposed north-south strategic cycle network cycle tracks on Tamarind and  Flagler. It should be noted that Evernia is a twin of Fern so that all of the options presented for Fern are applicable to Evernia.

What would Fern St. look like with proper bike facilities? Well, we have developed a smorgasbord of options. The existing 13’ wide sidewalks on Fern are very wide and can be reduced. For a frame of reference the French quarter in New Orleans has 7′ wide sidewalks. If a restaurants were require additional outdoor seating then they could install parklets in on-street parking spaces.

Presented are concepts which keep the 13′ wide sidewalk and those that reduce the sidewalk width to 8’. Inspired by the Ramblas in Barcelona, we have included concepts with a cycle track in the center (median) of the road. There are already a few median cycle tracks in the U.S. Links to existing median cycle tracks are included later in the post. One pattern that emerges from the concepts is that 13′ wide sidewalks support parallel parking on both sides of the street and 8′ wide sidewalks support a combination of  parallel parking on one side of the streets and angled parking on the other side of the street. Once you decide on sidewalk width then it is simply a matter of where you place the parking and the cycle track. For your consideration are the potential options to make Fern St. a great street:

Option #1 – Buffered cycle track with parallel parking on both side of the street:


Simple and effective. The  parallel parking and buffered bike lanes are the exact width of the existing angled parking. For most of Fern all that is necessary is that you restripe the road and add some street trees. Five feet of the 13′ sidewalk has been turned into a bioswale. Moving the parking away from the curb allows for a passenger unloading area that doesn’t conflict with the bioswale.

Option #2 – Buffered cycle track with parallel parking on one side and angled parking on the other side of the street:


Higher parking yield than the parallel only parking options, but with an 8′ wide sidewalk there isn’t room for long linear bioswales.

Option #3 – Median cycle track with parallel parking on both sides of the street.

fern-bike-boulevardFor this option the cycle track is moved to the center of the road and there is now room for additional trees in the median. With on-street parking next the curb line the bio-swale would have to be moved to the middle of the sidewalk which isn’t impossible, but it makes the piping more expensive than placing the bioswale right behind the existing curb line.

Option #4 – Median cycle track with parallel parking parking on one side of the street and angled parking on the other side of the street


For this option the angled parking will probably have to be placed at 45 degrees since the median reduces the amount of room to back out. The angled parking options without the median will probably be 60 degrees since you have two lanes to back out.

For good measure we have thrown in two options where parking is placed in the center of the street. These design have the highest parking yield since there are no driveways to interfere with parking. The downside to this option is that pedestrians don’t have the buffer of parked cars at the curbside.

Option #5 – Bike lanes with a combination of center angled and parallel parking.


  Option #6 – Median cycle track with center parallel parking and bioswales.


With option #6 you end with long expanses of bioswales at the correct location to receive storm water. These bioswales would very beneficial in providing a buffer for pedestrians on the sidewalk.  Option #6 shows a single tree in the center which would be lower cost to construct than the two tree medians shown in the other options.

There you have it. An evaluation matrix of each option comparing  cost, street tree canopy, parking, pedestrian comfort, stormwater, and cycle facilities should be prepared during the design process and based on the project priorities a design can be chosen. Some options do one thing very well, while others are like goldilocks. Feel free to let us know what design you like in the comments.

Several of the designs presented include a median cycle track. Two recently constructed median cycle tracks are Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC and Sands St. in Brooklyn New York. Sands St. Click on the below images to see these streets in google street view:

Here is another example of  a tree lined multimodal path in the median of downtown Winter Garden, Fl:

Finally, here is the obligatory Parisian example. You have to look carefully as the landscaping hides the bike path in the median.

We hope that the City and their consultant give the median cycle track due consideration.

To reduce stormwater the City should consider pervious pavers. Pervious pavers could be installed in the parking area for those options that don’t have space for bioswales. This would provide stormwater benefits while at the same time providing a texture change between the various realms of the street.

Project priorities. The $660,000 allocated for construction doesn’t go very far. The priorities should be cycle track and getting the street trees in the right location. Everything else can be added later.

City staff has indicated that are just beginning the design of this project. We hope that the City will reach out to the public and improve upon its initial concept.  Again, great job to everyone at the City who obtained this grant.

Finally, if you have read this far then it is worthwhile to read this quote from Jeff Speck’s Walkable City on what would happen if we were to design the typical main street to keep each specialist happy:

First we would need at least four travel lanes and a center turn lane, to keep the transportation engineers happy. These would need to be eleven feet wide – no, wait, make that twelve feet, because the fire chief might want to pass a bus without slowing down. To satisfy the business owners, we would need angle parking on both sides (another forty feet), and eight-foot separated bike paths against each curb for you know-who. Then we would need to add two-ten foot continuous tree trenches to satisfy the urban forester, and two twenty-foot minimum sidewalks for the pedestrian advocates. Have you been doing the math? We now have a Main Street over 175 wide. This is more than twice the normal width and about as efficacious an urban environment as a large-jet runway-and just as conducive to shopping.





  1. adamold

    It seems that one of the main issues—at least in the “before” view that you show—is the giant surface parking lot alongside the street. No amount of street trees and cobblestones can make that walkable.

    • Our downtown is blighted by government-owned properties as you get west of Sapodilla in downtown, such as this surface lot. It’s a real shame. It’s county, state, and federal land, it pays no property taxes, and it’s the worst form of land usage in downtown. We need to get this property redeveloped and back on the tax rolls. This area is next to Tri-Rail and it is zoned TOD district, but the redevelopment proposed is a mega-project that has been merely talked about for 10+ years. When they do these projections of cash flow, they never seem to consider the opportunity cost of waiting.

      thanks for commenting!

      • Baron Haussmann

        This brings up a good point about as Jeff Speck says picking our winners. It would make sense to be austere on the west end of the project and more extravagant on the east end of the project. Decorative streetlights, pavers, and bioswales aren’t going to hide the sea of asphalt parking lots on the west end of the project.

        I would install street trees throughout as trees take time to grow.

  2. Pingback: Welcoming those arriving by train, bus, or by bike to Downtown West Palm Beach | Walkable West Palm Beach

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