Reshape Okeechobee Boulevard medians, install Leading Pedestrian Intervals among top suggestions of FDOT Road Safety Audit (RSA)
The long-awaited Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Road Safety Audit for the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and Rosemary Avenue has been completed. The report contains many suggestions, which cumulatively should make significant positive improvements to pedestrian safety and comfort crossing Okeechobee Boulevard.
Notably absent from the report is a recommendation on narrowing lane widths to 10 feet, as recommended in the Jeff Speck Walkability Study. Reduced lane width has been shown to reduce vehicle speeds and decrease the severity of crashes, thereby making roadways safer. Reduced lane width from 12 to 10 feet would also mean a reduction of nearly 17% in the amount of asphalt a person walking would need to cover to get from one side of the roadway to the central median. The additional space freed up from this narrowing could be used for a protected bike lane and provide another buffer between vehicles and people walking. Narrowing the travel lanes was the most emphasized recommendation in the Speck study, but it appears it was outside the scope of the FDOT RSA study and not considered.
In addition, the RSA study recommended against the suggestion of a pedestrian bridge, stating “it was determined that a pedestrian bridge was not an optimal solution to moving pedestrian traffic due to cost, anticipated lack of use, and constructability issues.”
Following is a summarized list of the RSA recommendations –
- Adjust signal phasing and add pedestrian phase during eastbound left turn phase
- Prohibit eastbound U‐turns
- Install “TURNING VEHICLES YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS” sign for southbound right turns
- Add Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI)
- Reduce the northwest and southeast crosswalk’s crossing distance
- Add automatic pedestrian phases
- Hire off‐duty police officers during events
- Conduct a study to review lighting conditions
- Lengthen the yellow and all‐red times for bicyclists crossing north / south
- Improve pedestrian signage and add “feedback” to push buttons
Download the reports here –
Full report – FINAL RSA SR-704 (Okeechobee Boulevard)
City Place RSA – Findings Summary
Analysis of Recommendations
First up: The bad. Forty miles per hour is an unacceptable speed through this road section. At that speed, a pedestrian is virtually assured to be killed if hit by a car. Posting a 30 mph speed limit would be a good start, but it’s not enough by itself. The RSA study doesn’t even go that far; it merely recommends “conducting a speed study”. The road design needs to be such that drivers feel uncomfortable driving faster than 30, uncomfortable as that approach may be to FDOT orthodoxy. It’s disappointing that vehicle speeds got such short shrift in the report.
The RSA report calls for medians to be reconfigured. I’d still prefer to see the medians built out more robustly, as Speck recommends, by narrowing the space between the medians to two travel lanes (one in each direction). This could give stranded bicyclists a refuge if caught in the middle while attempting to cross Okeechobee at Rosemary. Nonetheless, the study does call for the turn radii to be reduced and this will certainly help lessen the feeling of discomfort one feels trying to walk across Okeechobee. The eastbound slip lane near CityPlace South Tower is not closed in the RSA report, contrary to what the Speck study recommends.
I find the Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) recommendation puzzling. I don’t understand how this belongs in a study focused on enhancements to pedestrian safety and comfort. Reallocating prime median space from pedestrians to cars seems to undermine the goals.
The Leading Pedestrian Indicator (LPI) is a very good recommendation. Jeff Speck describes LPIs as follows in the Walkability Study:
“…pedestrians receive a 3-second head start to enter (and “claim”) the intersection before cars receive a green light. There are a number of locations where these could be put to good use in the downtown” [including Okeechobee and Rosemary]
LPIs should help make pedestrians more visible in the crosswalk and help make crossings safer.
Restrictions on U-turns, changes to pedestrian signal timing, and changes to signage are modest improvements that will all add up to make conditions better for pedestrians. Many of these changes are controlled by Palm Beach County and are listed as short-term changes that can be accomplished in a matter of weeks. We look forward to seeing these changes carried out quickly.
City planners have told me that the median reshaping work should be completed in time for the new Hilton Hotel opening. Smaller changes like signage and signal timing should also be completed soon. Some items, such as lighting, are longer term. I am hopeful that more serious thought is given to creating a pedestrian shelter planted with large shade trees in the median in order to provide shade and a sense of refuge in the median.
While many recommendations are good, narrowing the travel lanes is certainly the most impactful change that could be made and it was unfortunately outside the scope of the RSA study. Most likely, such a change won’t be considered until Okeechobee Boulevard is scheduled to be restriped during a routine resurfacing project. This could mean a wait of many years before this change is considered – roads are typically resurfaced every 15 – 20 years.
With the amount of foot and bicycle traffic coming at the new Convention Center Hotel, it’s time Okeechobee Boulevard shed its reputation as a perilous crossing. More improvements to pedestrian safety and comfort are needed before Okeechobee can lay claim to being worthy of the second part of its name – Boulevard – a moniker that is used to describe some of the grandest thoroughfares in Europe such as the Champs-Élysées. No matter what we do, no one is going to mistake Okeechobee for the Champs. But we can strive to make Okeechobee a much better connector between the Convention Center, CityPlace South Tower, and Grandview Heights, rather than a divider. This study is a significant step in the right direction, but much work remains to be done – most importantly, the work of narrowing the travel lane widths on Okeechobee.
I want to acknowledge the efforts of the community in bringing the Okeechobee crossing issue to the forefront, especially the folks from Okeechobee Skywalk. Though we may have disagreed in our preferred solutions, this group has done more to generate attention on this issue than anyone. They have made excellent street level improvement recommendations, many of which have been incorporated into this report. I also want to thank Joe Roskowski for his tireless efforts in advocating for a safer Okeechobee at street level.
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