Walkable West Palm Beach

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Enlightened County Engineering professionals wanted!

There are only two days left to apply for two positions that greatly impact the future trajectory of our county: County Engineer/Public Works Director and Palm Beach County Director of Traffic. This is a critical hire, and I would urge blog readers to write the county commissioners and County Administrator Verdenia Baker to implore the county to hire someone who reflects your values. This position will have far-reaching impacts on the future shape of Palm Beach County. Do we continue to follow the status quo of prioritizing auto level of service above all else, or do we shift our approach to reflect the context and needs of communities? A new commission and relatively new county administrator make this an opportune time to change from business as usual.

Write the commissioners now to tell them what qualities you want to see in these new hires.
All county commissioners email: BCC-AllCommissioners@pbcgov.org 
Verdenia Baker, County Administrator, email: vbaker@pbcgov.org

Please forward this post to anyone you think would make a good fit and share widely.

Links to the positions —-

PBC County Engineer (closes 2/24):

http://pbcgov.com/OnlineApplication/Asps/App/ShowJobNotice.aspx?JobAnnouncementSeq=3853

PBC Director of Traffic (closes 2/24):

http://pbcgov.com/OnlineApplication

 


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Shore to Core Wellness Survey needs volunteers

Shore to Core, a CRA funded initiative, needs volunteers for its Shore to Core Wellness Study next week. I hope you’ll join me and other volunteers in helping to better understand how public space impacts wellbeing. See below for details and to signup to volunteer.

Shore to Core asks: How can we recreate an urban core so its design is intelligent, flexible, and responsive to the needs of residents and visitors? Many aspects of our lives are shaped by the environments in which we spend our time, and by developing a better understanding of these relationships, we can use design to improve wellbeing in cities.

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Flagler Bridge update

 

In February 2015, I sent a letter to FDOT requesting that the new Flagler Bridge design comply with new guidelines for buffered bike lanes (at a minimum). This was after a series of blog posts written by another contributor to the blog, which discussed how to make Flagler Bridge a better, safer link between the island of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach by including a protected bike lane.

In June, FDOT District 4 replied and agreed to modify the original design to accommodate buffered bike lanes on the bridge. As we reported at the time:

Mr. Bailey,

We appreciate your interest in the bike facilities on the Flagler Bridge project.  The project team has reviewed your February 14, 2015 request and will implement the following lane configuration. A depiction is shown in the attached bridge typical section.

  • Reduce the vehicle travel lanes from four-12ft lanes to four-11ft lanes.  This will align with the proposed 11ft lanes east and west of the bridge.  This change provides an added benefit of increased space for bicyclists near the drainage inlets that collect storm water runoff from the bridge.
  • Provide a 2.5ft striped buffer between the travel lanes and bike lane.
  • Provide a 6ft bike lane.
  • Provide a “gutter stripe” 1.5ft from the roadway side of the barrier wall located between the bike lane and the sidewalk.

Thank you again for your continued interest in the successful completion of the Flagler Bridge project.  If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact Jim Hughes, the Department’s project manager, at 954-777-4419 or via email at james.hughes@dot.state.fl.us.

Gerry O’Reilly, PE
District Four Secretary
Florida Department of Transportation

The new bridge just opened. Here is what the new bridge section looks like at this stage:

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You might be wondering where the buffered bike lanes are. I spoke with a construction foreman at the site, and he said this is just the first phase of the bridge reopening. A second phase will restripe the bridge lanes and will include buffered bike lanes, I’m happy to report.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

kermitbike


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It’s not easy being green

The Palm Beach Post reports on the bright green bike lanes that have received both praise and pushback from some residents in Delray Beach.

I made the following comment on the Delray Beach community Facebook group, Delray RAW:

As much as I’m a supporter of human powered transportation modes, I think these green painted lanes are ugly. Victor Dover in his book Street Design speaks of the importance of streets that are more than utilitarian – they should also be beautiful.

I much prefer the Dutch approach, actually putting down a red asphalt during resurfacing. It wears much better than paint and isn’t obnoxious.

…I’m not saying I would be *opposed* to this green treatment altogether if the only option. I just think it’s regrettable that we have to follow dumb standards that prescribe bright green paint, rather than something that reflects the community desire better.

The Post story suggests that there may be more leeway in the design book for colored bike lanes that fit the context of the street better. I hope that we will apply a little more creativity in the future. I’m a big fan of the Dutch approach to bike lane coloring, as described by the excellent Bicycle Dutch blog. Here is what a typical Dutch bike lane looks like after some years of use. Still easily demarcated from the road, but not so bright that it overwhelms the character of the street.

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Contrast that with the bright green lanes being built in the U.S. and it feels a little bit like a case of “bikewashing”: putting in infrastructure that calls attention to itself more than necessary in order to win praise from bike advocates.

The road and bike path at Delray’s Del-Ida Park Historic District are now open to traffic — in case you haven’t already noticed. The bright green bike paths along the recently renovated roadway have captured the …

I’ll take these green lanes if no other option is available, but I wish these bike lanes would fit better into the context of the street.

Do you like these green lanes as-is or wish they were a little more understated?

 

 

 

via Is the green color of Del-Ida bike paths in Delray Beach too ‘jarring’? — Southern Palm Beach County

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Why I do not support a pedestrian bridge over Okeechobee Boulevard

Building a pedestrian bridge over Okeechobee Boulevard comes at a high price, trading pedestrian convenience for commuter convenience. In this post, I provide a number of reasons why I think the Okeechobee pedestrian bridge is the wrong solution to the challenge of crossing Okeechobee at Rosemary Avenue.

  • People will not use it. Pedestrian bridges can work when they get you from point A to point B without adding more time and distance to your walk (such as a third level parking garage connected to an office building’s third floor via a pedestrian bridge). In the case of the Okeechobee Boulevard crossing, pedestrians will have to ascend and descend a set of stairs just to cross the road. Most people will choose to cross at street level rather than take a significant detour up and down steps in order to cross. See: Pedestrian bridges, from Pedestrians.org

  • Wheelchair users and moms pushing strollers won’t be able to use it unless it has an elevator. Elevators that are exposed to the outside elements become unpleasant in short order (see: the Tri-Rail elevators or the Banyan Garage elevators) and have significant costs in ongoing maintenance. Elevators and escalators are expensive and prone to breakdown. They would have to operate 24/7, because there is a constant stream of people who need to cross at Rosemary and Okeechobee. Not just conventioneers; also the service workers from adjacent neighborhoods such as Grandview Heights who need to get to work at all hours.
  • A bridge at Rosemary/Okeechobee isn’t going to help people who aren’t crossing at this intersection. What about those who need to cross at Dixie, Quadrille, Sapodilla, and Alabama Avenue? To expect them to walk 500+ feet out of their way is not realistic.

Cheap short-term fix

A cheaper and more effective short-term treatment would be to reprogram the pedestrian signals to give an added 5-10 second headstart for pedestrians to make the crossing. Ten seconds would be nearly enough time to cross to the refuge median in the center of Okeechobee. This is a simple, cheap, and effective solution. This video from StreetFilms is a good overview of how LPIs work. If they can work for a very busy arterial in Manhattan, they can work here.

There are other very good suggestions made in the Jeff Speck Walkability Study (September 2014) that anticipated the challenges here and suggested ways to make the crossing better. Summary of these recommendations:

  1. Reduce driving lanes to 10 feet in width, using the extra space for curb extensions/protected bike lane. When is the next FDOT RRR resurfacing for Okeechobee scheduled? This should be expedited. This change could likely be done as part of routine resurfacing. For those wide lane lovers out there, we’re talking about perhaps a half mile stretch of Okeechobee that would have lane widths reduced: The urban context east of Tamarind. The rest of Okeechobee can remain as it is.
  2. Close the slip lane at Rosemary northbound onto east Okeechobee.
  3. Plant large street trees in the median to shelter and cool pedestrians. This will help make the crossing more pleasant and the perceived time to cross will decrease.
  4. Revised signal timing to prioritize pedestrian crossings. Note: Some changes have been made, but they are largely half-measures and LPIs have not been implemented. From my personal experience, it isn’t apparent what the pedestrian signals do, rendering them almost useless. We need automatic walk signals with LPIs.

 

Building a pedestrian bridge consigns a fast changing urban corridor to a conduit to solely move cars. A pedestrian bridge places auto throughput above all else and relegates pedestrians to second class status, putting the onus on them to climb stairs up and down to cross the street. If a minor change such as implementing LPIs at this crossing is not done, it will not have been due to budgetary constraints or an engineering quandary, but from a lack of prioritizing the safety and convenience of pedestrians in favor of car speed.

The Bigger Picture

Yes, Okeechobee carries a lot of traffic as one of its functions. But it is also much more than that in its urban (east of Tamarind) context: A concentration of walkable urban destinations, foremost among them the Convention Center, CityPlace, and the Kravis Center, along with densely populated condominium towers (with more coming). Note: each of those condo dwellers who doesn’t rely on a car to get to work is one less commuter to clog up the morning/evening rush hour. Substantial public money has been invested in this area (pitched largely under the auspices of “economic development”) in order to generate economic activity that results from arts, culture, and convention events within walking distance of one another and fueling retail sales at CityPlace/downtown West Palm Beach. Putting a mixture of uses in close proximity, where people can meet, socialize, and engage in business, is really the whole point of cities. Look no further than the positive impact the adjacent Hilton Hotel has had on the success of the Convention Center to see an example of why proximity matters. People book a stay there because it is walkable to the convention center, CityPlace, and downtown destinations. The urbanity of Downtown West Palm Beach results in a highly productive tax base (both property tax and retail tax), supporting the highest retail sales per acre in the entire county. Go to minute 33 of the video below for a visualization of retail sales in the county.

A pedestrian bridge takes us in the wrong direction.  It forecloses on the possibility of developing an even more productive urban fabric along this corridor, consigning Okeechobee to a car sewer instead. What we need is more placemaking and more destinations people can walk to, not less. The last thing tourists and conventioneers want is to visit a city that has lost its soul, as Arthur Frommer put so well. The soul of a city isn’t found behind the windshield of a car or walking across a traffic moat; it is found in the streets and public spaces that make great city neighborhoods.

The modest changes suggested in this blog post have been suggested for some time; they’ve only recently received more attention and urgency because the crossing situation has become more dire with the hotel opening. In the longer term, there are many ideas for maintaining Okeechobee’s ability to handle traffic while making it into a better place; some fanciful, some out of the box, some inspired by grand Parisian boulevards. But we don’t have to wait. Short term changes can be made now to make the crossing safer and more comfortable for pedestrians, and in a manner that doesn’t pay lip service to the needs of those crossing on foot.

 

 

 

 

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Form Based Codes can lead to better outcomes for eastern WPB neighborhoods

How do form-based codes result in a better community outcome? This video from the Form Based Codes Institute (FBCI) is fantastic. It contrasts the likely outcomes of conventional Euclidean-based zoning with the outcomes that result from a strong community vision implemented using Form Based Codes.

 

 

Very relevant to our neighborhoods in West Palm Beach, especially our traditional, primarily residential neighborhoods just north and south of downtown. Redevelopment will happen, whether by consensus or coercion. I believe Form Based Codes are a way to foster more consensus by creating a more predictable framework in which development is to occur.

Form Based Codes provide a framework for development to happen in a way that breathes life into public spaces, reduces car trips and length, and creates healthier community. No discussion of transportation and the problems of congestion is complete without first looking at land use, which determines whether a community will be car dependent, or will have options to walk, bike, and make effective use of transit.

Read more about Form Based Codes here.

What are your thoughts on Form Based Coding? How satisfied are you with the current regime of zoning in the traditional neighborhoods of the city (east of I-95)?

 

tingvall


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Can we spare five seconds to save a life?

In downtown West Palm Beach, condominium residents cross Lakeview Avenue, a large urban arterial, every day. So do students attending nearby Palm Beach Atlantic University. Here is what the intersection looks like at street level. The two lanes of traffic on Olive Avenue head northbound with the westernmost lane a left turn lane/straight through lane.

 

I recorded a short video to show what the crossing is like. Once the light turns green, the pedestrian gets a short walk signal. It’s hard to replicate the uneasy feeling you get crossing this road, knowing that just behind you are impatient drivers at the intersection, just waiting to gun it when the light turns green. Many of these drivers make a left turn, and when they do, they turn directly into your walking path from behind you, where you cannot see the car coming.

 

 

From the reports I’ve read, this was the situation at this intersection when a resident of One City Plaza suffered injuries while crossing northbound across Lakeview Avenue. Sadly, his dog was killed in the crash. WPEC covered the story.

Consider that the entire roadway is dominated by cars on Lakeview. That little strip of crosswalk where pedestrians are expected to cross amounts to a very, very small amount of the roadway area. Crosswalks are better than nothing in this environment, but there is no denying the car dominated nature of this roadway. It carries a lot of cars. But the most vulnerable users are those on foot, for whom a collision with a car would mean much more serious impacts than a bumper scratch.

 

 

tingvall

Typical road situation (Source: Greater Greater Washington)

 

Is it too much to ask that pedestrian safety is prioritized in the small space given to pedestrians for crossing the road?

What can be done?

Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) are a proven safety mechanism for giving people more time to “claim” the intersection before cars begin to make left turn movements. The added time can be anywhere from 3 seconds to 15 seconds or more, depending on the conditions. LPIs make the pedestrian visible to the turning motorist, making conditions far less dangerous, and giving pedestrians some sense of comfort and safety.

Here is a good overview of how LPIs work from StreetFilms.

Reshaping the curb radius to something much tighter would also help. This would have the effect of slowing the speed of cars through the turn and making pedestrians more visible. Below is an elaborate rendering of what this might look like.

 

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This intersection needs to be made safer for people on foot, now. Retiming lights to put in Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) is an easy, cheap, fast fix. It can be done on other arterials in downtown (the Convention Center/CityPlace comes to mind). Waiting will increase the chances of another crash happening, and the consequences may be even worse next time, especially as pedestrian traffic increases in our downtown. It’s good to see our local leaders at the Tourist Development Council getting rightly concerned about safety issues along Okeechobee Boulevard. Now it’s time to take action.

Can we spare five seconds?

If you’re interested in helping to make this change, please reply below. Thanks.