Walkable West Palm Beach


Road improvements? No, road impairments

Mixing high speed traffic and people on foot or bikes is a recipe for disaster. The findings of a Palm Beach MPO study bear this out, showing the extraordinarily dangerous nature of the county’s arterial road network. Below is a map showing the hot spots identified. Thanks to Wes Blackman for reporting on this MPO meeting and recording it. [links to Wes’ blog and video recording of meeting here]

“Very similar intersections. Very similar land uses. Unfortunately, very similar outcomes.” –  consultant speaking  regarding Military Trail/Okeechobee intersection and Military Trail/Forest Hill intersection


The map is revealing, but it’s not surprising to readers of this blog. Discussions about road safety tend to focus on band-aid fixes but gloss over the more fundamental issue at hand. What’s not often discussed is the nature of these dangerous roadways and their adjacent land development pattern. The common denominator?


They’re all stroads.

What’s a stroad? It’s a word coined by Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn to describe what he calls “The futon of transportation options”, in that it neither moves cars quickly and safely from point A to B (a road) nor does it provide an enjoyable human habitat for people to gather and enjoy life in public space (a street). When you put lots of people in a complex environment with cars moving fast, you get lots of crashes. Here is a video explaining what a stroad is. Stroads are low tax productivity yielding, high crash inducing, human meat grinders of junk infrastructure. No matter where you’re from, think of the ugliest, most generic road in town and it’s probably a stroad. With the exception of a couple blocks of urban Atlantic Avenue, where the sheer number of people walking are likely responsible for a spike in the numbers, every one of the segments identified is a stroad in varying degrees.



Palm Beach County is full of stroads and they’re difficult to deal with. These problems can’t all be put on the traffic engineers either because adjacent land uses have a lot to do with the stroadification of our county; it’s not just about the road’s geometry but what it is adjacent to. Look at Indiantown Road as a good example, a stroad-in-progress. It’s the result of many small decisions to diminish its efficacy as a road over time. Add a turn lane here, a traffic signal there. The new subdivision demands another light 500 feet away. Before you know it, cars are stopping, switching lanes, and turning so often that the road’s effectiveness as a high speed connection between two places is severely compromised. All these movements and differences in speeds make it a dangerous environment for everyone involved: drivers, bicyclists, people walking. And all these intensified land uses (yet low tax yielding) around it generate more traffic of various modes and more crashes. Since stroads aren’t streets and don’t operate at slow speed as streets do, crashes are very serious when they happen.

All this new car-oriented development along a stroad necessitates lots of turn pockets and traffic signals in order to access the strip malls and subdivisions that flourish in a car-only environment. With each new development, more degradation of the road takes places. Over time, it becomes more like Okeechobee Boulevard, with so much stop-and-go and traffic lights that it takes 15 minutes to drive 3 miles.

Changes to the roadway design are often said to be “improvements” or “upgrades”, but the question must be asked: Improvements for whom? A new traffic signal for Wal-Mart is a great advantage for Wal-Mart, but doesn’t serve people trying to get from point A to point B quickly; for those people, it is an impairment to the functioning of the road rather than an improvement.

At the next public meeting when the traffic engineer suggests a “road improvement”, ask that it be called a “road impairment” instead.

Many of these stroads were created over time in a process of degradation, from road to stroad. I’m reminded of an image posted on the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page, depicting Congress Avenue in 1964. Notice the simple geometry and lack of signals, driveways, turn pockets, etc. It used to work as a road before it got ‘stroadified’ into the monstrosity that it is today, mucked up by all the subdivisions and forgettable strip malls that line it today. You can’t get anywhere fast driving on Congress Avenue, but nor can you walk along it without fearing for your life.

Congress and Hypoluxo, 1964

Congress and Hypoluxo as it looks today.

The best of the worst

stroad-diagramOver time, an environment is created that was never designed to safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists and never will.  The best that can be done now with many of these crash hot spots is to slap some special “countermeasures” in the road design to try and make matters a little less intolerable. It’s not an easy job, but it’s important to do what we can to make conditions a little safer for the vulnerable populations that tend to be victims of these poorly designed environments. All that can be done is to try to make it the best of the worst at this stage.


Let’s make these dangerous stroads a little less dangerous where we can. But most importantly, let’s stop building them in the first place. Rather than an inexorable decline, let’s build town centers and neighborhoods with great streets and keep our roads functioning as connections between these great places.

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Community Forum: Safe and Complete Streets for West Palm Beach

Tuesday, July 19th at 6 pm, the FAU Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions (CUES) and the City of West Palm Beach will be hosting a forum to discuss the topic of complete streets in West Palm Beach. I’ll be one of the guest speakers and the agenda includes a number of leaders in the realm of Complete Streets design, implementation, and advocacy. Special thanks to John Renne of CUES for organizing this event.

Hope to see some of you there Tuesday. The forum location is the Flagler Gallery of City Hall, 401 Clematis Street. Flyer embedded below and downloadable here.Safe and Complete Streets in WPB Flyer (2)

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Do you have a great downtown photo you’d like to share?

Walkable West Palm Beach is looking for a new photo to use as a Twitter profile as well as Facebook profile photo. Ideally, it would be a shot of West Palm Beach showing an urban place with people enjoying themselves in public. We’re looking for unlicensed, free photos. Credit and links will be provided as requested. If you have a submission, please me an email.




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Ramblas and other center of roadway configurations in the real world

The City is currently studying enhancements to North Broadway from 25th to 42nd St.. One idea that that has been proposed by the City is to convert the center of the road to a promenade / ramblas configuration with a multi-modal pathway and parking in the center. This post will provide precedents for this concept. In a follow up post we will explore some of the advantages of this configuration.

When we think of complete streets we usually think that parking and bike facilities are located on the outside of the street and cars have use of the middle of the street.  As shown in the below examples the middle of street can be used for things other than cars. Bikes, parking, cycle tracks, public plazas or any combination can be accommodated in the middle of the street.


Tree lined multimodal path in the median of downtown Winter Garden, Fl:

Queens Plaza North, New York, New York

Streetfilms Queens Plaza

Sands St. in Brooklyn New York

Streetfilms Sands St.

Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC

Streetfilms Pennsyvania Ave. story with Gabe Klein


Strandvägen Stockholm, Sweden

Erik Dahlbergsgatan Stockholm, Sweden

Bike and pedestrian

Place d’Anvers, Paris

Boulevard de Rochechouart, Paris

Allen Street New York, New York (recent project, street view has great before and after views)

Place making

Passeig del Born, Barcelona, Spain

Rambla de Catalunya Barcelona, Catalonia

Paseo del Prado, Havana, Cuba

Middle of the street used for parking

Clematis St. West Palm Beach


Clematis Avenue, Looking West from the Palms Hotel State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/152572

Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster CA

Hollywood, Florida




The Subculture bike rack story

John Simmerman of Active Towns visited West Palm Beach recently and shot this short video telling the story of the bike rack outside of Subculture Coffee. John created the Active Towns initiative and I always enjoy his perspective, as the changes happening in West Palm Beach are sometimes imperceptible to those of us living here, while John’s once or twice annual trips to our region make the changes more noticeable to him.

This alley was at one time a leftover space that didn’t do much more than provide a sneaky spot for police cruisers to park. With the efforts of the community, small changes compounded to make this alley one of the most loved places in the city. Big kudos to the leadership of Raphael Clemente at the DDA; Sean Scott, owner of Subculture Coffee; and Nicole Henry of CANVAS for being instrumental in making this happen. There are many more people who have contributed in various ways who I’m probably leaving out.

This story is a testament how little changes can build upon one another and lead to a better community, and the power of small actions to get things moving. Thank you John for putting this together!





Watch out, ‘jaywalking’ Sunfest patrons!

Earlier today, I alerted the community to the fact that police officers were issuing citations warnings to Sunfest patrons crossing at Quadrille and Clematis Street. For now, it appears that this enforcement activity has stopped.

[Clarification: Fines were not issued today. However, Bob Katzen, downtown neighbor and friend, was stopped by an officer and asked for ID. His information was taken by an officer. An officer stated they would issue warnings today and fines in the coming days. The officer was not approachable and did not wish to engage in conversation with Bob about the law, at one point threatening jail.]

The very term ‘jaywalking‘ deserves its own scorn, as I’ve written about in the past, as do pedestrian enforcement campaigns.  But in this post, I want to focus on the reasons why people cross against the signal and how conditions could easily be improved for pedestrians by implementing Jeff Speck’s recommendations from nearly two years ago.

Anyone standing at this intersection for a few minutes will see people crossing against the light. I do it. City officials do it. Everyone does it. But as it stands, this intersection is prioritized to move cars. Meanwhile, Clematis Street has been transformed into a superb people-centered environment by prioritizing people. Clematis was recently recognized as one of the best main streets in the United States. Taming cars along its length is one of the main factors that led to its resurgence.

Here’s the problem: A main street that invites people on foot to shop, stroll, and dine is combined with an intersection crossing that makes crossing the street a long, boring wait in the scorching sun. What would you do in this environment?

Here is what Jeff Speck had to say about the Quadrille and Clematis intersection in the Walkability Study.

 In terms of its crossings, the highest priority to improving Quadrille is to create more pedestrian-friendly crossings and signalization regimes at Clematis and Fern. At Fern, this improvement would include reshaped corners with a curb radius of perhaps 20 feet, rather than the current 50. Because it is a State Highway, removing the pushbutton requests will be difficult, but the City must fight for pushbuttons that actually activate the crossing signal, rather than merely lengthening the crossing time after a too-long wait.

As already discussed under A Safe Walk, the current signalization regime in place in much of the downtown is not a type that is found in any city that is known for welcoming pedestrians. From a national best practices perspective, it is truly substandard. Unfortunately, changing the current regime requires cooperation from Palm Beach County, which controls it. It is hoped that the evidence already provided will convince the County to recognize downtown West Palm Beach as the exceptional environment that it is, and allow it to implement the signal removal recommendations above, as well as the following comprehensive changes:
• Remove pushbuttons from all signals except those along Okeechobee and Flagler,
where longer crossing times are needed due to excess width. In those locations,
working with FDOT, allow the pushbutton request to preempt the signal cycle, so
that pedestrians are not led to believe that the buttons are broken.
• Implement simple concurrent crossing signals at all intersections, such that the
pedestrian is given the walk signal at the same time as vehicles heading in the
same direction. Use Lead Pedestrian Indicators (LPIs) at intersections with high
pedestrian volume, such as Rosemary & Okeechobee, Clematis & Quadrille,
Fern & Flagler, and Lakeview & Flagler.
• Working with FDOT as necessary, shorten signal cycles to a target length of 60
seconds for the entire cycle at all signalized intersections.

This is really simple stuff and it will make a major improvement. Fixing the signal timing, adding leading pedestrian indicators (LPIs), and ideally, getting rid of pushbuttons so we get an automatic walk signal at the light would be a long way toward prioritizing people at this crossing. It’s been two years since the Speck walkability study was published recommending these changes. The city and the DDA are fully behind it. The county is responsible for signal changes downtown, so the change needs to come from the county.

If you received a citation or are just frustrated by crossing at this unsafe intersection, let’s focus on a productive outcome by addressing the root of the problem: the intersection signalization, which is the responsibility of the county. Email the county commissioners and public officials involved at the links below and copy the city.






Example multiway boulevard cross-section, courtesy Dover Kohl partners

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Want to move lots of traffic in an urban setting? Look no further than the boulevard.

Jeff Speck published an excellent piece today about boulevards and their utility in walkable urban neighborhoods. True boulevards, as contrasted with stroads that are boulevards-in-name-only (BINOs? looking at you, Okeechobee “Boulevard”), are a time-tested solution to moving lots of traffic in urban areas while also creating a safe and people-friendly environment in the sidewalk space.  Some of the most beloved streets in Europe are boulevards as well as some good examples in the United States like Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

Speck points out the successful track record of boulevards in creating valuable places while moving plenty of traffic, and asks the obvious question: Why aren’t we designing more of our urban arterials like boulevards to achieve their much better outcomes? We have the precedents to do so.

Picture in your mind a classic large urban street, one that will attract pedestrians while also moving a lot of traffic.  Perhaps you are imagining Paris’s Avenue Marceau, Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia, or Washington’s K Street? Now look at the image below….
… perhaps of the greatest concern, is the issue of precedent. While there exist a growing number of locations in America with street configurations like this one, it is impossible to name one with street life. Swoopy configurations like this design are found mostly in suburban drive-only locations out by the mall, not in cities. If no attractive place can be found with a similar configuration, then a design should not pass the street-planning smell test.

This image from Mattias Leyrer comes to mind. Read Speck’s excellent article and let’s start building boulevards that enhance placemaking and support the city, rather than eviscerating it.



In case you missed it: Here are some of our past writings on boulevards written by none other than Baron Haussmann.

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