Walkable West Palm Beach

A solution looking for a problem – the Pioneer Plaza roundabout

12 Comments

West Palm Beach city commissioners have instructed the traffic department to come up with a plan for improvement to the Pioneer Plaza roundabout, and held a public meeting with city staff on the 23rd to present the newest iteration, which I attended along with representatives from the Norton Museum of Art.

When the so-called improvement looks strikingly similar in the before and after photos, some questions need to be asked.  Is this roundabout at the end of its useful life, necessitating a capital replacement? If not, what’s the problem with the existing design and what is the objective of a redesign?

According to the city traffic engineers, the redesign is necessary due to safety issues. Since safety is such a concern, you’d expect the data to make the case for a redesign. We should be seeing stories about serious accidents at this roundabout as well as crash statistics that show its dangerous nature.  In fact, looking at City of WPB Police Department crash statistics, I found one accident year to date, involving a driver who sneezed and sideswiped a concrete bollard. The accident only involved the driver and she was not seriously injured. I searched the Palm Beach Post archives going back to 2006, searching for keywords with “Pioneer Plaza” or “traffic circle/roundabout” in West Palm Beach. I found not a single report of a crash at this roundabout. No question bollards are knocked over, and some incidents go unreported. But the data does not show this is a dangerous intersection; in reality, it is likely one of the safer intersections in the city.

When pressed about the safety issues, city officials pointed to the concrete bollards that are getting knocked over, and insisted that the roundabout must be redesigned to meet the standard. So it seems we have not a safety problem for the people who use this roundabout, but a concrete bollard public safety crisis. What’s the proposed solution to keep the bollards safe?  Spend $550,000 to tear out the beautiful brick pavers, substitute stamped concrete fake brick, and widen the travel lanes to 16′ from the current 13′.

It’s important to emphasize that this roundabout is not at the end of its useful life. Not once in the public meeting did officials make the argument that it needs capital replacement. This intersection sees a much lower volume of traffic than the shared space in front of the Centennial Fountain on Clematis, and that area is holding up just fine.

Is this really a wise use of public funds? Could there possibly be a simpler and much cheaper fix? From speaking to the most affected neighbor, the representatives of the Norton Museum of Art, they would rather keep the current configuration and just clean up and maintain what is already there, and much prefer it to the new proposal.

I can think of many ways the city could use this money more wisely than fixing what isn’t broken.

As an aside, this is also an opportunity to think about the configuration of Olive throughout the city. Why are these bollards getting hit in the first place? Here’s a hypothesis: Are large trucks and semis hitting the bollards, thinking this local street is still a through street? I ask this because I had so much trouble (and conflicting answers) about which entity controls Olive through downtown that I tweeted to FDOT Secretary Prasad, who to his credit replied promptly and confirmed local ownership of Olive.

Olive Avenue through downtown was to be changed to two way operation in the 1994 DMP, but it never happened; however, the City of WPB did manage to gain control of Olive and Dixie, giving up Quadrille to FDOT. Could maps that truck companies use still designate Olive as a through road, rather than a local street? I’ve seen maps online that still show Dixie/Olive as a state road.  And the fact Olive is two lane, one way through downtown incentivizes large trucks to use it through downtown, and perhaps at this intersection because it offers easy access to Olive through downtown.

12 thoughts on “A solution looking for a problem – the Pioneer Plaza roundabout

  1. This little intersection appears to be well designed for its intended use-connecting two local streets in-front of an important local cultural institution. It does appear that someone with connections to high ranking member of City Staff or the political leadership of City, though has complained about the intersection and the concrete bollards specifically. This squeaky wheel complaint has yielded the proposed redesign and gotten the redesign into the process. As most local governments are good at process, there is a high probability that the proposed redesign will get inserted into the Capital Improvements Program (city budget) and eventually be funded for construction. It is a sad that such a beautiful and functional intersection would be destroyed over one or even a handful of complaints. A great deal of work and continued follow-up work by concerned citizens will be required to ensure that the proposed redesign does not move beyond the drawing board and the the current roundabout intersection is maintained.

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  2. Dear Walkable WPB

    There is an old saying, “Never take down a fence until you know why it was built.” A glace, at the proposed roundabout, indicates that some due diligence could save the City a lot of taxpayer money and yield better results. As the head of WPB’s Transportation Division at the time when Pioneer Plaza was designed and built, it might be a good idea for somebody at the City to reach out and: i) learn the reasons behind the unique intersection’s design; and maybe even ii) seek some advice about how to “solve” any problems or percieved problems. The City was provided a forwarding number when I joined the consulting world and, if a field visit were warranted, then Orlando is not that far away.

    Bye for now,

    Ian

    Ian Lockwood, PE
    Livable Transportation Engineer

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting Mr. Lockwood. It’s unfortunate that we seem to be devolving in our street design here in West Palm Beach, instead of carrying on the positive momentum you and your colleagues brought here. Wish we still had an enlightened group of transportation and land planning leaders at the City. Maybe we can get the City to at least consult with you?

      The irony of all of this is while WPB has a significant street maintenance backlog, the City is proposing to spend $550 K frivolously and to the detriment of this section of Olive Avenue. Palm Beach Post reported yesterday:

      ——————-

      More than half of West Palm Beach’s streets and alleys are in “fair to poor” or “poor to failed” condition, says a report released Monday.

      Many of them likely will stay that way for a while. According to the study, it would cost more than $30 million over five years to bring all the roads up to what the report called “satisfactory.”

      The city, still in penny-pinching mode after years of financial distress, has dedicated only $8 million for five years, setting a yearly budget of $1.4 million for roads and $100,000 for alleys.

      Of the $2.2 million the city gets a year from gas taxes, about $1.5 million of that is marked for repaving and resurfacing.

      Only half of West Palm Beach’s streets are in “good” condition, and while most of the rest are described as “fair,” commissioner Kimberly Mitchell said Monday even that’s generous.

      “ ‘Fair’ doesn’t look so good,” Mitchell told director of engineering services and public works Danielle Slaterpryce on Monday at a commission workshop. “There are bumps and potholes and things have been filled in, and then they reopen up; not only is it aesthetically poor, the conditions driving along those roadways are poor.”

      Besides the streets, nearly 90 percent of the city’s alleys are listed as “poor.” Of the proposed $30 million, the report suggested $1.4 million of that go for alleys, but even then it would get them only to “fair.”

      City Administrator Jeff Green said after the workshop that he’ll figure out what street crisis to fix first; “What’s the first thing we tackle? What’s the second thing we tackle?”

      He said the city will try where possible to first take on projects where both roads and utilities need to be done, and do them simultaneously to save money.

      He also said the city will focus on projects that might not be ranked as high in priority but which would be eligible for federal grants.

      The report said of more than 3,000 street segments, about half suffer from fatigue, 80 percent have cracking, and 5 percent have potholes.

      In all, 151 segments showed severe fatigue cracking, 769 had moderate cracking, and 1,195 with light cracking.

      The city’s study measured pavement conditions and was done with a series of high-powered cameras mounted on vehicles that drove every square mile of the city.

      Unlike their northern counterparts, South Florida roads aren’t bombarded by dramatic temperature swings, icy conditions and salt laid down to melt ice. But they bake in the sub-tropical sun and heat and salt from the nearby ocean gets into the asphalt as well.

      Three street segments listed by the report scored absolute zeroes on a 0-to-100 “pavement condition rating:” Georgia Avenue from Newark Street to O Street, Western Avenue from Summit Boulevard to Bunker Road, and Revere Road from Webster Avenue to Norton Avenue. Fixing those three alone would total $48,000.

      One segment, Electronics Way from West Technology Plaza to 35th Street, scored a 32 condition rating but will alone need more than $186,000 to repair. That one already is listed in the city’s 5-year plan.

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  3. It comes down to a matter of priorities. These are set by the commission and mayor, and implemented by city staff. To redirect staff, our elected officials need to let them know to change priorities.

    Just shoot your elected officials a quick email:

    Dear —,

    I’m writing in regards to the proposed expensive reconstruction of Pioneer Plaza. The safety and condition of our streets is extremely important to me, but this project is NOT an effective way to achieve those goals. Please reconsider the priorities we are setting for our traffic engineers, and instead encourage them to implement changes that increase the safety and walk-ability of our great city. These improvements affect our ability to attract financial firms and young professionals who are used to amenities provided by cities in the north, while reducing long term road infrastructure costs.

    [[additional comments of your own here]]

    Thank you,
    Your name

    Jeri Muoio, Mayor
    hone (561) 822-1400 | Email jmuoio@wpb.org

    Sylvia Moffett, District 1 Commissioner
    Phone (561) 822-1390 | Email smoffett@wpb.org

    Isaac Robinson Jr., District 2 Commissioner
    Phone (561) 822-1390 | Email irobinson@wpb.org

    Kimberly Mitchell, District 3 Commissioner
    Phone (561) 822-1390 | Email kmitchell@wpb.org

    Keith A. James, District 4 Commissioner
    Phone (561) 822-1390 | Email kjames@wpb.org

    Shanon Materio, District 5 Commissioner
    Phone (561) 822-1390 | Email smaterio@wpb.org

    You can also put it in as a (track-able) help ticket by emailing 822@wpb.org

    Note: I live about 100 feet from a section that scored “absolute zero”, and yet, my “first priority” would not be to repave — instead, spend our tax money to improve roads in the city through strategic narrowing, roundabouts, bike infrastructure, traffic flow improvements, and more traffic calming measures.
    The innovative traffic calming measures we observed while house hunting were what convinced us that WPB “got it”, and why we chose to live here (we had the option of anywhere in South Florida). These improvements affect our ability to attract financial firms and young professionals who are used to amenities provided by cities in the north, while reducing long term road infrastructure costs.

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    • Great comments Joe. The leadership starts with our elected officials as you point out. Traffic calming measures have a great track record in West Palm Beach – let’s do more of what’s proven to work.

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  6. I heard that this project was still moving forward with this project for some reason? $350k will buy a lot of safety upgrades on other streets that actually need it.

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  7. Wait, the cost of this has crept up to $595,655 for the fiscal year?

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  8. Was mentioned in the political debates as happening. Figured I’d follow up after the elections…

    Liked by 1 person

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