Walkable West Palm Beach

We talk downtown WPB with Jeff Speck

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[Thanks for coming out last night for ‘Walkable Wednesday’! It was stimulating conversation all around. Next month – same time, different place: J Flynn’s Irish Pub on Clematis at 6 pm on March 26th. And don’t forget tonight’s “c’est la via” event downtown, and Critical Mass this Friday. Follow community building events on the blog calendar.]

Last week, Jeff Speck was in town to start his walkability study of our downtown. As part of this process, he met with stakeholders in the downtown to get up to speed on the facts on the ground, and opinions on what is most needed to improve walkability. Aaron Wormus, Joe Roskowski, Joe Chase, and I met with Jeff at Terebinth, the new art gallery/organic cafe on Dixie and Evernia Street downtown.

If you haven’t read Walkable City yet, put it at the top of your list. I have a copy if you’d like to borrow it. This book along with the Smart Growth Manual are two of the best books for understanding how to make great places for the layperson and they’ve been a big influence.

Here is a recap of the ideas we discussed at the meeting:

First up on the list: Maintenance issues downtown, especially the lack of priority for street shade trees. This is one of the most noticeable detriments to a decent walk.  See this report for a sample of the tree issues the downtown community has identified.  Jeff devotes an entire chapter in Walkable City to street trees, and states: “It’s best not to pick favorites in the walkability discussion – every individual point counts – but the humble American street tree might win my vote.” It’s great to have a renowned urban planner working on this plan for improving our downtown.

Joe Chase discussed the lack of connectivity between Banyan Boulevard/Clearlake office park area and Clematis Street, and the missing bicycle link between these two areas. It may be difficult to improve walkability in this area, but bikeability seems very achievable and an easier fix.

Parking: I made another call for higher standards for surface parking lots downtown. We have an abundance of surface parking lots, poorly maintained and without any landscaping. Our code only requires new surface parking lots to be screened (which we shouldn’t be building more of anyhow) but says little about landscaping and shade tree buffer on existing lots.  We should also consider the feasibility of installing a green wall on the Evernia and Banyan parking garages, as Naples has done. Lastly, require city employees to pay market rate for their parking, or at least provide a parking cash-out. May be politically difficult, but it would be a shot in the arm to Clematis retail. I’ll need another post to go into the reasons why.

Two-way Olive and Dixie. Another idea that deserves its own blog post, and has been kicked around and talked about for years.

Aaron Wormus brought up the Sunset Lounge, and the CRA plan to revitalize it. This led to a discussion about how to reconnect the Northwest neighborhood with neighborhoods to the south and east. We all emphasized the importance of maintaining our street grid, not abandoning streets and alleys. We supported following through on the downtown master plan to create new streets west of Sapodilla and break up the mega-blocks, and creating the frontage road on the west side of the FEC right of way.

Joe Roskowski had much to say about Okeechobee Boulevard and how unpleasant and unsafe an experience it is to cross, on foot or on bike. Everyone strongly agreed. Same goes for Quadrille Boulevard. Even after the FDOT grant project, it maintains a highway speed geometry, with excessively wide lanes, much too wide curbs, and angry drivers who don’t like bicyclists sharing the road.

What would you have told him? Tweet @JeffSpeckAICP.

That’s a recap of the meeting. Jeff’s report is due to be released sometime this summer, most likely in June. Stay tuned – we will need everyone’s help to see that the plan is carried through.

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