Parklets don’t make a street unsafe; cars speeding make a street unsafe

Fort Lauderdale gets it. Edge friction causes drivers to slow down and creates a more satisfying place. A more quality public realm attracts people, diners, and business. Fort Lauderdale has rolled out a permanent parklet program. Here is an excerpt of a Sun Sentinel story:

 It’s worked well at Gran Forno Bakery, located at 1235 East Las Olas Boulevard, became a one-store pilot program about four months ago, said manager Alex Variu. The parklet is a curb-high wooden sidewalk extension fitted alongside the pavement in front of the bakery.

“No negative impacts have been identified to date,” said City Manager Lee Feldman.

But it was car traffic that most interested Variu.

“We’d been talking with the city for some time,” he said. “There have been a lot of problems with traffic here — a lot of accidents. The idea was this parklet was going to slow down the traffic. Drivers would ease up as they passed.”  [story from The Sun Sentinel]

Contrast these two photos. First is a parklet in San Francisco, home of the original parklet program. Second is a tweet we sent after observing the City putting ugly yellow pylons in front of our ‘street balcony’ on Clematis. It was working just fine for a few days without these ugly sticks blighting the streetscape. What changed?

Parklet in San Francisco. Credit to the New York Times.


It’s result of what I like to call “The tyranny of the specialist”, in this case, likely the engineering department. In a complex urban environment with slow speeds, also known as a ‘street’, it is both useful and desirable for street design to send the message, “this is a place for people first. Cars will be allowed here, as long as they behave. To ensure they will behave, the environment will be designed to reflect these values.”   They get it in Fort Lauderdale. Parklets don’t make a street unsafe; cars speeding make a street unsafe! And parklets/narrower streets/raised intersections reduce speed and create an environment in which the driver needs to be cautious. If anything, the parklet in West Palm Beach should have been made even larger and wider, but engineering dictated that its dimensions be reduced. Tyranny of the engineer.

This isn’t a new experiment in West Palm Beach. In fact, Park(ing) Day projects date back to 2007 (!) in West Palm Beach, making us an early adopter in testing out this program. But since then, we’ve seemingly regressed. It’s taken us nearly two years of back and forth to even allow for a pilot project to be tested in downtown. 

Back in the day, our city transportation engineer (note the difference in language: transportation engineer, not traffic engineer) resided in the planning department of city hall, by choice. Ian Lockwood, Tim Stillings and some very innovative folks got things done by making our streets humane. The results speak for themselves.

A walkable city requires a holistic view to drive community design.


  1. Baron Haussmann

    This reminded me of Ben Hamilton-Baillie’s strongtowns podcast where he said that if you want someone to drive like they are in a village then you need to build a village.

  2. Rob

    My town’s engineer vetoed a multi-use path through a wooded area. He was worried that a tree branch might fall on a trail user. It seems that the trail, up a hillside, was too narrow to get the town’s bucket truck up it. So the trees couldn’t be trimmed.

    I guess then no trails should ever be built where bucket trucks can’t go.

    You can’t make this stuff up…. 🙁

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