Palm Beach County proposes to add an additional southbound lane on Australian Avenue north and south of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard between 7th and 15th street. The County project is vehemently opposed by residents in the area. This post will discuss WalkableWPB’s design proposal for Australian Avenue, the status of the County’s project, and the myriad of policy issues this project has exposed.
Here is a photo of the section of Australian Avenue where the County proposes to add the third lane:
With the County’s plan a third lane would be added in the above picture between the road and the sidewalk.
Here is an aerial view of the road. Note in the photo that the existing right of way is at the back of the sidewalk and has a width of 106′. The 106′ dimension will be critical in developing a design solution.
Prior to learning about the County’s proposal residents along the road were already unhappy with Australian Avenue. Their major concerns are the recent removal of existing street trees (shown in the above photo) in the swale, difficulty of backing out from residential driveways onto Australian, hostile roadway environment for pedestrians and property values, lack of bicycle facilities, and the illegality of parking in the swale.
Based on the residents concerns and the present and future traffic growth trends for Australian Avenue WalkableWPB is proposing that the road remain four lanes and that one-way access roads be added to each side. With the one way access roads Australian Avenue would become a multiway boulevard. A good precedent for this type of roadway is the Esplanade in Chico, California shown here:
and in google street view:
Below are sketchup models of Australian Avenue with the addition of one way access roads.
Multiway boulevards have made an appearance on the blog before. In fact, the most popular post on the blog was an April fool’s day spoof where we reported that Okeechobee Boulevard was going to become a multiway boulevard. An excellent summary of why you would use a multiway boulevard follows from the ITE Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares Manual:
The multiway boulevard is an alternative to conventional higher-volume, higher-speed arterial streets. This thoroughfare type may be used where the community’s objective is to accommodate urban mixed use or residential development and a walkable environment on corridors with high traffic demands. A multiway boulevard combines a central thoroughfare for higher-speed through movements bordered by landscaped medians that separate the central thoroughfare from one-way access lanes on each side of the boulevard. The access lanes provide for slower local traffic, parking, bicycle travel and a pedestrian oriented streetside and are designed to discourage through traffic. Multiway boulevards may be considered where a community desires to make a very wide arterial street more pedestrian friendly yet recognizes the need to retain traffic capacity.
The proposed one-way access roads for Australian Avenue address all of the residents concerns. In order to fit within the existing 106′ right of way and avoid the taking of residents property the one-way access road does not have parallel parking. It is unusual to have multiway boulevard with a large number of driveways and without on-street parking, but it is appropriate for Australian Avenue as the roadway frontage consists of suburban ranch style houses. If desired, parallel parking spaces could be added to the proposed boulevard between the existing driveways either on the sidewalk side or by narrowing the outside median between trees, but either option would require additional right of way from the property owner.
You may be wondering how can a one-way access road and outside tree lined buffer fit and not require the residents to give up any of their property? In order for it to fit Australian Avenue will have to go on a road diet fitting with its 35 mile per hour speed limit, school zone, and abutting residential properties. The diet includes narrowing the median to 10′ and 11.5′ wide outside lane consisting of 10′ of pavement and 1.5′ wide gutter pan. On the access road, a 9′ lane is used with an additional 1.5′ wide gutter pan for a total width of 10.5′.
Multiway Boulevards are quite common in European cities such as Paris, but they are few and far between in the United States. Surprisingly, nearby Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard west of I-95 has a section that is a multiway boulevard. The Palm Beach Lakes section is not the best example as its access roads are too wide and lack a deciduous tree canopy. It isn’t perfect, but that portion of Palm Beach Lakes does show how the access road and the center road can be different realms. The photo earlier in the post of the Esplanade in Chico California shows how beautiful these roads can be with a great tree canopy and we could fill page after page with beautiful European examples.
The best book to learn more about multiway boulevards is the the Boulevard Book by Allan Jacobs. You can also read his earlier studies on multiway boulevards for free online at the University of California Transportation Center :
Status of County Project:
On Monday April 14th County staff held a public meeting at City Hall to discuss the project. At the meeting County Engineer George Webb stunned residents when he began his presentation stating that he understood that the people in the room didn’t want the current project and that he wasn’t going to force the project on them. He explained that Australian Avenue’s drainage system is in need of repairs. He explained that the County has different funding sources for roadways which include gas tax and impact fees. Impact fees can only be spent on roadway capacity projects and that the County’s design for an additional third southbound lane north and south of the Palm Beach Lakes intersection was an attempt to provide a capacity project that would also fix the maintenance issues on Australian Avenue. He also explained that the County is very short on gas tax money for maintenance and that it would be a very long time before Australian Avenue was repaired with gas tax funds.
Several options were suggested such as killing the project, transferring the road to the City, or developing a more palatable roadway capacity project. No decision was made.
It was shocking to hear County staff say that there was money for shiny new roads, but no money for maintenance of existing roads. Palm Beach County is experiencing what Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn has termed the second life cycle of the suburban growth ponzi scheme. The maintenance bill on our 1960 and 1970s suburbs is due and there isn’t enough gas tax to pay for the repairs, but we have this huge pile of cash to build new roads.
One must wonder how the County project had gotten so far along in design without the City objecting. Does the City have any input on County projects in the City? Do the County and City work together to identify mutually agreeable projects in the City? The City, correctly, doesn’t support the County’s design and it is quite easy to criticize. It is much more difficult to develop a project than to criticize. Does the City have any better ideas for more palatable capacity projects to spend the impact fees?
Finally, what qualifies for adding capacity – Can a project that shifts people from their cars to other modes qualify, e.g. a cycle track?