Walkable West Palm Beach

“Trollgate” a reminder of bold actions taken to remake city

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Did you know that the underside of the Royal Park Bridge is fit for a troll?

Frank Cerabino of the Palm Beach Post recounted an episode of West Palm Beach history that could be known as “Trollgate.”

Here’s the city livable transportation engineer at the time, Ian Lockwood, recalling the bridge design process with FDOT.

“I had to meet with the state people and I had a list of 10 things that I wanted, things like lower railings to make the sightseeing better,” Lockwood remembers. “And everything I wanted they said ‘No.’”

Hula's painting, "Clara". Photo: The Palm Beach Post

Photo: The Palm Beach Post

This story demonstrates the ‘people first’ values that were part of the West Palm Beach engineering department in the past.

At one time, we had a livable transportation engineer advocating for troll sculptures under bridges (can you imagine??), and creating amazing community assets in the form of the pedestrian/bike path underneath the Royal Park Bridge. Now our city engineering establishment is so timid that even going below 11′ width travel lanes in downtown is a very difficult sell to our city engineers.

In our recent history, a similar bike/ped pathway was not able to be built under the Flagler Bridge to the north, although it’s unclear to me why this could happen at the Royal Park Bridge and not the Flagler Bridge. The FDOT bridge intersection at Flagler doesn’t appear to have any elevated level of bike/pedestrian accommodations even though it is certain to be used by many people on foot and bike and is a crucial link in a waterfront bike/ped pathway.


“We don’t have any rules against it”

 

Unless we have city staff advocating for (and not just tolerating) more livable streets and walkable neighborhoods, how are we to realize these opportunities when they arise? You don’t even know they exist unless you’re on the front lines working for more livable streets, pushing for change and asking the right questions. The Flagler Bridge buffered bike lane is a tiny citizen victory, but larger victories require the credibility, knowledge, and support of city staff in order to make change happen, in collaboration with citizen advocates.

FDOT is hardly known for its nuance when it comes to neighborhoods and street design. How ironic if our own city staff, at one time almost revolutionary in remaking West Palm Beach as a place for people (see Exhibit A), were to cede the high ground to FDOT?

It shouldn’t be this way, especially at the city level, where we have much more design discretion. Safe, livable streets should be the default rather than the exception.

No troll superstitions necessary.

 

Exhibit A: WPB was revolutionary in remaking neighborhoods as places for people


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