Yesterday on the Engage West Palm Facebook discussion group, two crashes were discussed, mere blocks from each other. One crash occurred at the intersection of Clematis and Dixie and the other at the Evernia and Dixie intersection.
The crash at Evernia and Dixie damaged the ArtHaus building, cracking part of the building facade. Thankfully, no one was hurt in either incident, from our understanding.
One of these crash types is so familiar to the community that we all knew immediately the cause: drivers in the outside lane trying to make a left onto Clematis, sideswiping a car in the inside lane. Most streets in the downtown are two way. Drivers, especially those from out of town, expect two way operation in downtown. Everything in this environment sends the message this is an urban street: People walking on sidewalks, sidewalk cafes, buildings close to the street with ground floor retail. It’s a complex environment in which people, including drivers, negotiate with one another through social queues – that means looking each other in the eye, gesturing, etc. So many people already treat Olive and Dixie as two way streets out of convenience (why circle the block?) that I see a wrong way driver nearly every day. These streets just want to be two-way.
It’s not clear whether the ArtHaus crash was as clearly a result of our one way streets, but I suspect driver confusion may have contributed. Intersections are especially perilous because drivers can become confused, realize they are turning the wrong way and make a rash decision. One way streets also contribute to higher car speeds through downtown because drivers jockey for position and try to pass each other. One wrong move, and a person stepping into the street can be killed. On urban streets, speed kills.
Literally once every couple of weeks, a neighbor reports on a crash on Olive or Dixie, sometimes close calls involving pedestrians.
One way streets just don’t make sense in this environment. Rather than rehashing the extensive research that has been done on multilane one-way streets and why they’re bad in an urban environment, here is a series of supporting links.
- Traffic capacity likely to increase, not decrease, with two way streets
- Citylab: The case against one-way streets
- Washington Post: Why one way streets are the absolute worst
- Citylab: The many benefits of converting one-way streets to two-way
There are many more supportive research papers available, but these articles are a good starting point.
A city goal for at least two decades
A two way Olive and Dixie is called for in the city’s comprehensive plan:
Policy 2.3.5(n): The City shall continue to coordinate with Palm Beach County and FDOT on the possibility of restoring Dixie and Olive to two-way operations in the Downtown area.
More people from Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast come into West Palm to work than any other city. Few stay. Fewer still ever think about moving in to avoid commuting. Who can blame them? There aren’t many inviting places to live downtown. There isn’t even a big grocery store or a nice bookstore. The night life isn’t much. Crime is a problem.
So the plan concentrates on people. It divides downtown West Palm into areas. Some are residential neighborhoods. Others are business districts. Each is given an identity and a blueprint. Olive Avenue and Dixie Highway, two of the main north-south roads, are changed from one-way to two-way so drivers will slow down; sidewalks will be widened to make them more inviting. A simpler building code is proposed.
“In the suburbs,” Mr. Duany said, “people have open land and few rules. That’s what downtowns compete with. So you need to make it as easy as possible while keeping with your overall design.”