Palm Tran: Bus system has not been reimagined for 20 years

Palm Tran Director Clinton Forbes: We’re overdue for a comprehensive look at our bus system

Inside West Palm Beach, the radio show hosted by Barry O’Brien, recently interviewed Palm Tran Director Clinton Forbes. Barry is a huge transit supporter and has been advocating for better transit service through has involvement in the community and on the Downtown Action Committee (DAC).

Much of the conversation focused around the known deficiencies with Palm Tran. As an example, Mr. Forbes cited a survey that shows that only 10% of current Palm Tran ridership consist of “choice riders”, or those who have other options such as owning a car. Many routes are slow, with far too many stops, and few direct routes. Buses aren’t frequent enough. The inability for urban dwellers to get on a bus and ride straight north or south on U.S. 1 is a particularly noticeable failing as these are the population and employment centers in the county. I recently attempted to take a bus to my wife’s workplace in Jupiter, and what would have been a half hour car ride would have taken me over two hours. No one is going to make the choice to ride a bus given other options. And for those without a choice, it just makes life that much harder. Dependent riders’ time matters as well.

I’ve been critical of our bus system, maybe overly so. The good news: Listening to Mr. Forbes, Palm Tran Director, was a breath of fresh air. He gets it. Here’s what he had to say about the routes of Palm Tran:

“Since 1996, we have not taken a comprehensive look at our system. Development has changed, land use patterns have changed, population density has changed…but what have we done? The system is the same. And so we could not be maximizing our efficiency with the system. And so one of my number one priorities…is to do a comprehensive look at our system.”

Music to my ears. He mentioned the efforts in Jacksonville and Houston to reimagine their bus system. I’m a huge fan of the Houston reimagining project, which used the same operating dollars to create a much more convenient and robust bus system that is more useful to people. Below GIF shows the frequent bus network (<15 minute headways) before and after.


Imagine credit: James Llamas and Strong Click image for article.



Mr. Forbes has also mentioned the idea of signal prioritization at traffic signals, which would basically give buses a ‘green wave’ of lights and improve trip times. [Sun-Sentinel story. ] The reimagining of the system and signal prioritization could drastically improve headways. Headways of 5-10 minutes are ideal, with 15-20 minutes being generally accepted as the inflection point at which ridership drops dramatically. Mr. Forbes also mentioned the rollout of attractive new buses that will have Wi-Fi, coming soon. The South Dixie Corridor study also presents an opportunity to implement signal prioritization and new fast boarding bus stops with the corridor reimagining.

With useful bus service, I’m absolutely confident Palm Tran will get used much more than it is currently and become an important part of our transportation mix in Palm Beach County. Mr. Forbes is taking  Palm Tran in the right direction; let’s hope we can all get on-board to make a better bus system a reality.

Interview is below. Go to minute 19, when the interview starts getting good.

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  1. Jeanne Taylor

    Metropolitan Planning Organization and Palm Tran
    Transportation Disadvantaged Services
    Public Meeting
    March 9, 2016

    Increase safety and shelters for disadvantaged citizens who rely on bus transportation along North Australian Ave in the City of WPB

    The purpose for this letter is to request an opportunity to address safer crosswalks and shelter improvements for at least 3 Bus Stops for disadvantaged residents in the north end of the City of West Palm Beach mainly along North Australian Ave. We are asking that the public transportation and livability for our disadvantaged residents be improved for safety and shelter.

         Bus Stop #3097  

    lacks shelter from the harsh South Florida sun, heat and rain for our disadvantaged citizens, young and old who rely heavily on public transportation.

         Bus Stop #1424  

    need for an enhanced crosswalk at 36th St and N. Australian Ave Bus Stop #1424 at Sunset Park where children and families cross Australian Ave to access park and where students and others wait for school and public buses.

         Bus Stop #1427  

    need for an enhanced crosswalk for the elderly and disadvanted residents at Bus Stop#1427 N. Australian Ave across from Joseph’s Village and Palm Grove Apts. Many residents are seen daily struggling to make it safely across the four lanes of N. Australian traffic in wheelchairs and on foot.

    Demographics and History of North Australian Ave Community:

    N. Australian Ave from 45th St to Palm Beach Lakes Blvd in the north end of the City of West Palm Beach is a 2 mile stretch of roadway which is made up of several residential communities to include affordable housing and assisted living, 2 Public Schools, 1Charter school, 3 City parks and numerous public and school bus stops within a 2 mile stretch of roadway.

    Resident Concerns:

    Speeding along N. Australian Ave through their community documented accidents to include homes impacted by vehicles and deaths.
    This community and their quality of life have been degraded for lack of any real road improvements to include safety and speed measures.
    This is not an esoteric conversation, real people have experienced a real loss of life and a degraded quality of life along this 2 mile mile roadway.

    Truck Route?

    The argument that has been made is that this small stretch of road is “truck route”. However, North Australian Avenue adjacent to our City of West Palm Beach Reservior, Lake Mangonia was a residential neighborhood with schools and parks long before it became a proposed a “truck route”. There has been an outcry from residents for years to return this road to a safer roadway for their community. The question that should be asked: “When was the truck plan developed and was there equal weight placed on this neighborhood and did residents have a fair and equal voice in the development of this truck plan?” And is this why residents can NOT expect to improve their road, North Australian Ave or their quality of life?

    Disadvantaged residents have been at increased risk from unimpeded vehicles:

    A reasonable person could conclude based on history that “no,” the neighborhood did not have a fair and equal voice based on demographics. To asses this issue further one should consider the 1994 executive order that was signed by President William Jefferson Clinton in 1994. The executive order requires federal projects must consider the impacts to minority neighborhoods as part of the official planning process. The justification for this mandate was the belief there was a history of unfair road planning process that disproportionately effected lower income and minority neighborhoods. While this is not a federal project, these guidelines should be considered.

    If this is the County and City opinion that North Australian Ave is a truck route, then their argument lacks good planning and good judgement. One could argue that North Australian Ave is a text book example why the 1994 executive order by then President Clinton was issued.

    What could the Metropolitan Planning Board and Palm Tran reasonably do to support this roadway?

    First, acknowledge the presence of residential and disadvantaged residential neighborhoods, schools, parks, bus stops and affordable housing along this 2 mile corridor and that this Corridor is more complex than a simple truck route. Once you acknowledge that this corridor supports other uses, the MPO could implement an improvement plan for N. Australian Ave to include engineering controls to slow traffic.

    Second, staff should consider engineering designs that would promote safer crosswalks which would make it obvious to motorists that they are traveling through residential areas with schools, parks and public bus stops. These safer crosswalks could be designed with the community and installed at major intersections near schools, parks and public transportation stops. Because of the presence of affordable housing and schools, it is reasonable to expect that the community would be walking and relying on public transportation and using crosswalks as part of their mode of mobility.

    Improvement Plan
    Road improvements for safety are necessary and without implementing safety measures the Metropolitan Planning Board has posed an unfair burden to our community. This Corridor should be improved for safety and to enhance the neighborhoods, schools and visitors traveling to and from the City’s downtown core. North Australian Ave Corridor is situated along Lake Mangonia the City’s water supply/reservoir; greening this corridor should also be considered in the improvement plan.

    Bus Stops:
    Re-branding bus stops with shelters and safety measures, tree canopy and other native vegetation will result in increased ridership and improve the rider’s experience and well being. Bus Stops can be creative: pocket gardens, shaded with trees and or shelters, mini-free libraries, butterfly gardens, etc. There are many possibilities to increase safety first, and enhance and increase ridership.

    Idea: Partnering with the FEC, All Aboard Florida and other public and private agencies could help
    to re-brand and improve bus stops and increase ridership of all public commuter transportation.

    Please consider the above mentioned public transportation areas in your plans to improve Transportation for Disadavantaged.

    Thank you.

    Jeanne Taylor

    • Thanks for the comment, Jeanne. You’re such a champion for your neighborhood. They’re lucky to have you.

      I’m planning to write an article on pedestrian refuge islands, a proven safety measure that I believe is one of our best responses for pedestrian safety on overly wide stroads and county roads. I’d be curious to see what the conditions are on Australian. Are there sections with pedestrian refuge islands?

      • Jeanne Taylor

        Jesse, there is about a 2 foot concrete area at the center median area in front of Joseph’s Village bus crossing – most of Australian Ave has a wide center median (void of vegetation- only sod) -everywhere but bus crossing areas. #Backwards Bob has a photo I will email you for inclusion (possibly) in your article. thanks.

    • Thanks for commenting, James. I still have much to learn about transit planning (still need to read Human Transit!) so I appreciate the constructive feedback. I felt sort of uncomfortable using that jargon as well, but I wasn’t sure of the alternatives to doing so.

      It looks like Palm Beach County will be looking at a redesign of its bus system in the near future. I’d like to see your firm and/or Jarrett Walker involved in the project. Keep it on your radar.

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