Walkable West Palm Beach


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Your input needed! Shape the future of Dixie in WPB – This weekend and next week

South Dixie is undergoing a positive transformation. Significant private investment has been made, with an assortment of restaurants and retailers opening along it – but this has been in spite of the highway, not because of it. South Dixie has the advantage of a great stock of prototypical old buildings – the type of buildings necessary for entrepreneurship to flourish, as Jane Jacobs explained so well.

What it doesn’t have going for it is a hostile sidewalk environment with cars flying by at 45 mph and very little shade. A plan for a better public realm has been crafted and if executed I believe South Dixie will achieve an even greater level of success.

Highways are not places for people. What should the new name be? Dixie Avenue or something completely new?

Vested stakeholders have come together on a vision for a road diet on South Dixie that would transform it into more of a place to linger and enjoy — al fresco dining, shopping, etc. — and tame the dangerous car speeds. Many stakeholders have been involved in the process to date, including City Commissioner Paula Ryan, merchants, neighborhood associations, and residents who live adjacent to South Dixie. Read more about efforts in past posts.

Rumor is that FDOT is pushing for bike lanes up and down U.S.-1 (aka Dixie in most of the county), contradicting the well-established consensus that emerged in the South Dixie charrettes. In those charrettes led by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC), the community determined that due to the limited right of way on Dixie, volume of traffic, and priorities for placemaking, it would be best to prioritize sidewalk space and on-street parking here. Importantly, this design would slow cars more than striped bike lanes. Striped bike lanes next to travel lanes give a perception to a driver of a wider travel way than does a row of parked cars right next to the travel lanes.

Let me be clear: I’m a huge advocate for biking. I bike myself all over town and I want to see WPB embrace Dutch style biking for everyone. Dutch guidance is clear: In no case should a roadway that carries more than 15,000 cars per day consider using a bike lane. Nor should a cycle lane be considered if speeds are at or above about 30 mph. This is a good article from Cycle Toronto that explains some of these nuances in Dutch guidance. The Dutch have been doing this better than anyone for the past 40+ years, and we would be wise to learn. This simplified chart (kilometers per hour) shows the relationship between car speed and volume and separation. In short: As speeds and volumes go up, more separation is needed.

 

 

A compromised bike lane sandwiched between heavy traffic (including many Palm Tran buses) and on-street parking does not serve people on bikes well, and will only be used by the competent few – it will not attract new riders. No bike lane should be added on this stretch unless it is a physically protected bike lane (behind parked cars or a physical barrier) due to the very heavy traffic volume. Because the right of way is limited and there are issues with curb cuts/driveways, a physically protected bike lane isn’t possible unless on-street parking is removed. Maybe at some point in the future, this will be a possibility, but in the meantime, I think we should focus our resources on creating world class north/south bikeways on Lake and Flagler instead of a compromised design on U.S.-1 that will never attract anything beyond a paltry share of bike riders.

I support the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council’s designs and I hope you will too. Please attend these very important meetings this weekend and voice your opinion in favor of the road diet, and furthermore, for the plans created by TCRPC and the community. The same could be said for sections of Dixie north and south of the TCRPC study area — the MPO should listen to the input of residents and stakeholders. Dixie is no longer a highway, it is becoming a place with distinct characteristics along its length.

Workshop is this Saturday 9 am – 2 pm at South Olive Elementary
Open studio charrettes are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday 10 am – 7 pm at City Hall. Final presentation 5 pm on Wednesday, August 30th.

Hope to see you there.

 

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New FDOT policy: Physically protected bike lanes on Florida bridges

Back in 2015, FDOT pledged to provide buffered bike lanes on the Flagler Bridge between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, a scenic bike route that connects the WPB waterfront and the Lake Trail on the island of Palm Beach. Great news: FDOT has outdone themselves again, as they’ve provided the Holy Grail of bike infrastructure over bridges: A physically protected bike lane. Video is below.

 

The barrels work well to provide a protective barrier between bicyclists and fast moving vehicles. Although we’d be happy to see the barrels remain in place, we suspect FDOT and Palm Beach are working double time this weekend to install a more attractive permanent treatment in time for Monday’s ribbon cutting event. Dignitaries on hand Monday have much reason to celebrate, as not only will the bridge provide enhancements to traffic movement, better sidewalks, and aesthetic improvements, it will also mark the first (to our knowledge) such protected bike lane design over a bridge in the state.

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It’s great progress to see FDOT putting bicyclists behind physically protected barriers over high-speed bridges such as the Flagler Bridge. No doubt this new design will be the new standard across the state and be implemented on such bridges as the Rickenbacker Causeway and the 17th Street Bridge in Vero Beach in order to prevent the needless tragedies that have claimed the lives of so many Florida cyclists. Bravo, FDOT.
Note: At press time, we could not reach an FDOT official to actually confirm the policy change.


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Crossing Okeechobee

There have been numerous studies of the Okeechobee Boulevard intersection at Rosemary Avenue over the past several years (Jeff Speck Walkability Study, Tom Hall study, FDOT road safety study), but I thought the conversation could benefit from a non-expert, citizen’s perspective on the crossing. So this weekend I shot some video in order to provide a first-person perspective of the crossing with voiceover narration to describe the conditions as they exist on the ground. I used an iPhone and very amateur video skills to create this short video – apologies in advance for the shaky video. I timed the total crossing on each crosswalk – the eastern crosswalk and the western crosswalk. The last part of the video describes simple changes that can be made quickly and cheaply to improve the safety and crossing experience – many of which have already been noted in the FDOT road safety study and/or the Jeff Speck Walkability report.

The focus in this video is providing observational data and facts to bolster the conversation ongoing about Okeechobee. I purposefully skipped over costly or longer-term solutions to focus on things that can be done now or in the short term with the current configuration.

One of the big takeaways is how much better the eastern crosswalk crossing experience is compared to the western crosswalk  – if it’s working properly, I was able to get across in less than 60 seconds. When it works right, it’s a great thing – a pedestrian can get across in under 2 minutes and in many cases under 60 seconds. However, frequently the crosswalk signal doesn’t work properly, and pedestrians are stranded in the median or waiting to get the walk signal.

While the crossing at Okeechobee and Rosemary has a long way to go to be up to the safety standard residents, visitors, and conventioneers should expect, it has also come a long way from its condition a few years ago. Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) are a great addition. The reshaping of the nose of the median has improved conditions somewhat (although done much more modestly than the Speck plan) and the walk signal timing is better, but still lacking.

Hope to see many blog readers at the Okeechobee Corridor and Mobility Plan meetings this week at the Convention Center (starts today at 5:30 pm). Your input is critical.