Walkable West Palm Beach


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Future of the Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard Bridge

As part of the one penny infrastructure sales tax surcharge, Palm Beach County will rehabilitate the overpass of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard over the Florida East Railroad (overpass). On April 4th, Palm Beach County will allocate the one penny sales tax to specific projects. At this time, the County hasn’t shared their proposal for the overpass. This post will explore the history of the overpass and provide a design concept that would be an asset for the adjacent properties instead of a liability.

 

Aerial shot of overpass

History

Prior to the overpass construction, Palm Beach Lakes Blvd. was named 12th Street. 12th Street was a local neighborhood street that dead ended at the railroad. An aerial photo of the future overpass location shows on-street parking at the corner of Sapodilla and 12th St. for the corner store. The photo also shows the majority of lots along 12th St. with structures.

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This is a Sanborn map from 1952 of 12th St. in the location of the future overpass. Again, note the number of buildings on 12th St.

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The existing overpass was constructed in 1965 by the City of West Palm Beach. In order to create space for the travel lanes on the overpass, on-street parking on 12th St. was eliminated and access to 12th St. was maintained via one-way frontage roads.

Today the majority of properties next to the overpass are now vacant.

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Today pedestrians and cyclists must traverse a desolate area under the bridge to utilize ramps to cross the railroad tracks.

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Pedestrian ramp tower to top of bridge to cross railroad tracks

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Pedestrian ramp tower to top of bridge to cross railroad tracks

Clearly, the existing pedestrian and bicycle facilities aren’t acceptable.

Precedents

There is a better way. Bridges don’t have to be utilitarian structures. They can have planters, trees, benches, and shade structures. The following are all bridges:

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Pfluger Bridge Austin

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New York, New York High Line

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Long Street, Columbus Ohio

Proposal

If the frontage roads were eliminated and access to the adjacent properties was provided from the alleys, then 80′ is available for the bridge. The current roadway could be reduced from four to three lanes. Two lanes would be provided in the eastbound direction and one lane would be provided in the westbound direction. Pedestrian and cyclists would be provided with a wide pathway to cross the railroad tracks on top of the bridge instead of walking under the bridge. Large landscaped buffers would be provided between the vehicles and the multimodal paths.

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Proposed Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard Overpass

Bridges are a long term investment so it is important to get the design right with proper community input. This bridge will be with us a long time and a good design can set the stage for reinvestment, whereas a poor design would be unalterable for another 75 years. Nearby institutions such as Good Samaritan hospital could eventually have the need to expand into new space and the vacant land adjacent to the bridge could be developed under this concept. This concept would make the best of this overpass by making it crossable and comfortable on foot or on bike, and it would be supportive of future development along it when the time is right.

Here’s how it would work. The fourth floor of a building abutting the overpass would be at the same height as the highest point of the bridge.  As shown in the following section, the bridge section would provide for a connection to the future buildings. To those walking or biking on the overpass, the overpass would appear not as an overpass, but rather as a normal street. The overpass would connect to the adjacent land uses and no longer divide them. Imagine healthcare workers living within a five-minute walk of a major employment center. A hospital expansion or medical offices (as examples) could be part of the fabric of the neighborhood, rather than an isolated campus.

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Proposed overpass section with abutting five-story buildings

Granted this is an ambitious proposal for the bridge, but it would be an investment in our future. At this time the County hasn’t released its plan for the bridge and this is only one of many options for the overpass. The idea proposed would need to be vetted and gain the support of the neighborhoods adjacent to the project. The purpose of this proposal is to initiate a conversation about neighborhood needs and design options; at a bare minimum, pedestrians and bicycle riders require a safe and comfortable crossing over this overpass. Please, leave your thoughts for the future of the overpass in the comment section.

If you would like to see your sales tax dollars spent to make a great overpass, then you should contact your Palm Beach County Commissioner.


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Southern Boulevard bridge: Another bridge that needs an underpass

FDOT is holding a public meeting concerning the Southern Boulevard bridge replacement project.  On this blog, we’ve been calling for physically protected bike lanes on this bridge as well as an underpass in a series of blog posts written when the project was in design phase in 2015:

We can do better. One only needs to look north to the West Palm Beach side of the Royal Park Bridge for an example of a world class project executed by FDOT and the City of West Palm Beach.

We need to insist on a great Southern Boulevard Bridge. If you don’t insist on a great project then you are going to get the bare minimum in pedestrian and bicycle accommodations. Remember that the new bridge be will around for at least 75 years. Many of us will not be around to see the replacement of that bridge. Right now the current plans are just lines on paper that aren’t set in stone. FDOT has recently decided to spend an additional $12 million on the project to build a temporary bypass bridge. How about spending a little more to have proper bicycle facilities for the next 75 years?

How to make a great Southern Boulevard Bridge over the intracoastal

How to make a great Southern Boulevard Bridge – Part #2

The bridge design currently calls for unprotected “buffered” bike lanes and 6′ sidewalks. Adequate, but not ideal.

The good: 7′ buffered bike lanes over the bridge. This is an improvement over early renditions of the bridge which had unbuffered 5′ bike lanes sharing the shoulder.
The bad: Still no physically protected bike lanes on the bridge.
The ugly: Zero thought given to bicyclists at the intersection with Flagler Drive. Ideally, this could have been a place to put another underpass such as under the Royal Park Bridge that completely separates bikes and pedestrians from the vehicular traffic. Disappointing to see the city miss another opportunity to create more world class walking/biking facilities. Ultimately, this is an FDOT bridge, but if it was possible on the Royal Park bridge, why isn’t it possible here?

We need to demand more from FDOT, even if that involves some cost sharing from the city. Bridges have a long lifespan and we only get one shot to get it right. Adding an underpass later is sure to be more difficult and more costly, if it is possible at all.

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Meeting details below

 

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Southern Blvd Bridge Invitation Flyer


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Sunday: Paint a mural in an intersection!

This Sunday, a group of volunteers will be painting the intersection at Fern Street and Tamarind with the mural pictured below. It’s a joint effort by The Knight Foundation, StreetPlans, Dreyfoos School of the Arts, the City of West Palm Beach, and the Downtown Development Authority. Hope to see you there Sunday from 11 am – 2 pm!

To participate: Fill out this form and email to Brandon Zicker, City of West Palm Beach.
bmzickar@wpb.org

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INTERSECTION REPAIR PROJECT

FREE FUN LIVE ART MUSIC FOOD COMMUNITY

Background:  Street Plans, an urban planning business, received a grant from the Knight Foundation to implement an Intersection Repair Project and they selected the City for its pilot program. Intersection Repair is a creative means to “purpose a neighborhood street intersection as a community space.”  

Who?  Working with the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Visual Arts Department students were invited to participate as teams to create proposals for the first Intersection Repair to be painted in the city.  

Why?  The main objective of this project will be to demonstrate the impact that this creative intervention Intersection Repair model can have on the community.  It is intended to draw attention to the context of this intersection and to place emphasis on the routes of other non-auto oriented forms of transportation: walking, bicycling, and public transit.  

How?  Six teams of visual art students, grades 9-12, submitted proposals – Art in Public Places selected the design

When?  Sunday, March 5, 2017 11am – 2pm  

Where?  At the intersection of Tamarind Ave. and Fern Street

The Art Team: The selected team is made of four young ladies, Ania Johnson, Jessica Raia, Megan Tachev and Dani Walters

The Intersection Repair Design:    

The selected design incorporates different species of native palm trees mixed with silhouettes of active people biking, walking, etc. wrapped in warm, vibrant colors reflective of our environment.  


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Enlightened County Engineering professionals wanted!

There are only two days left to apply for two positions that greatly impact the future trajectory of our county: County Engineer/Public Works Director and Palm Beach County Director of Traffic. This is a critical hire, and I would urge blog readers to write the county commissioners and County Administrator Verdenia Baker to implore the county to hire someone who reflects your values. This position will have far-reaching impacts on the future shape of Palm Beach County. Do we continue to follow the status quo of prioritizing auto level of service above all else, or do we shift our approach to reflect the context and needs of communities? A new commission and relatively new county administrator make this an opportune time to change from business as usual.

Write the commissioners now to tell them what qualities you want to see in these new hires.
All county commissioners email: BCC-AllCommissioners@pbcgov.org 
Verdenia Baker, County Administrator, email: vbaker@pbcgov.org

Please forward this post to anyone you think would make a good fit and share widely.

Links to the positions —-

PBC County Engineer (closes 2/24):

http://pbcgov.com/OnlineApplication/Asps/App/ShowJobNotice.aspx?JobAnnouncementSeq=3853

PBC Director of Traffic (closes 2/24):

http://pbcgov.com/OnlineApplication

 


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Why I do not support a pedestrian bridge over Okeechobee Boulevard

Building a pedestrian bridge over Okeechobee Boulevard comes at a high price, trading pedestrian convenience for commuter convenience. In this post, I provide a number of reasons why I think the Okeechobee pedestrian bridge is the wrong solution to the challenge of crossing Okeechobee at Rosemary Avenue.

  • People will not use it. Pedestrian bridges can work when they get you from point A to point B without adding more time and distance to your walk (such as a third level parking garage connected to an office building’s third floor via a pedestrian bridge). In the case of the Okeechobee Boulevard crossing, pedestrians will have to ascend and descend a set of stairs just to cross the road. Most people will choose to cross at street level rather than take a significant detour up and down steps in order to cross. See: Pedestrian bridges, from Pedestrians.org

  • Wheelchair users and moms pushing strollers won’t be able to use it unless it has an elevator. Elevators that are exposed to the outside elements become unpleasant in short order (see: the Tri-Rail elevators or the Banyan Garage elevators) and have significant costs in ongoing maintenance. Elevators and escalators are expensive and prone to breakdown. They would have to operate 24/7, because there is a constant stream of people who need to cross at Rosemary and Okeechobee. Not just conventioneers; also the service workers from adjacent neighborhoods such as Grandview Heights who need to get to work at all hours.
  • A bridge at Rosemary/Okeechobee isn’t going to help people who aren’t crossing at this intersection. What about those who need to cross at Dixie, Quadrille, Sapodilla, and Alabama Avenue? To expect them to walk 500+ feet out of their way is not realistic.

Cheap short-term fix

A cheaper and more effective short-term treatment would be to reprogram the pedestrian signals to give an added 5-10 second headstart for pedestrians to make the crossing. Ten seconds would be nearly enough time to cross to the refuge median in the center of Okeechobee. This is a simple, cheap, and effective solution. This video from StreetFilms is a good overview of how LPIs work. If they can work for a very busy arterial in Manhattan, they can work here.

There are other very good suggestions made in the Jeff Speck Walkability Study (September 2014) that anticipated the challenges here and suggested ways to make the crossing better. Summary of these recommendations:

  1. Reduce driving lanes to 10 feet in width, using the extra space for curb extensions/protected bike lane. When is the next FDOT RRR resurfacing for Okeechobee scheduled? This should be expedited. This change could likely be done as part of routine resurfacing. For those wide lane lovers out there, we’re talking about perhaps a half mile stretch of Okeechobee that would have lane widths reduced: The urban context east of Tamarind. The rest of Okeechobee can remain as it is.
  2. Close the slip lane at Rosemary northbound onto east Okeechobee.
  3. Plant large street trees in the median to shelter and cool pedestrians. This will help make the crossing more pleasant and the perceived time to cross will decrease.
  4. Revised signal timing to prioritize pedestrian crossings. Note: Some changes have been made, but they are largely half-measures and LPIs have not been implemented. From my personal experience, it isn’t apparent what the pedestrian signals do, rendering them almost useless. We need automatic walk signals with LPIs.

 

Building a pedestrian bridge consigns a fast changing urban corridor to a conduit to solely move cars. A pedestrian bridge places auto throughput above all else and relegates pedestrians to second class status, putting the onus on them to climb stairs up and down to cross the street. If a minor change such as implementing LPIs at this crossing is not done, it will not have been due to budgetary constraints or an engineering quandary, but from a lack of prioritizing the safety and convenience of pedestrians in favor of car speed.

The Bigger Picture

Yes, Okeechobee carries a lot of traffic as one of its functions. But it is also much more than that in its urban (east of Tamarind) context: A concentration of walkable urban destinations, foremost among them the Convention Center, CityPlace, and the Kravis Center, along with densely populated condominium towers (with more coming). Note: each of those condo dwellers who doesn’t rely on a car to get to work is one less commuter to clog up the morning/evening rush hour. Substantial public money has been invested in this area (pitched largely under the auspices of “economic development”) in order to generate economic activity that results from arts, culture, and convention events within walking distance of one another and fueling retail sales at CityPlace/downtown West Palm Beach. Putting a mixture of uses in close proximity, where people can meet, socialize, and engage in business, is really the whole point of cities. Look no further than the positive impact the adjacent Hilton Hotel has had on the success of the Convention Center to see an example of why proximity matters. People book a stay there because it is walkable to the convention center, CityPlace, and downtown destinations. The urbanity of Downtown West Palm Beach results in a highly productive tax base (both property tax and retail tax), supporting the highest retail sales per acre in the entire county. Go to minute 33 of the video below for a visualization of retail sales in the county.

A pedestrian bridge takes us in the wrong direction.  It forecloses on the possibility of developing an even more productive urban fabric along this corridor, consigning Okeechobee to a car sewer instead. What we need is more placemaking and more destinations people can walk to, not less. The last thing tourists and conventioneers want is to visit a city that has lost its soul, as Arthur Frommer put so well. The soul of a city isn’t found behind the windshield of a car or walking across a traffic moat; it is found in the streets and public spaces that make great city neighborhoods.

The modest changes suggested in this blog post have been suggested for some time; they’ve only recently received more attention and urgency because the crossing situation has become more dire with the hotel opening. In the longer term, there are many ideas for maintaining Okeechobee’s ability to handle traffic while making it into a better place; some fanciful, some out of the box, some inspired by grand Parisian boulevards. But we don’t have to wait. Short term changes can be made now to make the crossing safer and more comfortable for pedestrians, and in a manner that doesn’t pay lip service to the needs of those crossing on foot.

 

 

 

 


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Form Based Codes can lead to better outcomes for eastern WPB neighborhoods

How do form-based codes result in a better community outcome? This video from the Form Based Codes Institute (FBCI) is fantastic. It contrasts the likely outcomes of conventional Euclidean-based zoning with the outcomes that result from a strong community vision implemented using Form Based Codes.

 

 

Very relevant to our neighborhoods in West Palm Beach, especially our traditional, primarily residential neighborhoods just north and south of downtown. Redevelopment will happen, whether by consensus or coercion. I believe Form Based Codes are a way to foster more consensus by creating a more predictable framework in which development is to occur.

Form Based Codes provide a framework for development to happen in a way that breathes life into public spaces, reduces car trips and length, and creates healthier community. No discussion of transportation and the problems of congestion is complete without first looking at land use, which determines whether a community will be car dependent, or will have options to walk, bike, and make effective use of transit.

Read more about Form Based Codes here.

What are your thoughts on Form Based Coding? How satisfied are you with the current regime of zoning in the traditional neighborhoods of the city (east of I-95)?

 


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Can we spare five seconds to save a life?

In downtown West Palm Beach, condominium residents cross Lakeview Avenue, a large urban arterial, every day. So do students attending nearby Palm Beach Atlantic University. Here is what the intersection looks like at street level. The two lanes of traffic on Olive Avenue head northbound with the westernmost lane a left turn lane/straight through lane.

 

I recorded a short video to show what the crossing is like. Once the light turns green, the pedestrian gets a short walk signal. It’s hard to replicate the uneasy feeling you get crossing this road, knowing that just behind you are impatient drivers at the intersection, just waiting to gun it when the light turns green. Many of these drivers make a left turn, and when they do, they turn directly into your walking path from behind you, where you cannot see the car coming.

 

 

From the reports I’ve read, this was the situation at this intersection when a resident of One City Plaza suffered injuries while crossing northbound across Lakeview Avenue. Sadly, his dog was killed in the crash. WPEC covered the story.

Consider that the entire roadway is dominated by cars on Lakeview. That little strip of crosswalk where pedestrians are expected to cross amounts to a very, very small amount of the roadway area. Crosswalks are better than nothing in this environment, but there is no denying the car dominated nature of this roadway. It carries a lot of cars. But the most vulnerable users are those on foot, for whom a collision with a car would mean much more serious impacts than a bumper scratch.

 

 

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Typical road situation (Source: Greater Greater Washington)

 

Is it too much to ask that pedestrian safety is prioritized in the small space given to pedestrians for crossing the road?

What can be done?

Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) are a proven safety mechanism for giving people more time to “claim” the intersection before cars begin to make left turn movements. The added time can be anywhere from 3 seconds to 15 seconds or more, depending on the conditions. LPIs make the pedestrian visible to the turning motorist, making conditions far less dangerous, and giving pedestrians some sense of comfort and safety.

Here is a good overview of how LPIs work from StreetFilms.

Reshaping the curb radius to something much tighter would also help. This would have the effect of slowing the speed of cars through the turn and making pedestrians more visible. Below is an elaborate rendering of what this might look like.

 

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This intersection needs to be made safer for people on foot, now. Retiming lights to put in Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) is an easy, cheap, fast fix. It can be done on other arterials in downtown (the Convention Center/CityPlace comes to mind). Waiting will increase the chances of another crash happening, and the consequences may be even worse next time, especially as pedestrian traffic increases in our downtown. It’s good to see our local leaders at the Tourist Development Council getting rightly concerned about safety issues along Okeechobee Boulevard. Now it’s time to take action.

Can we spare five seconds?

If you’re interested in helping to make this change, please reply below. Thanks.