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