Walkable West Palm Beach


Watch out, ‘jaywalking’ Sunfest patrons!

Earlier today, I alerted the community to the fact that police officers were issuing citations warnings to Sunfest patrons crossing at Quadrille and Clematis Street. For now, it appears that this enforcement activity has stopped.

[Clarification: Fines were not issued today. However, Bob Katzen, downtown neighbor and friend, was stopped by an officer and asked for ID. His information was taken by an officer. An officer stated they would issue warnings today and fines in the coming days. The officer was not approachable and did not wish to engage in conversation with Bob about the law, at one point threatening jail.]

The very term ‘jaywalking‘ deserves its own scorn, as I’ve written about in the past, as do pedestrian enforcement campaigns.  But in this post, I want to focus on the reasons why people cross against the signal and how conditions could easily be improved for pedestrians by implementing Jeff Speck’s recommendations from nearly two years ago.

Anyone standing at this intersection for a few minutes will see people crossing against the light. I do it. City officials do it. Everyone does it. But as it stands, this intersection is prioritized to move cars. Meanwhile, Clematis Street has been transformed into a superb people-centered environment by prioritizing people. Clematis was recently recognized as one of the best main streets in the United States. Taming cars along its length is one of the main factors that led to its resurgence.

Here’s the problem: A main street that invites people on foot to shop, stroll, and dine is combined with an intersection crossing that makes crossing the street a long, boring wait in the scorching sun. What would you do in this environment?

Here is what Jeff Speck had to say about the Quadrille and Clematis intersection in the Walkability Study.

 In terms of its crossings, the highest priority to improving Quadrille is to create more pedestrian-friendly crossings and signalization regimes at Clematis and Fern. At Fern, this improvement would include reshaped corners with a curb radius of perhaps 20 feet, rather than the current 50. Because it is a State Highway, removing the pushbutton requests will be difficult, but the City must fight for pushbuttons that actually activate the crossing signal, rather than merely lengthening the crossing time after a too-long wait.

As already discussed under A Safe Walk, the current signalization regime in place in much of the downtown is not a type that is found in any city that is known for welcoming pedestrians. From a national best practices perspective, it is truly substandard. Unfortunately, changing the current regime requires cooperation from Palm Beach County, which controls it. It is hoped that the evidence already provided will convince the County to recognize downtown West Palm Beach as the exceptional environment that it is, and allow it to implement the signal removal recommendations above, as well as the following comprehensive changes:
• Remove pushbuttons from all signals except those along Okeechobee and Flagler,
where longer crossing times are needed due to excess width. In those locations,
working with FDOT, allow the pushbutton request to preempt the signal cycle, so
that pedestrians are not led to believe that the buttons are broken.
• Implement simple concurrent crossing signals at all intersections, such that the
pedestrian is given the walk signal at the same time as vehicles heading in the
same direction. Use Lead Pedestrian Indicators (LPIs) at intersections with high
pedestrian volume, such as Rosemary & Okeechobee, Clematis & Quadrille,
Fern & Flagler, and Lakeview & Flagler.
• Working with FDOT as necessary, shorten signal cycles to a target length of 60
seconds for the entire cycle at all signalized intersections.

This is really simple stuff and it will make a major improvement. Fixing the signal timing, adding leading pedestrian indicators (LPIs), and ideally, getting rid of pushbuttons so we get an automatic walk signal at the light would be a long way toward prioritizing people at this crossing. It’s been two years since the Speck walkability study was published recommending these changes. The city and the DDA are fully behind it. The county is responsible for signal changes downtown, so the change needs to come from the county.

If you received a citation or are just frustrated by crossing at this unsafe intersection, let’s focus on a productive outcome by addressing the root of the problem: the intersection signalization, which is the responsibility of the county. Email the county commissioners and public officials involved at the links below and copy the city.







Parklets don’t make a street unsafe; cars speeding make a street unsafe

Fort Lauderdale gets it. Edge friction causes drivers to slow down and creates a more satisfying place. A more quality public realm attracts people, diners, and business. Fort Lauderdale has rolled out a permanent parklet program. Here is an excerpt of a Sun Sentinel story:

 It’s worked well at Gran Forno Bakery, located at 1235 East Las Olas Boulevard, became a one-store pilot program about four months ago, said manager Alex Variu. The parklet is a curb-high wooden sidewalk extension fitted alongside the pavement in front of the bakery.

“No negative impacts have been identified to date,” said City Manager Lee Feldman.

But it was car traffic that most interested Variu.

“We’d been talking with the city for some time,” he said. “There have been a lot of problems with traffic here — a lot of accidents. The idea was this parklet was going to slow down the traffic. Drivers would ease up as they passed.”  [story from The Sun Sentinel]

Contrast these two photos. First is a parklet in San Francisco, home of the original parklet program. Second is a tweet we sent after observing the City putting ugly yellow pylons in front of our ‘street balcony’ on Clematis. It was working just fine for a few days without these ugly sticks blighting the streetscape. What changed?


Parklet in San Francisco. Credit to the New York Times.


It’s result of what I like to call “The tyranny of the specialist”, in this case, likely the engineering department. In a complex urban environment with slow speeds, also known as a ‘street’, it is both useful and desirable for street design to send the message, “this is a place for people first. Cars will be allowed here, as long as they behave. To ensure they will behave, the environment will be designed to reflect these values.”   They get it in Fort Lauderdale. Parklets don’t make a street unsafe; cars speeding make a street unsafe! And parklets/narrower streets/raised intersections reduce speed and create an environment in which the driver needs to be cautious. If anything, the parklet in West Palm Beach should have been made even larger and wider, but engineering dictated that its dimensions be reduced. Tyranny of the engineer.

This isn’t a new experiment in West Palm Beach. In fact, Park(ing) Day projects date back to 2007 (!) in West Palm Beach, making us an early adopter in testing out this program. But since then, we’ve seemingly regressed. It’s taken us nearly two years of back and forth to even allow for a pilot project to be tested in downtown. 

Back in the day, our city transportation engineer (note the difference in language: transportation engineer, not traffic engineer) resided in the planning department of city hall, by choice. Ian Lockwood, Tim Stillings and some very innovative folks got things done by making our streets humane. The results speak for themselves.

A walkable city requires a holistic view to drive community design.

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Help Clematis win People’s Choice contest for “Great Place in Florida” award!

Right on the heels of Clematis Street being honored as one of the ten “Top Streets in America for 2014” by the American Planning Association (APA), the Florida chapter of the APA has nominated Clematis as one of five finalists for a People’s Choice award as a Great Place in Florida. It’s up against some great Florida places, but we all know what makes Clematis special is the people. VOTE for Clematis now, and spread the word on social media! Voting closes October 22nd.

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Clematis Street is now officially one of America’s “Ten Great Streets”

American Planning Association names Clematis Street one of ten Great Streets in America for 2014. No surprise here! Clematis has a trophy case of awards and AGuyonClematis has been spreading the good news about Clematis for years.

Of note in the article, remaking Clematis as two lanes, two way was a turning point in the street’s resurgence:

In the early 1990s the street was converted back to a two-way street, travel lanes were reduced, intersections were raised for pedestrians, mid-block crossings were constructed, and the now iconic palms and live oaks were added

We should remember these lessons of success as we move forward and continue to make downtown West Palm Beach a better place. With the Walkability Study now complete, West Palm Beach has the plan to take Clematis and downtown to the next tier of success. It will take strong city leadership to carry it out.

Here’s to Clematis Street and its continued success!

Story from aGuyonClematis:

Clematis Street is now officially one of America’s “Ten Great Streets” | @aGuyOnClematis.


Tis’ the Season for downtown retail strategizing

It’s the time of year retailers do much of their sales; the holidays account for almost 20% of annual sales in the retail industry.  This month, I  attended a Chamber of Commerce breakfast (courtesy of the WPB Library Foundation) featuring urban retail expert Robert Gibbs, who shared the latest trends in retailing, both urban format and non-urban format. It’s been a great month to scratch my urbanism itch, as we also had Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable City”,  come to town November 18-19th (blog post to come) for a walkability summit. I’d like to relate some of Robert Gibbs’ lessons and how they might be applied to West Palm Beach, particularly in our  nascent urban retail districts such as Clematis Street and Northwood. As the talk was given at The Breakers, much of the focus was on Worth Avenue and Palm Beach retail. Mr. Gibbs praised Worth Avenue as one of the best retail streets in the country, with parallels to Rodeo Drive in LA. But much of the market data shared has applicability to West Palm Beach.

Urban retailing is on the rise, with national tenants choosing to locate in urban settings and town centers, and willing to locate in smaller spaces or unusual configurations compared to their strip mall formats. One of the most revealing statistics: 75% of retail sales happen after 5 pm. This is in contrast to the ’70s, when only 30% of retail sales happened after 5 pm. According to Mr. Gibbs, changing demographic  trends (the rise of Gen Y, more one-person households, increase of women in the workforce) have led to much less shopping during workday hours, and more shopping after work hours.  And when people come to shop, they make up their minds very quickly whether or not they want to enter your store. It takes about 8 seconds to walk past a  main street storefront, and the average person decides in 1.5 seconds whether or not to walk in.

The five trends in retail (not just urban retail), according to Gibbs Planning Group: 1. Experience 2. Convenience 3. Luxury malls/higher-end outlets 4. Urban is in 5. International tenants. We’re seeing some of these trends happen in downtown, with international tenants like H&M setting up in CityPlace. The new Palm Beach Outlets tenant mix is an example of the type of outlet center that is successful today. Convenience has to do with being able to park, and Mr. Gibbs says it’s more important to have on-street parking available than to make it free, as today’s shopper values the convenience more and is willing to pay $1 if it means being able to park on the same block as their favorite store. In other words, price parking correctly. He’s obviously a fan of Donald Shoup (mark your calendar: Shoup is coming to give a talk in Delray in May).

Experience is really about placemaking in a downtown setting. What does easy parking matter if your downtown is not a place worth arriving at? Placemaking is a somewhat ambiguous term, but it could be defined as using the street as an amenity, almost like an outdoor living room. It’s been around as long as  cities themselves, if not formalized. The best retail streets are exemplary places, whether Kings Street in Charleston, Worth Avenue on Palm Beach, Miracle Mile in Chicago,  Park Avenue in Winter Park, 5th Avenue in Naples, or Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. These streets pay attention to details and create an experience that lures people in. That’s an experience people are willing to pay for, and it’s crucial because shoppers have a choice of many places they can drive to and shop.

How can we apply some of these ideas and trends to West Palm Beach? First of all, the nighttime experience in downtown is paramount. That means clean, safe, inviting streets that attract shoppers with an atmosphere to encourage strolling and shopping. If we want people to come downtown to shop, the storefronts need to be attractive and pull people inside. And this idea applies not just to retail but to the entire mix of uses on Clematis Street, as a few eyesores detract from the experience of the whole. We’re looking at you, Pizza Luna and 301 South Olive. Code enforcement needs to be applied to these derelict property owners. And the CRA-owned former Pizza Luna space isn’t exempt. Yes, it going to become a new cafe and that’s a positive development. But it has been empty and looked shoddy since the CRA lease with Pizza Luna ended last March, and it’s taken too long to retenant.  Field of Greens, on the other hand, is an example of a superb storefront. Attractive awning, large windows that draw you inside, quirky street furniture, and cafe seating. This is how it should be done. Another superb example of utilizing the street to draw in customers is Christi at Runway Consignment. She constantly has lots of bikes parked outside her store, and hosts fun events like wine tastings for shoppers to enjoy.

Runway Consignment Boutique, 421 south Olive Avenue

Runway Consignment Boutique, 421 south Olive Avenue

Field of Greens storefront and sidewalk

Field of Greens storefront and sidewalk

We need city staff to put time into maintenance of our streetscape in these retail districts, in particular the lighting and landscaping on Rosemary and Clematis, which are targeted primary retail streets. Too many simple maintenance issues are being neglected, like streetlights that need bulbs to be replaced. And where entrepreneurs are taking a chance and locating downtown, let’s make sure we support them by keeping the streetscape attractive. Scott Lewis landscaping has made a very positive impact to the flower beds on Clematis, but City maintained landscaping is lacking, especially around the tree pits of the newly planted palms. The rubberized mulch experiment has thankfully been abandoned as of last week. Let’s get it right and not cut corners this time. And locator markings (used to locate underground utilities) are in violation of state low-impact marking law. City staff should spend the time to research and enforce these markings, first on Clematis and Rosemary. The community has documented instances where the low impact marking law has been abused.

Lastly, parking garages. Two exciting projects are in the works: DDA projects to paint lively murals in the stairwells of the Evernia garage as well the pilot wayfinding signage by the Banyan garage on Narcissus. We need more of these projects. Our garages are in bad shape.  The City/CRA/DDA should pursue commercial liners on these garages to activate these blocks and create a more interesting and safe walk for shoppers heading downtown. This should be a component of any proposal to redevelop the old City Hall site, as it was with the Navarro-Concord proposal. We should also look to install green walls on the exterior of our unsightly garages.

This is the first impression for anyone parking downtown, and it needs to be excellent. A targeted parking strategy needs to be pursued, but that’s a topic for another day.

Parking garage in downtown Naples, FL

Parking garage in downtown Naples, FL


New DDA landscaper working on Clematis Street


The new DDA landscaper, Scott Lewis Gardening & Trimming, is at work on the 200 block.
I’m proud to have served on the RFP review committee to select the new landscaper contract. The DDA listened to the input of the residents and I’m confident the landscaping on Clematis and Rosemary is going to be noticeably improved.

Expect the biggest improvements to happen after Moonfest, but already there are noticeable improvements as aGuyonClematis has pointed out!