Walkable West Palm Beach


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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

Tamarind and Fern mural design.jpg

 

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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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.

 

 

tingvall

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.

 

801_S_Olive_Ave_-_Google_Maps v2.png

 

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.


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Okeechobee Boulevard Road Safety Audit Completed

Reshape Okeechobee Boulevard medians, install Leading Pedestrian Intervals among top suggestions of FDOT Road Safety Audit (RSA)

The long-awaited Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Road Safety Audit for the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and Rosemary Avenue has been completed. The report contains many suggestions, which cumulatively should make significant positive improvements to pedestrian safety and comfort crossing Okeechobee Boulevard.

Notably absent from the report is a recommendation on narrowing lane widths to 10 feet, as recommended in the Jeff Speck Walkability Study. Reduced lane width has been shown to reduce vehicle speeds and decrease the severity of crashes, thereby making roadways safer. Reduced lane width from 12 to 10 feet would also mean a reduction of nearly 17% in the amount of asphalt a person walking would need to cover to get from one side of the roadway to the central median. The additional space freed up from this narrowing could be used for a protected bike lane and provide another buffer between vehicles and people walking. Narrowing the travel lanes was the most emphasized recommendation in the Speck study, but it appears it was outside the scope of the FDOT RSA study and not considered.

In addition, the RSA study recommended against the suggestion of a pedestrian bridge, stating “it was determined that a pedestrian bridge was not an optimal solution to moving pedestrian traffic due to cost, anticipated lack of use, and constructability issues.”

Following is a summarized list of the RSA recommendations –

  • Adjust signal phasing and add pedestrian phase during eastbound left turn phase
  • Prohibit eastbound U‐turns
  • Install “TURNING VEHICLES YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS” sign for southbound right turns
  • Add Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI)
  • Reduce the northwest and southeast crosswalk’s crossing distance
  • Add automatic pedestrian phases
  • Hire off‐duty police officers during events
  • Conduct a study to review lighting conditions
  • Lengthen the yellow and all‐red times for bicyclists crossing north / south
  • Improve pedestrian signage and add “feedback” to push buttons

Download the reports here –
Full report – FINAL RSA SR-704 (Okeechobee Boulevard)
City Place RSA – Findings Summary

Analysis of Recommendations

First up: The bad. Forty miles per hour is an unacceptable speed through this road section. At that speed, a pedestrian is virtually assured to be killed if hit by a car. Posting a 30 mph speed limit would be a good start, but it’s not enough by itself. The RSA study doesn’t even go that far; it merely recommends “conducting a speed study”.  The road design needs to be such that drivers feel uncomfortable driving faster than 30, uncomfortable as that approach may be to FDOT orthodoxy. It’s disappointing that vehicle speeds got such short shrift in the report.

This image from Streetsblog Chicago shows the devastating effect of higher motor vehicle speed

The RSA report calls for medians to be reconfigured. I’d still prefer to see the medians built out more robustly, as Speck recommends, by narrowing the space between the medians to two travel lanes (one in each direction). This could give stranded bicyclists a refuge if caught in the middle while attempting to cross Okeechobee at Rosemary. Nonetheless, the study does call for the turn radii to be reduced and this will certainly help lessen the feeling of discomfort one feels trying to walk across Okeechobee. The eastbound slip lane near CityPlace South Tower is not closed in the RSA report, contrary to what the Speck study recommends.

 

 

I find the Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) recommendation puzzling. I don’t understand how this belongs in a study focused on enhancements to pedestrian safety and comfort. Reallocating prime median space from pedestrians to cars seems to undermine the goals.

Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) concept

Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) concept

 

The Leading Pedestrian Indicator (LPI) is a very good recommendation. Jeff Speck describes LPIs as follows in the Walkability Study:

“…pedestrians receive a 3-second head start to enter (and “claim”) the intersection before cars receive a green light. There are a number of locations where these could be put to good use in the downtown” [including Okeechobee and Rosemary]

LPIs should help make pedestrians more visible in the crosswalk and help make crossings safer.

Restrictions on U-turns, changes to pedestrian signal timing, and changes to signage are modest improvements that will all add up to make conditions better for pedestrians. Many of these changes are controlled by Palm Beach County and are listed as short-term changes that can be accomplished in a matter of weeks. We look forward to seeing these changes carried out quickly.

City planners have told me that the median reshaping work should be completed in time for the new Hilton Hotel opening. Smaller changes like signage and signal timing should also be completed soon. Some items, such as lighting, are longer term. I am hopeful that more serious thought is given to creating a pedestrian shelter planted with large shade trees in the median in order to provide shade and a sense of refuge in the median.

While many recommendations are good, narrowing the travel lanes is certainly the most impactful change that could be made and it was unfortunately outside the scope of the RSA study. Most likely, such a change won’t be considered until Okeechobee Boulevard is scheduled to be restriped during a routine resurfacing project. This could mean a wait of many years before this change is considered – roads are typically resurfaced every 15 – 20 years.

With the amount of foot and bicycle traffic coming at the new Convention Center Hotel, it’s time Okeechobee Boulevard shed its reputation as a perilous crossing. More improvements to pedestrian safety and comfort are needed before Okeechobee can lay claim to being worthy of the second part of its name – Boulevard – a moniker that is used to describe some of the grandest thoroughfares in Europe such as the Champs-Élysées. No matter what we do, no one is going to mistake Okeechobee for the Champs. But we can strive to make Okeechobee a much better connector between the Convention Center, CityPlace South Tower, and Grandview Heights, rather than a divider. This study is a significant step in the right direction, but much work remains to be done – most importantly, the work of narrowing the travel lane widths on Okeechobee.

 


I want to acknowledge the efforts of the community in bringing the Okeechobee crossing issue to the forefront, especially the folks from Okeechobee Skywalk. Though we may have disagreed in our preferred solutions, this group has done more to generate attention on this issue than anyone. They have made excellent street level improvement recommendations, many of which have been incorporated into this report. I also want to thank Joe Roskowski for his tireless efforts in advocating for a safer Okeechobee at street level.

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Palm Beach County: 0.5 | City of West Palm Beach: 0

Recent interactions with the County have been refreshingly positive. The County, which apparently controls signalization and (some?) striping at intersections, has responded in a prompt and serious manner about pedestrian safety concerns in downtown. Bravo, County Engineering! No, this is not an early April Fool’s joke.

 

Case one was a missing crosswalk connecting the Hyatt Place hotel on Olive Avenue and Lakeview to the Two City Plaza condominium building across the street, and CityPlace further east. This is a frequently crossed intersection for residents of 2CP as well as guests at the Hyatt Place, and although there are pedestrian signals, the crosswalk was missing, leading to a potentially dangerous situation for right-turning cars headed west on Lakeview. The crosswalk will help alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians here.

Case two is a pedestrian pushbutton issue for the Quadrille and Hibiscus Street intersection. The response I received is pasted below.

 Thank you for bringing your traffic concerns to our attention. You are right about the street light. they are the jurisdiction of the State and the City.

 We pulled the pedestrian signal activation log and found that a lot of people cross at this intersection. Most of the crossing happened on the south leg with the number of activations exceeding 210 on Saturday. Quite a few cross on the north leg as well, and only few cross north and south.

 Staff has increased the “WALK” signal phase time from 7:00 to 10:00 seconds on all approaches. They also increased the “FLASHING DON’T WALK” time to cross Quadrille from 16:00 to 18:00 seconds. The maximum green signal time for the east/west movement was also increased to make sure there is enough time for pedestrians to cross even after the end of the pedestrian signal phase.

 We don’t think it is a good idea to put the pedestrian signal phase on recall so it’ll come up automatically during each signal cycle. This will cause an unnecessary disruption to the vehicular traffic on Quadrille. Moreover, the turning traffic may not pay attention to pedestrian in the crosswalk because they’ll  get used to seeing the pedestrian signal display coming up when there are no pedestrians in the cross walk.

 As an intersection with high pedestrian activity, we’ll replace the existing pedestrian signals with countdown signals. this work should be done in few weeks.

 Fattoush,

Can you please issue a WO to replace the existing pedestrian signals at the intersection of Hibiscus and Quadrille with countdown signals?

 Thank you.

 Motasem Al-Turk, Ph.D., P.E.

Traffic Division

Palm Beach County

Let’s be clear: This solution is far from perfect, and I’m going to continue to push for the signalization regime recommended by walkability expert Jeff Speck [refer to page 22 of the downtown walkability study – main section pasted below]. Pedestrians should have better prioritization from left and right turning cars at this intersection, such as a leading pedestrian indicator. Better light timing and a countdown signal does little to solve the real issue: Cars are king on Quadrille, without exception, and to impede their movement in any way is anathema.  Even though this solution leaves a lot to be desired, and I disagree with the assessment of Mr. Al-Turk, the County is still to be commended for taking the issue seriously and promptly doing something about it that has made the intersection marginally better. At least pedestrians are not stranded in the middle of the intersection as the crossing traffic light turns green.

Jeff Speck Walkability Study, on pedestrian-friendly signals:

A survey of the most and least walkable cities in America reveals a clear correlation: walkable cities rarely have pushbutton signal request buttons. Called “beg buttons” by pedestrian advocates, these signals are alternately annoying and confusing to pedestrians, most of whom do not understand how they are supposed to work—and many of whom end up jaywalking out of sheer frustration.

Here is how these signals work in downtown West Palm Beach: A pedestrian approaches a crosswalk, pushes the button, and waits for the light to change. Typically, a long time passes before the light changes—sometimes more than two minutes. After perhaps 30 seconds, the pedestrian assumes that the light is broken, and jaywalks.

What the pedestrian does not realize is that the pushbutton is not designed to cause the light to change. Rather, it is designed only to lengthen the eventual red light, so that the pedestrian has more time to cross. Given the tremendous amount of jaywalking that these signals cause, these lengthened crossing times are, at best, irrelevant. This dangerous behavior is perhaps the clearest example of the vast difference between traffic safety theory and traffic-safety reality in Palm Beach County, and should be of grave concern to County engineers.

If County engineers want to create a system in which jaywalking is reduced and pedestrian safety enhanced, they will look to other places where cars and pedestrians interact with a much lower incidence of injury, such as Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, and the smaller towns that surround these cities. What they will find in these places is an almost complete absence of pushbutton signals, short cycles of 60 seconds or less (total), and “concurrent” crossing regimes, in which pedestrians move with parallel traffic, and turning cars must wait for the crosswalks to clear.

Such signals are made more effective by a technology called the Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI), in which pedestrians receive a 3-second head start to enter (and “claim”) the intersection before cars receive a green light. There are a number of locations where these could be put to good use in the downtown.

In terms of encouraging safe pedestrian behavior, the length of the signal cycle is of great significance. When traffic congestion is the dominant concern, traffic engineers prefer longer signal cycles, as they have the advantage of moving large volumes of cars on each approach. These longer periods of vehicle movement mean longer waits for pedestrians trying to cross a street. This is more than just an inconvenience, because it causes jaywalking. For this reason, the long-cycle signalization regimes that make sense in suburban Palm beach County are ill suited to  pedestrian-heavy areas like Downtown West Palm Beach, and should be corrected at the first opportunity.

 

The irony is that the County, which has historically been no ally in creating more walkable streets in West Palm Beach, has taken more bona fide action than the City of West Palm Beach at this point. And that is a pretty low bar, as these pushbutton timing and crosswalk stripings are superficial interventions by their nature. By superficial, I mean interventions that do little to tip the risk  scale in favor of people on foot versus those driving a car. Nonetheless, it is something.

The City/CRA/DDA undertook the Walkability Study. But to this point, not a single of its recommendations have been implemented, even though the City recently identified 17 recommendations ready to go, now.

Implement this study! Choose one of the 17 recommendations, get some paint, and restripe a lane. Now.