Walkable West Palm Beach

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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.

southern intersection.PNG

Meeting details below


Southern Blvd Bridge  Invitation Flyer.PNG


Southern Blvd Bridge Invitation Flyer


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Dealing with driveways in cycle track design

On Dutch streets, it’s the driver who must yield when a sidewalk or cycle track intersects a driveway, not the other way around.

In this fantastic video from A View From the Cycle Path, the commonly held myth that cycle tracks don’t work where there are lots of driveways is debunked. As with everything, it’s a matter of design. Rather than the sidewalk and cycle track changing elevation to meet the driveway grade, it’s the driveway that must change in order to meet the grade of the cycle track. The design cues of the cycle track – distinct paving, continuous through driveways – forces drivers to proceed slowly and carefully through any driveway intersection with a cycle track (aka protected bike lane).

It reflects the values of the Dutch model: Safety and convenience prioritized for the most vulnerable users on foot and on bike. It’s an incredibly safe approach that gets lots of people biking. And note that cars are still accommodated just fine in this environment.


If Queens Boulevard can get a protected bike lane, so can we!

From StreetFilms:

Seriously: If Queens Boulevard can get a protected bike lane, you can probably put one on almost any street in country!

Yesterday, the Queens Transportation Alternatives Committee hosted the first of what it hopes are many historic bike rides down Queens Boulevard to try out the first ten blocks or so of the newly installed interim bike lane by NYC DOT.

Full story on Streetsblog NYC

Protected bike lanes can be implemented quickly and cheaply as this video shows. Notice that the first phase simply uses a striped buffer with plastic bollards. A later phase would cast a concrete buffer between the bike lanes and the travel lanes. This is a great example of how to start incrementally and at low cost.

Where would you like to see a protected bike lane in West Palm Beach? Comment below.

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Feds: Build protected bike lanes and narrow lanes!

It’s not easy getting livable streets built. Many engineers still operate under a ‘move the cars’ mindset that does not acknowledge the fundamental differences between a street and a road.

Whether asking for protected bike lanes, narrower travel lanes, or trees in the public right of way, too often the answer is “We can’t do that, it’s not in the manual!”

This new Federal Highway Administration document makes clear: We should be building high-quality bike and walking infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes (There’s a guide for that! For those technicians engineers out there), narrower travel lanes, and trees.

This guidance should help our engineer friends get over their hangups and start designing the places we want on projects such as the South Dixie Corridor, Flagler Drive, and Okeechobee Boulevard. Story from Streetsblog USA.

Reblogged from Streetsblog USA, by Angie Schmitt

The Federal Highway Administration wants to clear the air: Yes, state and local transportation agencies should use federal money to construct high-quality biking and walking infrastructure.

State and local DOTs deploy an array of excuses to avoid building designs like protected bike lanes. “It’s not in the manual” is a favorite. So is “the feds won’t fund that.”

Whether these excuses are cynical or sincere, FHWA wants you to know that they’re bogus.

Last week, the agency released a “clarifying” document that shoots down, on the record, some of the common refrains people hear from their DOT when they ask for safer street designs. This is a good document to print out and take to the next public meeting where you expect a transportation engineer might try the old “my-hands-are-tied” routine.

Here are the seven things FHWA wants to be absolutely clear about:

1. Federal funds CAN be used to build protected bike lanes.

In case any doubt remains, FHWA printed its own design guide for protected bike lanes. It’s okay to use federal money to build them.

2. Federal funds CAN be used for road diets.

FHWA created a whole website to help states and municipalities implement road diets that reduce lanes for motor vehicle traffic to improve safety. FHWA wants local agencies that federal money can be used on them.

3. Engineers are allowed to use design guides other than the AASHTO Green Book for projects that receive federal funds. 

The AASHTO Green Book — published by the association of state DOTs — is a behemoth, but its crusty old street design standards aren’t the only game in town. The protected bike lane templates in the design guidepublished by the National Association of City Transportation Officials are totally kosher. Go ahead and use them. FHWA says it supports a “flexible approach to the planning and design of bike and pedestrian facilities.” That means “It’s not in the Green Book, so we can’t do it” isn’t a valid excuse.

Peter Koonce, a transportation engineer with the City of Portland, said this clarification should make designing quality bike infrastructure easier.

“Agencies like ours occasionally encounter resistance to the use of treatments in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, the FHWA Separated Bike Lane Guide, or other Guidance documents from reviewing agencies [] because there is a lack of familiarity with new treatments, thus a difficulty to apply engineering judgment,” he said. “An example of this is bicycle traffic signals.”

4. “Highway” funding CAN be used for bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

It’s not only the Transportation Alternatives Program that can be used to fund bike and pedestrian infrastructure, FHWA says. Many other sources of federal funding can be used to support safer biking and walking in the right circumstances, including funds from the huge pot in the Surface Transportation Program.

5. Vehicle lanes DON’T have to be a certain width to receive federal funds.

No, lanes don’t have to be at least 11 feet wide on the National Highway System or at least nine feet wide on local roads. According to FHWA: “There is no minimum lane width requirement to be eligible for Federal funding.”

FHWA refers to blanket adherence to typical lane-width standards as “nominal safety,” but using engineering judgment based on the particular circumstances as “substantive safety,” urging engineers to practice the latter.

Also: “In appropriate contexts, narrower lanes, combined with other features associated with them, can be marginally safer than wider lanes.”

6. Curb extensions, roundabouts, and trees CAN be used on streets in the National Highway System.

“There is no prohibition on incorporating these features on NHS projects,” FHWA says. “Curb extensions, also known as bulbouts or neckdowns, can have significant benefits for pedestrian safety.”

7. Speed limits DO NOT need to be set using average vehicle speed. 

Another common myth the FHWA addresses is the idea that the speed limit for federally funded roads must be set using the “85th percentile” rule — which means that the limit is based on the speed that the fastest 15 percent of drivers exceed on a road. FHWA calls the 85th Percentile rule “just one part” of an approach that should consider other factors like pedestrian traffic. FHWA has its own tool for calculating appropriate speed limits.


South Dixie, Waterfront plans present opportunity to implement protected bike lanes

Tonight was a proud moment for West Palm Beach. Dana Little, Urban Designer at the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, presented the preliminary concepts for South Dixie from Okeechobee to Ablemarle. [past coverage here including link to the study]. What I’m most impressed with is the community coalescing around this shared vision for more livable, walkable streets. This event was sponsored by the WPB Downtown Neighborhood Association, hosted at Palm Beach Dramaworks, with cosponsors the El Cid Historic Neighborhood Association and the DDA. A diverse audience came out to hear about the latest design plans, and all five commissioners were present. It’s great to see such a show of support.

Dana explained how a protected bike lane (aka cycle track) could work for the southern section of the study. The term

Photo: aGuyonClematis

Photo: aGuyonClematis

‘protected bike lane’ refers to a bike lane with some sort of physical protection between the bicyclist and vehicular traffic. Given the space constraints on Dixie, I must admit I wasn’t sold at first on whether a bike lane would be the best use of the right of way or not. However, as Dana explained, the right of way is wider in the southern section of the study, which allows room for a protected bike facility of the type that is common in the most bike friendly countries. I’m impressed we are advocating for the gold standard of bike facilities instead of settling for FDOT ‘check the box’ buffered bike lanes (which merely provide a thin white stripe of paint as a ‘barrier’ to cars). Given the ability of this section to fit a protected bike lane along with on-street parking and street trees, it makes imminent sense to do so as it will be putting excess asphalt to better use that would otherwise serve to induce speeding. It’s worth mentioning that South Dixie continues in this wider right of way configuration all the way to the spillway, and therefore holds huge potential for an eventual rightsizing project and protected bike lanes potentially all the way to our border with Lake Worth. [Previous post on South Dixie design concepts]

The downtown walkability study also calls for such a protected bike lane on the downtown waterfront, which would provide bicyclists with a world-class bike facility on our waterfront at low cost, connecting easily with the Lake Trail on Palm Beach to comprise a loop from the Palm Beach to the West Palm Beach intracoastal waterfront. Imagine the value we would capture from this project. West Palm Beach could quickly go from a laggard in bicycle infrastructure to one of the leaders in our state.

We’ll need to get FDOT to allow protected bike lanes on Dixie, but Lake Avenue and Flagler Drive are 100% in the City’s control and could serve as valuable demonstration projects to build momentum for the change to Dixie. These projects need not be expensive capital projects, either, but could be tested through restriping and plastic sticks before any curb is built out. The City recently announced its participation in the 8-80 Cities program. There’s no better way to demonstrate a commitment to 8-80 streets and livable design than protected bike lanes that can be used by everyone from 8 year olds biking to school to 80 year old retirees.

Given the talk about protected bike lanes, I thought it would be a good time to share this video from StreetFilms. It’s an 8 minute film on protected bike lanes in New York City and why they are far superior to buffered bike lanes.

StreetFilms – Physically Protected Bike Lanes


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Welcoming those arriving by train, bus, or by bike to Downtown West Palm Beach

The Jeff Speck Walkability study pointed out there is a need to provide a cycle track to connect the multimodal center (Amtrak, Trirail, Greyhound, Palm Tran) to downtown and the All Aboard Florida train station. Since the City has a grant funded project to improve Fern St. and Datura and Evernia will be closed at the FEC tracks, then Fern St. appears to make the most logical choice for the cycle track, right? Maybe. Even though Datura and Evernia will be closed at the FEC tracks, both of these streets have some advantages over Fern. We will start with an exhaustive update on our recommendations for Fern St. and follow with a brief discussion of the pros and cons for Datura or Evernia. It is important to note that Evernia and Fern are twin streets. What is proposed for Fern will work for Evernia.

A prior post on Fern St. included a poll for options and the winners were the tree lined median bicycle boulevard options such as this one shown in the walkablewpb sketchup drawing:

Proposed Fern St. - WalkableWPB poll winner

Proposed Fern St. – WalkableWPB poll winner

Here is a reminder of today’s Fern St.:


Existing Fern St.

When you hear Fern you probably think of a forest of trees and not the current forest of asphalt and concrete.

Here is the City’s initial grant proposal for Fern St.:

Fern Street cross section

Fern Street cross section

As we discussed in the prior post; the City’s preliminary proposal was to retain the head in angled parking and add sharrows. Sharrows and head in angled parking aren’t a good mix, especially for a street that provides a connection from a transit hub to downtown.

Here is a streetmix section of the WalkableWPB winner:

Fern St.

Proposed – Fern St.

This design is truly in keeping with its namesake, Fern St. The street could become a truly sustainable green street where depaved areas allow stormwater to infiltrate into the ground as it does in nature and the tree canopy would reduce the urban heat island effect. In the middle of the sidewalk you will note the proposed bioswales. Below is a photo of real bioswales that are a great fit for Fern St. A 3′ wide parking egress zone is provided behind the curb. This design is low cost since you can just de-pave a portion of the existing 13′ wide sidewalk. In photo you will notice that the  existing sidewalk was retained on the building side.  Small curb cuts are provided with ornemental metal trench grates to convey storm water from the road to be infiltrated into the de-paved areas of the sidewalk. Detailed drawings of this bioswale installation are provided at the end of the post.

SW 12th Street bioswale, Photo by Kevin Perry, Bureau of Environmental Services, City of Portland

SW 12th Street bioswale, Photo by Kevin Perry, Bureau of Environmental Services, City of Portland

Couple the green street with a comfortable median Bicycle Boulevards such as those found in downtown Winter Garden Florida and in our nation’s capital on Pennsylvania Avenue. Here are a few links real streets with these facilities :

Fern St. could become a world class gateway to our downtown. The one issue is that the WalkableWPB winner may exceed what the City has budgeted for this project. It amazes me that we spend hundred of thousands of dollars providing landscaping at the I-95 Okeechobee interchange to welcome cars to our downtown, but we have a shoe string budget to welcome cyclists to our City. Bike tourism is real. If we had decent bike facilities I could see plenty of tourists using a bike share at the multi-modal center to tour downtown West Palm Beach.

The case for Datura and Evernia:

Both of these streets provide a more direct route to the multimodal center than Fern. Both streets will have significantly less traffic than Fern. Datura is interesting in that it has a wonderful terminating vista view of the historic Seaboard train station.

Seaboard train station - view from Datura

Seaboard train station – view from Datura

Note the arched front entrance of the station that would welcome the cycle track.

A con is that both streets will terminate at the FEC tracks and can not provide a direct route to Flagler. The proposed connector street along the west side of the FEC could mitigate this. Perhaps a separate bicycle rail crossing could be provided north or south of the station to mitigate the loss of the Datura and Evernia rail crossings.

As stated earlier, Evernia could look exactly like what is proposed for Fern St. Datura St. is more challenging as it has a narrower right of way and large FPL electrical transmission poles at the curb line. Converting Datura to a one-way street with a two way cycle track and angled parking on one side of the street is an inexpensive option that would equal or exceed the current on-street parking yield. Here is a possible section for Datura:

Datura - Cycle track option

Datura – Cycle track option

In the comments let us know your ideas on how to best make a cycle connection between the multi-modal center and the All Aboard Florida station.

Bioswale Details:

SW 12th St. Portland Oregon image courtesy of Sustainable Stormwater Management Program

SW 12th St. Portland Oregon
image courtesy of Sustainable Stormwater Management Program

SW 12th St. bioswale section - image courtesy of Sustainable Stormwater Management Program

SW 12th St. bioswale section – image courtesy of Sustainable Stormwater Management Program


Fern Street to become a great street

The City of West Palm Beach is about to begin final design on Fern St. improvements. The project received a grant from FDOT for construction in the amount of $660,000. Kudos to City staff for putting together a successful grant application. In this post we will discuss the design proposal in the grant application and provide some alternative designs for Fern St.

The project hopes to achieve the following for Fern St.:

  • “complete street” offering multiple transportation options
  • pedestrian enhancements
  • beautification enhancements. e.g. landscaping, decorative street lights.
  • better bicycle facilities
  • reduce stormwater discharges

Fern Street has 80′ right of way with 13′ wide sidewalks, two travel lanes, and angled parking. Here is the existing typical section:



and a Google street view of what most of Fern St. looks like; followed by view of the improved section of Fern from Sapodilla to Rosemary:




The amazing thing is that the two sections of road in the photos above are geometrically identical. Street trees make all the difference. Decorative street lights and patterned / colored crosswalks are nice, but a tree canopy makes a great street.

The City proposed in their grant application to replicate the section of Fern from Sapodilla to Rosemary with the addition of sharrows and bioswales. For those not familiar with bioswales you should check out this video from street films about the Indianapolis cultural bike trail.  One thing to note in the video, is that the cultural trail had long runs of bioswales where no had to step out of  a parked car.

The proposed sharrows, a.k.a. shared lane markings, in the grant application are troubling as it is a well known fact that bicycle facilities shouldn’t be placed in streets with head in parking as cars backing out don’t always see cyclists. If the City wishes to utilize the Fern concept then the solution is to change the parking to head out angled parking. Here is a great video explaining head out angled parking. The problem with head out angled parking is that it can be a tough sell.

Presumably, the City prepared their grant application for Fern prior to All Aboard Florida’s plan to close Datura and Evernia and without the knowledge of the subsequent increase in traffic that Fern will experience.  Painting sharrows, adding street trees, and converting to head out angled parking will make Fern a better street, but it is disingenuous to believe that this will bring any meaningful increase in cycle ridership.  Painting sharrows was probably added to the design so that project scored higher on the grant application. Dedicated bike lanes or cycle tracks provide a much better cycling experience than sharrows.

At walkablewpb we take a holistic view of street design and don’t think that every street in the City needs a bike lane or a protected cycle track. However, the City does need a strategic cycle network. The strategic cycle network as envisioned would be akin to what the interstate highway system was intended to be before it became a tool of suburban sprawl and to paraphrase Enrique Penalosa, it would be built to standards that you would feel safe letting your eight year old ride their bike on. If we are serious about providing a City where a person doesn’t need a car for every errand then one of the most important routes on the strategic cycle network would be from the Tri-rail / Palm Tran bus station to the downtown area and the future All Aboard Florida station. With the proposed closure of Datura and Evernia, Fern street is the only logical street for a continuous east-west strategic connection. Datura and Evernia have merit, but these streets won’t be a straight connection to the proposed north-south strategic cycle network cycle tracks on Tamarind and  Flagler. It should be noted that Evernia is a twin of Fern so that all of the options presented for Fern are applicable to Evernia.

What would Fern St. look like with proper bike facilities? Well, we have developed a smorgasbord of options. The existing 13’ wide sidewalks on Fern are very wide and can be reduced. For a frame of reference the French quarter in New Orleans has 7′ wide sidewalks. If a restaurants were require additional outdoor seating then they could install parklets in on-street parking spaces.

Presented are concepts which keep the 13′ wide sidewalk and those that reduce the sidewalk width to 8’. Inspired by the Ramblas in Barcelona, we have included concepts with a cycle track in the center (median) of the road. There are already a few median cycle tracks in the U.S. Links to existing median cycle tracks are included later in the post. One pattern that emerges from the concepts is that 13′ wide sidewalks support parallel parking on both sides of the street and 8′ wide sidewalks support a combination of  parallel parking on one side of the streets and angled parking on the other side of the street. Once you decide on sidewalk width then it is simply a matter of where you place the parking and the cycle track. For your consideration are the potential options to make Fern St. a great street:

Option #1 – Buffered cycle track with parallel parking on both side of the street:


Simple and effective. The  parallel parking and buffered bike lanes are the exact width of the existing angled parking. For most of Fern all that is necessary is that you restripe the road and add some street trees. Five feet of the 13′ sidewalk has been turned into a bioswale. Moving the parking away from the curb allows for a passenger unloading area that doesn’t conflict with the bioswale.

Option #2 – Buffered cycle track with parallel parking on one side and angled parking on the other side of the street:


Higher parking yield than the parallel only parking options, but with an 8′ wide sidewalk there isn’t room for long linear bioswales.

Option #3 – Median cycle track with parallel parking on both sides of the street.

fern-bike-boulevardFor this option the cycle track is moved to the center of the road and there is now room for additional trees in the median. With on-street parking next the curb line the bio-swale would have to be moved to the middle of the sidewalk which isn’t impossible, but it makes the piping more expensive than placing the bioswale right behind the existing curb line.

Option #4 – Median cycle track with parallel parking parking on one side of the street and angled parking on the other side of the street


For this option the angled parking will probably have to be placed at 45 degrees since the median reduces the amount of room to back out. The angled parking options without the median will probably be 60 degrees since you have two lanes to back out.

For good measure we have thrown in two options where parking is placed in the center of the street. These design have the highest parking yield since there are no driveways to interfere with parking. The downside to this option is that pedestrians don’t have the buffer of parked cars at the curbside.

Option #5 – Bike lanes with a combination of center angled and parallel parking.


  Option #6 – Median cycle track with center parallel parking and bioswales.


With option #6 you end with long expanses of bioswales at the correct location to receive storm water. These bioswales would very beneficial in providing a buffer for pedestrians on the sidewalk.  Option #6 shows a single tree in the center which would be lower cost to construct than the two tree medians shown in the other options.

There you have it. An evaluation matrix of each option comparing  cost, street tree canopy, parking, pedestrian comfort, stormwater, and cycle facilities should be prepared during the design process and based on the project priorities a design can be chosen. Some options do one thing very well, while others are like goldilocks. Feel free to let us know what design you like in the comments.

Several of the designs presented include a median cycle track. Two recently constructed median cycle tracks are Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC and Sands St. in Brooklyn New York. Sands St. Click on the below images to see these streets in google street view:

Here is another example of  a tree lined multimodal path in the median of downtown Winter Garden, Fl:

Finally, here is the obligatory Parisian example. You have to look carefully as the landscaping hides the bike path in the median.

We hope that the City and their consultant give the median cycle track due consideration.

To reduce stormwater the City should consider pervious pavers. Pervious pavers could be installed in the parking area for those options that don’t have space for bioswales. This would provide stormwater benefits while at the same time providing a texture change between the various realms of the street.

Project priorities. The $660,000 allocated for construction doesn’t go very far. The priorities should be cycle track and getting the street trees in the right location. Everything else can be added later.

City staff has indicated that are just beginning the design of this project. We hope that the City will reach out to the public and improve upon its initial concept.  Again, great job to everyone at the City who obtained this grant.

Finally, if you have read this far then it is worthwhile to read this quote from Jeff Speck’s Walkable City on what would happen if we were to design the typical main street to keep each specialist happy:

First we would need at least four travel lanes and a center turn lane, to keep the transportation engineers happy. These would need to be eleven feet wide – no, wait, make that twelve feet, because the fire chief might want to pass a bus without slowing down. To satisfy the business owners, we would need angle parking on both sides (another forty feet), and eight-foot separated bike paths against each curb for you know-who. Then we would need to add two-ten foot continuous tree trenches to satisfy the urban forester, and two twenty-foot minimum sidewalks for the pedestrian advocates. Have you been doing the math? We now have a Main Street over 175 wide. This is more than twice the normal width and about as efficacious an urban environment as a large-jet runway-and just as conducive to shopping.