Walkable West Palm Beach


Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns

Victor Dover and John Massengale’s excellent new book, “Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns”, was the topic of a talk given Monday night at Palm Beach Dramaworks. It was truly a community effort to make this happen, with the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Neighborhood Association, Dramaworks, Beth Dowdle and many others asking for this message to be disseminated to our community.

It was a packed house and great to see so many public officials attending. Commissioner Materio was in attendance, Raphael Clemente of the DDA made the introductions, Jon Ward, CRA Director, attended, and Mayor Muoio made an appearance. Many board members of the Downtown Development Authority, the Downtown Action Committee, and the Downtown Neighborhood Association came.

Victor Dover started with a brief history of streets. He contrasted the streets we have made historically, through the accumulated trial and error of centuries, to those we’ve experimented with only in the last 50 or so years.

Our task now is to remake streets into places where people want to be. This requires us to think holistically and be generalists to create a bigger vision of placemaking. Streets are places for people that accomodate the car, not the other way around. Best quote of the night: “If it’s not beautiful, it’s not a complete street”. Amen.

Victor honed in on Okeechobee Boulevard and how it bisects our neighborhoods, cutting off Cityplace and downtown from the neighborhoods to the south. It needs to be fixed. We should also consider our approach to roundabout design and consider the context of the area, instead of applying engineering standards without regard to the context of an area (eg Pioneer Plaza).

If you want to make it safer, you have to make it slower. In a 20 mph crash, a pedestrian is over 90% likely to survive. Increase the speed to 30 mph, and that drops to only 50%. A driver’s ‘vision cone’ (what they can focus on) drops dramatically as speed increases.

Who leads in street design? Government. Once a street is designed as a place and investors have certainty, private investment will follow. So much of our public realm is utterly depressing that it does not provide a platform for long-term value, but rather short term gains. Good streets are a public good with benefits that accrue to the citizenry at large and cannot be privatized. Only local government can do this job; in fact, it is at the core of what good local governance is all about. I asked Dover what are some of the best investments a local government can make to provide a quality street, public investments that will attract people and private investment? Street shade trees and bicycling, he said.

This was a fantastic event leading up to Jeff Speck’s walkability study release. See you on the 27th at 3 pm for the release of the study.  Oh, and Clematis Street is today’s “Street of the Day”! Go Clematis Street!


Follow the excellent “streetoftheday” hashtag on social media for daily postings of the best streets. Also, one of our local advocates posts the evil nemesis of the Street of the Day, the “stroadoftheday”. Follow that as well as #dangerousbydesign for lots of pictures of the dangerous, expensive, and poor return on investment “stroads” we have been building in recent decades.

No Walkable West Palm Beach meetup this month. Join us for Jeff Speck’s report presentation. We’ll be working to carry its recommendations out, organizing a group of advocates locally. If you want more livable streets and walkable communities, now is the time to get involved. Watch for a meetup announcement in early June.

[update:  The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach, on Clematis Street, has a copy of “Street Design” for those interested in these ideas. Thanks to Joe Chase for helping to add this excellent book to the collection]



How to make downtown retail work? Lessons from Robert Gibbs

Delray Beach held the sixth and final “Town Hall Lecture Series” last night. Fantastic lineup of speakers and I’m very impressed with Mayor Glickstein’s leadership. Robert Gibbs, renowned urban retailing expert, was the presenter. We previously covered Robert Gibbs after his presentation at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Breakers.

More than anything, the talk gave me an appreciation for the science of retailing. Retailing is all about getting shoppers to open up their wallet and psychology and human behavior are meticulously studied to maximize money spent. Retailers know that when you enter a store, the first couple steps you are adjusting to the light and merchandise is not placed immediately at the entrance. A dark wall at the back of a store makes it more likely you will walk to the back of the store. Any merchandise placed lower than two feet off the ground is not likely to be bought. People decide in less than a second and a half whether to go into a store, and first impression is critical. Open doors make people twice as likely to enter. The color red is a signal that makes it more likely a shopper will buy an item. And on and on.

Retail trends favors convenience, experience, international chains, luxury malls and outlets, and urban retail. Today, 75% of retail sales happen after 5 pm. Today’s shopper spends money far more quickly than in decades past, getting in and out of stores quickly and spending a lot of money at their favorite brands. Downtowns used to have upwards of 90% market share prior to suburbia. Now, the figure is closer to 2%. Gibbs says a realistic goal for a downtown is to achieve 30% market capture.

There was a lot of focus on parking. On-street parking is critical to making it work, and parking meters are the only way to discourage employees from parking in prime spaces and getting meters to turn over sufficiently, according to Gibbs. Women especially prefer to park where they can see the storefront. A typical metered parking space will turn over 15-20 times in a day and can support one small retailer. Parking tickets are bad because people don’t forget getting one. Make it convenient to pay and extend the meter. Small retail thrives on the impulse buy, and having spaces available to park on the block is crucial. I posed the question to Gibbs: Parallel parking or angled parking downtown? He prefers parallel on main street for aesthetic reasons, but angled parking can work well on side streets.

Downtowns have something that malls do not have: authenticity. But a couple national retailers don’t hurt and in fact help things substantially. A national anchor can boost sales of independent retailers by 15-20% due to increased foot traffic. And retailers know that downtown is ‘in’ and they are adapting their storefronts to downtown in response in order to maintain this sense of authenticity. Banana Republic in urban settings:

People come downtown for the experience and giving them a superb experience is critical. For every increase in walkability level, there is a nearly $7 per square foot increase in rent. Important elements of placemaking: Proper awnings of high quality material, A frame signs are okay if they are handcrafted and well done, and street trees that shade the sidewalk while still allowing store signs to be seen. Kings Street in Charleston is probably the most successful downtown retail district in the country, largely because it gets these details right. Shoppers will drive past 12 Pottery Barn locations just to experience Kings Street. Gibbs loves parklets as a placemaking tool and they’ve been doing them 20+ years. Here is one in Birmingham, MI, a very successful shopping district:

What NOT to do in downtown retail

  • Dead zones where the street isn’t activated (blank walls, the 400 block of Clematis on the north side). People stop walking if there is 50′ or more of dead zone. I bumped into Lois Brezenski last night who relocated from the 500 block to Atlantic Avenue in Delray. It just wasn’t working on the 500 block and I suspect a reason why is the dead zone on the 400 block north side. Walk the north side of this block and you will notice it.
  • If retail rents become too high that the only thing supportable is clubs and restaurants, you risk becoming solely an entertainment district. This can lead to a downward spiral in residential quality of life and negative effects for the district.
  • Do not lose your anchors. This can be anything that brings people downtown who otherwise would not be there. A library, City Hall, courthouse.
  • Do not force the retail.

Little known is the fact that Kings Street in Charleston is basically owned by one master developer who controls the experience, much as a mall owner would. Downtowns by and large don’t have this advantage. Aside from this, downtowns can compete by forming a cohesive retail strategy and excellent placemaking standards. Gibbs says Downtown Development Authorities have three essential jobs: 1. Get people to come downtown 2. Get them to come into store 3. Get them to buy something. Retail is the riskiest asset class in real estate and trends can be fickle, but successful downtown shopping districts can happen with the right strategy.

Oh. Don’t do this with your storefront. This merchant tripled his sales for $150 when Gibbs made a few simple suggestions.


[If you like this and don’t want to miss more original content, please SUBSCRIBE to the Walkable West Palm Beach email list on the homepage]



Leave a comment

Sunfest transportation options


Bike Valet

Ride your bike to SunFest and park it for free in a secure area near the festival gates. Patrons are issued claim checks and staff members guard them in a secure corral. Thebike valet service is located on North Clematis Street at Centennial Square and the fountain, near SunFest‘s Clematis Street gate. Courtesy of the Downtown Development Authority.
Get the details.

Water Taxi
SunFest is not just for land-bound travelers. Boaters are always welcome to anchor in the Intracoastal Waterway in front of the SunFest site and take the water taxi to the festival’s waterfront gate. Anchor on the east side of the buoy line and hail the taxi on VHF channel 10. 
This service is run by Tow Boat U.S. and there is a $5 round-trip fee associated with the taxi ride.  
Get all the details including fees and how-tos!


Other Ways to get to SunFest
Downtown WPB Trolley 
Bus stops and schedules.


Leave a comment

March 24 – 28th is WPB Bike to Work Week

March is Bike Month in Florida, and next week is Bike to Work week. Click the image for full details of all the happenings for Bike to Work week in West Palm Beach.

bike to work week image

Downtown WPB parking garage getting a colorful makeover

Leave a comment

If you’ve walked around downtown, you’ve no doubt seen the murals by local artist Eduardo Mendieta. His murals are on the 500 block and on the wall by the new Eat Scene open market on Fern Street. A new project is underway to beautify our parking garages and make them more appealing for all users. The project consists of seven different artists, all from the South Florida region, painting murals in the stairwells of the parking garage.

This project is funded by the Downtown Development Authority, and the next step will be to do a similar mural on the east side of this garage, and then possibly expand to the Banyan garage. What do you think of the project? Comment below.

This gallery contains 8 photos

1 Comment

A downtown stroll with the Mayor

This past Saturday, Mayor Muoio, Commissioner Materio, and DDA Executive Director Raphael Clemente accompanied a crowd of residents on a walking tour of downtown West Palm Beach. I’d guess there were almost 50 residents who walked – it was a fantastic turnout that far surpassed my expectations, and demonstrates that there’s a lot of people who care about this community.

Everyone was very interested in new development projects underway. We passed by the Hibiscus Marriott Residence Inn which recently broke ground, the Quadrille enhancement project, and spoke about the Evernia Place apartment project.  As we passed by the 300 and 400 block of Datura Street, I spoke about the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) funded street tree planting project, and its benefits.

Some specific issues  pointed out to the Mayor and her assistant: The need for a better curb alignment at Fern and Quadrille, the conditions on the block where the City Center garage is located, replacement of burned out streetlights throughout downtown, fixing the broken oak tree uplighting on Rosemary, that ugly rubberized mulch in the tree pits on Clematis, and the homeless population. Commissioner Materio explained that the strip club rolling billboards that are a nuisance downtown are difficult to regulate due to first amendment issues, but they continue to look into the issue. Most of these issues were already tagged by the community using SeeClickFix, but there’s nothing like seeing it up close and personal to draw attention to them. The best way to experience a place is by walking it, and the DNA hopes to make this a regular event downtown.

Thanks to everyone who came out on a Saturday, especially our public officials. This was a fun exercise!  Please comment below if there were other specific items you identified during the walk.

Map of the route:

This was the walking route

This was the walking route

Images from the walk:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.