Walkable West Palm Beach


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A two-way Olive and Dixie is twenty years overdue

Yesterday on the Engage West Palm Facebook discussion group, two crashes were discussed, mere blocks from each other. One crash occurred at the intersection of Clematis and Dixie and the other at the Evernia and Dixie intersection.

 

 

 

The crash at Evernia and Dixie damaged the ArtHaus building, cracking part of the building facade. Thankfully, no one was hurt in either incident, from our understanding.

One of these crash types is so familiar to the community that we all knew immediately the cause: drivers in the outside lane trying to make a left onto Clematis, sideswiping a car in the inside lane. Most streets in the downtown are two way. Drivers, especially those from out of town, expect two way operation in downtown. Everything in this environment sends the message this is an urban street: People walking on sidewalks, sidewalk cafes, buildings close to the street with ground floor retail. It’s a complex environment in which people, including drivers, negotiate with one another through social queues – that means looking each other in the eye, gesturing, etc. So many people already treat Olive and Dixie as two way streets out of convenience (why circle the block?) that I see a wrong way driver nearly every day. These streets just want to be two-way.

It’s not clear whether the ArtHaus crash was as clearly a result of our one way streets, but I suspect driver confusion may have contributed. Intersections are especially perilous because drivers can become confused, realize they are turning the wrong way and make a rash decision. One way streets also contribute to higher car speeds through downtown because drivers jockey for position and try to pass each other. One wrong move, and a person stepping into the street can be killed. On urban streets, speed kills.

 

Source: Vox.com

Source: Vox.com

 

Literally once every couple of weeks, a neighbor reports on a crash on Olive or Dixie, sometimes close calls involving pedestrians.

One way streets just don’t make sense in this environment. Rather than rehashing the extensive research that has been done on multilane one-way streets and why they’re bad in an urban environment, here is a series of supporting links.

There are many more supportive research papers available, but these articles are a good starting point.

A city goal for at least two decades

Most recently, one of the key recommendations in Jeff Speck’s walkability study was to convert Olive and Dixie in downtown to two-way operation. Video here and study here.

A two way Olive and Dixie is called for in the city’s comprehensive plan:

Policy 2.3.5(n): The City shall continue to coordinate with Palm Beach County and FDOT on the possibility of restoring Dixie and Olive to two-way operations in the Downtown area.

 

Going back even further, here is a 1993 article from the Palm Beach Post’s Joel Engelhardt, describing the goal to convert Olive and Dixie to two-way operation:
More people from Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast come into West Palm to work than any other city. Few stay. Fewer still ever think about moving in to avoid commuting. Who can blame them? There aren’t many inviting places to live downtown. There isn’t even a big grocery store or a nice bookstore. The night life isn’t much. Crime is a problem.
So the plan concentrates on people. It divides downtown West Palm into areas. Some are residential neighborhoods. Others are business districts. Each is given an identity and a blueprint. Olive Avenue and Dixie Highway, two of the main north-south roads, are changed from one-way to two-way so drivers will slow down; sidewalks will be widened to make them more inviting. A simpler building code is proposed.
“In the suburbs,” Mr. Duany said, “people have open land and few rules. That’s what downtowns compete with. So you need to make it as easy as possible while keeping with your overall design.”

 

Here is an excerpt from the 1994 Duany-Plater Zyberk Downtown Master Plan, on making Olive and Dixie two-way.
 Duany_Plater-Zyberk__DPZ__1994_Downtown_Master_Plan_for_the_City_of_West_Palm_Beach__April_2004_update_

 

The way ahead

 

The city controls Olive Avenue through the city, and it controls Dixie through downtown. This should make the process of creating a two-way Olive and Dixie less complicated, as these streets are within city control. Mayor Muoio has expressed support for changing Olive and Dixie to two way. From what I’ve been told, however, the county does play a role in these decisions, and Olive and Dixie remain one way in the county’s comp plan. This means this decision is largely a political one, hinging on county support.

 

We have ample leadership in the city to make this change. Support from our county elected officials will be required to make Olive and Dixie through downtown safer and more prosperous. It’s a change 20 years overdue.

 

To email a letter of support to all county commissioners, use this email address: BCC-AllCommissioners@pbcgov.org 
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Preliminary South Dixie Corridor plan presented

In case you missed it: The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) has released the draft plan for the South Dixie corridor (Okeechobee to Albemarle). Most notably, the plan has arrived at a strong consensus for a road diet and provides detailed renderings for what that would look like. A 4 to 3 road diet constitutes the highest return on investment change that can be made along South Dixie and we are glad to see this strong consensus to move forward.

Link to the draft study.

What is a road diet? Watch this excellent explainer from StreetFilms.

Let’s move this process forward as quickly as possible. It’s likely to take a very long time for funds to be raised, designs to be finalized, and construction to begin. Perhaps we can start this redesign in a cheaper and more inexpensive fashion much sooner. How about we start testing with some inexpensive tactics like paint and signage? That’s what Delray Beach did with its project to narrow 5th and 6th Avenues from 3 to 2 lanes. Here is a photo of a cheaply constructed cycle track in Salt Lake City. We need better infrastructure and more livable streets now, as opposed to waiting a decade.

DSC04646

Image courtesy StreetFilms.org


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The time is right for time of day parking

Time of day parking is a simple low-cost high return on investment solution that has been utilized in other cities with great success to provide on-street  parking  at off-peak hours. How it works is that one of the two travel lanes in the same direction become on-street parallel parking during off peak hours and weekends. For example,  all lanes would be open to cars during rush hour from 7 AM – 9:30 AM and from 4:00 PM – 6:30 PM. At other times of the day one travel lane would become curbside parking. Here is a picture of it being applied in Miami.

Time_day_lane_parking_miami

North Miami Avenue isn’t quite as pretty as the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, but allowing on-street parking in unneeded travel lanes is one of the first steps in the recovery from stroad to street.

There are plenty of locations where this strategy could benefit West Palm Beach. Here are a few locations:

  • Olive Avenue (Federal Highway) from Evernia to Clematis. There is already a nascent out-door restaurant scene developing and most of the buildings contain ground floor walk up retail that could benefit from having mid-day, evening, and weekend on-street parking.
  • Flagler Blvd. in front of Clematis park. I would love to see those unneeded lanes turned into on-street parking for the Saturday Green Market. The on-street parking might convey the proper context to slow cars down on Flagler so you don’t have to take your life in your hands to cross from the park to get to the water.
  • Dixie Highway south of Okeechobee. This section should go on a four to three lane road diet, but that won’t happen overnight. There is a lot of great stuff going on in this area and simple strategy like this could be the tipping point. In a recent Palm Beach Post article one observer dubbed this area the next Greenwich Village.
  • Quadrille – five lane section from 3rd to Dixie.

Still not convinced? The reference section of the blog contains a report from the Hillsborough County MPO on this concept. The report includes case studies from Miami, Richmond Virginia, and Washington D.C. It should be noted that all of the case studies had great success. From the study, the only thing Miami would have done differently would be to “Provide this opportunity sooner.”

What are we waiting for? This is a low risk experiment.

P.S. It would be nice if the City employed some Donald Shoup principles and not charged for this newly found parking.

 

 


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South Dixie Corridor Implementation Committee report

The South Dixie Corridor study has been published to the blog under “Reference Documents“. In the coming weeks, we will be taking a closer look at this report, as well as what is not in the report: namely, a four-to-three road diet for South Dixie.

The Palm Beach Post ran an excellent article this past week about this corridor and the substantial investment and development happening along it. If you missed it, it is well worth a read.

Palm Beach Post article

South Dixie Corridor study


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Interview on WPTV – Jeff Speck walkability study


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83-year-old West Palm Beach home destined to become Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot

Palm Beach Post reports that Spanish colonial revival style home off the Antique Row district could be demolished and turned into a surface parking lot.

If you live in the Southend or have been following this project, we’d like to get your thoughts about the proposed surface parking lot and its impact to the neighborhood and walkability, and possible alternatives to satisfy parking needs. Please get in touch if you are interested in writing about this project. And if you would like to share your thoughts directly, contact a Commissioner or a member of the Planning and Zoning board.


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We talk downtown WPB with Jeff Speck

[Thanks for coming out last night for ‘Walkable Wednesday’! It was stimulating conversation all around. Next month – same time, different place: J Flynn’s Irish Pub on Clematis at 6 pm on March 26th. And don’t forget tonight’s “c’est la via” event downtown, and Critical Mass this Friday. Follow community building events on the blog calendar.]

Last week, Jeff Speck was in town to start his walkability study of our downtown. As part of this process, he met with stakeholders in the downtown to get up to speed on the facts on the ground, and opinions on what is most needed to improve walkability. Aaron Wormus, Joe Roskowski, Joe Chase, and I met with Jeff at Terebinth, the new art gallery/organic cafe on Dixie and Evernia Street downtown.

If you haven’t read Walkable City yet, put it at the top of your list. I have a copy if you’d like to borrow it. This book along with the Smart Growth Manual are two of the best books for understanding how to make great places for the layperson and they’ve been a big influence.

Here is a recap of the ideas we discussed at the meeting:

First up on the list: Maintenance issues downtown, especially the lack of priority for street shade trees. This is one of the most noticeable detriments to a decent walk.  See this report for a sample of the tree issues the downtown community has identified.  Jeff devotes an entire chapter in Walkable City to street trees, and states: “It’s best not to pick favorites in the walkability discussion – every individual point counts – but the humble American street tree might win my vote.” It’s great to have a renowned urban planner working on this plan for improving our downtown.

Joe Chase discussed the lack of connectivity between Banyan Boulevard/Clearlake office park area and Clematis Street, and the missing bicycle link between these two areas. It may be difficult to improve walkability in this area, but bikeability seems very achievable and an easier fix.

Parking: I made another call for higher standards for surface parking lots downtown. We have an abundance of surface parking lots, poorly maintained and without any landscaping. Our code only requires new surface parking lots to be screened (which we shouldn’t be building more of anyhow) but says little about landscaping and shade tree buffer on existing lots.  We should also consider the feasibility of installing a green wall on the Evernia and Banyan parking garages, as Naples has done. Lastly, require city employees to pay market rate for their parking, or at least provide a parking cash-out. May be politically difficult, but it would be a shot in the arm to Clematis retail. I’ll need another post to go into the reasons why.

Two-way Olive and Dixie. Another idea that deserves its own blog post, and has been kicked around and talked about for years.

Aaron Wormus brought up the Sunset Lounge, and the CRA plan to revitalize it. This led to a discussion about how to reconnect the Northwest neighborhood with neighborhoods to the south and east. We all emphasized the importance of maintaining our street grid, not abandoning streets and alleys. We supported following through on the downtown master plan to create new streets west of Sapodilla and break up the mega-blocks, and creating the frontage road on the west side of the FEC right of way.

Joe Roskowski had much to say about Okeechobee Boulevard and how unpleasant and unsafe an experience it is to cross, on foot or on bike. Everyone strongly agreed. Same goes for Quadrille Boulevard. Even after the FDOT grant project, it maintains a highway speed geometry, with excessively wide lanes, much too wide curbs, and angry drivers who don’t like bicyclists sharing the road.

What would you have told him? Tweet @JeffSpeckAICP.

That’s a recap of the meeting. Jeff’s report is due to be released sometime this summer, most likely in June. Stay tuned – we will need everyone’s help to see that the plan is carried through.