Walkable West Palm Beach

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Palm Beach MPO goal: Vision Zero for fatalities

The Palm Beach MPO is implementing a Complete Streets policy that marks a major shift in the projects that will be prioritized going forward. Excerpts from a recent Complete Streets MPO board presentation:

Complete Streets Policy Purpose

Accommodate the safety and convenience of all surface transportation system users into the planning, design, and construction of state and federally funded transportation projects programmed through the MPO’s TIP…

The Palm Beach MPO will seek to promote Complete Streets by prioritizing the funding of Complete Street infrastructure projects, providing educational opportunities, and encouraging local jurisdictions to adopt and implement local Complete Streets policies.

This could mark a significant shift in the types of projects that are prioritized because there is funding associated with this policy change. The Complete Streets policy suggests that if a project does not incorporate Complete Streets principles into its planning and design, it will not be funded. The default will be to design Complete Streets. Furthermore, the policy incorporates a Vision Zero goal for fatalities.

To evaluate the effective implementation of the policy, the MPO will monitor the number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities over time with the ultimate goal of zero fatalities. Vision Zero is the foundation for ending traffic deaths on our streets and roadways.

FDOT, the City of West Palm Beach, and numerous other local municipalities have adopted a Complete Streets policy. Given the funding at stake and the consensus for building complete streets, I would expect Palm Beach County to follow suit soon.

Let’s hope this policy allows for contextual design, rather than copy and paste road design that led to highway scaled roads in places where they don’t belong in the era of suburbanization. I’m all for Complete Streets, but applying rules without regard to context could lead to regrettable outcomes like those that resulted from misapplying highway design to urban streets. Thankfully, by all accounts the FDOT Complete Streets effort has an amazing champion in Billy Hattaway, and the guidance is going to be much more contextual than rules based, from my understanding. Our local cities and county could do well to follow a similar approach to their guidance.



Palm Tran: Bus system has not been reimagined for 20 years

Palm Tran Director Clinton Forbes: We’re overdue for a comprehensive look at our bus system

Inside West Palm Beach, the radio show hosted by Barry O’Brien, recently interviewed Palm Tran Director Clinton Forbes. Barry is a huge transit supporter and has been advocating for better transit service through has involvement in the community and on the Downtown Action Committee (DAC).

Much of the conversation focused around the known deficiencies with Palm Tran. As an example, Mr. Forbes cited a survey that shows that only 10% of current Palm Tran ridership consist of “choice riders”, or those who have other options such as owning a car. Many routes are slow, with far too many stops, and few direct routes. Buses aren’t frequent enough. The inability for urban dwellers to get on a bus and ride straight north or south on U.S. 1 is a particularly noticeable failing as these are the population and employment centers in the county. I recently attempted to take a bus to my wife’s workplace in Jupiter, and what would have been a half hour car ride would have taken me over two hours. No one is going to make the choice to ride a bus given other options. And for those without a choice, it just makes life that much harder. Dependent riders’ time matters as well.

I’ve been critical of our bus system, maybe overly so. The good news: Listening to Mr. Forbes, Palm Tran Director, was a breath of fresh air. He gets it. Here’s what he had to say about the routes of Palm Tran:

“Since 1996, we have not taken a comprehensive look at our system. Development has changed, land use patterns have changed, population density has changed…but what have we done? The system is the same. And so we could not be maximizing our efficiency with the system. And so one of my number one priorities…is to do a comprehensive look at our system.”

Music to my ears. He mentioned the efforts in Jacksonville and Houston to reimagine their bus system. I’m a huge fan of the Houston reimagining project, which used the same operating dollars to create a much more convenient and robust bus system that is more useful to people. Below GIF shows the frequent bus network (<15 minute headways) before and after.



Imagine credit: James Llamas and Strong Towns.org. Click image for article.



Mr. Forbes has also mentioned the idea of signal prioritization at traffic signals, which would basically give buses a ‘green wave’ of lights and improve trip times. [Sun-Sentinel story. ] The reimagining of the system and signal prioritization could drastically improve headways. Headways of 5-10 minutes are ideal, with 15-20 minutes being generally accepted as the inflection point at which ridership drops dramatically. Mr. Forbes also mentioned the rollout of attractive new buses that will have Wi-Fi, coming soon. The South Dixie Corridor study also presents an opportunity to implement signal prioritization and new fast boarding bus stops with the corridor reimagining.

With useful bus service, I’m absolutely confident Palm Tran will get used much more than it is currently and become an important part of our transportation mix in Palm Beach County. Mr. Forbes is taking  Palm Tran in the right direction; let’s hope we can all get on-board to make a better bus system a reality.

Interview is below. Go to minute 19, when the interview starts getting good.

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Message to Palm Beach MPO: Avoiding “Browardization”

The Palm Beach MPO took a field trip last week, riding Palm Beach County transit. Kudos to the board members for experiencing the transit system firsthand, even if the trip itself wasn’t really indicative of the day to day experiences of your average rider. I applaud County Commissioner Steven Abrams, as it is my understanding he rides Tri-Rail to work everyday, giving him a real perspective on transit.

Two ideas worth pursuing

The MPO discussed a technology that might allow buses to get signal prioritization at traffic lights, significantly speeding up headways. This sounds like a first step toward bus rapid transit and could have a big impact on convenience and, by extension, ridership on Palm Tran. From the Post:

Along with more bus shelters, Palm Tran wants to develop “smart card” technology — the same that allows drivers with a card on their windshield to zip through toll booths. Adding WiFi and technology to let bus drivers and county traffic engineers communicate to extend green lights at intersections when a bus is approaching is also being considered, said Palm Tran Executive Director Clinton Forbes.

BRT has proved transformational in a number of cities. BRT, if done right, can provide reliable and frequent county transit at a fraction of the price of rail. The cost of right of way acquisition for new rail is enormous and so better ways to use existing capacity and road networks should be the focus.

Secondly, it was good to hear about city and county success in putting in the humble bus shelter. No one likes to wait for a bus in the sweltering Florida heat (well, most of the year). Improved bus shelters help bus riders significantly and also advertise where bus routes exist.

Opportunities for improvement

Unfortunately, disconnects large and small remain in our county transportation policy. Here’s what my wish list would consist of.

  • A Houston-style reimagining of Palm Tran to create a useful bus system. Increase frequency, decrease headways, and make the time to travel between major points reasonable. A half hour car ride can take 2 hours on Palm Tran. This is unacceptable and no one will choose to ride the bus in this circumstance, even those trips where the two endpoints are in walkable neighborhoods.
  • Get the small stuff right. I tweeted this last week, the day before the MPO trip. It was the result of me trying to figure out how to get from FLL to downtown WPB. The Fort Lauderdale trolley doesn’t have a Google Feed, and the result is an inaccurate estimate of the time it takes to get home. Over an hour of time is added to my estimated trip because the trolley isn’t feeding into Google. This affects not only Google, but those apps that rely on Google data such as Transit App. I realize this is a Broward county example, but the same problems exist in Palm Beach County.

  • County transportation impact fees are required to fund new road capacity. This policy subsidizes the car trip and harms older downtowns like West Palm Beach, where what is needed is not new roads but more multimodal options. Downtown WPB has generated a tremendous amount of new urban infill over the past decade, but the impact fee money is not benefiting downtown; in fact, it is being used to fund road widenings in car dependent areas of the county. This is a really stupid policy that needs to change. As Urban3’s analysis demonstrates, the downtowns and traditional neighborhoods are the breadbasket of the county tax base, because they are far and away the most potent land areas in the county. Undermining their tax productivity is harms the cities and also the county at large, which relies on these downtown areas for a disproportionate part of the tax base. See Urban3 analysis video, below.
  • Last but certainly not least, better land use policy, countywide. Regardless of how much money we sink into our transit systems, if they don’t connect to walkable neighborhoods, the results will be underwhelming. As recent studies have shown, in transit oriented development, the most important part of the equation is not the transit, but the compact, walkable development. Building transit in sprawl surrounded by huge parking lots doesn’t reduce car trips and doesn’t provide the many benefits of walkable urbanism. Only building walkable urbanism does that. Transit is secondary to building neighborhoods with centers and with a reasonable pedestrian walking time from center to edge.

The MPO has done a good job elevating awareness of tools like Transit App as well as supporting complete streets and Tri-Rail Coastal Link efforts. A large chasm exists between best practices in land use and transportation at the county level, however. The inevitable outcome of the sprawling pattern of land use pursued at the county level is more congestion, more road spending, more unsafe stroads, more pollution, less community, more time spent commuting, and less fiscal productivity (see video below). Some of these issues must be addressed not by the MPO, but by Palm Beach County.

Avoiding the the “Browardization” moniker requires a more nuanced understanding of the interdepencies between land use and transportation than the “build, build, build” more roads approach. The preservation of Palm Beach County’s high quality of life depends on it.


[edit, 9:30 am: This is a good opportunity to mention the Strong Towns #NoNewRoads campaign which is happening this week. Here is the description of the campaign:

This week at Strong Towns we are going to focus our attention on the embarrassing mess that is the American system system of transportation finance. Our premise here at Strong Towns has been, for some time now, #NoNewRoads, a rejection of any proposal to spend more money on this system until we undertake dramatic reform…

Here’s a common sense approach that a consensus of Americans seem willing to support:

  1. Let’s prioritize fixing what we have. We should not build anything new until we’ve figured out how to pay to maintain what we’ve already built.
  2. Anything new that is built must not be the result of paybacks in a system of pork-barrel politics but the result of a rigorous, independent financial analysis.
  3. The users of the system should pay for the system. That includes those hauling freight as well as those hauling kids to soccer practice.
  4. We can’t just keep building highways. Our approach to transportation has to acknowledge the limits of more road building and the benefits of alternative approaches.
  5. We cannot ignore the complex relationships — positive and negative — between the way we approach transportation and the impact that has on our cities, towns and neighborhoods. Allowing these to continue as separate undertakings — transportation and land use in different silos — is self-defeating and economically suicidal.



Cover photo: Bill DiPaolo, Palm Beach Post


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FDOT Complete Streets Implementation Plan has been published

FDOT sent a tweet this morning, announcing the publication of the Complete Streets Implementation Plan. I’ve uploaded the PDF document to the Reference section of the blog.

[tweet https://twitter.com/MyFDOT/status/674245197434380291]


FDOT Complete Streets Implementation Plan

This comes at a opportune moment, as today the Palm Beach MPO is hosting a Complete Streets workshop in downtown West Palm Beach with key stakeholders. Local governments, the Palm Beach MPO, Broward County, and now FDOT have implemented a Complete Streets policy. According to the draft Palm Beach MPO Complete Streets Draft Policy Statement:

The Palm Beach MPO aims to achieve a safe and convenient transportation network by implenting Complete Streets within the context of our county’s diverse communities. The Palm Beach MPO will seek to promote Complete Streets by prioritizing the funding of Complete Street infrastructure projects, providing educational opportunities, and encouraging local jurisdictions to adopt and implement local Complete Streets policies.

One of the most important lynchpins to implementing safer streets is Palm Beach County, as the most dangerous suburban arterials are under county jurisdiction. County adoption of a Complete Streets policy needs to be a focus for advocates. Between MPO, Broward County, and FDOT guidance, there is plenty of guidance and no reason adoption of a Complete Streets policy cannot happen quickly in Palm Beach County. Please visit Complete Streets Palm Beach to get involved. Facebook page



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Rolling field trip to highlight PBC transportation projects

Palm Beach MPO Director Nick Uhren and Palm Tran Director Charles Frazier are to be commended for arranging a “rolling field trip” for MPO board members to experience public transit in Palm Beach County.

Kudos to the elected officials planning to attend. As of this writing, they include:

 West Palm Beach City commissioners Keith James and Shanon Materio; Wellington councilwoman Anne Gerwig; Palm Beach Gardens Vice Mayor Eric Jablin; Jupiter councilwoman Wendy Harrison; and county commissioners Steven Abrams, Priscilla Taylor, Mary Lou Berger, Melissa McKinlay and Paulette Burdick.  [if we missed anyone, please note so in the comments below]

I look forward to the day when a special field trip isn’t necessary for our public officials to understand our county’s transportation system. Until then, this is a fantastic event and we hope it becomes a regular occurance.

The public is welcome to attend. See details in story below and RSVP.


Story from the Palm Beach Post – Rolling field trip to highlight PBC transportation projects.

Trains, trolleys and buses will make up the unique setting Thursday for a rolling field trip by elected officials who serve on a Palm Beach County transportation board.

The 19 members of the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization usually meet every month in a conference room on the 12th floor of the county Government Center in downtown West Palm Beach.

But their next meeting will be a “rolling retreat” that will start at the Tri-Rail station in downtown West Palm Beach and continue to Boca Raton and Delray Beach with rides on shuttles, buses and trollies.

No votes or formal action will be taken. “It’s just an opportunity for them to experience the (county’s transportation) system,’’ said Nick Uhren, the MPO’s executive director.

“It’s not a retreat in the sense where we will even have discussion shaping future policies. It’s more of a field trip to give board members an opportunity to have this experience and let this experience guide their future conversations about transportation items.’’

Uhren said he thinks the rolling field trip is the first of its kind ever held by the Palm Beach MPO, which is made up of elected officials from the county, some of its largest municipalities and the Port of Palm Beach.

The field trip was requested last year by MPO members who “wanted an opportunity to experience the projects we spend so much time debating,’’ Uhren said.

Uhren said he received planning help from Charles Frazier, deputy director at Palm Tran, the county’s bus system. Frazier last year helped launch a “rolling” meeting for the advisory Palm Tran Service Board.

“That emboldened me to try this and know that this is doable in compliance with Sunshine Law regulations,’’ Uhren said.

Members of the public are welcome to attend, too. Anyone can join or leave the tour at scheduled times and locations in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach.

The public also can observe and participate via video conference at the MPO office at Vista Center, 2300 N. Jog Rd., 4th Floor, West Palm Beach, FL 33411.

But for planning purposes, members of the public planning to attend via either method are encouraged to contact MPO staff at 561-684-4170 or by emailing MBooth@PalmBeachMPO.org at least 48 hours prior to the retreat.

“It’s a great idea because, frankly, I have not used (public transportation) that frequently. It’s a good idea to see what we’ve got,” said County Commissioner Hal Valeche, the MPO board’s vice chairman.

“We talk about things theoretically but it will be nice to see things as they actually operate. It will be a very interesting day.”

The retreat will start at 9:30 a.m. at Tri-Rail’s southbound platform at the West Palm Beach Intermodel Center and go until about 3:30 p.m. There will be presentations on transportation projects throughout the tour and at each stop.

The retreat is focused in south county because the tour is structured around Tri-Rail, which has popular stops in Boca Raton and Delray Beach. Tri-Rail’s current northernmost stop is in Mangonia Park, just north of West Palm Beach.

At the first stop in Boca Raton, MPO members can either take a short ride on the Arvida Park of Commerce’s Commuter Shuttle or tour the El Rio Trail

In Delray Beach, the MPO ride on the Delray Trolley, the city’s free trolley service, from the Tri-Rail station to downtown for lunch followed by a walking tour.

The tour ends with a bus ride up U.S. 1 to highlight bike-lane improvements in Boynton Beach.

Among the other MPO members planning to attend the meeting are West Palm Beach City commissioners Keith James and Shanon Materio; Wellington councilwoman Anne Gerwig; Palm Beach Gardens Vice Mayor Eric Jablin; Jupiter councilwoman Wendy Harrison; and county commissioners Steven Abrams, Priscilla Taylor, Mary Lou Berger, Melissa McKinlay and Paulette Burdick.


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

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First green bike lane comes to West Palm Beach

At our last monthly meetup, some exciting news: The first ever green bike lane is coming to West Palm Beach!  Bret Baronak of the Palm Beach MPO explained the project, awarded to West Palm Beach as a “transportation alternatives” grant. The improvements are proposed to consist of the following: a dedicated colored bike lane, sidewalk ramp improvements, decorative crosswalks, landscaped bulb-outs with bioswales plantings and drainage, and restriping of the roadway. The project is located on 15th Street between Australian and Dixie. We also got a sneak preview of the upcoming Fern Street improvements in downtown (second picture), also from Bret as well as Alex Hansen, Transportation Planner at the City of WPB.

Green bike lane project location:

Roosevelt Elementary is along this street, and a crossing over both the FEC and CSX rail right of way. It will be interesting to see whether children use this green lane, or  ride on the sidewalk. If they do continue to ride on the sidewalk, it will indicate this lane still doesn’t feel safe enough for all users.

This is a great start regardless and we applaud the MPO and City for getting it funded. Let’s get this one done, then move on to test a real Dutch style protected cycle track, with the bike lane between the curb and the parked cars! Read more.

The grant item is up before the City commission at today’s 5 pm meeting:

[If you didn’t come to our meeting last month, you’re missing out! Follow the blog and our calendar for meetup announcements and events relevant to creating more  bike-friendly conditions in WPB. Hope to see you next time.]