Walkable West Palm Beach


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Why I do not support a pedestrian bridge over Okeechobee Boulevard

Building a pedestrian bridge over Okeechobee Boulevard comes at a high price, trading pedestrian convenience for commuter convenience. In this post, I provide a number of reasons why I think the Okeechobee pedestrian bridge is the wrong solution to the challenge of crossing Okeechobee at Rosemary Avenue.

  • People will not use it. Pedestrian bridges can work when they get you from point A to point B without adding more time and distance to your walk (such as a third level parking garage connected to an office building’s third floor via a pedestrian bridge). In the case of the Okeechobee Boulevard crossing, pedestrians will have to ascend and descend a set of stairs just to cross the road. Most people will choose to cross at street level rather than take a significant detour up and down steps in order to cross. See: Pedestrian bridges, from Pedestrians.org

  • Wheelchair users and moms pushing strollers won’t be able to use it unless it has an elevator. Elevators that are exposed to the outside elements become unpleasant in short order (see: the Tri-Rail elevators or the Banyan Garage elevators) and have significant costs in ongoing maintenance. Elevators and escalators are expensive and prone to breakdown. They would have to operate 24/7, because there is a constant stream of people who need to cross at Rosemary and Okeechobee. Not just conventioneers; also the service workers from adjacent neighborhoods such as Grandview Heights who need to get to work at all hours.
  • A bridge at Rosemary/Okeechobee isn’t going to help people who aren’t crossing at this intersection. What about those who need to cross at Dixie, Quadrille, Sapodilla, and Alabama Avenue? To expect them to walk 500+ feet out of their way is not realistic.

Cheap short-term fix

A cheaper and more effective short-term treatment would be to reprogram the pedestrian signals to give an added 5-10 second headstart for pedestrians to make the crossing. Ten seconds would be nearly enough time to cross to the refuge median in the center of Okeechobee. This is a simple, cheap, and effective solution. This video from StreetFilms is a good overview of how LPIs work. If they can work for a very busy arterial in Manhattan, they can work here.

There are other very good suggestions made in the Jeff Speck Walkability Study (September 2014) that anticipated the challenges here and suggested ways to make the crossing better. Summary of these recommendations:

  1. Reduce driving lanes to 10 feet in width, using the extra space for curb extensions/protected bike lane. When is the next FDOT RRR resurfacing for Okeechobee scheduled? This should be expedited. This change could likely be done as part of routine resurfacing. For those wide lane lovers out there, we’re talking about perhaps a half mile stretch of Okeechobee that would have lane widths reduced: The urban context east of Tamarind. The rest of Okeechobee can remain as it is.
  2. Close the slip lane at Rosemary northbound onto east Okeechobee.
  3. Plant large street trees in the median to shelter and cool pedestrians. This will help make the crossing more pleasant and the perceived time to cross will decrease.
  4. Revised signal timing to prioritize pedestrian crossings. Note: Some changes have been made, but they are largely half-measures and LPIs have not been implemented. From my personal experience, it isn’t apparent what the pedestrian signals do, rendering them almost useless. We need automatic walk signals with LPIs.

 

Building a pedestrian bridge consigns a fast changing urban corridor to a conduit to solely move cars. A pedestrian bridge places auto throughput above all else and relegates pedestrians to second class status, putting the onus on them to climb stairs up and down to cross the street. If a minor change such as implementing LPIs at this crossing is not done, it will not have been due to budgetary constraints or an engineering quandary, but from a lack of prioritizing the safety and convenience of pedestrians in favor of car speed.

The Bigger Picture

Yes, Okeechobee carries a lot of traffic as one of its functions. But it is also much more than that in its urban (east of Tamarind) context: A concentration of walkable urban destinations, foremost among them the Convention Center, CityPlace, and the Kravis Center, along with densely populated condominium towers (with more coming). Note: each of those condo dwellers who doesn’t rely on a car to get to work is one less commuter to clog up the morning/evening rush hour. Substantial public money has been invested in this area (pitched largely under the auspices of “economic development”) in order to generate economic activity that results from arts, culture, and convention events within walking distance of one another and fueling retail sales at CityPlace/downtown West Palm Beach. Putting a mixture of uses in close proximity, where people can meet, socialize, and engage in business, is really the whole point of cities. Look no further than the positive impact the adjacent Hilton Hotel has had on the success of the Convention Center to see an example of why proximity matters. People book a stay there because it is walkable to the convention center, CityPlace, and downtown destinations. The urbanity of Downtown West Palm Beach results in a highly productive tax base (both property tax and retail tax), supporting the highest retail sales per acre in the entire county. Go to minute 33 of the video below for a visualization of retail sales in the county.

A pedestrian bridge takes us in the wrong direction.  It forecloses on the possibility of developing an even more productive urban fabric along this corridor, consigning Okeechobee to a car sewer instead. What we need is more placemaking and more destinations people can walk to, not less. The last thing tourists and conventioneers want is to visit a city that has lost its soul, as Arthur Frommer put so well. The soul of a city isn’t found behind the windshield of a car or walking across a traffic moat; it is found in the streets and public spaces that make great city neighborhoods.

The modest changes suggested in this blog post have been suggested for some time; they’ve only recently received more attention and urgency because the crossing situation has become more dire with the hotel opening. In the longer term, there are many ideas for maintaining Okeechobee’s ability to handle traffic while making it into a better place; some fanciful, some out of the box, some inspired by grand Parisian boulevards. But we don’t have to wait. Short term changes can be made now to make the crossing safer and more comfortable for pedestrians, and in a manner that doesn’t pay lip service to the needs of those crossing on foot.

 

 

 

 


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Ramblas and other center of roadway configurations in the real world

The City is currently studying enhancements to North Broadway from 25th to 42nd St.. One idea that that has been proposed by the City is to convert the center of the road to a promenade / ramblas configuration with a multi-modal pathway and parking in the center. This post will provide precedents for this concept. In a follow up post we will explore some of the advantages of this configuration.

When we think of complete streets we usually think that parking and bike facilities are located on the outside of the street and cars have use of the middle of the street.  As shown in the below examples the middle of street can be used for things other than cars. Bikes, parking, cycle tracks, public plazas or any combination can be accommodated in the middle of the street.

Bicycles:

Tree lined multimodal path in the median of downtown Winter Garden, Fl:

Queens Plaza North, New York, New York

Streetfilms Queens Plaza

Sands St. in Brooklyn New York

Streetfilms Sands St.

Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC

Streetfilms Pennsyvania Ave. story with Gabe Klein

Sweden

Strandvägen Stockholm, Sweden

Erik Dahlbergsgatan Stockholm, Sweden

Bike and pedestrian

Place d’Anvers, Paris

Boulevard de Rochechouart, Paris

Allen Street New York, New York (recent project, street view has great before and after views)

Place making

Passeig del Born, Barcelona, Spain

Rambla de Catalunya Barcelona, Catalonia

Paseo del Prado, Havana, Cuba

Middle of the street used for parking

Clematis St. West Palm Beach

Clematis_PalmsHotel

Clematis Avenue, Looking West from the Palms Hotel State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/152572

Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster CA

Hollywood, Florida

 

 


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Want to move lots of traffic in an urban setting? Look no further than the boulevard.

Jeff Speck published an excellent piece today about boulevards and their utility in walkable urban neighborhoods. True boulevards, as contrasted with stroads that are boulevards-in-name-only (BINOs? looking at you, Okeechobee “Boulevard”), are a time-tested solution to moving lots of traffic in urban areas while also creating a safe and people-friendly environment in the sidewalk space.  Some of the most beloved streets in Europe are boulevards as well as some good examples in the United States like Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

Speck points out the successful track record of boulevards in creating valuable places while moving plenty of traffic, and asks the obvious question: Why aren’t we designing more of our urban arterials like boulevards to achieve their much better outcomes? We have the precedents to do so.

Picture in your mind a classic large urban street, one that will attract pedestrians while also moving a lot of traffic.  Perhaps you are imagining Paris’s Avenue Marceau, Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia, or Washington’s K Street? Now look at the image below….
… perhaps of the greatest concern, is the issue of precedent. While there exist a growing number of locations in America with street configurations like this one, it is impossible to name one with street life. Swoopy configurations like this design are found mostly in suburban drive-only locations out by the mall, not in cities. If no attractive place can be found with a similar configuration, then a design should not pass the street-planning smell test.

This image from Mattias Leyrer comes to mind. Read Speck’s excellent article and let’s start building boulevards that enhance placemaking and support the city, rather than eviscerating it.

Champ-Elyse

 

In case you missed it: Here are some of our past writings on boulevards written by none other than Baron Haussmann.


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American Multiway Boulevard examples

The multiway boulevard is an alternative to conventional higher-volume, higher-speed arterial streets. This thoroughfare type may be used where the community’s objective is to accommodate urban mixed use or residential development and a walkable environment on corridors with high traffic demands. A multiway boulevard combines a central thoroughfare for higher-speed through movements bordered by landscaped medians that separate the central thoroughfare from one-way access lanes on each side of the boulevard. The access lanes provide for slower local traffic, parking, bicycle travel and a pedestrian oriented streetside and are designed to discourage through traffic. Multiway boulevards may be considered where a community desires to make a very wide arterial street more pedestrian friendly yet recognizes the need to retain traffic capacity. ( ITE Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares Manual)

Multiway Boulevards aren’t that common in the United States. Although recently, they have begun to experience a renaissance. They are much more common in European Cities such as Paris. Below are examples of American multiway boulevards. It is hoped that this list will benefit the planner, engineer, or citizen that is interested in advocating or implementing this type of roadway.

Please feel free to add other multiway boulevard in the comments.

Esplanade Chico, California

This road is unusual in that it was constructed in the 1950s. The design was developed in two hours based on a desire to keep the existing trees. Here is a good article on the history of the Esplanade.

Pendleton Ave. – Lewis-Mc Chord military base (No google street view available, recently constructed)

Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard West Palm Beach Florida. This is unique in that is was constructed after WWII (late 1960s) after multiway boulevards had fallen out of favor and prior to Allan Jacobs work on resurrecting the multiway boulevard.

SE Dixie Highway Hobe Sound Florida. (Service lanes on one side of highway)

K street District of Columbia – There is a photo of this boulevard in the 1957 AASHO Policy on Atertial Highways in Urban Areas (figure E-16).

Octavia Blvd. San Fran. (This project began the multi-way boulevard renaissance. It replaced a double deck freeway spur that was severely damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake).

El Camino Real Milbrae, CA (Note the very narrow outer median. In order to allow street trees in the outer median the parallel parking is periodically eliminated to allow outer median to widen for street trees. Boulevard on one side).

San Francisco Blvd. Sacramento CA. Suburban street car subdivision. Small multiway boulevard. Center road only has two lanes.

Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA

E Palm Canyon Dr, Cathedral City, CA (This was a retrofit to your typical post war Stroad. A google search will reveal the amazing before and after pictures.)

Pearl Parkway Boulder Colorado (Recent construction)

Southern Parkway, Louisville, KY

Bothell Way, Bothell Washington (Recent construction, currently not shown in google maps)

Lincoln Parkway Buffalo, New York

Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY

Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY

Grand Concourse, NY (An example of what not to do when designing a multi-way boulevard. Vehicle speeds are too high on service lanes. Poor crash history.)


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Mayor Muoio supports making Okeechobee Boulevard better for pedestrians

This time, it’s no April Fool’s joke!

At Mayor Muoio’s media briefing on April 2nd, reporters asked the Mayor about her thoughts around the idea of making Okeechobee Boulevard a multiway boulevard or something more pedestrian friendly [minute 16:20].

Muoio: “One of the focuses of both Jeff Speck and CNU and our downtown is ‘how do we make Okeechobee more walkable?’ So any effort to do that I would applaud and would like to be a part of. ”

We thank the Mayor for endorsing this idea. She has touted the benefits of walkability publicly and often, supporting Jeff Speck’s walkability study, bringing in Peter Kageyama (“For the Love of Cities”) for a lecture, and conducting the Mayor’s walk.

It’s going to take a collaboration between the City, County, and perhaps most importantly, Florida Department of Transportation in order to make this happen. If you’re interested in helping, contact us, or get in touch with a public official. Much more to come; once Jeff Speck’s walkability report is released,  the hard work of implementation begins! We’ll need the community to come out and support the study, help us kickstart a few easier projects, and get a large group of grassroots support behind reconfiguring Okeechobee.

[Thanks to Tree Canopy WPB for letting us know about this interview!]


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County Engineer George Webb: Okeechobee Boulevard to be reconfigured to multiway boulevard

In a major policy shift at last night’s county workshop, County Engineer George Webb announced that Okeechobee Boulevard east of I-95 will be reconfigured into a multiway boulevard design similar to those that have been successfully implemented on other American arterials.

Citing Victor Dover & John Massengale’s new book and a recent meeting with livable streets transportation engineer Ian Lockwood as inspiration, Webb says reconfiguration is scheduled to break ground by end of year:

You know, I heard a lot from the New Urbanists at Congress for the New Urbanism 20 at the West Palm Beach Convention Center. The convention center is a county project and so is the new hotel going up next to it, and Okeechobee Boulevard is a county road. My Twitter feed was inundated with folks who couldn’t cross Okee safely and comfortably and I’ve been mulling over the problem ever since. The Palm Beach Post has been doing a series of stories on the fact that we have one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the country. This is simply unacceptable. No more of this “stroad” masquerading as a boulevard.

East of I-95, the land uses are dense and urban enough to support a multiway boulevard. The value capture potential is there. West of I-95, it’s lined with strip malls, constant access points, and parking lots. I’m afraid there is little that can be done for that stretch of roadway until adjacent land uses fundamentally change. That area needs a complete do-over. That will be the career-defining work of my successor and the challenge I pass to them.

Webb cited examples of successful reconfiguration of the earthquake-damaged Central Freeway in San Francisco, which became Octavia Boulevard, as well as Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. “Ironically, the side access lane will permit cars to flow freely in the through lanes and capacity will be increased, along with a huge boost to property values along the access lane frontage. It will become a place for people” says Webb.

Some example photos of successful multiway boulevards that Webb cited:

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