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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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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I survived the Okeechobee Boulevard closure

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The Palm Beach Post reports that a section of Okeechobee Boulevard will be closed for several days for BrightLine construction. Below is the T-shirt design in remembrance of this horrific day.

 

I SURVIVED


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Okeechobee Boulevard Road Safety Audit Completed

Reshape Okeechobee Boulevard medians, install Leading Pedestrian Intervals among top suggestions of FDOT Road Safety Audit (RSA)

The long-awaited Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Road Safety Audit for the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and Rosemary Avenue has been completed. The report contains many suggestions, which cumulatively should make significant positive improvements to pedestrian safety and comfort crossing Okeechobee Boulevard.

Notably absent from the report is a recommendation on narrowing lane widths to 10 feet, as recommended in the Jeff Speck Walkability Study. Reduced lane width has been shown to reduce vehicle speeds and decrease the severity of crashes, thereby making roadways safer. Reduced lane width from 12 to 10 feet would also mean a reduction of nearly 17% in the amount of asphalt a person walking would need to cover to get from one side of the roadway to the central median. The additional space freed up from this narrowing could be used for a protected bike lane and provide another buffer between vehicles and people walking. Narrowing the travel lanes was the most emphasized recommendation in the Speck study, but it appears it was outside the scope of the FDOT RSA study and not considered.

In addition, the RSA study recommended against the suggestion of a pedestrian bridge, stating “it was determined that a pedestrian bridge was not an optimal solution to moving pedestrian traffic due to cost, anticipated lack of use, and constructability issues.”

Following is a summarized list of the RSA recommendations –

  • Adjust signal phasing and add pedestrian phase during eastbound left turn phase
  • Prohibit eastbound U‐turns
  • Install “TURNING VEHICLES YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS” sign for southbound right turns
  • Add Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI)
  • Reduce the northwest and southeast crosswalk’s crossing distance
  • Add automatic pedestrian phases
  • Hire off‐duty police officers during events
  • Conduct a study to review lighting conditions
  • Lengthen the yellow and all‐red times for bicyclists crossing north / south
  • Improve pedestrian signage and add “feedback” to push buttons

Download the reports here –
Full report – FINAL RSA SR-704 (Okeechobee Boulevard)
City Place RSA – Findings Summary

Analysis of Recommendations

First up: The bad. Forty miles per hour is an unacceptable speed through this road section. At that speed, a pedestrian is virtually assured to be killed if hit by a car. Posting a 30 mph speed limit would be a good start, but it’s not enough by itself. The RSA study doesn’t even go that far; it merely recommends “conducting a speed study”.  The road design needs to be such that drivers feel uncomfortable driving faster than 30, uncomfortable as that approach may be to FDOT orthodoxy. It’s disappointing that vehicle speeds got such short shrift in the report.

This image from Streetsblog Chicago shows the devastating effect of higher motor vehicle speed

The RSA report calls for medians to be reconfigured. I’d still prefer to see the medians built out more robustly, as Speck recommends, by narrowing the space between the medians to two travel lanes (one in each direction). This could give stranded bicyclists a refuge if caught in the middle while attempting to cross Okeechobee at Rosemary. Nonetheless, the study does call for the turn radii to be reduced and this will certainly help lessen the feeling of discomfort one feels trying to walk across Okeechobee. The eastbound slip lane near CityPlace South Tower is not closed in the RSA report, contrary to what the Speck study recommends.

 

 

I find the Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) recommendation puzzling. I don’t understand how this belongs in a study focused on enhancements to pedestrian safety and comfort. Reallocating prime median space from pedestrians to cars seems to undermine the goals.

Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) concept

Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) concept

 

The Leading Pedestrian Indicator (LPI) is a very good recommendation. Jeff Speck describes LPIs as follows in the Walkability Study:

“…pedestrians receive a 3-second head start to enter (and “claim”) the intersection before cars receive a green light. There are a number of locations where these could be put to good use in the downtown” [including Okeechobee and Rosemary]

LPIs should help make pedestrians more visible in the crosswalk and help make crossings safer.

Restrictions on U-turns, changes to pedestrian signal timing, and changes to signage are modest improvements that will all add up to make conditions better for pedestrians. Many of these changes are controlled by Palm Beach County and are listed as short-term changes that can be accomplished in a matter of weeks. We look forward to seeing these changes carried out quickly.

City planners have told me that the median reshaping work should be completed in time for the new Hilton Hotel opening. Smaller changes like signage and signal timing should also be completed soon. Some items, such as lighting, are longer term. I am hopeful that more serious thought is given to creating a pedestrian shelter planted with large shade trees in the median in order to provide shade and a sense of refuge in the median.

While many recommendations are good, narrowing the travel lanes is certainly the most impactful change that could be made and it was unfortunately outside the scope of the RSA study. Most likely, such a change won’t be considered until Okeechobee Boulevard is scheduled to be restriped during a routine resurfacing project. This could mean a wait of many years before this change is considered – roads are typically resurfaced every 15 – 20 years.

With the amount of foot and bicycle traffic coming at the new Convention Center Hotel, it’s time Okeechobee Boulevard shed its reputation as a perilous crossing. More improvements to pedestrian safety and comfort are needed before Okeechobee can lay claim to being worthy of the second part of its name – Boulevard – a moniker that is used to describe some of the grandest thoroughfares in Europe such as the Champs-Élysées. No matter what we do, no one is going to mistake Okeechobee for the Champs. But we can strive to make Okeechobee a much better connector between the Convention Center, CityPlace South Tower, and Grandview Heights, rather than a divider. This study is a significant step in the right direction, but much work remains to be done – most importantly, the work of narrowing the travel lane widths on Okeechobee.

 


I want to acknowledge the efforts of the community in bringing the Okeechobee crossing issue to the forefront, especially the folks from Okeechobee Skywalk. Though we may have disagreed in our preferred solutions, this group has done more to generate attention on this issue than anyone. They have made excellent street level improvement recommendations, many of which have been incorporated into this report. I also want to thank Joe Roskowski for his tireless efforts in advocating for a safer Okeechobee at street level.

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Skydrive proposed for Okeechobee Boulevard

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has unveiled a solution to the problems plaguing Okeechobee Boulevard: A ‘Skydrive’ that will serve to elevate drivers above the throngs of pedestrians who have overtaken the streets below.

“We looked at the pedestrian traffic counts and realized that the numbers were extraordinary, with all the crossing traffic to and from the Convention Center, Hilton Hotel, CityPlace, and the Grandview Heights neighborhood”, stated Jim Wolfgang, FDOT District 4 Secretary. “The County has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing a world-class convention center and hotel that is across the street from CityPlace, a premiere shopping and dining destination. The amount of pedestrian traffic is enormous and rising steadily. It’s like a “people sewer” down there, with all those… people… we need a bigger pipe to fit them all through. We considered the idea of a pedestrian bridge, but our cost-benefit analysis shows a vehicular Skydrive will be a better solution.”

Some have speculated the all-powerful “Bipedal Lobby” is behind FDOT’s decision, but it appears the relatively feeble “Road Building Lobby” may have had more influence. A local transportation official who wishes to remain anonymous admitted, “To solve our public opinion problem, we are planning to spend a lot of money on a wonderful new piece of expensive infrastructure to give the perception we have solved the problem. Otherwise the public will keep yelling at us.  If… well… when, it doesn’t solve the problem, it’s a great opportunity to up our budget and spend even more.”

autostadt01

The Skydrive F.U. would load cars for passage over Okeechobee Boulevard

 

Drivers: Simply press this button to cross

Drivers: Simply press this button to cross

Wolfgang expects the new Skydrive to be well-received by the currently besieged drivers. “To use it, simply queue at the intersection, wait for your turn in line, drive onto the lift, roll down your window, press a button, and our Funicular Unit (F.U.) will convey you expeditiously across the mass of pedestrians below. Very convenient.”

Champs-Elysees-with-Christmas-Lights

Champs Elysses

FDOT’s partner on the project, Palm Beach County Engineer Jorge Webb, had this to say regarding the design: “We attempted to arrive at an elegant solution for this highly trafficked pedestrian corridor. We considered making a multiway boulevard in the style of the Champs Elysses, but consideration of bizarre European ideas was a nonstarter. So we settled on an unproven technological solution that applies American know-how and ingenuity: The Skydrive was born.”

Some visitors wondered whether the Skydrive would relegate drivers to second-class citizens. “Sounds great, but why only one Skydrive? What about all the other intersections that need to be crossed? Isn’t this just an admission that the ‘Pedestrian is King?” stated Jimmy Leadfoot of Loxahatchee.

But something needs to be done, he said.  “You’re really taking your life into your own hands driving across this street. You never know when the errant pedestrian might jump into your path, and a 2,200 pound vehicle moving at 45 mph stands little chance against a hungry convention-goer on a short lunch break.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Why 12-Foot Traffic Lanes Are Disastrous for Safety and Must Be Replaced Now | via CityLab

If you’ve been following the walkability study for downtown, you know how crucial 10 foot lanes on Okeechobee Boulevard are to the plan. Jeff Speck makes a persuasive argument for 10′ lanes in urban areas in this article in CityLab.

The agency’s bike and pedestrian coordinator, Billy Hattaway, is one of the good ones. But does he have the power to move FDOT to a 10-foot standard?

Moving beyond Florida, the task is clear. Our lives are currently being put at risk daily by fifty state DOTs and hundreds of county road commissions who mistakenly believe that high-speed street standards make our cities and towns safer. In my most considered opinion, these agencies have blood on their hands, and more than a little. There are many standards that they need to change, but the easiest and most important is probably the 12-foot lane. Armed with the facts, we can force this change. But only if we do it together.

It’s time to push this discussion to its logical conclusion. Until conflicting evidence can be mustered, the burden of proof now rests with the DOTs. Until they can document otherwise, every urban 12-foot lane that is not narrowed to 10 feet represents a form of criminal negligence; every injury and death, perhaps avoidable, not avoided—by choice.

In the meantime, I welcome evidence to the contrary. We’ve shown them our studies; now let them show us theirs. Unless, of course, they’ve thrown them out.

Via CityLab.  Why 12-Foot Traffic Lanes Are Disastrous for Safety and Must Be Replaced Now – CityLab.

Past stories on Okeechobee Stroad: https://walkablewpb.com/tag/okeechobee-stroad/


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WPTV Story: Okeechobee Boulevard crossing “extraordinarily dangerous”

WPTV ran a few segments last night, interviewing me along with other downtown residents and business people and our reactions to the Jeff Speck walkability study. My interview can be viewed here if you missed it. This segment features Rick Gonzalez discussing Okeechobee Stroad. Rick is a downtown architect at REG Architects and is a true champion for building great places and livable streets.