Walkable West Palm Beach


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Solving waterfront hotel parking issues requires vision, creativity, leadership

In the latest in a series of unfortunately designed development projects, the Palm Harbor Marina was approved last month 4 to 1 for approval. Following quotes from the Palm Beach Post story give context to this approval:

“I really love the way the hotel looks. I really hate the garage,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said. With a lot of parking downtown, she said, “I don’t think that’s what we want on the waterfront.”
At the 22-story, 132-unit Waterview Towers, “we call it the ‘green monster,’ ” board vice president Jerry Waldman told commissioners. “You’re blocking 90 feet of waterfront for no reason.”
Rick Greene, the city’s director of development services, told commissioners developers may, by a formula in city code, be forced to build that many parking spaces to serve the number of rooms. But the commission waived that requirement, voting only for “no less than” 50 spaces.
“You would not be averse to reducing the number of spaces?” Muoio asked Samuel E. Poole, III, attorney for the developers.
“We would not,” Poole said. “However, we cannot give you a number this evening. We ask that you work with us.”

The parking garage has been the biggest objection from the community regarding this project for some time.  I’ve written about some better options for the parking structure for months, hoping the commission would be able to facilitate a better answer. After all, the developer proposed 175 spaces, with a payment-in-lieu to the city for the remainder of spaces to get them up to the 207 required. This demonstrates they don’t need as many spaces as required. The arbitrary nature of that 207 number is a topic for another day.

The unfortunate part of this approval is that with more foresight, the commission could have relaxed the parking requirement ahead of time and leveraged that to achieve a better project for all parties involved. Instead, and this was baffling, the idea of reducing parking minimums was not brought up until the last 10 minutes of the meeting, and then in a hasty vote, the commission approved a reduced parking limit to 50 spaces. The commissioners, Keith James in particular, seemed so concerned about ‘losing this hotel’ that they were willing to give away the public interest in a better project, so that the project is approved now. Hotel/good design is not an either/or proposition. Look no further than the Darth Vader building to see the damage a poorly conceived project can have on surrounding urban fabric. Short term gain, long term consequences that spillover to adjacent blocks and have negative effects to the property tax base to the whole downtown.

Sure, but they need that parking, or they can’t build!

Indeed, a hotel needs parking. The question is how can the parking needs of the hotel be accommodated in such a way that the design of the project doesn’t devalue the public waterfront. Numerous options and combinations exist.

A study was done by a parking consultant that shparkingowed the Banyan garage could accommodate an additional 120 spaces with a new level built. That doesn’t even count existing capacity that may exist. Add 120 spaces and 44 surface lot spaces to get 164 total, very close to the 175 the developer wished to provide left to their own devices. In addition, there are also hundreds of private and public spaces in the very near vicinity, shown on map at left. An operator of the many parking lots and garages within a two block radius could lease extra spaces or sell them to the developer.

A crude approximation, using a load factor of 75% overnight and 85% for the Banyan garage, indicates there are plenty of spaces to satisfy the parking needs in the vicinity. This doesn’t factor in the restriping of Flagler, which would also create dozens more on-street spaces in the vicinity, perhaps eliminating the need to build the ugly surface lot to the south side of the project.

 

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These underutilized spaces could satisfy the parking demand now. Over the longer term, the developer could lease or purchase spaces from the parking structure sure to be part of the Old City Hall proposal. The original proposals included approximately 600 spaces directly across the street from the Palm Harbor Marina site. An internal parking structure (appropriately wrapped with active uses) could potentially accommodate both the Palm Harbor Marina parking needs AND Waterview Towers parking needs as its parking structure reaches the end of its useful life.

Another option would be to build the Palm Harbor Marina hotel on top of a parking podium wrapped with active uses. This could potentially handle existing parking needs of Waterview Towers as well. But it would require Waterview residents to agree to a taller hotel because the parking podium would quickly take up most of the development capacity on the site at 75 feet.

There is still hope the parties can come to a solution that will not create a waterfront site that is dominated by the separate parking garage. It’s just much less likely now.

 

Commission approval meeting:


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Jeff Speck, “The Walkability Mandate” presentation at City Hall

If you were not able to attend Jeff Speck’s presentation back in November, you can watch it streaming. This is well worth your time. Go to about 1 hour 12 minutes in to start the public comment section.

Specific questions Jeff addresses:

– Street closures on Datura and Evernia Streets for All Aboard Florida station
– Parking garages and ways to make them more attractive, more comfortable for pedestrians walking in downtown
– “Megablocks” in the western part of downtown and why it is important to break the block length up
– Historic preservation
– Head out angle parking

Don’t forget: TUESDAY the 27th at 3 pm Jeff will presentation his downtown walkability study findings at the City Commission chambers. Open to the public

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Parking policy with Donald Shoup

Donald Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking” and UCLA planning professor, lectured in Delray Beach as part of the Delray Town Hall series. Of all the lectures, this was the one I was the most eager to attend for the combination of wonkiness and rockstar-like status Dr. Shoup has among his acolytes, who call themselves “Shoupistas“:

Parking policy seems the most boring of subjects, but Shoup makes it funny and interesting. It probably has more of an impact on the physical form of cities and neighborhoods than any other policy. Cities like Jacksonville devote so much land area to parking that there has been a “March Parking Madness” competition for several years from StreetsBlog to show the absurdity of mandated parking minimums and how they destroy the character and value of urban places. This is the tyranny of the planner at its worst, with overly bureaucratic requirements like requiring a nunnery to have 1 parking space per 10 nuns, and requiring parking lots that are 8 times larger than the building footprint. The area in green is lot area devoted to the building, and in red the parking requirement.

This kind of policy kills good urbanism and walkability, and turns the neighborhood into an ugly crater of parking lots.

Shoup argues for three specific policies to get parking right:
1. Price parking right, in accordance with supply and demand
2. Get rid of mandated parking minimums
3. Dedicate parking revenue generated to be spent in the district in which it is raised, rather than going to the general fund

Pricing parking right doesn’t necessarily mean increasing meter rates. In the best pure test of Shoup’s theory, SF Park, the average meter price actually declined. The objective is to price parking as low as possible and still have 1-2 open spaces available on every block. This means the right price for parking could be zero on certain blocks if ample parking is available on the block.
If curb parking is priced correctly in this manner, it will result in a higher turnover of short-term parkers and should bring in even more customers to downtown. If a block is under-occupied, the city should help out the adjacent merchants and lower the rate.

How do you know when parking is priced right? Shoup has a few suggestions. Try the “key test” in which you take your keys out and approach the driver’s side door. If you see drivers hit their brakes and try to beat each other to the space, you know people are cruising for parking on the block. Even easier — are there one or two open spaces on the block? You’re doing it right.

Government mandated parking minimums are one of the most harmful policies in existence for building walkable urban places. Mandated parking causes buildings to spread out, and creates a positive feedback loop in which lowered walkability leads to more car use, which leads to more demand for parking and less walkability. Parking minimums make it next to impossible to build the small increment of main street USA, as developers have to spread their hard costs over many units to achieve economies of scale. This leads to massive developments that assemble lots and develop entire city blocks at once. Parking minimums make housing more expensive, as the cost to provide parking falls upon the end user and a structured parking space costs around $15-$20 thousand per space. Lower income people disproportionately do not own cars. Subsidizing parking does not help these people.
If your downtown is a place where it’s “easy to park, but not worth arriving at” (credit to Jeff Speck), what have you really achieved? Downtowns do not compete with strip malls or Gardens Mall on ample free parking. We’ll always lose that battle. Instead, we must focus on our core strengths — exceptional placemaking and vibrant street life. This is a vital issue that is crucial we get right, so that we don’t end up degrading our waterfront by putting parking before people.

The key to parking reforms has been to show how parking revenue can benefit the districts in which it is collected, rather than going into the general fund of the city. Residents feel parking revenues that go into the general fund are wasted, according to Shoup. On the other hand, the tangible benefits of ‘parking benefit districts’ have led to the revitalization of places like Old Pasadena, California. This money can be used for public benefits such as street trees, trolley expansion, and public art.

What could this money be used for here in West Palm Beach?

 

 

 

 


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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.

Downtown WPB parking garage getting a colorful makeover

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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