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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Can we spare five seconds to save a life?

In downtown West Palm Beach, condominium residents cross Lakeview Avenue, a large urban arterial, every day. So do students attending nearby Palm Beach Atlantic University. Here is what the intersection looks like at street level. The two lanes of traffic on Olive Avenue head northbound with the westernmost lane a left turn lane/straight through lane.

 

I recorded a short video to show what the crossing is like. Once the light turns green, the pedestrian gets a short walk signal. It’s hard to replicate the uneasy feeling you get crossing this road, knowing that just behind you are impatient drivers at the intersection, just waiting to gun it when the light turns green. Many of these drivers make a left turn, and when they do, they turn directly into your walking path from behind you, where you cannot see the car coming.

 

 

From the reports I’ve read, this was the situation at this intersection when a resident of One City Plaza suffered injuries while crossing northbound across Lakeview Avenue. Sadly, his dog was killed in the crash. WPEC covered the story.

Consider that the entire roadway is dominated by cars on Lakeview. That little strip of crosswalk where pedestrians are expected to cross amounts to a very, very small amount of the roadway area. Crosswalks are better than nothing in this environment, but there is no denying the car dominated nature of this roadway. It carries a lot of cars. But the most vulnerable users are those on foot, for whom a collision with a car would mean much more serious impacts than a bumper scratch.

 

 

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Typical road situation (Source: Greater Greater Washington)

 

Is it too much to ask that pedestrian safety is prioritized in the small space given to pedestrians for crossing the road?

What can be done?

Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) are a proven safety mechanism for giving people more time to “claim” the intersection before cars begin to make left turn movements. The added time can be anywhere from 3 seconds to 15 seconds or more, depending on the conditions. LPIs make the pedestrian visible to the turning motorist, making conditions far less dangerous, and giving pedestrians some sense of comfort and safety.

Here is a good overview of how LPIs work from StreetFilms.

Reshaping the curb radius to something much tighter would also help. This would have the effect of slowing the speed of cars through the turn and making pedestrians more visible. Below is an elaborate rendering of what this might look like.

 

801_S_Olive_Ave_-_Google_Maps v2.png

 

This intersection needs to be made safer for people on foot, now. Retiming lights to put in Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) is an easy, cheap, fast fix. It can be done on other arterials in downtown (the Convention Center/CityPlace comes to mind). Waiting will increase the chances of another crash happening, and the consequences may be even worse next time, especially as pedestrian traffic increases in our downtown. It’s good to see our local leaders at the Tourist Development Council getting rightly concerned about safety issues along Okeechobee Boulevard. Now it’s time to take action.

Can we spare five seconds?

If you’re interested in helping to make this change, please reply below. Thanks.


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Road improvements? No, road impairments

Mixing high speed traffic and people on foot or bikes is a recipe for disaster. The findings of a Palm Beach MPO study bear this out, showing the extraordinarily dangerous nature of the county’s arterial road network. Below is a map showing the hot spots identified. Thanks to Wes Blackman for reporting on this MPO meeting and recording it. [links to Wes’ blog and video recording of meeting here]

“Very similar intersections. Very similar land uses. Unfortunately, very similar outcomes.” –  consultant speaking  regarding Military Trail/Okeechobee intersection and Military Trail/Forest Hill intersection

 

The map is revealing, but it’s not surprising to readers of this blog. Discussions about road safety tend to focus on band-aid fixes but gloss over the more fundamental issue at hand. What’s not often discussed is the nature of these dangerous roadways and their adjacent land development pattern. The common denominator?

 

They’re all stroads.

What’s a stroad? It’s a word coined by Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn to describe what he calls “The futon of transportation options”, in that it neither moves cars quickly and safely from point A to B (a road) nor does it provide an enjoyable human habitat for people to gather and enjoy life in public space (a street). When you put lots of people in a complex environment with cars moving fast, you get lots of crashes. Here is a video explaining what a stroad is. Stroads are low tax productivity yielding, high crash inducing, human meat grinders of junk infrastructure. No matter where you’re from, think of the ugliest, most generic road in town and it’s probably a stroad. With the exception of a couple blocks of urban Atlantic Avenue, where the sheer number of people walking are likely responsible for a spike in the numbers, every one of the segments identified is a stroad in varying degrees.

 

 

Palm Beach County is full of stroads and they’re difficult to deal with. These problems can’t all be put on the traffic engineers either because adjacent land uses have a lot to do with the stroadification of our county; it’s not just about the road’s geometry but what it is adjacent to. Look at Indiantown Road as a good example, a stroad-in-progress. It’s the result of many small decisions to diminish its efficacy as a road over time. Add a turn lane here, a traffic signal there. The new subdivision demands another light 500 feet away. Before you know it, cars are stopping, switching lanes, and turning so often that the road’s effectiveness as a high speed connection between two places is severely compromised. All these movements and differences in speeds make it a dangerous environment for everyone involved: drivers, bicyclists, people walking. And all these intensified land uses (yet low tax yielding) around it generate more traffic of various modes and more crashes. Since stroads aren’t streets and don’t operate at slow speed as streets do, crashes are very serious when they happen.

All this new car-oriented development along a stroad necessitates lots of turn pockets and traffic signals in order to access the strip malls and subdivisions that flourish in a car-only environment. With each new development, more degradation of the road takes places. Over time, it becomes more like Okeechobee Boulevard, with so much stop-and-go and traffic lights that it takes 15 minutes to drive 3 miles.

Changes to the roadway design are often said to be “improvements” or “upgrades”, but the question must be asked: Improvements for whom? A new traffic signal for Wal-Mart is a great advantage for Wal-Mart, but doesn’t serve people trying to get from point A to point B quickly; for those people, it is an impairment to the functioning of the road rather than an improvement.

At the next public meeting when the traffic engineer suggests a “road improvement”, ask that it be called a “road impairment” instead.

Many of these stroads were created over time in a process of degradation, from road to stroad. I’m reminded of an image posted on the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page, depicting Congress Avenue in 1964. Notice the simple geometry and lack of signals, driveways, turn pockets, etc. It used to work as a road before it got ‘stroadified’ into the monstrosity that it is today, mucked up by all the subdivisions and forgettable strip malls that line it today. You can’t get anywhere fast driving on Congress Avenue, but nor can you walk along it without fearing for your life.

Congress and Hypoluxo, 1964

Congress and Hypoluxo as it looks today.

The best of the worst

stroad-diagramOver time, an environment is created that was never designed to safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists and never will.  The best that can be done now with many of these crash hot spots is to slap some special “countermeasures” in the road design to try and make matters a little less intolerable. It’s not an easy job, but it’s important to do what we can to make conditions a little safer for the vulnerable populations that tend to be victims of these poorly designed environments. All that can be done is to try to make it the best of the worst at this stage.

 

Let’s make these dangerous stroads a little less dangerous where we can. But most importantly, let’s stop building them in the first place. Rather than an inexorable decline, let’s build town centers and neighborhoods with great streets and keep our roads functioning as connections between these great places.


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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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Florida pedestrian related traffic laws

Confusion exists concerning the pedestrian related traffic laws in Florida. The clearest explanation I have come across is this article from iYield4Peds, an Orlando based organization working to improve that city’s horrific pedestrian fatality numbers. It centers its efforts around three areas – Education, Enforcement, and Engineering.

A number of commonly held beliefs about pedestrian traffic laws are incorrect. For example, there is no such thing as jaywalking in the law. Some actions may be illegal, such as crossing midblock between two signalized intersections, but crossing midblock at most locations is not illegal, even without a marked crosswalk. The pedestrian in this instance may be required to yield the right of way, but crossing is not illegal.

Crosswalks do not exist to demarcate the only places where it is legal for pedestrians to cross. They instead emphasize places where pedestrians may be expected to be crossing. They also indicate to drivers that this is a place where they have to yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing.

In future blog posts I will write about the reasons why laws and enforcement alone are insufficient to the goals of creating a people friendly, walkable neighborhood, and the importance of designing streets that support these goals.

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By Mighk Wilson, Smart Growth Planner for MetroPlan Orlando

How well do you know Florida’s pedestrian-related traffic laws?  If you’re like many folks you have some misconceptions.  Here are some little-known truths about pedestrian law. See how well you understand them.

There Is No “Jaywalking” Law

Jaywalking is not a legal term.  It is not found in Florida statutes and has no legal meaning. Jaywalking is a derogatory slang term coined in the early 1920s by automotive interests (only about 10 to 20 percent of street users at the time) during propaganda campaigns to get traffic laws changed in their favor.  Their strategy was to put the blame on pedestrians who continued to walk the streets in the way they had for centuries – crossing wherever and whenever they wished – before the automobile became popular.  A “jay” was someone from the country who didn’t understand “big city” ways. So a “jaywalker” was someone the city folks could poke fun at for being ignorant.  This is well-documented in the book Fighting Traffic by Peter Norton.

Some actions that people call jaywalking – such as crossing against a red light – are illegal. But crossing mid-block, which is also called jaywalking, is not illegal in most locations.

Every Street Has Sidewalks on Both Sides

Well, sort-of. The legal definition of a sidewalk is “that portion of a street between the curbline, or the lateral line, of a roadway and the adjacent property lines, intended for use by pedestrians.” So if there is no paved sidewalk, that strip of grass in the public right-of-way is still a sidewalk.  But it may not be a usable one for the pedestrian.  Tall grass, landscaping and other challenges could make it unusable.

The roadway is the portion of the public right-of-way intended for vehicles.  We all have the basic human right to walk in public spaces, so if we’re not intended to walk in the roadway, we must be intended to walk in the remaining space.

Drivers Must Yield to Pedestrians Who Are Legally In Crosswalks

Some people misunderstand the purpose and meaning of a crosswalk, believing it is the only place pedestrians arepermitted to cross the street. That is not the case. A crosswalk is where drivers are expected to yield (if possible) to pedestrians. Pedestrians may cross elsewhere, but outside a crosswalk, they are required to yield to vehicular traffic.

There Are Crosswalks on All Sides of Every Intersection

The crosswalk is defined as the continuation of the parallel lines of the sidewalk across the roadway, so since every street has sidewalks, every intersection has crosswalks.  The only exception is where a state or local government has explicitly closed a particular crosswalk, and a sign must be placed at such a crossing to indicate it is closed.  So this means if you are driving along a road and there is a cross-street, you must yield to any pedestrian in an unmarked crosswalk at that intersection, just as you would yield if the crosswalk was marked.  This is true even if you are not facing a stop sign or traffic signal.

The Pedestrian Does Not “Always Have the Right-of-Way”

No-one “has the right-of-way.”  The law only defines who is required to yield the right-of-way, or “give way.”

Pedestrians attempting to cross mid-block are required to yield right-of-way to vehicle drivers on the roadway.  Pedestrians at crosswalks at signalized intersections must yield if they face a red signal or steady Don’t Walk signal.

Drivers approaching crosswalks – either marked or unmarked – must yield to pedestrians who are legally in the crosswalk and approaching closely enough to be in conflict.  Drivers entering a public street from a private driveway must yield right-of-way to a pedestrian approaching on the sidewalk or roadway, just as one yields to other traffic.

Pedestrians cannot enter the crosswalk at any time they wish.  One cannot expect a driver to do the impossible, such as coming to a stop from 45 mph in 100 feet.  Pedestrians must give drivers adequate time and distance to react and stop.

If Another Vehicle Is Stopped Ahead of You at a Crosswalk…

… you are not permitted to pass!  Even if you are in another lane.  There may be a crossing pedestrian hidden behind that first vehicle.  You have to assume a pedestrian is there, and can only proceed once you are sure the crosswalk is clear.

Crossing Mid-Block Is Legal in Most Situations

The law says pedestrians may not cross “between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation.” So if you want to cross the street between intersections and both of the closest intersections have working traffic signals, then you may not cross, unless there is a marked crosswalk at that mid-block location.  If one of the closest intersections does not have a traffic signal, then you may cross, provided you yield to approaching vehicles.

The Flashing DON’T WALK Signal Does Not Mean You Can’t Be In the Crosswalk

It means you cannot enter the crosswalk.  If you are already in the crosswalk you can finish crossing.  The flashing DON’T WALK phase is timed so that you can make it all the way across at a normal adult walking pace – provided drivers are not cutting you off by turning across your path.  This is important for you drivers to know, too.  If the pedestrian is in the crosswalk and the DON’T WALK signal is flashing, you still have to yield!

How did you do?  How well do you think your friends, family members or co-workers would do?  If we don’t have a common understanding of the rules, how can we know what we or others should be doing to keep our friends and neighbors safe?

What likely has some of you nervous now is the idea of having to stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk with no stop sign or traffic signal along a high-speed arterial.  You may be thinking, “If I do that I’ll get rear-ended.” Braking gradually gives the drivers behind you more time to react, so the earlier you brake to yield to a pedestrian, the less chance there is of a rear-end collision.  As drivers on arterial and collector streets we have to be prepared to slow or stop at any time – for emergency vehicles, transit buses, school buses, animals, bicyclists, other motorists slowing to turn, and for many other situations.

Our first priority will be getting drivers to yield on lower speed streets and getting pedestrians to clearly communicate their intention to cross.  Over time, we can work on getting the same type of good behaviors on our higher speed roads.

Go here for the complete pedestrian-related Florida statutes.


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Jaywalking enforcement campaign misses the mark

Delray Beach Police department has issued over 1,000 warnings to jaywalkers, and is now ticketing them, under the guise of keeping us all safe.  WPTV has the story.

Atlantic Avenue, to set the stage for readers unfamiliar with this street, is one of the most successful main streets in the state. Two narrow lanes, parallel parking, and ample street trees canopy over the most successful section of the street and send the message ‘this is a place for people first.’ Cars move very slowly down “The Ave”, as it should be. I would guess the average speed of vehicles is about 10 – 15 mph. Pedestrians pack The Ave, strolling, shopping and dining. They come for the ambiance, the restaurants, and the people watching. It’s a great place, and its success is reflected in the commercial rents that top $60 – 70 per square foot.

As part of the silly “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow” (ATAT) FDOT campaign, the police department has apparently secured a state grant to pay for officers’ overtime pay. The police department has chosen to focus on the ‘jaywalkers’ (don’t even get me started on the term jaywalking, a term invented by organized motordom) crossing to and fro across Atlantic Avenue, issuing over 1,000 warnings and now fines of $64.50. Here is the marketing material from the ATAT website. Notice the list of  “Bicyclist Tips” and “Pedestrian Tips”. The underlying message: The streets do not belong to people – they are for cars.

What I find offensive about this campaign is the disregard for the urban environment in which it is taking place. Atlantic Avenue is a very rare thing indeed – a main street that has managed to not be overengineered to serve cars – and as Andres Duany has put it, if you can put together two to three blocks of good urbanism, you have a destination. That’s what Atlantic Avenue is and it is possible because of slow moving cars caused by a somewhat chaotic environment with lots of people, not in spite of it.

As if we hadn’t ceded enough public spaces to automobiles, in one of the most successful, people-centered places in the state, the enforcement effort is squarely put on people walking. Obey, or get ticketed. This campaign misses the mark. What it should be focusing on is the folks who are guests on this successful main street – the people behind the wheel of a steel box capable of generating a massive amount of force, so much so that as speeds approach 30 mph, the likelihood of a pedestrian surviving falls to about 50%. The person driving a vehicle, outfitted with airbags, seatbelts, and all manner of safety measures, is at very low risk of injury or death. The pedestrian on the other hand… They have every incentive to watch out for their own hide because to not do so could cost them their life. How about placing primary responsibility where it belongs – with the driver?

More importantly, though, FDOT needs to stop paying lip-service to pedestrians and bicyclists and get serious about letting cities design their places contextually.

Here are the questions we should ask:

  • The police department issued over 1,000 warnings to ‘jaywalkers’ in the past two months. How many tickets were issued to motorists?
  • What are the crash statistics on Atlantic Avenue between cars and pedestrians? Compared with the pedestrian traffic in this place, is it dangerous or relatively safe? Where are the most dangerous intersections in Delray Beach? (just a guess: Anywhere two stroads meet)
  • If there is a ‘problem’ with jaywalking, why is that the case? Where are people crossing frequently and why? Why hasn’t the city accommodated pedestrian preferences in those locations?
  • Who has more to lose in a collision – a car or a person walking? If a driver blows through a light on the Ave and hits a pedestrian, who gets hurt?

Throwing more enforcement money at the horrific pedestrian and bicyclist fatality problem in Florida is not the answer, even if the intention is good. It will take a serious rethinking of how we design our streets, not a public shaming campaign of so-called ‘jaywalkers’.

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  1. Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns wrote a fantastic piece, “Just Another Pedestrian Killed“, that I encourage everyone to read
  2. “Fighting Traffic” is a must read book if you haven’t picked it up yet. This lecture at CNU 20 was a great recap of the book which tells the story of organized motordom overtaking our streets.


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Palm Beach Post story: Hit and run crashes soar in Palm Beach County

It’s almost unfathomable. In the state of Florida, there are over 75,000 hit and run crashes yearly. And these crimes have nearly doubled since 2011 in Palm Beach County.

This excellent Palm Beach Post article tells the story of one such crime and its effects on the victim. Luckily, he lived to tell the tale, but many are not so fortunate.

Video interview with the crash victim: http://launch.newsinc.com/?type=VideoPlayer/Single&widgetId=1&trackingGroup=69016&siteSection=palmbeachpost_nws_loc_sty_pp&videoId=28419611

Thank you to Jorge Milan of the Palm Beach Post for covering this important story and highlighting the enhanced hit and run penalties that are in effect as of 2015. Media needs to continue to highlight these penalties anytime a hit and run story is covered.

A summary of the Aaron Cohen Law can be found here: http://www.aaroncohenlaw.org/a-summary-of-the-aaron-cohen-life-protection-act1

For a realtime account of the carnage pedestrians and bicyclists face on Florida roadways, be sure to follow @FLMassacre on Twitter.

Story below.

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Joseph LaRocca isn’t seeking eye-for-an-eye justice for the driver who fled the scene after slamming into his bicycle in Boynton Beach, leaving the 65-year-old man with a mangled left leg.

A little empathy would suffice.

LaRocca is part of an epidemic of hit-and-run crashes in Palm Beach County, the state and nation. In 2013, there were 6,128 crashes in Palm Beach County involving property damage, injuries or death in which the driver took off, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.That was nearly double the total of 3,381 hit-and-run crashes that took place in 2011.

While LaRocca didn’t suffer any serious injuries — a dislocated left knee cap that may require surgery — his case stands out for the sheer callousness of the offending driver.

LaRocca, who owns an orthopedic shoe store in Boynton Beach, said he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk Jan. 10 when he was struck by a car near the Savannah Lakes Apartments on Gateway Boulevard.

As he lay on the sidewalk with his left leg gruesomely bent in a 90-degree angle and wondering if he would ever walk again, LaRocca heard the man get out of his car.

“I thought he was coming to help me,” LaRocca said.

But the man had no such intentions. Instead, the driver got out of his vehicle cursing, picked up LaRocca’s bicycle and hurled it to the side before jumping back into his car and making a quick getaway.

Boynton Beach traffic homicide investigators have identified a “person of interest” in the case but declined to provide further information because the investigation is ongoing, a police spokeswoman said.

“It was like I was a piece of garbage that was in the way,” LaRocca said. “I’d like for him to be held accountable. It would be very nice if he could take some courses in compassion. It’s like, really? How does somebody do that?’”

A deadly stretch in the county

The past three months have been particularly deadly in Palm Beach County thanks to hit-and-run drivers:

– Arnold Metellus, a 59-year-old Road Ranger, was killed Oct. 26 while standing next to the driver’s side door of a disabled vehicle on the east shoulder of northbound Interstate 95 south of Palmetto Park Road.

– Khiar Raymond, a 15-year-old student, was struck and killed while he and other teenagers walked back from a Boynton Beach High School basketball game on Dec. 2o.

– Jeffrey Collake, a 47-year-old homeless man, died New Year’s Day after he was hit by a vehicle while standing on the center median on Okeechobee Boulevard near the entrance to Florida’s Turnpike.

– Johnny H. Sanchez was killed Jan. 3 after a vehicle drove over him while Sanchez lay on Lake Worth Road.

The four deaths in three months are more than the total for 2013 when three people were killed by hit-and-run drivers within the county borders.

Karl Seifel has worked for the West Palm Beach Police Department for 29-plus years, including nearly 20 years as a traffic homicide investigator. Much has changed in that time but not the excuses people give for leaving the scenes of crashes.

“I’ve heard it all,” Seifel said. “Most of the time, it’s because they have a suspended license or they have an arrest warrant out for them or they don’t have a driver’s license or because they were drinking and driving. People panic.”

Often stupidly.

Seifel mentions a recent case in which a driver with a suspended license fled a crash caused by another driver, who was injured.

“Instead of just getting a ticket for driving with a suspended license, he’s now being charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries,” Seifel said. “He can possibly get up to five years in prison for that.”

Stiffer penalties this year

Seifel said his main objective when investigating a hit-and-run crash is to find witnesses who can put the fleeing driver behind the wheel. But even when caught red-handed, some individuals who run from crashes will deny involvement no matter the evidence.

Take Anthony Halpin of West Palm Beach. Halpin is alleged to have been involved in two separate hit-and-run crashes on May 21. Witnesses saw the crashes and followed Halpin to his home. When a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy arrived, he found a pickup truck parked in the driveway with heavy front end damage and another’s vehicle rear bumper attached to the pickup’s front bumper. The deputy also was in possession of a head light found at one of the crash scenes that fit perfectly into a vacant space on the pickup’s left side.

Halpin denied being on the road at the time of the crashes and said he wasn’t aware of any damage to his pickup truck even though he is the only driver, according to an arrest report. When the deputy asked why he had found the pickup’s head light at the crash location, Halpin turned speechless. He then advised that deputy “that he will pay for the damages.”

“I asked him what damages and he wouldn’t answer me,” the deputy wrote in the report.

Halpin was arrested and faces charges of hit and run involving property damage and hit and run involving serious injury.

If either of Halpin’s crashes had resulted in a death, he would be looking at a mandatory minimum of four years in prison thanks to legislation — known as the Aaron Cohen law — passed last year in Tallahassee. The law also establishes that anyone convicted of leaving the scene of a crash involving injuries can have their driver’s license revoked for three years.

Law enforcement authorities said the law hasn’t impacted rising hit-and-run rates because most people are not aware of the beefed-up penalties.

“We can have all the laws that we want, but the word has to get around to make it effective,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, a longtime traffic safety advocate.

The driver who struck LaRocca, the Boynton Beach bicyclist, could also face enhanced charges under the Aaron Cohen law’s “Vulnerable Road User” provision, which pertains to hit-and-run victims riding bicycles, motorcycles, scooters or animals.

“I could understand if he was in a hurry, goosed the corner and hit me by accident,” LaRocca said. “But to throw my bike out of the way, curse and then take off is despicable. I’d like him to get an attack of conscious, come forward and admit he panicked.”