Walkable West Palm Beach


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Watch out, ‘jaywalking’ Sunfest patrons!

Earlier today, I alerted the community to the fact that police officers were issuing citations warnings to Sunfest patrons crossing at Quadrille and Clematis Street. For now, it appears that this enforcement activity has stopped.

[Clarification: Fines were not issued today. However, Bob Katzen, downtown neighbor and friend, was stopped by an officer and asked for ID. His information was taken by an officer. An officer stated they would issue warnings today and fines in the coming days. The officer was not approachable and did not wish to engage in conversation with Bob about the law, at one point threatening jail.]

The very term ‘jaywalking‘ deserves its own scorn, as I’ve written about in the past, as do pedestrian enforcement campaigns.  But in this post, I want to focus on the reasons why people cross against the signal and how conditions could easily be improved for pedestrians by implementing Jeff Speck’s recommendations from nearly two years ago.

Anyone standing at this intersection for a few minutes will see people crossing against the light. I do it. City officials do it. Everyone does it. But as it stands, this intersection is prioritized to move cars. Meanwhile, Clematis Street has been transformed into a superb people-centered environment by prioritizing people. Clematis was recently recognized as one of the best main streets in the United States. Taming cars along its length is one of the main factors that led to its resurgence.

Here’s the problem: A main street that invites people on foot to shop, stroll, and dine is combined with an intersection crossing that makes crossing the street a long, boring wait in the scorching sun. What would you do in this environment?

Here is what Jeff Speck had to say about the Quadrille and Clematis intersection in the Walkability Study.

 In terms of its crossings, the highest priority to improving Quadrille is to create more pedestrian-friendly crossings and signalization regimes at Clematis and Fern. At Fern, this improvement would include reshaped corners with a curb radius of perhaps 20 feet, rather than the current 50. Because it is a State Highway, removing the pushbutton requests will be difficult, but the City must fight for pushbuttons that actually activate the crossing signal, rather than merely lengthening the crossing time after a too-long wait.

As already discussed under A Safe Walk, the current signalization regime in place in much of the downtown is not a type that is found in any city that is known for welcoming pedestrians. From a national best practices perspective, it is truly substandard. Unfortunately, changing the current regime requires cooperation from Palm Beach County, which controls it. It is hoped that the evidence already provided will convince the County to recognize downtown West Palm Beach as the exceptional environment that it is, and allow it to implement the signal removal recommendations above, as well as the following comprehensive changes:
• Remove pushbuttons from all signals except those along Okeechobee and Flagler,
where longer crossing times are needed due to excess width. In those locations,
working with FDOT, allow the pushbutton request to preempt the signal cycle, so
that pedestrians are not led to believe that the buttons are broken.
• Implement simple concurrent crossing signals at all intersections, such that the
pedestrian is given the walk signal at the same time as vehicles heading in the
same direction. Use Lead Pedestrian Indicators (LPIs) at intersections with high
pedestrian volume, such as Rosemary & Okeechobee, Clematis & Quadrille,
Fern & Flagler, and Lakeview & Flagler.
• Working with FDOT as necessary, shorten signal cycles to a target length of 60
seconds for the entire cycle at all signalized intersections.

This is really simple stuff and it will make a major improvement. Fixing the signal timing, adding leading pedestrian indicators (LPIs), and ideally, getting rid of pushbuttons so we get an automatic walk signal at the light would be a long way toward prioritizing people at this crossing. It’s been two years since the Speck walkability study was published recommending these changes. The city and the DDA are fully behind it. The county is responsible for signal changes downtown, so the change needs to come from the county.

If you received a citation or are just frustrated by crossing at this unsafe intersection, let’s focus on a productive outcome by addressing the root of the problem: the intersection signalization, which is the responsibility of the county. Email the county commissioners and public officials involved at the links below and copy the city.

County
BCC-AllCommissioners@pbcgov.org
ENG-ActionCenter@pbcgov.org

City
jmuoio@wpb.org

 

 

 


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Crosswalks coming back to Clematis Street

In 2013, pedestrian improvements were made to Quadrille Boulevard, the result of a grant the city secured in 2008. The pedestrian improvements included connecting missing sidewalks along the western flank, planting shade trees, and creating enhanced visibility crosswalks in stamped asphalt. Compared with the previous conditions, this was a significant improvement.

 

Photo: aGuyonClematis.com

Photo: aGuyonClematis.com

 

It took significant staff time to secure this grant, I imagine. The grant money was awarded in 2008 and the project wasn’t completed until 2013. Subsequently, FDOT resurfaced Quadrille Boulevard and removed the crosswalks as part of its resurfacing. Here is what the Quadrille and Clematis intersection looks like today.

IMG_5097

 

 

The good news: According to city staff, the colored, stamped asphalt crosswalks will be back. The current condition is temporary and within a few months, the faux-brick crosswalks will be reinstalled, exactly like those in the first photo above.

These crosswalks took five years to be installed from the awarding of the grant to installation. This doesn’t include time that may have been spent to win the grant itself. If we want to build a stronger West Palm Beach, grants have a place, especially on state roadways such as Quadrille Boulevard. But being dependent on outside money to get projects done is a recipe for underwhelming projects that do not deliver the full spectrum of benefits, are not well maintained, and take a long time to complete. Let’s bear this in mind as the city moves ahead on efforts to create a more livable and more walkable West Palm Beach.


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Overzoning in downtown West Palm Beach

Last night’s Downtown Action Committee (DAC) meeting approved One West Palm, a massive mixed use project sited at 550 Quadrille Boulevard.

The size of the site is over 3 acres and has been through multiple plans through the years, including a transfer of development rights (TDR) at some point which are still able to be utilized on the property. A prior site plan approval has expired and the new plan by developer Jeff Greene was made possible by a rewriting of the Downtown Master Plan that allows for large increases in height and development capacity for class A hotel or class A office space at select sites along the eastern side of Quadrille Boulevard. Renowned architecture firm Arquitectonica is handling the design.

On the market for downtown land

This project fills a long vacant tract of land and will serve as an anchor to the north end of downtown. New class A office space, long talked about by economic development types in the county, may finally come to downtown West Palm Beach. This project will rightfully be touted as a locus of economic activity and jobs, as well as a substantial contributor to the property tax rolls. If it gets built.

My concern is that in the quest for landing these big projects, we are undermining the many smaller development opportunities that could take place in downtown West Palm Beach. Land prices in downtown simply will not support anything other than a project of this size along this corridor.  Because land prices have been driven so high by upzoning, in order for the numbers to pencil, massive projects that utilize high rise construction are the only types of projects that work in most of downtown. Form follows entitlements, and so much of downtown is overzoned that building anything without major institutional capital (or a Jeff Greene) is going to be impossible.

Additionally, the market can only absorb so much office/hotel/apartment supply. A few lucky landowners strike it rich by getting their land upzoned from 10 to 30 stories, absorbing most of the demand for these uses in a couple large projects. Meanwhile, a large amount of vacant parcels languish for years or even decades. See map below depicting the large amount of developable land in downtown.

 

Dark and light grey represent redevelopable land -- parking lots and vacant land

Dark and light grey represent redevelopable land — parking lots and vacant land

What is the effect of upzoning actions on real estate development downtown?

Arbitrary upzoning actions introduce uncertainty and speculation. The original intent of the Downtown Master Plan and the DAC was to make the development process more apolitical so there is a predictable environment in which to develop (see excellent video at end of post, presented at CNU20).

If an investor owns a parcel of land that is currently entitled to build to 10 stories at a 2.5 FAR, now the precedent has been set that you need only hold your land for a number of years and lobby for an upzoning to make a large capital gain. As more landowners engage in speculation, the opportunity costs to the city of land that could have been developed rises. This means foregone value: Foregone property taxes, foregone urbanism. Rather than new building supply taking the form of a range of building types and ages over time, only the most capital intensive and massive projects are built in a boom and bust cycle.

I hope this project gets built. It does a lot of things well, and large office towers are an important part of any urban center. The site makes sense for a use such as this. But it’s important that development of this intensity be planned in a predictable fashion, for all the reasons previously mentioned.

In our quest for chasing after the dollar bills, so to speak, of real estate development, let’s not forget about the many nickels and dimes we may be foregoing in the process.

Palm Beach Post story: City OKs One West Palm, perhaps biggest project in its history

 

 

 

 


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Office, hotel, bank proposed on Quadrille and Gardenia site

Development news: Office, hotel, bank are envisioned at mixed-use site at corner of Quadrille and Gardenia

The project, currently called “The Cosmopolitan”, is in early approval stages and still must go before the Downtown Action Committee for approval. The site, zoned Quadrille Garden District 10(30), is part of a recently created subdistrict which allows for additional development capacity and height if certain conditions are met, as well as the possibility of being granted reduced or free city-owned transfers of development rights (TDRs). The proposal calls for 206 hotel rooms and over 110,000 square feet of office use, as well as just under 5,000 square feet for a bank.

 

2015-11-04 21_39_39-15-818US_CosmopolitanWPB_SitePlanApproval_2015-09-16.pdf - Adobe AcrobatCurrent buildings on the development site include Eaton Fine Art and Russo’s Subs, which must be demolished to make way for the project. Occupying the southeast corner of the block, Vital Printing is not on the current set of plans, but we’ve heard this may be changing and the developer will likely assemble the entire half block.

 

Street view of corner of Quadrille and Gardenia:

 


At this stage, I would encourage interested citizens and advocates to pay particular attention to the ground floor details of the current plans. Be aware, these plans are preliminary and could change substantially. As we learn more, we’ll consider the design of this project from a walkability and public realm standpoint and provide opinion. To see details of ground level site plan, click image below.

 

Renderings of the project are below.

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Quadrille Boulevard resurfacing project update: Quadrille highway geometry to remain unchanged

FDOT is holding an informational open house about the forthcoming Quadrille Boulevard resurfacing project. See details below.

Walkable West Palm Beach advocated for a more thoughtful design, in a series of blog posts and a detailed letter to FDOT. It is disappointing to learn that by all indications, the City did not take these ideas seriously and did not pursue a five to three road diet, as we desired.

Unfortunately, Quadrille Boulevard will remain a NASCAR racetrack that cuts off the significant residential population and new business investment on the north end from the rest of downtown. A five to three road diet could have done much to make Quadrille safer and less daunting to cross, as well as add bicycle facilities. Instead, it appears we’re getting the standard fare from FDOT: Suicide lane sharrows, buffered bike lanes. Buffered bike lanes are a modest improvement, but what good are they if they do not connect to any integrated network and vanish after a couple of blocks?

Here’s the meeting invitation in case you’re interested.

 

FDOT (1)

 

 

FDOT Open House for Quadrille Blvd Project, Clematis to Dixie

Thursday, November 5th, 4pm to 6pm

West Palm Beach City Hall, Flagler Gallery

 

Scope of Work:

Milling and resurfacing

ADA Upgrades

New Vehicle Detection Systems

Bus bay removal

Buffered bike lanes

Signing and striping

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s the clear zone? And why you should care.

Clear zones in urban areas are an example of misapplying highway standards to urban streets.  High speed roads serve an important purpose: Connecting point A and point B quickly and safely. In this environment, it is desirable to forgive the mistakes of drivers by providing a clear zone which allows a recovery area in which to avoid a collision at speed.

The problem arises when this tactic is misapplied on urban streets. On an urban street, we welcome people on foot, on bike, skateboard, Segway, baby strollers…You name it. It’s a complex environment and its purpose is economic exchange and social interaction (to name a few of many purposes), not merely moving cars, which is secondary. James Howard Kunstler provides perhaps the best definition of what an urban street is at its best in his classic and provocative TED talk:

The public realm in America has two roles: it is the dwelling place of our civilization and our civic life, and it is the physical manifestation of the common good. And when you degrade the public realm, you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life and the character of all the enactments of your public life and communal life that take place there.

The building blocks of our public realm – streets, squares, plazas, parks – depend upon civilized behavior by all participants in order for civilization to flourish. In this environment, cars need to move slowly, not just for safety of the people not in cars, but in order for community itself to be able to flourish. Imagine some of your favorite public spaces: A square in Savannah. Duval Street in Key West. Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. Central Park. What’s common about all these places? Cars are secondary to people – the dominant species in these environments are the people walking, talking, and playing – and cars are welcome too as long as they behave.

The misapplication of clear zones to urban streets, boulevards, and avenues (and yes, those words mean something rather different than modern traffic engineers would have you believe) leads to degradation of our urban spaces: Chopping down trees in the right of way for purposes of line of sight (such as the row of oaks featured in this blog post), removing ‘fixed hazardous objects’ (FHOs, they’re called in traffic engineer parlance) such as benches and street lights. While this approach makes complete sense in a high speed interstate or highway environment, it is disastrous in our neighborhoods, where we want people and slow speeds.

More from Andy Boenau of the excellent podcast Urbanism Speakeasy and the producer behind Walk Lobby. Andy is a Civil Engineer and AICP planner working to make streets appropriately designed for people. Andy produced this funny video to explain clear zones to the average Joe.

#SlowTheCars #SlowStreets

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City and County share mutual interests in Quadrille Boulevard resurfacing near Courthouse

Lots of news to report on Quadrille Boulevard. First, FDOT responded to WalkableWPB’s design suggestions with an update on their new design. For the section from Clematis to 3rd, FDOT is now proposing conventional bike lanes with a door zone buffer. WalkableWPB cycle track idea was considered too innovative to be used by FDOT at this time. FDOT stated that they want to wait for FHWA to complete a study on cycle tracks. For the 3rd to Dixie section, FDOT is proposing to paint sharrows. The letter from FDOT was silent on our suggestion to reduce the five lane section from 3rd to Dixie from five to three lanes [FDOT Response letter to Citizens Request]

It was also timely that the Palm Beach Post reported that County Administrator Bob Weisman, citing security concerns, requested that FDOT remove the parallel parking on the courthouse side of the road and replace the parallel parking on the other side of the road with angled parking. In his letter to FDOT, Mr. Weisman is also supportive of a midblock pedestrian crossing to the Courthouse based on staff recommendation:

“… County Staff recommended that all parking be provided on the west side of Quadrille Boulevard in an angled configuration and accompanied by a mid-block pedestrian crossing to the Courthouse.”

Although I‘m somewhat skeptical of the security benefits of eliminating on-street parking in front of the courthouse, there are positive aspects to this proposal and we see merit in Mr. Weisman’s suggestions. The County’s concept would look something like this, with headout angled parking shown since the parking will face a bike lane:

quadrille-angled-parking-one-side
This could provide an opportunity for the County and the City of West Palm Beach to work together to make Quadrille less daunting to cross and safer for the many people frequenting the courthouse, while providing on-street parking yield equal to or greater than what is currently being provided on this block. A proper midblock pedestrian crossing is a great idea if implemented properly (think some combination of raised curb level crosswalk, bulb-out, lighted crosswalk).  In the sometimes strained relationship between the county and city, this opportunity for détente should be welcomed and seized upon. In upcoming posts, we will explore the design of this block further.

Another option, if parallel parking were to be eliminated in front of the courthouse, is to continue a three lane section all the way to Dixie with this section:

quadrille-parking-access-road

The separate access road in the above section is needed since FDOT likes wider travel lanes in curves and is not supportive of on-street parking maneuvers in the Quadrille curve.  Apparently, they have never been to Galena, Illinois:


Main Street - Galena Illinois

Main Street – Galena Illinois

or to Jensen Beach, Florida:

Pineapple Avenue - Jensen Beach Florida

Pineapple Avenue – Jensen Beach Florida

The elephant in the room is why does Quadrille need five lanes from 3rd to Dixie? There is nothing magical that makes traffic increase in the 3rd to Dixie section. There is probably a need for additional lanes at the Dixie intersection, but it doesn’t make sense to have a five lane section going into a three lane section and with the upcoming change of the Flagler / Flagler Bridge intersection from a partial grade separated intersection to a full at grade intersection we might see less traffic on Quadrille. The most critical decision for the Quadrille project is if the five lane section can be reduced to three lanes?

The question then becomes what to do with the other two lanes of excess pavement. Bike facilities and on-street parking both compete for the two unneeded lanes. As the decision is made on how to allocate this space we must guard against the myopic corridor level complete streets approach that typifies highway projects in urban environments.  With this approach you often end up with a project that checks off every transportation mode on the checklist, but doesn’t make a great street. The Jeff Speck Walkability study proposed to increase parking on Quadrille without providing bike facilities. Bike facilities were to be provided via a two way cycle track on Flagler. Unfortunately, Jeff’s idea isn’t feasible due to FDOT restricting on-street parking in the Quadrille curve. Bold ideas such as doubling down on parking or only providing parking on side of the road with a cycle track need to be considered.

Here is hoping that in the New Year everyone takes a step back and begins a dialogue on what we want Quadrille to be. The Quadrille project has the potential to be so much more than a simple resurfacing project. There is the potential to make low cost changes that will make a significant improvement in the quality of life of West Palm Beach and mark the beginning of a productive new relationship between the City and County.