Walkable West Palm Beach


Traffic, Traffic, and More Traffic

Tim Hullihan is an architect and writer living in North Palm Beach. If you’re interested in the State Road 7 debate, Grassy Waters Preserve, Browardization…read on. The issues at hand will have more impact on the development of our county than perhaps any other current issue.


Traffic, Traffic, and More Traffic

By Timothy Hullihan

Much has been written and debated publicly about the proposed State Road 7 extension north to Northlake Boulevard. The debate pits the rural residents of northwest Palm Beach County against a gated golf community, so there’s enough demographic polarization to keep the discussion lively and interesting. Yet, both camps would be wise to join forces against looming developments that will make the State Road 7 project seem like a bike path by comparison.

I had the opportunity to sit down with County Engineer, George Webb, to discuss the traffic implications of 2 large developments planned in, and around, the western communities of Northern Palm Beach County that are approximately the same size as Minto West, approved earlier this year. GL Homes, and Avenir together would bring roughly 22,000 new residents to this rural part of the county on top of the approximately 14,000 already approved at Minto West. From just a traffic planning perspective, the facts are disturbing on many levels.

The relatively small number of people that chose the tranquility of pinelands and dirt roads dozens of years ago say the State Road 7 extension is an overdue reliever road, and it cannot be built soon enough. Yet, they may not realize that when it comes to estimating the additional traffic on existing roadways from these 2 huge developments, the reliever road they crave is already being used to justify and soften their stated impact.

The Ibis Community says the road project will threaten the environmentally sensitive lands to their east, and they have a powerful ally in the City of West Palm Beach because that sensitive land happens to be an important part of the city’s water supply. They may not realize, however, that a 12-lane wide Northlake Boulevard through the heart of the Grassy Waters Preserve is a far greater threat to not only the water within these pristine wetlands, but to life as we know it in Northern Palm Beach County.

The State Road 7 debate is a distraction that is dividing 2 communities that have a much larger common enemy they must fight together.

Below is a map that shows the needed road improvements that the county’s traffic engineers have concluded will be needed to maintain the established minimum level of service on the effected roadways when the 109,000 daily trips from Avenir and GL Homes are added to Minto’s projected trips and then inserted into these presently rural western enclaves. The map is a combination of the separate traffic studies prepared by each developer.

traffic map 2

Click image for larger version

The realities are head-spinning. Northlake Boulevard west of Ibis presently accommodates approximately 28,400 trips per day. That grows to 109,000 daily trips, or a 384% increase in traffic, if these developments are approved. East of Ibis, these 109,000 trips combine with the existing trips generated by Ibis and a staggering projection for the future of Northlake Boulevard to the east plays out. Twelve lanes through the Grassy Waters Preserve lead to massive flyovers at the Beeline Highway and Military Trail (marked with blue dots and called “urban interchanges” in the PBC Traffic Map above).

Though the 12-lanes through the Grassy Waters Preserve is the most shocking, especially since there is no practical way to implement this, the impacts of these proposed developments are more far reaching. As the engineering map shows, there’s a 12-lane section needed on Southern Boulevard; 10-lanes on the Beeline Highway; 10-lanes on Okeechobee Boulevard with a flyover at State Road 7; 6-lanes at PGA Boulevard and Indiantown Road west of the Turnpike; and much more.

Probably the most interesting thing I learn from Mr. Webb is that none of these improvements have to be put in-place by the developers of the projects. They simply have to contribute their “proportional share” of the estimated funds needed to make all of the projected roadway improvements their projects will make painfully necessary down the road.

One of the results of the dismantling of the State Department of Community Affairs to make us a more developer-friendly State was the removal of the logical connection between development and the needed improvements to transportation systems they cause. Our State leaders saw this as too onerous on land developers and too restrictive to population growth, job-creation and tax revenues we are entirely too focused on. Although developments and their associated roadway improvements were joined for decades, today a developer just has to write a check for his estimated share of a hypothetical set of roadway improvements that may or may not ever get constructed. Worse, the higher first-costs of developing alternative means of transportation are not even considered in the calculations, even though they will have to be a considered where Grassy Waters meets Northlake Boulevard. There simply isn’t enough land within the existing right-of-way to build 12-lanes of traffic, unless it is expanded horrifically deep into the scenic preserve.

So, please, turn your attention away from the State Road 7 sideshow, and become aware of a much greater, and more imminent set of problems. Minto West is already approved. Avenir and GL Homes will be seeking approval in the coming months. If approved, and since nobody in power is talking about alternative transportation methods, we the people will have 2 regrettable car-centered choices. Either build a massively expansive system of roadways at the expense of much of the remaining scenic beauty of our county (and any hope of a smarter transportation network), or get used to roadway congestion and spending a lot of time in our cars.

Source: Traffic, Traffic, and More Traffic

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Palm Beach County growth, 1984-2012 – Google Earth Engine

Look at this very revealing time lapse satellite imagery of Palm Beach County, courtesy of Google Earth engine. Click on an image to view the timelapse photos.

Timelapse satellite imagery

Timelapse satellite imagery: 1984 start

2012 from Google Earth timelapse












“Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism” book talk Thursday, April 17th

Months ago, I received a phonecall from Ben Ross to learn about his forthcoming book, “Dead End”, and to help schedule a book talk in West Palm Beach. Anyone interested in the issues we raise on the blog will find this talk fascinating I’m sure. Most interesting is the focus on the sociological aspects of sprawl and the way in which  ‘keeping up with the Joneses” has perpetuated sprawl. From the Better Cities and Towns review:

Consider this: Nearly every detail of sprawl is a status marker — from the finegrained separation of price points, to the segregation of rental apartments in remote pods, to the “lawyer foyers,” to the wide and mostly useless front lawns. These markers are important to the self-worth of tens of millions of affluent Americans…The old American Dream of keeping up with the Joneses built the suburbs. The new one could rebuild our cities, towns, and neighborhoods and revitalize the suburbs for our children.

Please repost this and get the word out to all who may be interested in this topic. Reminder: All such events are posted on the Walkable West Palm Beach Google calendar feed.

From the publisher:

Dead End traces how the ideal of a safe, green, orderly retreat where hardworking members of the middle class could raise their children away from the city mutated into the McMansion- and strip mall-ridden suburbs of today. Benjamin Ross finds that sprawl is much more than bad architecture and sloppy planning. Its roots are historical, sociological and economic.
“Ben Ross’ Dead End is a highly personal account of a larger journey that we are embarked on as a nation — from sprawl to walkable communities, from anoxic, sterile neighborhoods to vibrant, transit-served urban areas that are the wellspring of innovation, economic development and cultural richness.”
     –John Porcari, Former Deputy Secretary, United States Department of Transportation

“Ben Ross paints the big picture of the battle between sprawl and community from the historic perspective, to the current conflicts to a vision of better land use process. Always focused on the human perspective with subjects as diverse as Jane Jacobs and Pete Seeger to Snob Zoning and Agenda 21, Dead End is an exciting, easy read.”
     –Parris Glendening, President, Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, and former Governor of Maryland (1995-2003)

Thursday, April 17, 5:30 pm


330 Clematis Street, Suite 117, West Palm Beach

Ross Event Invite West Palm Beach

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So, I was watching HGTV …

Cape Coral, Florida. Not a place I intend on visiting anytime soon.