Walkable West Palm Beach


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Ramblas and other center of roadway configurations in the real world

The City is currently studying enhancements to North Broadway from 25th to 42nd St.. One idea that that has been proposed by the City is to convert the center of the road to a promenade / ramblas configuration with a multi-modal pathway and parking in the center. This post will provide precedents for this concept. In a follow up post we will explore some of the advantages of this configuration.

When we think of complete streets we usually think that parking and bike facilities are located on the outside of the street and cars have use of the middle of the street.  As shown in the below examples the middle of street can be used for things other than cars. Bikes, parking, cycle tracks, public plazas or any combination can be accommodated in the middle of the street.

Bicycles:

Tree lined multimodal path in the median of downtown Winter Garden, Fl:

Queens Plaza North, New York, New York

Streetfilms Queens Plaza

Sands St. in Brooklyn New York

Streetfilms Sands St.

Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC

Streetfilms Pennsyvania Ave. story with Gabe Klein

Sweden

Strandvägen Stockholm, Sweden

Erik Dahlbergsgatan Stockholm, Sweden

Bike and pedestrian

Place d’Anvers, Paris

Boulevard de Rochechouart, Paris

Allen Street New York, New York (recent project, street view has great before and after views)

Place making

Passeig del Born, Barcelona, Spain

Rambla de Catalunya Barcelona, Catalonia

Paseo del Prado, Havana, Cuba

Middle of the street used for parking

Clematis St. West Palm Beach

Clematis_PalmsHotel

Clematis Avenue, Looking West from the Palms Hotel State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/152572

Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster CA

Hollywood, Florida

 

 


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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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“Startup City” author Gabe Klein special guest at Palm Beach Tech this Thursday

Gabe Klein, former head of Chicago and DC departments of transportation, will be speaking tomorrow in downtown West Palm Beach at the Palm Beach Tech space on Datura Street. This Streetfilms interview is a good primer on his work, which runs the gamut from entrepreneur involved with Zipcar to revamping the D.C. parking system. If there’s a common thread, it’s  the iterative nature of project implementation. Gabe’s Streetsblog podcast made such an impression on me that I highlighted it on Walkable West Palm Beach when it ran. In his role at Chicago DOT and DC DOT, he had to solve challenges like “How do we build protected bike lanes when we have no budget?” He’s responsible for many of the advances in biking and walking in Chicago and DC in recent years that have led to a more attractive, safe, and livable city that is a platform for private investment.

This event is not to be missed and holds lots of lessons for how to realize the stronger, more livable city we’re all striving for.

Gabe Klein: Startup City Streetsblog interview

RSVP for the event

 


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Pedestrian bling is part of the problem, not the solution

FDOT tweeted this yesterday.

What’s wrong in this photo? Here are a couple observations.

  • Who is this crosswalk serving? Look at the adjacent land uses. Largely undeveloped other than a few intersecting low volume roadways. There are no visible sidewalks in the photo parallel to the right of way. And there shouldn’t be, because this road section is well designed for high speed car travel. And that’s a good thing. We get into trouble when we confuse roads and streets, which have very different objectives. This is a well designed road, designed for moving cars quickly from A to B. Putting “pedestrian bling” in the clear zone just confuses matters and creates truly dangerous obstacles for high speed vehicular travel
  • The “crosswalk” street name signage is cute, but completely ineffective in this environment. It’s human scale signage designed to be read at human speed (less than 20 mph), not in a car doing 50+ mph.
  • Push button and flashing pedestrian light complete with decorative pole. All the trappings of a safe street environment. None of the effectiveness, in practice.
  • The notion that we should expect cars to stop on a dime for a pedestrian in this environment is absurd. Six lanes, three in each direction, with speeds easily exceeding 50 mph just guessing from the road geometry.

Just as walkability advocates need to be rigorous about the places where walkability makes sense, we also need to be rigorous about places where it doesn’t make sense. FDOT, spare us the pedestrian bling and save your money on creating safer, better pedestrian infrastructure where it makes sense and will be used.

[h/t to Strong Towns for much of the inspiration of this post]

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“Trollgate” a reminder of bold actions taken to remake city

Did you know that the underside of the Royal Park Bridge is fit for a troll?

Frank Cerabino of the Palm Beach Post recounted an episode of West Palm Beach history that could be known as “Trollgate.”

Here’s the city livable transportation engineer at the time, Ian Lockwood, recalling the bridge design process with FDOT.

“I had to meet with the state people and I had a list of 10 things that I wanted, things like lower railings to make the sightseeing better,” Lockwood remembers. “And everything I wanted they said ‘No.’”

Hula's painting, "Clara". Photo: The Palm Beach Post

Photo: The Palm Beach Post

This story demonstrates the ‘people first’ values that were part of the West Palm Beach engineering department in the past.

At one time, we had a livable transportation engineer advocating for troll sculptures under bridges (can you imagine??), and creating amazing community assets in the form of the pedestrian/bike path underneath the Royal Park Bridge. Now our city engineering establishment is so timid that even going below 11′ width travel lanes in downtown is a very difficult sell to our city engineers.

In our recent history, a similar bike/ped pathway was not able to be built under the Flagler Bridge to the north, although it’s unclear to me why this could happen at the Royal Park Bridge and not the Flagler Bridge. The FDOT bridge intersection at Flagler doesn’t appear to have any elevated level of bike/pedestrian accommodations even though it is certain to be used by many people on foot and bike and is a crucial link in a waterfront bike/ped pathway.


“We don’t have any rules against it”

 

Unless we have city staff advocating for (and not just tolerating) more livable streets and walkable neighborhoods, how are we to realize these opportunities when they arise? You don’t even know they exist unless you’re on the front lines working for more livable streets, pushing for change and asking the right questions. The Flagler Bridge buffered bike lane is a tiny citizen victory, but larger victories require the credibility, knowledge, and support of city staff in order to make change happen, in collaboration with citizen advocates.

FDOT is hardly known for its nuance when it comes to neighborhoods and street design. How ironic if our own city staff, at one time almost revolutionary in remaking West Palm Beach as a place for people (see Exhibit A), were to cede the high ground to FDOT?

It shouldn’t be this way, especially at the city level, where we have much more design discretion. Safe, livable streets should be the default rather than the exception.

No troll superstitions necessary.

 

Exhibit A: WPB was revolutionary in remaking neighborhoods as places for people


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1996 Transportation Policy in West Palm Beach was revolutionary

I came across this memo posted on the U.S. Conference of Mayors website. It appears to have been written by the City Transportation Engineer at the time, Ian Lockwood. In the memo, he describes the philosophy behind the city transportation policy.

This is a fascinating piece of West Palm Beach history. There is no doubt this policy and the actions that ensued had a large part in the regeneration that happened in the the past several decades in the city. But the extent to which West Palm Beach was a leader in the arena of livable street design in 1996 only becomes apparent upon reading this document. There are elements of the policy that even now would be considered leading edge.

We need more engineers like this who will lead the change the citizens want to see, and less technicians who only know how to look up tables in a book and apply ‘copy and paste’ designs.

Here’s hoping West Palm Beach can see a second renaissance of this enlightened approach under Mayor Muoio’s administration.

CITY OF WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA
Mayor Graham

Meeting Community Objectives through Street Design and Adopting a Transportation Language Policy 

“Urban streets can be safe and friendly if and only if the streets are designed to physically and emotionally foster apt behavior by all their users. Conventional engineering theories be damned, the true test of success for urban streets is if a child pedestrian can independently get there from here safely and pleasantly. Unfortunately, most urban streets fail by design.”
-Mayor Graham

The City of West Palm Beach has adopted an innovative approach to transportation planning, with an emphasis on traffic calming. This has helped stabilize and revive the downtown and several older, challenged neighborhoods. The intent is to reestablish the quality of life and improve resident and visitor perception of the built environment, thereby reversing the negative trends associated with conventional transportation planning and automobile dominance.

The City of West Palm Beach’s Transportation Language Policy is intended to remove the biases inherent in the current transportation language. This change is consistent with the overall shift in the city’s planning and development philosophy as West Palm Beach works toward becoming a sustainable community. The policy creates a greater understanding of the stakeholders and true nature of projects, which allows for a more equitable and balanced prioritization of limited resources. Objective language is used for all correspondences, resolutions, ordinances, plans, meetings, and when updating past work.

Community Objectives through Street Design

When one hears the words “traffic calming,” three ideas typically spring to mind:

1) slowing down motor vehicles; 2) reducing collision rates and severity; and, in some cases, 3) reducing the volume of drivers cutting through sensitive areas. 

In West Palm Beach, traffic calming is much more than this, starting with the adopted definition: “the combination of mainly physical measures that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior, and improve conditions for non-motorized street users.”

This definition is based on the one recommended by the Institute of Transportation Engineers International Subcommittee. Therefore, traffic calming involves changing the design and the role of the streets to reduce the negative social and environmental effects of motor vehicles on individuals and on the community in general. 

Traffic Calming and Neighborhood Revitalization

Traffic calming is self-enforcing; it lowers motor vehicle speeds and reduces aggressive driving. It also increases motorists’ respect for non-motorized users of the streets through the physical features of the street design. Other goals of traffic calming in West Palm Beach include: 

  • promoting walking and cycling; 
  • increasing safety for both motorists and non-motorists; 
  • improving perceptions of safety; 
  • improving aesthetics; 
  • assisting in the revitalization of challenged areas; and 
  • increasing the overall quality of life along the street. 

The city’s approach to traffic calming is “area-wide.” Over time, the city will fulfill its goal of affecting its entire urban area with appropriate levels of traffic calming on all the various types of streets. The ultimate goal is to make West Palm Beach unique, liveable, sustainable, “walkable,’ and the model for cities throughout the country. By way of an example, before and after photographs are provided of Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach. This street spurred additional traffic calming efforts in the city and is an excellent success story. Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach was the city’s first traffic calming effort and proved to be a tremendous success.

The city has implemented several traffic calming projects since Clematis Street, resulting in revitalization, reduction in street-related crimes (such as speeding, prostitution, and illegal drugs), and rejuvenation of depressed commercial corridors and challenged neighborhoods. Initially, the projects altered driver behavior physically – leading to slower, more respectful motorists and diminished cut-through traffic. 

Then it was realized that reducing speeds and the perceived dangers of vehicles also leads to increased natural surveillance. This occurs through the presence of more pedestrians, cyclists, and other residents of the area, thereby improving the overall environment and inviting even more people back into the city. Today, the impetus for future traffic calming projects is primarily to rejuvenate declining neighborhoods and to invigorate business and entertainment districts.

Traffic Calming, Crime Prevention, and Property Values

Traffic calming can work in conjunction with other crime prevention programs such as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), but without requiring closures, diverters, semi-diverters, or one-way streets. Done well, traffic calming affects the quality of life, safety, and crime in commercial and residential areas. It also helps with the city’s historic preservation efforts and home ownership programs. In a nutshell, it is a powerful tool to help improve downtowns, revitalize challenged neighborhoods, create street and civic pride, beautify the public realm (often found only in the street), create the sense of safety, and provide the unique feeling of place and community. Lastly, traffic calming projects have attracted substantial private investment and have increased property values nearby.

Transportation Language Policy

The majority of the current transportation language was developed in the 1950s and 1960s. This was the golden age of automobiles, and accommodating them was a major priority in society. Times have changed, and creating a balanced, equitable, and sustainable transportation system is the new priority. The difficulty is that the transportation language has not evolved at the same pace as the changing priorities and still maintains a relatively pro-automobile bias. Continued use of the biased language does not promote nor support addressing transportation issues in an objective way. 

Removing Pro-Automobile Bias

Several biased words and phrases are identified, and the rationale for the changes is explained. The word improvements or upgrade is often used to refer to the addition of through lanes, turn lanes, channelization, or other means of increasing motor vehicle capacity and/or speeds. Though these changes may indeed be improvements from the perspective of motor vehicle users, they would not be considered such by other constituents of the city. 

For example, residents may not think that adding more lanes in front of their houses is an improvement. Parents may not think a channelized right turn lane is an improvement on their childÕs pedestrian route to school. Suggested objective language includes being descriptive, e.g., use through lanes, turn lanes, or using language such as modifications, changes, expansions, widenings. Like improved and improvement, there are similarly biased words such as enhance, enhancement, and deteriorate. Suggested objective language is changed, decreased, increased.

Level of service is a qualitative measure of describing the operational conditions of a facility or service from the perspective of a particular set of users (motor vehicle users, cyclists, pedestrians, etc.). If the set of users is not specified, then it is a mystery as to which set is being considered. The established bias enters the picture when it is assumed that unless otherwise specified, level of service implies for motor vehicle users. The objective way to use this term is to add the appropriate modifier after level of service, such as level of service for motor vehicle users. If level of service is used frequently for the same users in the same document, using the modifier is only required at the beginning of the document and periodically after that.

Traffic is often used synonymously with motor vehicle traffic. However, there are several types of traffic, i.e., pedestrian, cycle, and train traffic. To be objective, if you mean motor vehicle traffic, then use motor vehicle traffic. If you mean all types, then simply use traffic.

When considering development, one frequently discusses the concept of traffic demand, fluctuations in traffic demand, peak hour traffic demand, etc. However, the concept of traffic demand contains a bias. There is really no such thing as a demand for traffic, and traffic is not a commodity that most people desire. Demand is overly strong and implies a sense of urgency which does not necessarily exist. Objective language would be motor vehicle use or travel demand.

In addition, promoting alternative modes of transportation is generally considered a good thing. However, the word alternative begs the question, ÒAlternative to what?Ó The assumption is alternative to automobiles. Alternative also implies that these modes are nontraditional or unconventional, which is not the case with the pedestrian, cycle, nor transit modes. The direct and objective language is non-automobile modes of transportation.

Other Misnomers 

Further, accidents are events during which something harmful or unlucky happens unexpectedly or by chance. Accident implies no fault. It is well known that the vast majority of accidents are preventable and that fault can be assigned. The use of accident also reduces the degree of responsibility and severity associated with the situation and invokes an inherent degree of sympathy for the person responsible. Objective language includes collision and crash.

Protect means shielding from harm. However, when discussing protecting land for a right-of-way for a street, the intent is not to shield the land from harm, but to construct a street over it. Objective terms include designate and purchase.

The city strives to make the transportation systems operate as efficiently as possible. However, care must be taken when using efficient because it is often confused with the word faster. Do not assume that faster is necessarily more efficient. 

Language Influences Thought

It is important to keep in mind that language is one of the fundamental forms of communication. It is especially critical to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the terms, particularly those that are being used for communication. Until the inherent biases that have been created over the last few decades are removed, or at least acknowledged, it may be difficult to ensure that all stakeholders and constituents are given proper consideration during planning. Once the level of understanding is increased, the increased level of equity should follow. 

Contact: Ian Lockwood, City Transportation Planner, West Palm Beach, 561/659-8031.

Table of Contents

The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
1620 Eye Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006
Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352

Copyright ©1996, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.


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How livable is West Palm Beach? Consult the new AARP Livability Index to find out

I heard about AARP’s new Livability Index while listening to the Talking Headways podcast this past week.  The mission of the Livable Communities initiative: “AARP Livable Communities supports the efforts of neighborhoods, towns and cities to become great places for people of all ages.” The idea of this tool is much in line with the 8-80 cities concept: Can residents of all incomes, ages, and abilities thrive in our community?

Listening to the podcast, I learned that Madison, Wisconsin achieves the top livability score of any American city. The livability index contains a comparison tool in which a user can input three locations and arrive at a livability score for the three side by side, and the data is presented at the level of the census block so it is fairly granular and allows for comparison at the neighborhood level.

How does West Palm Beach stack up? 

I chose Clematis Street, a location in Riverwalk, and a location on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach as comparisons. Of these three locations, Clematis Street won out, scoring slightly higher than Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, and four points higher than the Riverwalk location. It seems the distribution of most scores are within a relatively narrow range, so those few points matter.

AARP_Public_Policy_Institute__PPI_-_AARP

Downtown WPB does well in the transportation and neighborhood categories. I would even wager that our transportation and neighborhood AARP_Public_Policy_Institute__PPI_-_AARPscores are undervalued, because the metrics are not giving us points for the impressive public transportation options we have downtown (trolley, Palm Tran, Tri-Rail, SkyBike) and jobs near those transit modes.

One disconcerting facet of the index is our poor score for Safe Streets. We are almost double the median US neighborhood in downtown for traffic deaths. This surprised me, but I suspect a combination of small sample size for traffic fatalities and the large amount of people walking contribute. Nonetheless, it’s an area we clearly need to improve.

There are some fascinating map overlays available in the Livability Index tool. Downtown and the surrounding traditional neighborhoods are a clear outliers in number of daily walk trips per households, more than double the national average. We can also see the higher proportion of car free households in the Northwest and North Tamarind neighborhoods, all the more reason to support non-vehicular modes rather than designing neighborhoods for car dependency. The map overlays also show that we have a lot of work to do in reducing annual fatal car crashes, the top killer for in the age 2 -14 age group.

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We should put a focus on creating a more multi-generational neighborhood and improve high school graduation rates, according to the Opportunity Score. This is the area where West Palm Beach is found the most lacking. As I’ve argued in the past, having public schools located downtown would be a tremendous boost to the livability of our downtown by attracting a more age diverse cohort of residents to live downtown and have their children attend a neighborhood school. Dreyfoos stands as an example of what could be, but Dreyfoos is a magnet school only and isn’t open to downtown residents who live walking distance to it. We need real neighborhood school options for downtown residents. We also need more affordable housing options. The coming supply of rental apartments should help with this metric. Downtown cannot be solely an enclave for the wealthy.

One of the features I like about the Livability Index is the Policies and Resources that accompany each of the metrics. For example, in the Environment metric, it is suggested that communities adopt an Age-Friendly Communities policy, and the Resources tab links to various ‘how to’ documents.AARP_Public_Policy_Institute__PPI_-_AARP

These metrics, although useful, can’t tell the whole picture of city prosperity as there are confounding factors for which reductionist methods do not apply. However, that isn’t to say this data isn’t helpful: as a quick snapshot, diagnostic tool, it’s a very user-friendly look at what makes a livable city. It should help citizens and public officials measure where we are and chart a course toward a more livable city.

How does your neighborhood measure up in the Livability Index?


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