Walkable West Palm Beach

Citylab: Street trees improve the wait experience of transit users

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Street trees are one of those low hanging fruit investments that can make all the difference over time, but too often are neglected. Trees don’t have the political appeal of a mega project ribbon cutting, but in terms of building great cities, I’d argue their return on investment is greater without the potential downside of megaprojects.

As if we needed more reasons to prioritize street trees, Eric Jaffe of Citylab posted this article about how trees make waiting for the bus feel shorter and help mitigate for unpleasant conditions such as traffic and air pollution. From the article:

Planting trees around stops offers local authorities an opportunity to significantly improve users’ wait time perception, but falls outside the purview of transit providers themselves. The ability of the presence of trees to compensate for the negative effects of pollution and traffic suggests that planting trees or moving a problematic stop to take advantage of existing tree cover can significantly improve the user experience at reasonable costs.

Because many bus stops in Palm Beach County tend to be located in places with wider rights of way and generous swales (at least compared to downtown WPB), bus stops seem like an ideal place to engage in street tree plantings in order to bolster the appeal of transit. Something for cities and the county to work together on as the Palm Tran Service Board moves forward on building a better bus system.

 

h/t Joe Roskowski

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Jarrett Walker, author of “Human Transit”, speaks at Palm Tran meeting Thursday

Jarrett Walker, one of the foremost thinkers on the design of public transportation, is coming to Palm Tran this Thursday.Jarrett_Walker_Flyer_pdf This is an exciting opportunity for our bus system to reimagine itself along the lines of a system like Houston, which managed to dramatically increase frequent service with the same operating dollars and make the system incredibly more useful to riders.

I believe Palm Tran is a county asset that isn’t being fully leveraged as it stands now. If the county is to grow in a more enlightened way and provide better transportation options, buses need to play a big role.

This is a good event for transit advocates, Palm Tran riders, or just those interested in how we can grow without becoming Miami Dade or Broward Counties.  Kudos to new Palm Tran director Clinton Forbes and the Palm Tran Service Board for taking big first step.

Please share with others you think would be interested in this event.


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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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City Transportation Language Policy – 1996 memo

I was made aware of this document through some internet sleuthing, and was led to Jarrett Walker’s excellent blog, which has a copy of the document posted. Click on the link to his blog to read a good recap of this document.

“In 1996, the City Administrator of West Palm Beach, Florida, Michael J. Wright, issued a directive to his staff on how to avoid biased language in the descriptions of transportation investments and policies.  It’s four pages, sharply written, and may well be the smartest bureaucratic directive you’ll ever read.” – Jarrett Walker

Is this still policy, and if not, why not? Any readers who can shed some light would be appreciated.

Related: U.S. Conference of Mayors document on WPB transportation policy

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Automobile bias pervades governmental meetings

On Twitter, I recently became aware of a standing pedestrian/bicycle council that is part of FDOT. This council serves an important function, considering our state’s abysmal record in pedestrian and bicyclist safety. One of the functions of the council is to “Support bicycle and pedestrian advocates in identifying and promoting best practices”, according to a recent agenda. There are good people on this council and I’m quite confident they’re doing good work. But…this.

I browsed the meeting minutes and I read the section on how to get to the meeting…

 

 

 

Picard-FacepalmFully two pages of the agenda are devoted to an elaborate set of instructions on how to arrive by car, just so no one gets confused and stumbles onto a bus. Nothing about arriving by foot, by bike, or by bus. It appears a Complete Street is located right in front of the meeting location, one that checks all the standard boxes with bus bays, wide sidewalks, sharrows, “bikes may use full lanes” signage – all the features that make governments pat themselves on the back. Should you have the desire to actually use this as a non-automobile user, the meeting organizers make sure that your default instinct to jump in your car overtakes any such desire. Sure, it’s a bike/ped/Completey-Streety meeting, but gosh it’s easy to jump in my car — They just make those directions so darn understandable, and the parking is free!

Here’s what the street view looks like. Urban form could be better, but it’s in a place with a street grid and it is walkable.

Right now you might be thinking this sounds awfully anal. So what, it was an honest oversight, right?

The problem is, honest oversights like these are endemic in our transportation culture. It’s the Florida Department of Transportation, not roadbuilding, but you’d be hard pressed to know that FDOT is about more than roadbuilding. This is the standard mode of operating for far too many of our transportation agencies. It happens all the time; in fact, this blog called out this transportation summit held in Fort Lauderdale several months ago, dubbing it a Driving Summit. That meeting even included free parking vouchers as part of the event registration, while non-motorized modes got nothing. Of course, the best policy would have been to just remove all transportation subsidies altogether and have people pay the full costs of their choice of travel mode.

Just as check the box exercises can lead to regrettable street designs, even though a street section is labeled a “Complete” Street, so can check the box exercises undermine the purpose of a meeting that otherwise has a good intent. Our governmental leadership, transportation agencies, and advocates all need to be cognizant of how the conversation is framed:  Are we merely paying lip service to the community of people who bike and walk for transportation? How are our governing bodies to understand the needs of those walking and biking if the only time they consider their needs, they arrive via automobile and don’t consider people arriving using the very modes they are meeting to discuss? And if non-motorized users are overlooked by meeting organizers for a meeting about non-motorized users, imagine what happens for meetings in which this isn’t the topic of discussion.

The Takeaway

Automobile bias pervades everything in this country and it’s certainly not limited to FDOT. I encourage other advocates to point out these types of incidents in their own communities. This StreetsBlog interview with Ian Lockwood is an excellent primer on automobile bias, and I believe changing the way we talk about our streets is one of the most powerful actions that could reshape our streets into more livable, economically productive, and safer places.

Streetsblog article: Attacking the Language Bias in Transportation Engineering

#AutomobileBias #PicardFacePalm

 

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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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Zipcar comes to West Palm Beach

Great news: Zipcar, the popular carshare provider, is now in downtown West Palm Beach. The cars are located in special on-street parking spaces that were created when Evernia Street was restriped to angled parking.

 

Zipcar should make it that much easier for households to ditch one car or even go car-free. South Florida has a well deserved reputation for being a car dependent place, but West Palm Beach, especially downtown and the close-in historic neighborhoods, is an exception. This is great addition to the many mobility options downtown.

Walkable West Palm Beach was provided a special promotion to share with our readership. Sign up now and get free driving time.

Zipcar_WPB

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