Palm Beach town officials address new guidelines to handle Trump traffic

Posted at 10:24 PM, Feb 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-10 02:53:19-05

President Donald Trump is expected back home at his "Winter White House" on Friday, as he prepares for a golfing weekend at Mar-a-Lago with Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

To help alleviate the traffic that comes with President Trump, the town of Palm Beach has released strict guidelines that go into effect Friday.

"We have to understand the things that we can do and the things that we're not in control of," said town council woman, Margaret Zeidman, during a public safety meeting held on Thursday afternoon.

The regulations include road closure, changes to traffic signals and suggested restrictions to landscapers and businesses. The goal is to help ease the traffic jams, such as the gridlock that spilled into West Palm Beach last Friday.

Council members sorted through all the details at Thursday's meeting, with many residents voicing their concerns over the closure of the bridge closest to the president's home.

"When the president arrives or leaves, they close the Southern bridge, which then puts a lot of pressure on the middle bridge," said Rene Silvin, a longtime resident.

Town leaders discussed the new guidelines that are supposed to make life easier. They are encouraging people to plan ahead and avoid driving on the island in the hours surrounding President Trump's arrival and departure.

During peak traffic, police will be giving preference to east-west roads.

"We will hold the lights a little bit longer going north and south so be prepared that if you're coming up on the side streets, you may have to wait a little bit...But you would have to wait longer if we weren't allowing traffic to move east and west," said Philip Salm, a spokesperson for Palm Beach police.

South Ocean Boulevard will be shut down for all pedestrian and vehicle traffic, from South County Road to Southern Boulevard.

"You have to be a resident in those few blocks to be able to get into that zone.You have to show government ID," said Salm.

Another proposed rule wasn't sitting well with local landscapers. When the town released the guidelines Wednesday night, landscapers and contract workers were informed that they would be forced to leave the island by 3 p.m. every Friday until May 1 -- even if the president isn't in town.

"I recognize security, I totally believe in it but I believe this has gone too far," said Scott Lewis, owner of Scott Lewis Gardening and Trimming.

The move prompted several landscaping business owners to gather for a meeting on Thursday to discuss what to do.

"This is just a tremendous financial impact. It's a hardship on clients," said Lewis. "Fridays -- everybody is getting ready for the weekend. All of our clients, there's a lot of parties and gatherings, so Friday is one of your most important days."

Some business owners attended the public meeting at town hall to express their concerns. Town hall officials eventually apologized and clarified that the landscapers would not be forced out -- it would just be a suggestion to leave.

Kirk Blouin, director of Public Safety for Palm Beach, said that the town has also requested the Coast Guard's cooperation in mitigating traffic congestion.

"We're asking the Coast Guard to limit bridge openings during the morning rush hour and evening rush hour," he said. "We're also asking non-critical town employees to readjust their work week so that they're not here on Fridays. The more cars we can eliminate from the roads, the more that will help the traffic congestion.

There are other methods to help cut back on traffic, like the helipad that was just approved to be built near Mar-a-Lago.

But police say it might not make a difference when it comes to the security traffic.

"The measures that are put in place are for security purposes and that's what people have got to understand," said Salm.

The Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce is also proposing alternative transportation and even a trolley to take more cars off the road.

"We're hoping the town will look more seriously at offsite parking, they've already considered carpooling. And providing alternative transportation on the island, particularly the retail districts with Molly's Trolleys to move people rather than cars," said Laurel Baker, executive director for the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce. "The city of West Palm Beach has been hugely successful in one square mile in moving over 500,000 people last year."

Baker said they have received several phone calls from people who were confused about which bridges and roads were closed, or whether businesses were even still open.

"The town of Palm Beach and it's retailers are open for business," she said, encouraging people to continue dining and shopping on the island as usual.

She added that residents are still adjusting to this experience.

"It's incredibly difficult to squeeze down to two bridges, one of which is only half completed or open. It is unlike any other presidency, in that most presidents have stayed in Washington and had holidays. That is difficult to get used to, and yet, like anything, it will become routine."

Don't expect these guidelines to stick. The town said their plans are subject to change due to the unpredictability of president Trump's travel plans.

"The more you do it, the more you're used to it and the more you have that routine in place, it becomes second nature," said Salm.

Blouin said that they are open to ideas and more discussion with residents.

"I don't think it's going to solve the problem, but like everything else, but once people get familiar with it, they're going to come up with alternatives on their own, it's only natural. And we're going to put some fresh ideas to try and mitigate it," he said.

For now, police say anyone not following the rules they've establish will be ticketed or towed.

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