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Tourism leaders renew push for pedestrian overpass in downtown West Palm Beach

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Posted at 5:55 PM, Nov 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-12 13:13:45-05

Tourism leaders in Palm Beach County are worried that someone will get injured -- maybe even killed -- if changes are not made to a busy intersection in downtown West Palm Beach.

They want a pedestrian bridge to cross over the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and Rosemary Avenue.

"I think it's just chaos over here," said pedestrian Victoria O'Malley, a Colorado resident in town for a work conference.

We watched her run through the intersection with just moments to spare before the light changed. She travels through it regularly to get to CityPlace from the Hilton hotel and says the intersection had her on edge.

"We love the restaurants and the shops over there at CityPlace but to get there is a hassle and pretty dangerous," she said.

For a decade, the spot has been the center of an ongoing debate over pedestrian safety, made even worse with the opening of the Hilton hotel this past January.

"This is a lot wider than I'm used to and obviously the traffic is a lot faster," said Michelle Long, another tourist at the Hilton.

That's why the Palm Beach County's Tourist Development Council is pushing for a pedestrian bridge.

In the tourism council's meeting on Thursday, Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches, said the convention center has already lost business because meeting planners were worried about guests crossing the busy road.

“We have letters from important meeting planners who have said we will not book in Palm Beach County because it is too dangerous to cross those lanes of traffic,” Pesquera said during the meeting.

But the city rejects the idea of a bridge.

Tourism board member David Semandeni, secretary of the Palm Beach County Hotel and Lodging Association, said something needs to be done before it is too late.

"We believe it's an accident just waiting to happen," he said. "But the day that this happens, money will not be a concern, so why wait?"

Downtown resident Jesse Bailey runs a blog called Walkable West Palm Beach. He agrees something must be done but does not believe a pedestrian bridge is the answer. Over at the county courthouse, he says he notices people choose the sidewalk instead of a pedestrian bridge at the courthouse.

"In my opinion, I think we need to acknowledge human behavior. If you have to climb three flights of stairs to get up to the bridge, oftentimes people don't want to do that," he said.

The city completed a walkability study on the intersection three years ago. Some of the results recommended the city should narrow the lanes, lengthen the light times, emphasize the sidewalk, and reshape the medians so pedestrians have less ground to cover.

"It's a bit surprising to me that they're trying to go back to the drawing board with a pedestrian overpass," he said. "We've already done the study and have, I think, a very good plan to solve the problem here."

Either way, the tourism board plans to send letters to the city, urging them to reconsider the bridge.