West Palm Beach has been feeling the side effects of growing pains: more congestion and traffic in the downtown area.
That's why for the past year, the city has embarked on a special mission to solve these problems.
On Monday, city leaders revealed the results of several studies centered around traffic, walkability and parking in downtown West Palm Beach.
Gabe Klein, a consultant and national expert on cityscapes, discussed the results of the city's mobility study, including the Okeechobee Corridor study, the Downtown Parking and Transportation Demand Management Study and the Citywide Bicycle Masterplan. Klein is a part of Alta Planning + Design, which is leading the project.
The mobility study focuses on certain aspects such as improving intersections and even expanding trolley routes but the biggest take away is the idea that the city's future depends people ditching their cars and seeking alternative ways of transportation.
"This provides a vision for the next 20, 30 years," said Klein in an interview with WPTV. "70 percent of trips less than a mile in urban areas are taken by car, people driving themselves alone. So we can afford to take that down to 5 or 10 percent."
Here is a list of the key recommended projects, programs and policies recommended by the study:
- Okeechobee corridor projects such as intersection improvements, improved lighting, mobility/transit hub, improved signal timing, dedicated rapid bus transit lanes, expansion of trolley routes.
- Added multimodal access including vehicular capacity by providing a Fern Street connection across the SFRTA tracks from Australian Avenue to Flagler Drive.
- Expansion of bicycle network to safely connect neighborhoods and people to jobs, schools, parks, businesses and the downtown.
- Incorporation of transportation demand management strategies as a part of future land use planning in order to mitigate future congestion and encourage alternative modes of transportation such as walking, biking, and trolley riding.
- Restructuring parking strategies to reduce congestion, increase availability and improve overall user experience.
- Incorporation of new technologies (ie. autonomous rideshare).
- Optimization and expansion of trolley and bus services and routes.
- Adoption and implementation of Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.
The development of the mobility plan began in the spring of 2017. Input was taken from various stakeholders including the Transportation Planning Organization, Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, Palm Beach County, PalmTran, SFRTA, Florida Department of Transportation, Town of Palm Beach, Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, homeowners, condo and neighborhood organizations, and Palm Beach Atlantic University.
A huge focus for the city following this study will involve making Okeechobee Boulevard safer for pedestrians and smoother for drivers.
"A lot of people would argue that Okeechobee is too wide," said Klein. "The reality is if you took lanes away and added bus rapid transit on Okeechobee, it would probably clean up the congestion problem by moving more people to the bus."
More recommendations include expanding sidewalks on streets like Datura and Quadrille.
"There's a small percentage of people that really have to drive. So by making it easier for people that could do something -- those people that really have to drive -- it will make their lives easier," said Klein.
When it comes to parking, Klein says the goal is not to add more but to give people more of a reason to seek alternatives.
"If you build too much parking, then you incentivize people to drive," he said.
Scott Kelly, assistant city administrator, said he understands the challenges ahead.
"That doesn't mean everyone will get out of their car, we realize that," he said.
City leaders told me they plan to officially adopt the study's recommendations next month.
"Then we'll be free to move forward with all the component parts of this," said Kelly. "There's a lot of actionable items that people will be seeing shortly."
And some of the things you'll start to see includes the city improving public transportation such as Palm Tran and the trolleys, as well as enhancing the bike share program and adding more shade along sidewalks for walkability.
Ahead of Monday’s announcement the city announced new changes to parking safety, security and availability.
Improvements to parking include or will soon include:
- Increased security patrols
- The availability of on-demand, security personnel to escort individuals on the street and within the garage
- A mobile app to find available spots
- New ticket machines for expedited service
- Upgraded LED lighting in City owned garages
- New wayfinding signs