West Palm will divide its drive beside the Intracoastal Waterway downtown on a test basis starting Oct. 7, handing the eastern half of Flagler Drive to bicyclists and pedestrians “so that they can enjoy all of the beauty that is the waterfront area,” Economic Development Director Christopher Roog said Monday.
The experiment in urban design will leave the westernmost two lanes to cars, but bikers and walkers will rule the roadway through March 1, as part of an effort to connect the public with the city’s waterfront. The Oct. 7 start date is timed to coincide with the seasonal start of West Palm’s GreenMarket, which takes place on the Great Lawn near Flagler and Clematis Street.
Last summer the city did an initial test, using traffic cones to establish a “pop-up” bike lane on that 0.6-mile stretch of Flagler Drive. That showed that bikes and cars can adapt to the change safely, Roog said. “Traffic functioned just fine.”
The city’s planning and engineering departments as well as various urban design consultants have studied the road plan and concluded it’s do-able. The conclusion was that Flagler Drive is the gem of the city, that residents love it, and that the more they’re given access to the waterfront, the better, Roog said.
It’s not meant to keep cars off Flagler, he said. People will still be able to drive there, with one northbound lane and one southbound.
The traffic changes start just north of Lakeview Avenue. Motorists will be able to turn right off the Royal Park Bridge toward downtown. Where Flagler makes its big curve near Trinity Park, all traffic will shift to the western side of the median and will stay there until Banyan Boulevard, where Flagler again will return to its normal four lanes for cars.
The lanes will be designated using signs, but also with more aesthetically pleasing features such as planters and artwork, Roog said.
The five-month test period ends March 1, when the Palm Beach International Boat Show starts to monopolize the waterfront.
At that point, the city will analyze the results, including pedestrian and traffic counts and public feedback, to decide whether to make the public lanes a permanent feature.
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