City’s Flagler bike lanes project gets plenty of flack from residents

Updated Oct 29, 2017
Two cyclists pedal along Flagler Dr. in downtown West Palm Beach Wednesday, October 25, 2017. Barricades, planters, and signs have been set up to keep vehicles out of the northbound lanes in an effort to expand the Waterfront public space for pedestrians, cyclists, merchants, and community activities. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

A great man once said, if you want to upset people, change something.

Anyone who doubted that only had to read comments on social media and letters to city hall, after the administration that’s all about walkability, bikability and livability launched a pilot project last month to close two of the four lanes of Flagler Drive downtown.

The idea was to connect downtown visitors and denizens with the sparkling waterfront, something every consultant said was a key to creating a more fun and vibrant focal point for urban life. The mayor and Downtown Development Authority director had witnessed how this works, in a Knight Foundation-sponsored trip to bicycle-friendly Copenhagen two years ago. The city manager traveled there and saw it for himself this month.

Alas, those who think roads are for driving went into mental gridlock at the thought of traffic being squeezed off Flagler onto already trafficky roads, and of rush hour nightmares at the entrance to the Royal Park Bridge.

Others lambasted the city for the lousy look of orange traffic barrels used to demarcate the lane-closing, and for inadequate signage and crosswalk protections. The art in public places — murals painted on shipping containers, left from last November’s Canvas Outdoor Museum Show, didn’t go over well, either.

“I live in a high-rise condominium, right behind the Meyer Amphitheater,” one reader wrote. “This is what I used to see: water, boats (including the Hakuna Matata), an artistic informative sign, and a dock at the foot of Evernia Street. This is what I see now: a grim, repellent eyesore of a graffiti-clad shipping container, evidently painted by a tormented, miserable, talentless individual. …”

Good news, people: “You talked, we listened!” Mayor Jeri Muoio wrote in newsletter to the public.

“We will be removing the large, decorative art shipping containers from the main Flagler Drive intersections, in the coming weeks, so you can enjoy those water views,” she said.

There’ll be more pedestrian crossing signs. The orange barriers near Lake Avenue will be replaced with white, interlocking barricades, she said, “so the project has less of a construction site look and feel.” Outdoor events, like this week’s Pumpkin Walk and Run, and Food Tricks @ The Shore are being organized to take advantage of the extra public space with its splendid views.

The Flagler Shore project is a work in progress, assured the mayor. “Visitors will continue to see more changes as we work together to make this YOUR waterfront.”