Future of West Palm transit — too many parking lots and wide roads?


Expert Gabe Klein says West Palm should consider multiple solutions to tranportation logjams

Either getting around West Palm Beach is a mess or an opportunity to shape the future.

Or both.

In any case, the issue is jamming the highways of public thought this year, as getting from Point A to Point B makes many residents of the growing city wish they’d just stayed at Point A. Now, days after a city and a county commissioner and Town of Palm Beach mayor offered up their own transportation workshop, comes a three-day charette, June 12-14, where Mayor Jeri Muoio’s mobility consultants hear out public concerns and offer up solutions, or at least preliminary next steps.

READ: West Palm says it has a plan for its worsening downtown traffic congestion

Gabe Klein, an urban design consultant, TEDx speaker and former transportation chairman for Chicago and Washington, D.C., will frame the issue for those who attend the convention center charette.

“We’re at this inflection point,” he said in an interview last Thursday. “Do we want to shape the change that’s sure to come or just wait to see what happens?”

Klein is part of the Alta Planning + Design consulting team, working on a study due out later this year on West Palm’s mobility issues. Thus far they’ve been gathering data to get to the heart of the problem, he said. “It’s important to gather data and say, ‘here’s the science and here’s what’s working around the country and the world.’”

READ: Parking chief: ‘No more leaping out of the bushes when your meter expires’

Part of the problem is an outdated approach to land use that encourages widening roads and adding downtown parking spaces, he said.

“The science shows we’ve been creating the problem, and perhaps instead of giving people a free parking space, we should be giving them free mobility and if they want a car, we can give them the option of renting in a municipal garage instead of a developer’s building,” he said.

The government, developers and consumers often want the same thing, he added: “They want a simple, frictionless lifestyle, they want lower costs and they want less congestion and more walkability. That’s all tied to smart land use development, mobility options and fewer parking spaces and single-occupancy vehicle trips.”

People who live and work in downtown West Palm Beach have not had great options for getting there from the west or for getting around downtown, he said. “So let’s open up the toolbox and say, what if we gave people a choice of new options, how would they behave?”

READ: ‘Emergencies’ could delay mega-development on N. Flagler Drive

The data from around the country show that Americans jump at options that are better and easier to pay for, Klein said. The city and county need to push aside the fear of change and pilot new programs, as West Palm has begun to do, he said. This includes buses, bikes and everything else.

“It’s not all about speed,” he said. “It’s more about predictability, reliability and transportation happiness.” If you could take a bus to work that came near your house, had wifi, air conditioning and a dedicated bus lane, “would you do that for $3 or $5? People jump on it all day long.”

The era of buses being run to every neighborhood all day long will end in many places, however, he said. With limited resources, it makes more sense to have transit systems invest in core routes to boost frequency and quality of service, while subsidizing other, possibly private sector, services to link people to these major routes.

“I would ask folks to look at the data and let’s have a constructive conversation about how we keep West Palm Beach the living room of the region, a place people who live and work there can enjoy and that can serve as a place people do pass through to get to Palm Beach, or to get to work, but we need to balance all these things,” Klein said.

“There’s always a win-win situation. How do we find solutions that benefit everybody. It’s not pie in the sky. These are things we do all over the country.”

The sessions, titled “West Palm Beach Mobility and Okeechobee Boulevard Corridor Study Charette,” take place over four evenings, June 12-15, 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, 650 Okeechobee Blvd.

The sessions offer the public an introduction by Klein and the consulting team, initial findings and the chance to give feedback one-on-one with city planners, engineers, designers and community leaders. On the final night the consultants will present potential solutions developed from the public input the previous nights.

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