A plan taking shape to put South Dixie Highway on a diet, trimming a mile-and-a-half section from four lanes to three, is more likely to gain state approval if West Palm Beach pumps up its programs to encourage bike riding.
That’s what Dana Little, urban design director for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, told the city commission Tuesday about plans he has been assembling to redesign the roadway south of downtown.
“I feel pretty good about it, better now than I ever have,” he said at a commission work session in city hall.
The plan calls for slowing cars, adding parking in commercial areas and improving the area for walkers and bikers. It would attempt that by narrowing lanes from Okeechobee Boulevard to just south of Belvedere Road, and converting one of the four lanes into a central turn lane through much of the stretch. Dozens of shade trees would line South Dixie.
Little said studies need to be completed to make sure the project wouldn’t snarl traffic and whether the benefits would outweigh peak hour problems it might aggravate.
But so far, he said, the impact would not be bad. As a result of the narrowing, some cars would choose to switch to such parallel roadways as Olive, Lake or Parker avenues.
The turn lane would reduce accidents, he added. “We believe that through these efforts we can make it safer for motorists.”
Traffic will continue to be bad at the intersection of Okeechobee and South Dixie whether the project is completed or not, Little said. However, because the project would divert cars to the other roads, “traffic fails slightly less with the three-lane scenario,” he said.
The key will be winning Florida Department of Transportation approval, since South Dixie is a state road, Little said.
Parts of the design don’t meet state standards. But by demonstrating city efforts to build bike lanes and make other bicycle-related improvements, enhancing the city’s network of bicycle-friendly areas, for example, the city can counter state resistance, he said.
No decisions have been made on how to pay for the improvements, which he estimated would cost several million dollars. One way to ease the city’s burden would be to schedule the roadwork for when the state already is scheduled to resurface South Dixie, he said. The latest estimate is that might not happen for another 10 or 12 years, however, but there are other sources of funding the city can pursue, he said.
Little said he expected to return to the commission next month to request a formal endorsement for the project, which is necessary to gain state approval.
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