NEW: What can be done to solve bottleneck issues on Okeechobee Blvd.?


West Palm Beach studies look to encourage alternatives to single-person cars

No surprises, but a lot of work lies ahead, to position West Palm Beach transportation for the city’s burgeoning growth.

The consulting team that spent months seeking solutions to the city’s traffic woes released its final report Monday, calling for intersection improvements, better lighting, a transit hub, dedicated bus lanes and expanded trolley routes, among many other short- and long-term strategies.

“We did a planning process and now we’re talking about moving forward,” said Assistant City Administrator Scott Kelly. “What we’re trying to do is support growth in our city but we want it to be safe, we want it to be reliable and we want it to be fun. We want people to enjoy transportation instead of it being a drudgery.”

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The plan, previewed at a mayor/city commission work session Monday, is scheduled to come before the city commission May 21 for formal acceptance.

Kelly noted that the city also has been studying how to better manage and improve safety at downtown parking along with adjusting parking prices to fit downtown priorities. The city is also building a 100-mile network of bicycle facilities, Kelly said, “so we have a connected network that’s safe for people to bicycle, so whether you’re a child or elderly person, you’ll feel safe to traverse the streets.”

Look for the city to use more advanced technology to untangle traffic by improving light timing. The city has begun adding sidewalk signs to help visitors and local pedestrians get around more efficiently. The report also recommends projects to slow traffic and make streets safer by eliminating or narrowing traffic lanes, and by adding bicycle lanes or bus lanes. The city has applied to the federal government to reduce the number of drawbridge openings during rush hour.

The study comes at a time of rapid growth in West Palm Beach, particularly downtown.

The report estimates the city will add 4,000 residents and 13,000 jobs in the next 25 years. The good news is that a more crowded city, with people living closer to where they work, makes alternatives to cars — walking, bicycle riding or taking trolleys, for example — an easier option.

Meanwhile the city is paying a price for past growth and road design. The report notes that 2,814 crashes have occurred downtown the past three years, 2.5 crashes a day. Those crashes took place disproportionately on streets with more lanes, higher speeds and more cars, it said.

The goal is to make it easier to get around for people of all ages. “An accessible public realm is the foundation of an inclusive city, promoting equity by allowing all people to meet their daily needs,” the report said.

The study focuses heavily on Okeechobee Boulevard, a worsening bottleneck at the entrance to downtown, where pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists are looking for answers. According to the report, 25 percent of all West Palm crashes take place downtown and 28 percent of all fatal or serious-injury crashes downtown take place along Okeechobee.

Transportation consultant Gabe Klein urged city leaders also to keep their eyes on cities around the world that already are creating incentives for residents and workers to use cars less and alternatives like bikes, scooters, trolleys and buses more.

Paris adopted large scale bike sharing system in 2007 and now has scooter sharing, for example. “Every bit of shared mobility you can imagine, they have there and people are not buying cars anymore,” Klein said.

That frees up money for healthcare and education and other needs, he said. “We are bankrupting people, particularly poor people, by forcing them to buy cars.”

West Palm’s trolley service has drawn heavy ridership in recent years and the study recommends expanding it, from two or three routes to four or five. In addition to the downtown loop and the line linking Clematis Street with CityPlace, the report recommends a Belvedere to Northwood run up Dixie Highway, and a route from the tent site area on Okeechobee, north on Tamarind Avenue and west on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, to Palm Beach Outlets.

Another potential route is envisioned for commuters to park in a lot just west of I-95 and shuttle downtown, and possibly across the middle bridge to Palm Beach. The tent site, for which the city is soliciting development projects, would serve in part as a hub for trolleys and other downtown means of transit, the report recommends.

Mayor Jeri Muoio said the mobility plan provides a lens through which future construction and transportation projects should be viewed.

“We must continue to evaluate whether projects support anticipated regional and local growth, while also promoting business and preserving the quality of life and human dimensions of downtown that make it unique, accessible and diverse,” she said.

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