- Tony Doris Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
As police search for the Mazda SUV that struck a Tennessee couple Sunday night near CityPlace, city and regional officials say they’re facing up to the broader problem of how to keep pedestrians safe in a downtown burgeoning with development.
The hit-and-run accident, at the corner of Quadrille Boulevard and Hibiscus Street, left 47-year-old Paul McKee dead and his wife, whose name was not disclosed, hospitalized in stable condition.
“It’s very tragic” but not surprising, said Jesse Bailey, president of Connect West Palm Beach, a nonprofit that seeks to build support for more-walkable neighborhoods.
“It’s known that Quadrille Boulevard is very dangerous for pedestrians,” he said, noting that a walkability study a few years ago said as much, and community leaders like him have been pressing that point on the city for years.
The road is a fairly long straight-away that connects the popular CityPlace shopping and entertainment venue with Clematis Street, West Palm’s main drag for night life and a vital link to the waterfront. It’s also fairly dark for a busy boulevard.
In Bailey’s view, it needs more traffic signals, and pedestrian signal timing that gives people time to cross the street before cars get a green light to turn into a crosswalk. “It should be a no-brainer,” he said.
“Just this past Sunday, we were crossing Quadrille at Clematis and almost had a left-turning, southbound car careen into us — my wife, my baby and two pedestrians that were walking with us.”
The intersection of Quadrille and Fern Street is another dangerous one, because it has only a stop sign and no light, he said. Round-abouts could be a great solution for Quadrille, to slow traffic and give pedestrians a fighting chance, he added.
Bailey is right that Quadrille’s dangers and those of the rest of downtown, are known to city officials and a host of transportation agencies, from the Florida Department of Transportation, to the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency (formerly the Metropolitan Transportation Organization) and county traffic engineers.
“That’s our No. 1 priority when we do anything: safety,” said Scott Kelly, deputy city administrator.
As part of Mayor Jeri Muoio and the city commission’s priority to make West Palm more livable and walkable, the city has undertaken transportation studies of downtown and Okeechobee Boulevard, focusing as much on bike and pedestrian safety as on traffic adjustments. The city’s “Complete Streets” policy takes into account street design and will include awareness and education programs as well, Kelly said.
On Quadrille, by next October, All Aboard Florida will have improved the Fern Street intersection and added a traffic signal, Kelly said. The city also will build up the curbing, to keep pedestrians on sidewalks safer, he said.
“We’re looking at this all over the city. It’s not just Quadrille Boulevard.”
Having so many agencies involved helps focus resources. Coordinating them also complicates matters and can slow down solutions.
The state controls Quadrille and Okeechobee overall, but the county controls signal lights. Meanwhile, the city is working on its traffic grid, crossings, bike lanes and alternative forms of transportation, such as its trolley system. Palm Tran is studying how to make its bus routes more attractive, while All Aboard Florida’s Brightline high-speed rail service will attract commuters without cars but snarl traffic on its own, with more than 30 trips a day planned to zip through downtown crossings.
Indeed, it’s not just Quadrille that’s a problem.
In 2014, the latest year for which numbers are available, there were 32 pedestrian fatalities and 323 pedestrian injuries in Palm Beach County, according a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Study by the Transportation Planning Agency. During that year, nine bicyclists died and 268 were injured.
One of 10 most dangerous corridors in the county is the stretch of U.S. 1 from Okeechobee Boulevard to 45th street, which averaged about 10 pedestrian or bicycle deaths a year from 2010 to 2014. A “multi-modal corridor study” of that area is set for completion early next year, with plans to improve sidewalks and crossings.
Another of the worst corridors is Okeechobee from Drexel Road to Congress Avenue. Three West Palm Beach spots, all outside downtown, are among the top 10 worst intersections in the county for pedestrians and cyclists: Military Trail and Okeechobee; Military Trail at Forest Hill, and 45th Street at Australian Avenue.
The agency adopted a “Complete Streets” policy last year, after the county was found to be among the top four or five worst in the state for car crashes with bikes and pedestrians, according to Valerie Neilson, deputy director of multi-modal development for the agency.
A Safe Streets Summit is scheduled for Feb. 1 and 2 in West Palm Beach, the first time the annual event on South Florida transportation safety has been held in the city.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Neilson said. “People complain about congestion but that’s not going to get better. More and more people want to come here, so we need to figure out how to move people the safest way.”
West Palm’s Kelly echoes her sentiments.
“We’re committed to this,” Kelly said. “I’m not going to say we don’t have a ways to go. Of course we do.”