- By Tony Doris Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A redesigned South Dixie Highway, with fewer travel lanes but a central turn lane, on-street parking for businesses, more landscaping and room for pedestrians and bicyclists, has won approval from the state’s district transportation office.
The plan would take the mile-and-a-half stretch from Okeechobee Boulevard to Albemarle Road and reduce it from four lanes to two with an additional central lane to allow for safer turns and uninterrupted traffic flow. There’ll be a “multi-use pathway” to one side, for bikes and pedestrians to share, and a pedestrian-only sidewalk on the other.
The plan, pressed by community and business groups and the city for three years, overcame Florida Department of Transportation concerns that there should be bike lanes on both sides. City officials felt that would eat into parking spaces needed by merchants, make the road too wide for pedestrians to cross, and be unnecessary since nearby parallel roads South Olive Avenue and South Flagler Drive have bike lanes.
“This is a victory for the community that came together and gave time, money and expertise to make this happen,” said City Commissioner Paula Ryan, who as El Cid Neighborhood Association president three years ago, helped organize residents and merchants to raise awareness and money and push for the project.
According to Deputy City Administrator Scott Kelly, a study showed that fears that the “road diet,” or lane reduction, would clog traffic were unfounded.
“Everybody wins,” he said. “We’re excited we’re able to arrive at a solution that met all the objectives the FDOT, the city and the community has laid out.”
The project, if it wins approval of FDOT’s Tallahassee headquarters, could be under design by this summer and under construction within 18 months, he said. The $5 million project would be funded mostly by the regional Transportation Planning Agency, grants, and by some of the city’s share of county penny sales tax revenues.
Until the design progresses, it’s not known how long construction will take. The good news, Kelly said, is that the FDOT agreed to do the design in-house, which will be quicker than hiring a consultant.
Dana Little, urban design director for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, said he feared the plan wouldn’t be approved because the FDOT felt that if it reduced the car travel lanes it would have to compensate by increasing some other mode of transportation, such as having two bike lanes.
The community felt that with the existing bike lanes nearby, and another planned for Lake Avenue, adding bike lanes on South Dixie, which has intersections every 200 feet, would cause problems. Not only that, but leaving room for on-street parking makes sidewalks more pleasant for pedestrians because parked cars create a barrier from the unsettling rush and wind of traffic, he said.
“We met with the district (FDOT) secretary last October, when we had reached an impasse,” Little said. “It was like a Hail Mary pass.”
The district secretary, Gerry O’Reilly, listened and said he’d need a few months to revisit the issue. Then word came back that he’d approved “99 percent,” Little said. “It is a huge hurdle we’ve cleared.”
Kelly said the city now will conduct more outreach sessions in the communities adjacent to the road, “to make sure everybody’s on board with it.” The FDOT will conduct its own outreach, during the project’s design stage, he said.
With the FDOT district’s approval, he added, “we’re confident it will be approved in Tallahassee.”
The city has been studying a similar plan in the North End, for sections of North Broadway. That community also has indicated it wants walkable streets, parking spaces and other features of the South Dixie plan. The city hopes to work “hand-in-hand” with the FDOT on that project, Kelly said.