Note: I have been following the South Flagler Drive two-way Cycle Track process since the very beginning, so I though it fair to record these events as I experienced them. These views are my own and do not represent anyone else. Any errors are mine.
Everyone knows that I spend all my time on Clematis Street. A less known fact is that I spend the all rest of my time at home in the South End of West Palm Beach.
I love South Flagler Drive. Having this beautiful stretch of public space that runs through (almost) the entire length of the city is truly unique to South Florida.
You’ll see me walking Jackson (my Golden Retriever) in the evenings, running (OK, walking) at sunrise, biking on the weekends, and driving to work on Flagler.
As you walk down Flagler you can’t go a couple blocks without a running into neighbor you need to catch up with, watching a fisherman catch a fish, or seeing a couple manatees swim by. It is fantastic, and my second favorite street (after Clematis, of course).
As much as I love Flagler Dr. there are a couple problems I see with it.
- Condition of the road is terrible
- Cars drive way too fast
- With fisherman & people walking dogs cycling on the existing trail can be challenging. There are traditional bike lanes on the road but because of items 1 & 2 most casual cyclists bike on the trail.
A Bicycle Master Plan for West Palm Beach
Around May of 2018 under Mayor Jeri Muoio the City of West Palm Beach adopted the West Palm Beach Bicycle Master Plan which laid out a plan for a connected bicycle network throughout the City.
The purpose of this master plan is to guide the creation of an efficient network of connected and convenient bicycle facilities for the City of West Palm Beach. This system will also:
- Enhance connectivity and safety
- Be inclusive of diverse users
- Older adults
- Persons with disabilities
- Address health concerns by providing wider options for active transportation
- Aid in economic development
A key component of the plan was to create 18.1 miles of “Separated Bike Lanes”. A majority of these ran from north to south creating a dedicated bicycle trail along the entire length of Flagler Drive.
Each section of the bike path had it’s own design, here was the original proposed design form Southern Blvd to Summa Street.
A two-way separated cycle path
The two-way cycle path that was proposed will be a first in West Palm Beach, but has been implemented in other cities. The City adhered to the Federal Highway Administration guidelines for designing the bike lanes.
The following is from a section describing “Two-Way Separated Bike Lane on Right-Side of Two-Way Street” from the Federal Highway Administration’s Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide. The emphasis is mine.
“Providing a two-way separated bike lane on a two-way street may be desirable under certain circumstances such as minimizing conflicts on high frequency transit corridors or along corridors with a higher number of intersections or driveways on one side of the street (such as along a waterfront).”
One of the key benefits that I immediately saw was the removal of the south-bound bike lane that crosses the hundreds of driveways of the homes on Flagler. As someone who bikes down Flagler regularly, I avoid the south-bound bike lane for this very reason. A separated bike path on the East side of the street would remove this completely.
According to the City narrowing traffic lanes are the quickest way to slow down traffic. Providing a safe protected South Flagler Drive Cycle Track accomplishes 2 goals at the same time.
Having said that, going from the existing 10.5ft traffic lanes to 9ft traffic lanes was a bit much. Anyone who has gone down Forest Hill knows that 9ft lanes are VERY TIGHT.
Meetings Neighbors and the City
In January of 2019 the South End Neighborhood Association contacted the city because of a concern regarding the use of “Armadillos” as a divider between traffic and the bike lane.
The City came to the SENA meeting and discussed the project with the neighbors, showed the various options and decided to go with the more desirable (and expensive) concrete curbs.
Each of the meetings with City Staff were announced by SENA to their members, and staff took time to answer questions. In each meeting there were some concerns voiced by residents but the consensus was generally positive.
During this time the City met individually with Flagler Drive residents and decided to have a “Pedal Party” on Flagler Drive. The plan was to add the bike lanes to a section of Flagler Drive so that neighbors could experience the South Flagler Drive Cycle Track first hand.
We had about two-dozen neighbors show up to the cycle party which unfortunately ended about 45 minutes after it started with torrential downpour.
One of the things that was determined from our very short cycle party was that the 9ft travel lanes were too narrow for Flagler Drive. This information was brought to the city by Commissioner Lambert, and the City went back to engineering and came back with a design that would give us 10ft traffic lanes.
- Flagler Dr. Proposed: 10ft lanes
- Flagler Dr. Existing: 10.5ft lanes
- Forrest Hill Blvd between 95 & Dixie: 9ft lanes
- Rosemary Ave between Fern and Clematis (a trolley route for 15 years): 9ft lanes
- S. Olive Ave: 9.5ft lanes
There were many people who were not satisfied with the level of engagement the City had with the neighborhood. Of course, there is always the opportunity to do more, but personally I have never seen an city project that had more public engagement than this one. In a poll by sent out by SENA 80% of respondents said that they had heard about the bike lane project.
Based on the community input the City agreed to:
- Add several speed tables to further slow the traffic.
- The original proposal called for recycled plastic “armadillos” to protect the bike lanes. The city agreed to use more expensive but better looking “concrete curbs”.
- Keep the addition of signs to a minimum.
- Change Travel lanes from 9ft to 10ft (a difference of 6 inches from the current design)
The City did not agree to:
- Add Bulb-outs, round-abouts or other traffic-calming devices (too expensive for the project)
- Moving the cycle path away from the road and within the existing swale (would require large and expensive engineering effort)
Transportation Engineer Uyen Deng said to the Commission meeting, with an unlimited budget more options could be made available. Staff is working with the budget that they had for this project.
It should be noted that the majority of the money in this project is going for the much needed repaving of Flagler. The ONLY cost for the bike lanes is the minimal expense of the concrete curb separators. As far as I understand this extra money is coming from a grant which cannot be used for any other purposes.
Pushback from neighboring residents
In the final days before the commission would vote on this project strong pushback came from many of the neighboring residents via a poll an subsequent email campaigns targeting commissioners who would have to vote to approve this change.
While I respect the neighbors opinions, I hope this article gives more insight into all the work and communication that has gone into this project over the last year.
Furthermore, I hope it clears up some of the misinformation and concerns that I have heard.
- Flagler Drive is getting paved as part of this project.
- With the reconfiguration each travel lane will end up only 6 inches narrower that the current configuration.
- A two-way cyclepath on the right side of a two-way street is safe and in compliance with Federal Highway Administration Guidelines.
- The additional traffic calming will make it even safer for cyclists than it is now.
- Consolidating the bicycle lanes on one side of the street is not an expensive or wasteful project.
And finally, to the City Commissioners who will need to continue to approve the bike lane projects as the Bicycle Master Plan is implemented. Either this City Commission believes in the Bicycle Master Plan and the value of having Complete Streets and a connected cycle network or it doesn’t.
Our bicycle network may not be used by every resident of the city, or every neighbor on the street where a bicycle path exists, but it does provide safe method of transportation for the many residents of this city who cannot afford any other method of transportation to and from their jobs.
Please do your job equitably. As part of implementing the Bicycle Master Plan the city has already made much harder decisions than the one we’re facing now.
I personally believe that the South Flagler Drive Cycle Track will be a net-gain for both the neighborhood and the City. We’ll get a slower road. Additional amenities for cyclists, more space to walk dogs and go fishing on the seawall. Being recognized as part of a national cycling trail all for the cost of narrowing travel lanes 6 inches and whatever the concrete curbs cost. It’s a no-brainer.
P.S. Yes, I did go out and measure the travel lanes – 10.5 ft… this whole discussion is about 6 inches of each travel lane!