The streets of West Palm Beach, FL took a beating recently. Physically, by hundreds of urbanists walking around during CNU20 and verbally, by many of the same urbanists reacting to what they encountered. The conversation is still going strong.
The picture below is not unique to West Palm Beach. Despite the high volume of foot and bicycle traffic, the streets just beyond the very walkable City Place are designed to move vehicles quickly. It’s always nice to see pedestrian buttons and pedestrian signals, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll have enough time to walk from one side to the other (see below). Cars were zipping by this family at about 45 MPH.
Below is the intimidating presence of Okeechobee Blvd, the barrier between CNU20 attendees and City Place. Cars race from red light to red light, generally traveling 45-50 MPH between intersections.
Open-minded traffic engineers like to see real examples of the type of human-scale design advocated by ITE, AASHTO, APA, CNU, and others. The streets of City Place serve as a good traffic engineering laboratory, almost around the clock. Skinny streets, wide sidewalks, good lighting, bike racks, small intersections, and visitor-friendly wayfinding signs.
Intersection and mid-block crosswalks are clearly marked, but pedestrians clearly own City Place streets. Vehicles move so slowly in the activity centers that pedestrians can safely cross streets just about anywhere. A traditional Level of Service and queuing analysis would probably find several “operational deficiencies”. Deficiencies that exist in the textbook world of engineering, but not in the real world lab.
The only complaints I heard about the pedestrian-friendly environment came from a shuttle bus driver who said he didn’t like having to pay such close attention to the streets and sidewalks. Interestingly enough, that close attention is exactly what increases safety.