Friday, July 13, 2018

West Palm Beach Downtown business district: City leaders driving off the cliff.

Do you recall a public discussion last year in West Palm Beach at the Convention Center hosted by Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard, former WPB Commissioner Shanon Materio, and Town of Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio? Read more about that very well-attended public meeting below.

But first, here is an excerpt from the Post by reporters Tony Doris and Alexandra Seltzer published on July 12th:

WEST PALM BEACH — Relations between Palm Beach County and its capital city took a sharp downturn this week, as county commissioners said they would urge the state to reject West Palm Beach’s high-priority push for an Okeechobee Boulevard business district, saying traffic studies were needed to ensure it wouldn’t snarl county convention center access and interfere with expansion plans. [emphasis added]
     The board lambasted the city for what members described as its refusal to consider county traffic concerns, cooperate with county desires to enlarge downtown courthouse facilities or even allow the county to repaint faded parking lot stripes.

Without further ado, hope you enjoy
this blog post from May 2017. . .

The public discussion called “Getting from Point A to Point B” was held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, May 22, 2017:

“We were reminded again by former West Palm Beach Mayor Graham [1991–1999; first “Strong” mayor] that a vision had been in place when she was in office — she thinks that has since been lost — the city she thought needs a vision so developers and city officials don’t make decisions ‘willy nilly’.”

Observation from “Public Discussion” about traffic held last year in the city of West Palm Beach.

Please Note: The list of featured speakers
is at the end of this blog post.

“Getting from Point A to Point B.”

Click on image to enlarge:

This blog post is about that public forum last year (links to segments 1–5 are below which include videos of this discussion):

This is the final segment, #6 . . .

. . . which centered on the traffic situation in downtown West Palm Beach. The organizers of this forum placed particular focus on the Okeechobee Blvd. corridor between Australian Ave. up to and including the Town of Palm Beach. As a testament to the timeliness and importance of this forum, much of the crowd of around 200 people stayed for the entire morning.

The video (see below) is evidence of that as many people stepped up to one of the two microphones placed at the front of the room to offer comments and ask questions. You might find it interesting this particular video is the second-most watched of the series taken that day, it’s being shared a lot already.

There were many worthy ideas floated during this part of the program and it was felt best to get them all out while people were there, for example:

WHERE, WHEN, WHY and WHO are ALL THE PEOPLE using this transportation corridor and come up with solutions heading into the future.

Twice, the notion of a possible direct link serving the Town of Palm Beach via an overpass was discussed. Possible routes mentioned called for direct access from I-95 (although going over Clear Lake might be problematic), and for an elevated route west once on the mainland. This would serve as a reliever for traffic that would otherwise use Okeechobee Blvd. for the most direct route.

The impact of new technologies was mentioned in relation to autonomous vehicles. Also referenced were “driverless water taxis” (remember the Blueway Trail!) like they use in Paris to cross the Seine River.

Signalization also could be augmented for pedestrians, a countdown clock to show the time remaining to cross a wide right-of-way. All these new systems could be accessed by new technology and yet-to-be-developed smart phone apps that would help those navigating the area by foot.

We were reminded again by former West Palm Beach Mayor Graham that a vision had been in place when she was in office — she thinks that has since been lost — the city she thought needs a vision so developers and city officials don’t make decisions “willy nilly”.

Jorge Pesquera, the President and CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches, reported that conventions and conventioneers encourage corporate relocations to the area: first impressions are important. A positive experience related to community walkability and mobility is a key factor in developing a favorable memory of the visit and sets the stage for others to be influenced in the same way.

A good portion of those speaking were residents of the area, most having lived here for a very long time, and recall how much the downtown has changed.

However, some perspective is in order. It’s hard to believe now for many people reading this, but Clematis Street and many other areas nearby in West Palm Beach, were once places to avoid. I know. I worked for the city of West Palm Beach back in 1989 a few years prior to Nancy Graham becoming the mayor.

For more information about this topic (which
continues to be a timely one)

  • The video below is from the final segment, #6 in the series “Getting from Point A to Point B.”
  • For segment #5, “Better Late Than Never” about the editorial in The Palm Beach Post on May 31st (and more information from the presenting experts) use this link.
  • For Segment #4, “Presentation given by PBC Administrator Verdenia Baker” and to read segments 1–3 of the series use this link.

Enjoy the video and please share with everyone you know that’s interested in this timely topic.

The moderator of “Getting from Point A to Point B” was Dana Little, AICP, from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.

Featured speakers:

  • Jorge Pesquera, CEO, Discover the Palm Beaches.
  • Nancy Graham, former Mayor of West Palm Beach.
  • Verdenia Baker, Administrator, Palm Beach County.
  • Michael Busha, Executive Director, Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
  • Ali Soule, Director of Public Affairs, Brightline.
  • John Renne, Director, Professor, Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions, FAU.
  • Tom Bradford, Town Manager, Town of Palm Beach.
  • George T. Webb, P.E., County Engineer, Palm Beach County.
  • Mark Press, Operations Engineer, Florida Department of Transportation, District 4.
  • Nick Uhren, Executive Director, Metropolitan Planning Organization.
  • Clinton Forbes, Executive Director, Palm Tran.
  • Juan Mullerat, Design Director, Plusurbia.