The communities and businesses that abut the South Dixie Corridor in West Palm Beach, FL. have been united over the last 18 years in a common goal. This loose coalition of citizens has given their time, talent and financial resources to improve the S. Dixie Corridor. The number 1 priority has consistently been to lower the speed limit, improve safety and reduce traffic accidents, make streetscape improvements, and create walkable streets that enhance the corridor’s identity.
The community has been struggling with serious concerns such as, how to provide adequate parking for new businesses without intruding into the neighborhoods and to keep redevelopment in scope and scale that fits within the neighborhoods these businesses abut.
Starting in 2000 the City engaged the planning firm Glatting Jackson to do a deep dive into the South Dixie Highway corridor and engage the community in a planning strategy to work together and identify opportunities to improve on the corridor’s safety, and curb appeal.
Today, these objectives remain the same and the community continues to try and move forward. In 2012 the City engaged the Urban Land Institute to conduct a highly technical review of the corridor by a panel of experts. This resulted in a TAP (Technical Assistance Panel) Report for 4.2 miles of South Dixie Highway, from Okeechobee Blvd to the C-51 Canal. For 48 hours this team of experts, along with the City and neighborhoods, worked around the clock to identify the opportunities and the challenges to creating a transformational plan. This report provided a road map for moving forward.
In 2014 Mayor Jeri Muoio convened a Task Force of community and business leaders to create a priority list of projects. Over 125 recommendations were identified. The TAP report recommended that the corridor be divided up into distinct districts that recognize the character and land pattern similarities of each parcel. This corridor is 4.2 miles long and has natural breaking points, and not all lanes, sidewalks and conditions are uniform. The recommendation was to start doing a more in-depth review of the corridor and begin developing strategies for change. This road is owned by FDOT, and any changes would have to be done within strict standards. This process has been underway for the last 4 years. Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency and the City have been working block by block , working with stakeholders, land planners and neighborhoods to address the current conditions, collecting technical data, and redesigning concepts. This is all part of what the State calls a Lane Elimination Application. You must complete this highly technical and detailed document for FDOT to engage in a conversation. Nothing can be approved by FDOT until this application is complete and all aspects of the changes recommended have been proven to meet ALL users’ needs. The FDOT manual for “Complete Streets” is designed to meet the needs of every user of the roadway, without causing harm. The word EVERY USER leaves NO ONE out.
In the course of the last 4 years these agencies have held dozens of meetings with stakeholders and neighbors. The process continues to be ongoing but the issues and concerns continue to be the same.
The most pressing need as determined by the community is to address parking and neighborhood intrusion, speed limits, and safety/crosswalks. The work of the previous 4 years has been assessing existing conditions, identification of hot spots of activity, location of unsafe site corners and under-parked businesses. The team has endeavored to balance the desires and needs of residents, businesses, daily commuters, and the FDOT. On a historic corridor like US-1 in West Palm Beach, not all ideas and elements desired will fit within the existing road right-of-way. Different design elements (like wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, on-street parking, etc.) had to be prioritized and evaluated for their impact at each location within the study area. All of these decisions were made with significant input from the public. The final design must be approved by FDOT and the community engagement will be robust. FDOT will determine which locations can accommodate enhanced vegetation, and shade, opportunities for wider sidewalks and buffering strategies to protect pedestrians from moving traffic.
The goals continue to be the same. Enhance the quality of our neighborhoods through good design, public safety and access to great restaurants, shopping and cultural institutions. The opportunities for our City to grow in a way that we want it to grow, continues by engaging in planning efforts, and allowing future growth opportunities to occur in ways that support our existing businesses and neighborhoods that are here. The final designs and decisions will be made on what is best for our community to remain relevant 125 years from today, as our founding homesteaders did for us 125 years ago when they incorporated into a city.
We stand on a system that was built for a time gone by; families, neighborhood commercial and services have changed and the ever changing and expanding of the corridor presents challenges that must be addressed. We need to make access safe, convenient and sustainable. Changing our physical environment is how this work is done.
Please feel free to share this information – the next meeting on the South Dixie Highway Lane Elimination Application will be scheduled for some time in June. There are no physical changes planned at this time. However, as the process continues, low cost testing of changed conditions will be proposed. There is a Merchant Association forming on the initial road segment to ensure construction and design plans incorporate the merchant’s needs as well. It is the most collaborative effort of community and City engagement, and has lasted for over 5 years – it will continue to be a priority.