A two-way street that is twenty years overdue

This post from long-time member, Jesse Bailey, offers a textbook example of how to frame an argument for converting one-way streets to two-ways. He shows examples of the problem, cites research supporting his case, and puts it all in the context of local comp plans (which too often just sit on a shelf and collect dust). Jesse blogs at Walkable West Palm Beach and was a panelist on our recent blogging webinar.

For something of an opposing viewpoint, check out Andrew Price's post today about the value of one-way streets.

Yesterday on the Engage West Palm Facebook discussion group, two crashes were discussed, mere blocks from each other. One crash occurred at the intersection of Clematis and Dixie and the other at the Evernia and Dixie intersection.

The crash at Evernia and Dixie damaged the ArtHaus building, cracking part of the building facade. Thankfully, no one was hurt in either incident, from our understanding.

One of these crash types is so familiar to the community that we all knew immediately the cause: drivers in the outside lane trying to make a left onto Clematis, sideswiping a car in the inside lane. Most streets in the downtown are two way. Drivers, especially those from out of town, expect two way operation in downtown. Everything in this environment sends the message this is an urban street: People walking on sidewalks, sidewalk cafes, buildings close to the street with ground floor retail. It’s a complex environment in which people, including drivers, negotiate with one another through social queues – that means looking each other in the eye, gesturing, etc. So many people already treat Olive and Dixie as two way streets out of convenience (why circle the block?) that I see a wrong way driver nearly every day. These streets just want to be two-way.

It’s not clear whether the ArtHaus crash was as clearly a result of our one way streets, but I suspect driver confusion may have contributed. Intersections are especially perilous because drivers can become confused, realize they are turning the wrong way and make a rash decision. One way streets also contribute to higher car speeds through downtown because drivers jockey for position and try to pass each other. One wrong move, and a person stepping into the street can be killed. On urban streets, speed kills.

Source: Vox.com

Source: Vox.com

Literally once every couple of weeks, a neighbor reports on a crash on Olive or Dixie, sometimes close calls involving pedestrians.

One way streets just don’t make sense in this environment. Rather than rehashing the extensive research that has been done on multilane one-way streets and why they’re bad in an urban environment, here is a series of supporting links.

There are many more supportive research papers available, but these articles are a good starting point.

A city goal for at least two decades

Most recently, one of the key recommendations in Jeff Speck’s walkability study was to convert Olive and Dixie in downtown to two-way operation. Video here and study here.

A two way Olive and Dixie is called for in the city’s comprehensive plan:

Policy 2.3.5(n): The City shall continue to coordinate with Palm Beach County and FDOT on the possibility of restoring Dixie and Olive to two-way operations in the Downtown area.

Going back even further, here is a 1993 article from the Palm Beach Post’s Joel Engelhardt, describing the goal to convert Olive and Dixie to two-way operation:

More people from Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast come into West Palm to work than any other city. Few stay. Fewer still ever think about moving in to avoid commuting. Who can blame them? There aren’t many inviting places to live downtown. There isn’t even a big grocery store or a nice bookstore. The night life isn’t much. Crime is a problem.
So the plan concentrates on people. It divides downtown West Palm into areas. Some are residential neighborhoods. Others are business districts. Each is given an identity and a blueprint. Olive Avenue and Dixie Highway, two of the main north-south roads, are changed from one-way to two-way so drivers will slow down; sidewalks will be widened to make them more inviting. A simpler building code is proposed.
“In the suburbs,” Mr. Duany said, “people have open land and few rules. That’s what downtowns compete with. So you need to make it as easy as possible while keeping with your overall design.”

Here is an excerpt from the 1994 Duany-Plater Zyberk Downtown Master Plan, on making Olive and Dixie two-way.

The way ahead

The city controls Olive Avenue through the city, and it controls Dixie through downtown. This should make the process of creating a two-way Olive and Dixie less complicated, as these streets are within city control. Mayor Muoio has expressed support for changing Olive and Dixie to two way. From what I’ve been told, however, the county does play a role in these decisions, and Olive and Dixie remain one way in the county’s comp plan. This means this decision is largely a political one, hinging on county support.
We have ample leadership in the city to make this change. Support from our county elected officials will be required to make Olive and Dixie through downtown safer and more prosperous. It’s a change 20 years overdue.

Jesse ends the piece with a call to action encouraging his readers to contact their county commissioners and providing a convenient email to do so. You can find his original piece at Walkable West Palm Beach and find more posts from members on our Member Blogroll

(Car crash photos courtesy of aGuyonClematis and WFLX)

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