Observations About Traffic in Our Downtown

5

It is probably a good time to take a minute and make some observations about traffic in our Downtown.

 

Regarding “Vested Concurrency” –

 

One will often hear that traffic in the Downtown was studied during the creation of the CRA (over 20 years ago), and that the roadways were adequate to support the traffic associated with eight million square feet of development. Thus, when a new building is proposed within the eight million square foot envelope, the traffic associated with that building is said to have “vested concurrency”. In other words, there is no requirement to study the impact on traffic – that was done over 20 years ago.

 

However, the traffic studies done over 20 years ago assumed that the 8 million square feet of building in the Downtown would be distributed over seven geographic areas. Over and over the square feet from all seven areas have been transferred into the three areas we see being built so rapidly today. Obviously, the roads could not be transferred at the same time. Result? Gridlock in the areas where the buildings are concentrated. The argument that there is “vested concurrency”, when used to minimize the projected impact of traffic associated with a new building, rings hollow.

 

A possible solution? Run a complete concurrency study on each project. Relying on 20 year old studies based on a map that no longer exists makes no sense at all.

 

Regarding Traffic Studies –

 

In a recent presentation to the CRA, the City’s traffic engineer presented the methodologies used to determine compliance with the service levels appropriate for our roadways. To be sure, there is a lot more science in there than many of us were aware of.

 

However, after all is said and done, there is gridlock! At 8:30 in the morning one can wait through four light changes at Dixie and Camino. Ditto at Palmetto and 5th Avenue – sometimes the traffic is backed up to Mizner Blvd. And Archstone is not yet occupied!

 

So the science does not seem to agree with reality. Maybe it is time to look at the methodology used to determine concurrency. Better yet, how about a few simple field trips so one can see what’s real, rather than what’s calculated?

 

One more thought before getting back to work –

 

The notion that people will abandon their cars and walk or ride their bikes to work or to the grocery store is often cited as part of the justification for achieving traffic concurrency in our Downtown. It is also the basis for a new zoning category called Planned Mobility, which is being implemented in many areas of our city. Stay tuned, I’ll be writing another piece on this subject in the near future.

 

As always, thanks for reading and listening; comments are more than welcome! Regards to all…Joe Panella

5 COMMENTS

  1. I believe the Downtown Traffic study was updated in July 2015 as required to remove the requirements to add turn lanes at the intersection of Dixie at Camino pursuant to City Ordinance 5295 adopted Feb. 10, 2015. The updated report was reviewed and approved by the Treasure Coast Planning Council, Florida Department of Transportation, Palm Beach County Traffic and the City’s CRA.

    Also, each transfer requires an analysis of the impacts on infrastructure, including traffic.

    The purpose of the traffic studies is to determine or predict the Level of Service (LOS). The problem you experience driving thru downtown has nothing to do with traffic studies or the lack thereof. The traffic congestion has been deemed acceptable to the City by the adoption of a LOS of “E” for City roads and “D” for County and State Roads. LOS is the unspeakable truth. Here is a link that gives a simple explanation of LOS. http://www.cob.org/documents/planning/growth/fairhaven_high/eis%20info/2009-09-28-trans-Appendix%20A.PDF

  2. Gotcha. I maybe did not express myself properly.

    The main idea is the disconnect between what is deemed acceptable to traffic engineers/authorities who approve these things and the people who actually have to use the roads. The LOS table is useful, thanks for sharing.

    The additional concept is that even though the population density increases the roads stay the same, by and large. So the only possible outcome is more congestion, and people are understandably worried.

    So now come the questions: Is an “E” LOS indicative of a “world class city”? When people who are used to moving freely throughout their town suddenly find themselves stuck in traffic all the time, and they see more and more building, and they see less and less available parking, do they feel any less encumbered because “traffic congestion has been deemed acceptable to the City by the adoption of a LOS of “E” for City roads….”?

    So I agree – it’s not necessarily a lack of studies. The issue is that the studies show what we already know – it’s getting more and more difficult to navigate our town and we keep kicking the can down the highway by approving a dismal LOS.

  3. The disconnect, as I see it, is between the road user and the existing development regulations and development rights afforded by the regulations (the law of the land). Blaming traffic engineers for congestion is analogous to blaming the doctors for their diagnoses. For sure the traffic engineers developed Level of Service Standards, but only as a way to objectively quantify the capacity of road links and it’s intersections for the user and policy makers to better understand traffic congestion .

    Traffic engineers do not determine what is an acceptable level of service for any city, it’s the city legislators that have made that determination and it has been memorialized in the city’s development regulations including the city’s comprehensive plan, code of ordinances and the Downtown Development Order. Note that the LOS standard is a citywide issue, not isolated to downtown development.

    Your point about roadway improvements don’t keep up with congestion is valid . There are at least two reasons why this occurs, the third reason is cost (least significant). . The first reason goes back to what is the adopted LOS standards for traffic. Roadway improvements are not warranted unless the adopted LOS has been crossed or has been predicted to be crossed in the five year plan. The user is disconnected to what amount of congestion is legally allowed. The second and most intriguing reason is that the property owners adjacent to or in close proximity to the road widening project convince the legislators that the road widening is detrimental to their health, safety and welfare and that traffic congestion a few hours in the day and is no big deal.

    A perfect example of the flawed process is when Palm Beach County proposed intersection improvements at Military Trail and Palmetto Park Rd to reduce delay and congestion. . The cost of the proposed improvements was not going to cost the city one penny. The nearby residents convinced our city council to direct Palm Beach County to reject the improvements while the 80,000 road user, never notified of the project, had a say in the matter.

    With respects to ” World Class Cites”. you contend that a “Word Class City” is without traffic congestion and parking issues. The one thing all “World Class Cites have in common is traffic congestion and parking.

  4. Upon final reflection – This is not to point at traffic engineers for executing the studies, or for the results they achieve. This has more to do with all of us accepting traffic snarl as if it were somehow necessary. Maybe we could tighten our standards? For example, make a LOS of B or C the standard, rather than E?

  5. Good article Joe and good comments Tony. Tony, in a comment you say “Also, each transfer requires an analysis of the impacts on infrastructure, including traffic.” In the case of Archstone, before the transfer of development rights into Subarea C there were 14,068 sq ft of OE and 130,833 were transferred from A, D and G to enable the project to qualify from a development rights perspective. What was the scope of the traffic study done before this transfer was approved? Thanks, Jim

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