In a recent article, the Sun Sentinel explored the pros and cons of Boca’s “new look.” Numerous members of the City Council were interviewed, as were various development advocates, but although the headline touted “citizen concerns,” not one ordinary citizen or citizens’ group such as Boca Watch or BocaBeautiful.org was quoted. Nor was there a single word about traffic. Not one word.
A $50,000 “traffic study” by Boca’s City Council has focused on the problems with one intersection, at Fifth and Palmetto, site of the enormously popular Trattoria Romana and the enormously controversial Wildflower development. We learned that in preparation for its conclusions, the well-paid consultants counted cars in the month of September, which is like recording snowfall in July. A similar study of the gridlocked intersection at 5th Avenue and Federal Highway was conducted when the main destination there (Florida’s largest Publix) was closed for renovation. Even if they come up with a brilliant solution for Fifth and Palmetto, that will fix only a tiny piece of the problem.
The root of Boca’s coming traffic congestion crisis is this: too many residential and commercial units are being crammed into the one square mile “downtown” where there are only five main roads. The new plans for Royal Palm Place alone call for a 3000 car garage. If all the apartments, offices, retail establishments and hotels are completed, we estimate that there will be an additional ten thousand cars in and around the downtown area by 2018. And that’s just the people who live and work and want to park there.
The developers and their allies tell us that the infrastructure studies done over 20 years ago anticipated all of this, and that we have nothing to worry about. If you are experiencing slower commutes on Glades, Dixie, Federal, Palmetto or Camino, it is not because of the new residents of the downtown (they haven’t arrived yet), but because of the increased traffic caused by people passing through Boca. That’s people travelling from Delray to Pompano or Deerfield and back. Their solution? Maybe we need to build a bypass around Boca’s downtown! The Boca Beltway!
You’ll also hear lots of talk about how we don’t need to worry about cars because we are building a “pedestrian friendly” downtown. The assumption that people are joyously going to walk everywhere ignores both Boca’s demographics and the laws of human behavior. If everyone’s going to be on foot, why are the developers building all those parking spaces? To be used as auto storage units? Are people going to travel to and from the grocery store on trolleys or segways? And what about the people who come from out of the area to service all of our new downtown residents? Or the visitors who come and stay in all the new hotels? Perhaps downtown Boca will become the aerobic capital of the world.
There’s a much simpler solution to Boca’s coming traffic mess. Let’s pause new construction in the downtown—especially the massive Via Mizner Phases II and III—until we have done an area-wide traffic study, counting traffic in peak periods like February, and come up with a comprehensive plan to cope with the cars of the additional residents, commuters and tourists who will flock to Boca’s new urban mecca. Let’s put the horse before the cart for a change, or more specifically, lets make sure we have the roads before the cars arrive.
That’s what the Boca development debate should be all about. Not the paint job on the Mark or the number of Mizner turrets a developer can put on a concrete pile.
John C. Gore, President, BocaBeautiful.org