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Our Town by William Kelly: Traffic study lays foundation for tougher development rules, Palm Beach officials say

A town consultant’s study of traffic and parking conditions on the island has confirmed what officials and residents already knew.

Palm Beach’s roads are much more congested than they were just a few years ago, and its key intersections are often clogged with traffic during the winter season – especially during peak travel periods.

But Town Council members said at their meeting Tuesday that the consultant’s report will help underpin the town’s future efforts to contain commercial intensification in hopes of keeping traffic headaches from getting worse.

The council unanimously voted to accept the 993-page study performed by The Corradino Group for around $425,000.

“The study proves the town has reached its carrying capacity with parking and traffic,” Councilman Lew Crampton said. “We are overwhelmed. We have a failing set of intersections.”

Many of the road segments and intersections perform at a Level of Service “D” or worse – meaning traffic lines and wait times are longer than residents are willing to tolerate, town Public Works Director Paul Brazil said.

Corradino reported an annual average of 38,400 one-way vehicle trips into town each day. According to a memo from Zoning Director Wayne Bergman, the sources of daily traffic include:

  • contractors performing a “record level” of residential construction and renovation.
  • utility undergrounding equipment and workers.
  • “never-ending” landscapers with trucks and trailers.
  • visitors to golf courses, the beach and shops.
  • employees who work in commercial areas.
  • residents’ household staff members.

On June 12, the council decided not to consider future development applications for restaurants, bars, clubs and other eateries for six months while it studies ways to limit the number of those establishments in an effort to combat traffic congestion.

There are 60 eating establishments in Palm Beach with more than 9,900 customer seats. That number exceeds the town’s 2020 population count of 9,245 residents, according to the U.S. Census.

Since 2017, daily peak season traffic counts have increased by 21.7 percent – including a 6.3 percent increase during the past year – on 14 traffic segments in Palm Beach, Bergman wrote in a June 20 memo to the council.

Downtown West Palm Beach

Many of the increased traffic counts are directly related to the non-stop development occurring in neighboring West Palm Beach, Bergman wrote.

Downtown West Palm beach has 4,962 dwelling units under construction or approved by the city, according to Bergman. New Class “A” office towers approved since 2021 will provide 3.2 million square feet of commercial space. Newly approved hotels will bring another 2,006 guest rooms.

Downtown West Palm Beach has an area designated as a Transportation Concurrency Exemption Area where new development is not required to meet the city’s traffic and parking requirements.

“The city is basically saying to developers – ‘Don’t worry about traffic congestion, we will ignore it – just come and build,’” Bergman wrote.

Crampton said the data from the Corradino report can be incorporated into the town’s comprehensive land-use plan, which serves as a guide for the zoning code and for decisions made by the council and other town boards.

“The answer is for the council and other bodies to look much more carefully at major construction projects, particularly in commercial areas, and basically not to allow any project that has a regional drawing capacity,” Crampton said.

The traffic data could also help to strengthen the town’s position should a property owner legally challenge a decision preventing intensified use of a commercial site, he said.

Crampton is chairman of the council’s Business and Administrative Committee, which developed a comprehensive parking management plan approved by the council last year.

Council President Bobbie Lindsay said that, even during the off-season months of summer, traffic on the island is much heavier than it used to be. She said most of the traffic in the North End comes from sightseeing visitors who come to see the beaches, Mar-a-Lago and other points of interest.

“We are an attraction,” Lindsay said. “We have way more traffic than we used to have.”

The Corradino Group’s original report was presented to the town in January following a year-long study. It was reviewed by the council at its Feb. 13 and March 13 meetings. The council asked Corradino Group to revise and expand the study, and the town received the revised version on June 13.

Recommendations

Corradino Group recommended the town complete annual evaluations of the Adaptive Traffic Control System the town is implementing to improve traffic signalization performance.

It also recommended the town coordinate with the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Department of Transportation to permanently reduce the number of weekday rush-hour openings on the three drawbridges serving the town. As part of a recently closed public comment period on the subject, the town asked the Coast Guard to make the reduced openings permanent.

Corradino Group also suggested improvements to improve lane queueing at some intersections.

Regarding parking, Corradino Group said the key problem is not a shortage of spaces, but that the spaces are often farther away than residents would like. It recommended attempting better use of the existing parking inventory instead of building a parking garage, which typically costs around $40,000 per parking space to construct.

Bergman and Brazil both recommended that the council accept the report.

“This study will be extremely helpful to the town’s zoning code review going forward, especially as it relates to commercial uses and parking regulations,” Bergman said.

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