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Our Town by William Kelly: Year-long traffic study falls short, Town Council says

A study aimed at reducing traffic gridlock and parking challenges on the island received a mixed reaction from the Town Council on Tuesday.

Town consultant The Corradino Group delivered a summary of its nearly 700-page report based on its 12-month study of traffic and parking conditions in Palm Beach during 2023.

Corradino examined 23 intersections, with and without traffic signals, during morning and afternoon peak-travel periods and rated each based on how long drivers have to wait before moving through.

All intersections were determined to operate at an “acceptable” level of service or better, except for Cocoanut Row/Royal Palm Way. That busy intersection received the lowest rating because drivers were forced to sit through two or more signal cycles before they could move through.

Parking supply and demand were evaluated in the town’s business districts, and valet parking operations were studied at 18 locations where there are restaurants.

Corradino also studied the impact of a possible conversion of South Lake Drive, along the Town Marina, to southbound one-way traffic. It found that the change would have no significant impact on the area road network.

Corradino recorded an average of 38,400 vehicle trips in town on weekdays, said Eric Czerniejewski, the firm’s traffic engineering division manager. About 11,000 of those trips are to the beaches, commercial districts, and other attractions, he said. The 38,400-vehicle count is one-way, not round-trip.

“We know how many people are coming to the town, we know where they are going, we know how they impact the system on the way to their destination and, once they get to their destination, we know how they utilize the parking,” Czerniejewski said.

Lew Crampton, who chairs the council’s business and administrative committee, said the recommendations in the Corradino report align with those contained in a seven-point parking and management plan developed by the committee and adopted by the council last spring.

“Expansion of paid parking in the [commercial business district], Palm Beach residential parking decals, valet parking on Worth Avenue and South County Road, 30-minute free parking spaces – all of this is consistent with what has been said in the [town’s] parking plan,” Crampton said.

But Mayor Danielle Moore and council members said the town needs more information from Corradino.

“This is a starting point,” Moore said during an interview. “We need more information. I think the questions that council members asked, for clarification or for more detail, are really important.”

Corradino projected a 1 percent annual growth rate for the town, based on the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency’s regional planning model, Czerniejewski said. But council members said that projection is too low and doesn’t reflect actual conditions in the town.

Council President Margaret Zeidman said traffic gridlock is noticeably worse in town compared to last year, when The Corradino Group gathered its data. Zeidman also said the analysis does not reflect the impact of all the residential units that are being built in West Palm Beach.

“Things have changed dramatically since you did this study,” she told Czerniejewski. “Call West Palm Beach and find out how many condos they are going to add.”

Corradino studied morning peak travel between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., and afternoon peak travel from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. But the council said the afternoon rush starts much earlier than 4 p.m., and it requested that Corradino study traffic patterns from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. and return with that information.

Palm Beach’s peak afternoon travel period differs from that of other towns because of the parade of gardeners and contractors that begin exiting the island as early as 2:30 p.m., Councilwoman Julie Araskog said.

Corradino is studying the future traffic and parking impact of the Vineta Hotel, set to open in the former Chesterfield Hotel building on Australian Avenue during the second half of this year; and of a proposal to renovate the Paramount Theatre building on North County Road for use as a private club. The landmarked building is currently used for retail and offices (the Palm Beach Civic Association and Palm Beach Police & Fire Foundation are among the building’s tenants).

The council asked Corradino to also study the future impact of the Royal Poinciana Playhouse, scheduled to reopen late this year as a cultural arts center and restaurant; and of the Breakers Planned Unit Development. The hotel has permanent town approval to build up to 251 homes on the south side of Royal Poinciana Way.

Corradino said in its report that the town’s zoning code should reinforce the use of shared parking with new commercial or mixed-use development applications.

The council has authorized $417,428 to pay Corradino for the traffic study, according to Bob Miracle, Palm Beach’s deputy town manager for finance and administration.

Czerniejewski told the Palm Beach Civic Association on Tuesday that the firm is billing the town on an hourly basis and has not reached its contract limit.

Miracle told the Civic Association on Thursday that the town believes Corradino will be able to work within the $417,428 contract amount.

“However, until we receive their estimate from this week, we don’t know that for sure,” Miracle said.

Moore said she hopes Corradino will return with the additional information no later than May. She said the town also needs more advice on how to address its parking and traffic challenges.

“We’re going to make them come up with more concrete suggestions,” Moore said of Corradino’s report. “It has a long way to go.”

 

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