Have you been to the West Palm Beach Waterfront recently? If not, you’re missing out on Flagler Shore, the project that converts the two east lanes of Flagler Drive from Lake Avenue to Banyan Boulevard from “Pavement to People Space.”
This .6-mile-length of Flager Drive is on an experimental diet from four lanes to two – one in each direction.
The now-freed two lanes of Flagler allow visitors to enjoy new and fluid programming along the Waterfront including street performers, street vendors and more public art.
The project started in October, but the ideas behind it go back to 2014 when the city hired urban designer Jeff Speck to create a plan for how West Palm Beach can be more walkable. Speck looked for opportunities to enhance the walkability of the city without having to make major changes to the infrastructure.
Speck noted, “Flagler Drive ruthlessly separates downtown West Palm Beach from its best natural feature and greatest physical attraction, its waterfront. Its wide lanes invite speeding, as does the fact that it is rarely crowded.”
Speck said a two-lane road can comfortably handle the 10,000 cars a day on Flagler Drive. Flagler Drive has up to five lanes.
“Since the same number of cars, and more, could be well served by a much narrower design created with paint at a very low cost, there is no logical reason other than inertia for not re-striping the road immediately,” Speck concluded.
In 2016, the city hosted Shore to Core, an international design competition with the goal of creating a healthier and more resilient downtown and waterfront in West Palm Beach. The commonality between the winning designs was the agreement that we could be better utilizing the space on Flagler Drive.
Fast-forward to October 2017 and the start of the Flagler Shore experiment, where the city reclaimed 63,000 sq. ft. of road. The new street design features colorful seating, benches and bistro tables and chairs that can be easily moved for those seeking a shaded area.
My company is on the 7th floor of the Citizen’s Building, which overlooks the Waterfront and Flagler Drive, so I have had front-row seats to this project. All traffic lights have been changed to flashing yellow so driving from Lakeview Avenue to Banyan flows smoothly, only stopping for foot traffic that is crossing Flagler.
I have seen traffic slow down significantly, from an average of about 45 mph to the posted 20 mph, but I haven’t seen the new project cause any congestion or delays with the travellers driving up and down Flagler.
Now, every Wednesday we leave the office to enjoy “Lunch on the Shore,” where food trucks park on the Waterfront for lunch. On Saturday between 9 and 10 a.m. we can enjoy free “Sunrise Wellness” Yoga. Also on Saturday, the “Bike Valet,” sponsored by SkyBike, will tune up your bike while you stock up on fresh produce at our award-winning Green Market.
One Sunday after enjoying a picnic on Flagler Shore, a volleyball net was thrown up and an impromptu game started.
In November, renowned French artist JR, in collaboration with Arts in Public Places and other local organizations, brought his “Inside Out” project to Flagler Shore. He created a piece of art by photographing 168 locals, printing the massive pictures and pasting them on the street to create a massive collage.
The Flagler Shore project has not been without controversy. The Palm Beach Post published a series of letters by tenants of Phillips Point and CityPlace Tower where they describe this project as the “definition of tacky,” an “unsightly mess,” “aesthetically unattractive” and showing a “lack of vision.”
I strongly disagree with these opinions. Change is difficult, and this experiment is the first step in unleashing the full potential of our Waterfront. Once the city is satisfied that two lanes of Flagler Drive can handle the traffic, I look forward to seeing the new configuration of Flagler made permanent.
The city is actively encouraging public feedback on the new design and new activities. Here are a few of my own ideas:
• Art and chess tables;
• Bike paths;
• Beach volleyball court and half pipe for skateboarders;
• Small shaded waterfront cafes;
• Parking for a floating restaurant;
• Barbecue grills and picnic tables;
• Space for “pop-up” bars;
• We could change the alignment of the seawall to create a beach area, or create steps to the water;
• Coconut palm forest with hammocks;
• A park for kids;
What are your ideas? Send any comments and ideas via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured above: The City of West Palm Beach is now promoting its weekly “Lunch on the Shore,” featuring food trucks that set up Wednesdays from noon to 2 p.m. across from 501 S. Flagler Dr. Hungry downtowners also have the option to bring their own lunch or pre-order food from a downtown restaurant and have it delivered to Flagler Shore. Photo by Aaron Wormus/Palms West Monthly