By Mary Hladky
 
Boca Raton bicyclists have pressed city officials for years to make streets safer for them, but a horrific Jan. 4 crash on State Road A1A in Gulf Stream injuring six cyclists struck by an SUV has made the issue even more urgent.

At the invitation of City Council member Fran Nachlas, members of the Florida Share the Road Coalition, formed after the Gulf Stream crash, as well as the city’s Citizens’ Pedestrian and Bikeway Advisory Board and well-known local cyclist Jim Wood, spoke at a Feb. 12 council workshop meeting. Municipal Services Director Zach Bihr then outlined what the city is doing to improve safety.

Also fresh on everyone’s mind was a March 3, 2023, crash at the intersection of Federal Highway and Palmetto Park Road downtown that claimed the life of bicyclist and Boca resident Mark Rudow, 66, who was struck by a pickup truck.

Stressing the need to prevent tragedies and improve safety, coalition member Cameron Oster said that pedestrian and bicyclist deaths combined represented a third of the fatal crashes in Palm Beach County.

“Our mission is to make A1A and Palm Beach County safer for drivers and recreational traffic while preserving the beauty of the coastline, allowing community members and our visitors to enjoy it, whether by two feet, two wheels or four wheels,” he said.

While improvements are needed throughout the city, his 2,000-member organization is prioritizing A1A, which is highly popular with cyclists.

The Florida Department of Transportation is planning a $7.3 million project to make over the nearly 5-mile stretch of A1A that runs through Boca Raton. It is expected to start in the fall of 2027.

Another FDOT project will tackle the 3 miles of A1A through Highland Beach beginning this summer.

Holli Sutton, chair of the Citizens’ Pedestrian and Bikeway Advisory Board that is coordinating with city officials to identify roadway deficiencies, said the group has a list of 27 projects that should be done. Among them is improving commuter routes to the Brightline station.

Wood showed photos of existing bike lanes that are in poor condition and said very little had been done to improve them.

A pressing need, he said, is to connect the existing five shared-use trails in the city. Sutton echoed that recommendation.

Wood also called for construction of protected bike lanes that are separated from car traffic by barriers, which he said is much safer than separating them with white lines.

“We hear you,” Nachlas said after listening to the presentations. “And we want to keep hearing what you have to say.”

Bihr said that his municipal services staff has identified 118 potential projects, which would cost about $165 million — an amount that Mayor Scott Singer said “will require difficult choices on prioritization.”

The city has hired a consultant to help staff create a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plan, Bihr said.

He noted that the city will be making major changes to East Palmetto Park Road that will improve its appearance and make it better for walking and cycling.

The city also has received grant funding for upgrades to El Rio Trail lighting and a shared-use path on Southwest 18th Street.

The city will soon hire a director of transportation and mobility whose job will include improving bikeability.

“I truly believe to have someone at the helm of that … will be pivotal to our success,” said Council member Yvette Drucker.

The city joined the national Vision Zero campaign in 2022 and received a $300,000 grant last year to create a plan to improve safety for all roadway users with the aim of eliminating severe traffic injuries and deaths.

It also is participating in Complete Streets, an approach to planning, designing and maintaining streets to reduce risks for all road users.

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