Boynton Beach: Planners seek walkable downtown, but not all agree

By Thomas R. Collins
Plans to make Boynton Beach Boulevard a prettier — and, very possibly, narrower —  street have entered the design phase, city redevelopment officials say.
    Part of the beautification effort is to make the main thoroughfare, with two lanes in each direction, into more of a main-street-type roadway, possibly with one lane in each direction between Seacrest Boulevard and Federal Highway. That, officials hope, will make it an inviting atmosphere for pedestrians, and help businesses there as a result — although some businesses have cast a wary eye on the idea.
    Other changes might include better signage, burying utility lines and more opportunities for sidewalk dining.
    “We’re just trying to create our little downtown area,” Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Vivian Brooks said. “It’s fairly walkable, but we want to make it so people do walk it.”
    Last year, the CRA board agreed to pay Kimley-Horn and Associates $56,400 to study the idea.
    The CRA sent the Florida Department of Transportation a description of what it hopes to do to change the roadway, along with its traffic projections on why it would work.
    The concept of taking a major four-lane road and eliminating two lanes of it might not normally seem like a wise idea, but Kimley-Horn’s traffic planners justify the move by saying that the county’s population has shifted westward and alternate routes are available.
    Ocean Avenue, Woolbright Road, and Northeast 10th Street would take on most of the traffic that would avoid a narrowed Boynton Beach Boulevard, the traffic planners say.
    By 2035, the planners say, Boynton Beach Boulevard’s traffic would fall by 2,000 cars a day, to about 14,600, because drivers would avoid it. Plus, the road already falls within “traffic concurrency exception areas,” a common designation for downtown streets that allows slower-than-normal speeds for the sake of a more urban experience.
    The DOT recommended some fine-tunings to the CRA’s analysis, but said the proposal doesn’t interfere with any long-range plans.
    “They were very technical comments, very minor,” Adam Kerr, a Kimley-Horn transportation engineer, said at the last CRA meeting.  “In general, they’ve been very supportive.”
    Officials have said that narrowing the road is not a definite part of the plan yet. But Brooks said DOT’s response was a significant step.
    “We want to be fairly sure that FDOT is OK with what we’re thinking,” she said.
    The city’s downtown is “missing the boat” when it comes to having that signature avenue, she said.
    “When you come down Boynton Beach Boulevard, what you see are concrete poles and wire and mostly paving — and it’s not inviting,” she said when the Kimley-Horn agreement was approved.
    At the same meeting, business owner Valerie Pleasanton, of Ace Hardware on Boynton Beach Boulevard near Federal Highway, said that the idea of narrowing the road is misguided and that “it feels that you have a target on us and you don’t want us there anymore.” Her business is “a direct result of the cars,” she told the CRA board.
    “Beautification” and “pedestrian-friendly” streets, she said, “sound really  excellent, but the end result is less traffic coming down that boulevard. And that means less dollars in our pocket and that means I cannot afford to run a business in downtown Boynton Beach.”                                      Ú

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