By Jane Smith
The days are numbered for people taking shortcuts across the FEC train tracks in downtown Delray Beach. The city plans to install pedestrian barriers by the end of the summer.
In mid-January, the City Commission approved a pedestrian barrier of aluminum rail fencing with occasional landscaping along both sides of the track for one block — from Atlantic Avenue north to Northeast First Street.
The trespassing problem became a focus last August when a Boca Raton woman was killed by a passing freight train. She was taking a well-used shortcut across the tracks after leaving Johnny Brown’s on Atlantic Avenue when she was struck by a southbound freight train.
“I think someone else is going to get killed. We have to do something,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said at the workshop.
Citing mature bougainvillea as a good deterrent along the Florida East Coast tracks in West Palm Beach, Glickstein said later, “it is both colorful and thrives in harsh conditions and has an added feature of thorns, which in this context is useful to keep people from jumping over the fence.”
Later this year, Brightline passenger rail service will start on the FEC tracks, offering express travel between Miami and West Palm Beach. The estimated 32 daily trains will have only one stop per county — Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. By 2019, plans call for extending the service to Orlando.
That’s why John Morgan, who runs the city’s Environmental Services Department, is rushing to bring better cost estimates back to the commission. He presented four options in mid-January. Commissioners combined parts of two into one — aluminum fence with intermittent landscaping.
After better costs are determined, he then will meet with FEC Railway staff to get approval to construct the barriers. Some part, if not all, of the barriers will sit on FEC-owned land.
Morgan then will ask railway officials to help cover the costs of the barriers.
“FEC is responsible to make it safe, but not pretty,” Glickstein said. The city will look for help with the remaining cost from the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The city also is losing 15 parking spaces in the block just north of Atlantic after the second set of railroad tracks was installed last year, Morgan said. He will use that as an opportunity to reconfigure parking in the lot behind Johnny Brown’s.
At a Community Redevelopment Agency board meeting earlier in January, police Sgt. Darrell Hunter told the board about a parking problem that occurred along the railroad tracks.
In November, when FEC subcontractors were installing the second set of tracks, they removed the “No Parking” signs just north of Atlantic Avenue. People were parking their cars close to the tracks, which prompted the freight trains to slow down and some even stopped, Hunter said. Trains extend at least three feet beyond the tracks on both sides.
Vehicles were ticketed, but the number couldn’t be determined, according to a police spokeswoman. The Police Department uses paper parking tickets that are not tracked.
For the next step in the barrier process, Morgan would take the plan to the Downtown Development Authority, which serves merchants and restaurants along Atlantic Avenue. His goal is to have commission approval by early June and the barriers in place before Brightline trains begin zipping through downtown.
For a finishing touch, Morgan wants to install a pedestrian promenade on each side of the tracks along the barriers. He will seek financial help from the city’s CRA to build promenades between Atlantic and Northeast First.
All this barrier talk pleases Delray Beach safety advocate Patrick Halliday, vice chairman of Human Powered Delray. He pressed for the barriers at the first City Commission meeting after the August tragedy.
“It’s a message to people who don’t want to get involved that change can occur if you speak up,” he said.
By Jane Smith