Editor's Note: Slow change on main street fits ideal of island life

When the windows are open at my Ocean Ridge home, I hear the cars roll by on State Road A1A. Bicyclist friends shout our names as a wake-up call early on Saturday mornings as they ride by. On our morning walks we wave to friends heading out for work or coffee.

And as years tick by, we’ve watched neighbor kids grow up in the back seats as parents dutifully drove them to school.

From inside our newsroom we’ve learned to count the public safety vehicles screaming down the road and contemplating how we might report our local breaking news.

In other words, for most of my adult life, A1A has been my main street.

When we started The Coastal Star, I had visions of getting the municipalities along A1A to come together to create a unique and defined place. I could see an expanded commercial district in the Briny Breezes/Ocean Ridge/County Pocket area as a midway point between Plaza del Mar in Manalapan and the shops off Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton.

I thought a sidewalk all along the highway would create unity among our towns while improving pedestrian safety. It seemed to me that streetlights sharing a design style along the road would provide a sense of place.

I even thought that having Wi-Fi along the corridor would give this newly defined area some zing.

And, it seemed to me, all of this might have been possible with the creation a multi-municipality overlay district.

But then, battles over commercial zoning and bike lanes ensued. It became increasingly clear that consensus was nowhere in sight.

I suspect a couple of our towns would fight the very mention of sidewalks — even with the benefit of public safety — and any agreement on multi-city project spending was probably doomed from the start.

It appears obvious that the Florida Department of Transportation too has witnessed the strident independence of each local government and has chosen to take the slow road on implementing changes to our main street.

Although there have been few changes over the years, it’s been heartening to see consistent pedestrian crosswalk signage go up along the road. This has been a vast safety improvement in areas where people — like me — enjoy walking to and from the beach.

With Highland Beach’s March referendum on whether or not to spend $45 million on A1A-area improvements, we have a chance to see if one town embraces features that other municipalities may perceive as beneficial. Highland Beach’s proposals for installing underground utilities along A1A, lighted crosswalks, landscaping and walking path improvements and designated bicycle lanes could help jump-start discussions in other towns.

But I wouldn’t count on it. Each municipality on the barrier island is, dare I say, an island. Hopefully, islands that aren’t sinking.

No matter how (or if) Highland Beach embraces change, we will all continue to watch flooding and rising tides.

FDOT currently has little concern about rain events unless standing water remains for more than several hours. Having A1A flooded for this long presents a serious public safety concern during increasingly frequent rainstorms and rising flooding. This is one area unlikely to benefit from the slow and steady approach.

Otherwise, it’s safe to say A1A will stay pretty much the same for some time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s still a very special road through a very special place: our main street.

— Mary Kate Leming, Editor

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