Guest Commentary: Infrastructure


By Jim Smith, SAFE Chairman Special to The Pineapple Delray Beach has become a magnet for developers, and we all know why – it’s a jewel of a City. And, we want to keep it that way. But how do we do that? Fortunately, we have a Mayor and a City Commission that listens to us and will change our land development regulations so that future projects must adhere to higher standards of density and height. However, be warned, these restrictions will increase – not reduce, the attractiveness of Delray. As a result, many more developers will continue to flock here. So the question becomes, “how do we promote smart growth?” How do we have growth that keeps cars off the road as our downtown population increases? That’s really what it’s about…SAFE believes that the only answer is to invest in a series of infrastructure improvements that will result in more people walking and bicycling. Below are SAFE’s infrastructure suggestions for smart growth that not only assures our quality of life today, but improves on it in the future: 1. Implement the Parking Management System that was recommended by Kimley, Horn, & Associates. One of their key recommendations is to start charging for downtown parking. We need the revenue that paid parking will generate to invest in improving our infrastructure. Also, it’s not fair that property owners are paying almost $2 million/year to provide this “free parking!” 2. Build a new parking garage at the Gladiola Parking Lot (adjacent to Mellow Mushroom). The redevelopment of Atlantic Plaza and the old library site will increase the demand for parking, since all the people now parking at these locations will have to find other places to park. Already, residents of the historic Marina district are asking for car stickers to prevent the current overspill from parking in their neighborhood. Who can blame them? If the City pledged this additional future parking revenue to repay a new bond issue, the new parking garage could be paid for by: 1) those parking revenues, and 2) the increase in property valuations resulting from projects that will be built in the future. In other words, most of the bond repayment will be made by new residents and businesses. 3. Replace the (210) single head parking meters along SR A1A with (20) multi space meters. There are many advantages:      a. The new meters will be more convenient since they will accept credit cards. This will eliminate the quandary facing most drivers when they do not have enough quarters. Do you leave your car to get more quarters or do you take a chance that you won’t get a ticket?      b. The sidewalk will be wider for pedestrians since the (20) multi space meters will be mounted in the grassy area near the fence.      c.The viewscape will be improved since poles and signs in the sidewalk will be reduced by 90%.      d. Staff collection time will be reduced significantly since there will be 190 fewer collection points.      e. Parking revenue will increase since all unexpired meter time will not be available to the next person who parks. In short, a win/ win/win for all! Again – like the proposed parking garage – the upfront costs will be paid for by a portion of parking revenue generated now and, in the future, by the resulting increased parking revenue. 4. Implement a downtown bicycle sharing program as a pilot program. 5. Take back Atlantic Avenue sidewalks for pedestrians, by encouraging bicyclists to ride on the street (where they belong) by implementing a shared use (Sharrows) system. This system incorporates street symbols and signage to alert drivers and bicyclists that they are sharing a travel lane. Status: FDOT has approved this system for Atlantic Avenue and the City has it under review. 6. Upgrade downtown Atlantic Avenue ped signals to be ADA compliant and restripe stop bars and crosswalks. 7. Build bicycle lanes and complete the sidewalk on George Bush Blvd. between Federal Highway and SR A1A. By doing so, residents in the area finally will have a safe way of walking and riding to the beach and bicyclists will have a safer way of riding from as far as Military Trail to the beach. 8. Create a quiet zone to eliminate those annoying FEC freight train whistles. We have been told that this improvement must be paid for by the City, so we just need to face up to it, and do it! Why wait and continue with the suffering? 9. Increase the intensity of street lighting on Atlantic Avenue. (Especially over the Atlantic Avenue Bridge, and without changing the decorative light poles.) This measure will improve the safety of pedestrians at night. 10. Design and build a “Welcome to Delray” gateway at the entrance to the beach area at the foot of Atlantic Avenue & SR A1A (as per the 2010 Beach Master Plan). 11. Upgrade beach facilities: showers, increased seating, artful bicycle racks (think turtles and fishes) at convenient locations, pergolas at each end of the beach, wider sidewalks to the east, and sidewalk lighting respecting the turtles (as per the 2010 Beach Master Plan). 12. Complete or build a new sidewalk network. This should be done where there are many peds dangerously walking in the street (especially at night). The proposed network would connect Atlantic Avenue to North/ South Gleason Street, Venetian Drive, and MacFarlane Drive with East/West Miramar Drive, Ingraham Avenue, and Casuarina Road. Sidewalk construction should be considered as an extension of drainage pipes and reclaimed water pipes construction. Also, complete the existing sidewalk on Andrews Avenue from Atlantic Avenue to George Beach Blvd. 13. Start building downtown interconnectivity (new sidewalks, bicycle lanes, transit) so that Atlantic Avenue will not be swamped with more and more cars when local passenger service (Tri-Rail Atlantic Link) becomes a reality on the downtown FEC tracks. 14. Expand our trolley system to provide a commercial route linking downtown Delray to the major shopping centers to the south, with stops at Publix, Marshalls, Fresh Market, Trader Joes (if it comes), plus Target, and Home Depot. When this service is offered, downtown residents truly could get by without owning a car. Perhaps, a private/public venture could be established to share the cost. 15. Fill in the sidewalk gap on the west side of SR A1A between Atlantic Avenue and George Bush Blvd. FDOT will do it at no cost to the City, if the City requests it. Otherwise, these state funds will be spent on another project, in another City. SAFE respectively asks the Delray Beach City Commission to consider offering a $50M to $75M “Quality of Life” bond issue to finance the upfront costs of these suggested infrastructure projects; otherwise, it is not likely they will happen in our lifetime or our children’s lifetime. And, this is an excellent time for bond financing since interest rates are near all time lows. In the past, Delray Beach taxpayers have supported similar quality of life bond issues; and, there is no reason to think they will not again when the purpose of the financing is explained. The best part is that the bond repayment will be made by new residents and businesses. Who better to pay for preserving the quality of life we now enjoy that is under attack because of an increasing population downtown? Jim Smith, SAFE Chairman 1225 S. Ocean Blvd, # 202 Delray Beach, FL 33483 (561) 330- 6798 Phone & Fax “Help Florida become the most motorist, pedestrian, and bicyclist friendly state in the USA”