Friday, April 6, 2012

Palm Beach Planning Panel Recommends Further Analysis on Ortiz Avenue

Ortiz Avenue is a road that runs north/south between SR 80 and SR 82 approximately one mile west of I-75 and is identified as part of the County's Primary Bike/Ped Network in the MPO Bike/Ped Master Plan.  Ortiz is planned to be widened from a two lane road to a four lane with a median and turns lanes and the speed raised to 45 MPH.  This decision was, in part, based on modeling that that showed an increase in automobile trips. 

In response to this plan, the Palm Beach Planning Panel, at its March 27th meeting, asked the Lee County MPO to conduct further analysis on the impact of transit pedestrian trips on the 2035 model estimates and to analyze the potential cost savings or capacity tradeoffs associated with reducing Ortiz Avenue North of Luckett Road to 2 Lanes with a turn lane.

There are several reasons that further analysis is warranted.

First, complete streets design is about context. 

Analysis on Ortiz Avenue shows that the section north of Luckett Road to SR 80 is a different road than south of Luckett (to State Road 82).  This northern section of the road is an integral part of a community.  Currently, it is a two lane road with a small sidewalk on one side of the road.  This sidewalk hosts a large number of walking and bicycle trips.  In a study conducted by Florida Gulf Coast University students, this section had the second-highest amount of bike/ped trips in the county.  Trip counts affirm this, as the northern section has approximately 7,700 trips less per day than the southern section.   In addition, the 2000 census showed that this neighborhood has the highest transit and pedestrian trips to work in the county.  This was not considered in previous models and would likely have a big impact on the estimated trips on the road.  Increasing the capacity of this road without further analysis ignores the different contexts of the road and the impact of other modes of transportation.

Road design has an impact on community livability, economics, and health.

Because the northern section of Ortiz is part of a community, its design impacts community livability, economics, and health.  Roads that are designed to be slower with ample biking and walking opportunities increase business opportunities, promote livability in neighboring residential areas, and are safer.  Wider faster roads have a negative effect on economic opportunities, livability, and safety.  Further, it is cheaper to build ‘right-sized’ roads both in short-term construction costs and long term maintenance.  The county and the community plan are working hard to increase the livability and viability of the surrounding community and should maintain that commitment through its road design. 

Some of the arguments to increase the capacity of the road are that increased relievers to I-75 are needed if there are accidents or to keep local trips off of the interstate.  While this may be a goal of travelers outside of Lee County, it does nothing to enhance livability for Lee County residents.  It also assumes that the only value of a properly designed road is to move cars fast.  If Ortiz is properly designed, all county residents will enjoy the economic impacts of higher property values, increased opportunities for walkability, and access to a unique historic area of the county. 

By taking context into account and conducting further analysis on Ortiz demonstrates that Lee County is serious about its commitment to complete streets and its economic and livability outcomes.

Report By Margaret Banyan

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