Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale officials joined together Tuesday at Fort Lauderdale High School to discuss the lane narrowing of Northeast 4 Avenue and Wilton Drive with their respective residents and business owners. Those who attended talked to officials, asked questions and were given cards to make comments on.
Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis, whose law firm is on Wilton Drive, said he welcomed the change.
“Nothing has been decided in terms of details. We want your input. And if you’re totally against it, say that, too,” said Wilton Manors Commissioner Tom Green. Earlier this year, Wilton Manors commissioners were given two choices for designs and chose the one that widened the sidewalk on both sides of the street.
The main argument in favor of the reduction is economic development and safety. Those against are primarily worried about the impact on traffic. The project will involve reducing the number of lanes along both streets from four lanes to two, from Sunrise north to Five Points. It’s part of a Complete Streets effort to make roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Construction is expected to begin in May of 2018.
Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization [MPO] officials said traffic would be impacted but not significantly. Greg Stuart, executive director of the MPO, said a recent lane reduction, from six to four lanes, on Galt Ocean Mile in Fort Lauderdale did not cause huge traffic problems.
It’s something, said Mayor Gary Resnick, the city has been talking about for a decade. For years, city officials expressed interest in reducing the number of lanes but said they didn’t have enough money. But now, the MPO says it will fund the $2.8 million project.
City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson said the city wants to transform Wilton Drive from a thoroughfare into a main street to make it safer for pedestrians and more attractive to businesses.
According to MPO officials, there have been 575 automobile-related crashes, including several fatalities, along the two streets in the last three years.
But mayoral candidate Boyd Corbin, the project’s most outspoken opponent, thinks a safer Wilton drive can be achieved without major changes.
He suggested adding more crosswalks, having police increase their foot patrols and ticketing of excessive speeders. He also thinks the planned seven-foot bike lanes, which include a buffer, will endanger bicyclists. “[It] will create a big hazard for bicyclists since cars will be able to use it to pass cars stopped in the single lane.”
Corbin also rejected the city’s claims that project would not cost city taxpayers any money. He said a plan nine years ago estimated a cost of $3.5 million. Corbin said the money would be better spent on a parking garage next to city hall. As for creating additional parking along the street, engineers only expect about a dozen new spaces could be added. Officials will have a better idea of how the design will look by the beginning of next year.
Henderson said that the estimated cost now is less than $3.5 million because it’s a different design. The city doesn’t know yet how many trees and how much landscaping will be paid for by the MPO but Henderson said her staff will apply for grants to pay for the rest. At the commission meeting Tuesday, Resnick said the city was not planning on spending “a dime” on the project.
“Let’s hold a referendum and let voters decide on this major change to our city. At the very least, let’s first study the effects of narrowing Powerline and 13th Street before we throw away much needed money,” Corbin said.
Although Henderson said a majority of comments were in favor of the project, Corbin was not alone in his opposition.
Jan March, a teacher at Fort Lauderdale High School and resident of Wilton Manors, said school bus and vehicular traffic when the school opens and closes will cause serious problems. “I just feel that it will really affect the traffic.”
Former Wilton Manors commissioner Ted Galatis, whose law firm is on Northeast 4 Avenue, is against the project for the same reason – traffic. “Just because you have money doesn’t mean you need to spend it,” he said.
Wilton Manors resident Jeb Shafer remembers when homeless individuals were sleeping in some of the doorways of Wilton Drive businesses. Now, he said, Wilton Drive needs to change to accommodate its current status as a dining and nightlife destination. “It really doesn’t accommodate life in this city. It’s just become a race track. We really need to have a main street.” As for the traffic worries, Shafer said it could be a bit of a problem at first but he’s confident people will learn and eventually take alternate routes around Wilton Drive.
Others in favor have said similar statements and want Wilton Drive to be the next Las Olas.
But resident Joe Kilpatrick, citing the need for residents to use Wilton Drive to get to city hall, said, “It’s not Las Olas. There’s too many things. It can’t be Las Olas.”