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DELRAY BEACH — With a combination of one-lane roads and a buzzing nightlife scene, downtown Delray Beach is already a traffic nightmare, but experts warn the gridlock will get even worse if the city doesn’t make major changes.
As two major development projects continue to progress in downtown, Delray Beach officials are considering a proposal to overhaul the intersection at Atlantic Avenue and Swinton Avenue, as well as just west at Southwest First and Southwest Second avenues.
Among the changes, the city would eliminate the eastbound right-hand turn lane on Atlantic Avenue and Swinton, prohibit various left turns and increase the sidewalk space by Atlantic and Swinton to make it safer for people walking to restaurants and bars.
The changes are necessary to streamline traffic and efficiently move cars through downtown because of the expected surge of additional cars that will come with the Sundy Village and Atlantic Crossing complexes, traffic experts told city officials during a public meeting.
A $300 million project on Atlantic just east of Federal Highway, Atlantic Crossing will feature restaurants, shops, 83,000 square feet of office space and 261 luxury apartments over nine acres. Sundy Village, just south of Atlantic Avenue by Swinton, will have numerous restaurants, bars, shops, wellness centers and office space along seven acres of city blocks.
“There’s so much demand in the future with all these approved developments,” said Natalia Lercari, a traffic consultant for the engineering and planning firm McMahon Associates.
“What happens without the recommendations we’re proposing is [the added cars from these developments] causes gridlock…You’ll still have westbound and eastbound queues and probably more than we see today, because these are two very big projects, but the difference is it’s a much greater improvement if these improvements are made.”
The proposed changes would also increase safety for both cars and pedestrians at Atlantic and Swinton, which saw 179 crashes from 2016-18, according to the city. As the unofficial entrance to downtown, the intersection sees significant foot traffic with people crossing the street. The elimination of the right-hand turn lane heading eastbound in conjunction with larger sidewalks would in theory help reduce potential crashes.
“There’s a lot of pedestrians that cross there,” Lecari said. “They cross whether cars turn. We did a lot of field observation and cars just don’t wait. They’ll [drive right at you].
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“So the idea is to tighten that up and try to remove the conflicts where we can at this intersection.”
Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia worried that eliminating that right-hand turn lane before Swinton would “create a huge backup” and believed it “would be a complication” if motorists didn’t have that option. Lecari said the idea would be for drivers heading eastbound to begin making right-hand turns instead at Second Avenue or First Avenue to help alleviate the bottleneck that occurs at Swinton.
City Commissioner Ryan Boylston was in favor of the changes. “It’s absolutely necessary we move forward with this before some of these other projects come online.
“We are going to see an increase in cars,” Boylston said. “That’s a fact. There’s nothing we can do about it; we’re going to see an increase in cars.”
“The last presentation I saw a line that says ‘What makes cities smart?’ This is what makes cities smart: implementing programs like this. It makes it safer for pedestrians and it also waters down the bottleneck. We have an extreme bottleneck at Swinton and Atlantic. It’s dangerous if you’re in a car. It’s dangerous if you’re out of a car,” he said.
City officials are expected to discuss the proposal further at a later date.