Hillsboro Blvd in Deerfield Beach, FL. Photo via the City of Deerfield Beach
Deerfield Beach was the first community in the state of Florida to adopt Complete Streets guidelines in 2013, and that’s just the start of the city’s efforts to grow sustainably, encourage active transportation and make streets safer for residents. Amanda Martinez, Interim Director of the City’s Planning and Development Services Department, is finding the right partnerships and opportunities to make these changes happen with limited funds.
Deerfield Beach is a suburban community located in Broward County, FL with a population of 78,000. The beachfront city is a popular destination for both permanent and seasonal residents including the region’s senior population.
Deerfield Beach’s village feel distinguishes it from many neighboring communities, yet like much of Broward County it is essentially built out. With just three percent vacant land, the city is now looking at how to accommodate future growth through infill development and redevelopment while preserving the village quality that residents love.
Interim Director Martinez, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, explains how this reality is changing the way the City approaches decisions about its future growth. “It’s a new way of looking at development for the city,” says Martinez. “We have always just taken whatever development somebody wants to do.” Now, “we are starting to look at the quality of new development. We want to look for development that encourages a healthy lifestyle, sustainability, and a sustainable economy, and development that fits in with the village character of the city.”
In line with these goals, Martinez has championed the integration of a Complete Streets approach into Deerfield Beach’s planning. After helping to organize a free technical assistance workshop from Smart Growth America for city staff and community members in 2012, she played a leadership role in passing the city’s Complete Streets guidelines. The guidelines provide a framework for designing new streets projects to accommodate all users.
Building on the guidelines, the City is already taking steps to make it safer for residents to bike and walk. The City is currently considering several projects that would improve options for cyclists and pedestrians, including the elimination of two lanes on Hillsboro Boulevard, a six-lane arterial road that runs from east to west through the area surrounding City Hall—the closest thing the community has to a historic downtown, according to Martinez.
If the Hillsboro lane elimination plan moves forward, the city will use the newly available right-of-way to better accommodate all members of the community using the road. “We want to put a raised median in, add bike lanes, and increase the landscaping along sidewalks,” explains Martinez.
These improvements would make the street safer for all by slowing down traffic and providing a safe stopping point for pedestrians crossing the street. They would also help address a major problem: speeding cars struck thirteen pedestrians and cyclists in the area between 2007 and 2012, according to Martinez.
Martinez hopes that in addition to improving safety, the project will ultimately help transform the area near City Hall into a more walkable, vibrant downtown core for the community. “[The road diet] is not just about the traffic,” says Martinez. “It’s about our vision for our city.”
Martinez’s advice for making short-term progress with Complete Streets on a limited budget is to “look at what opportunities are out there and build on existing projects.”
The proposed lane elimination and street improvements will come at relatively little cost to Deerfield Beach thanks to partnerships with state and regional government. It will coincide with a scheduled pavement resurfacing by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), meaning that FDOT will conduct the necessary surveying and design work at no cost to Deerfield Beach. The city will also receive funds from the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization to move the curbs to accommodate new bike lanes.
Martinez points to the city’s partnership with FDOT as a major boon for the community’s efforts around Complete Streets. FDOT District 4, which includes Broward County, has provided leadership by pioneering a process for working with communities in its district on lane removal projects. Of the partnership, Martinez says, “FDOT has been great. They are the first to recognize that cities want to do this…they also help us with traffic counts, and tell us exactly what we need to do to move ahead with the project.”
Moving forward, the city is looking at developing a Complete Streets plan, which will outline specific priority areas for future projects and will be integrated into the Deerfield Beach Comprehensive Plan. The City is also beginning to consider updating its existing zoning codes and ordinances to accommodate future growth while preserving the community’s existing village character.
“It’s important for the sustainability and future of the city that we develop in a way that encourages walkability and connectivity, and an active lifestyle,” says Martinez. “We’re investing in place, investing in the quality of development, and looking at our regulations so we can encourage that kind of development and attract that kind of development.”