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Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard Could See Major Changes, Including Paving Over The Median

Fort Lauderdale will hold a meeting on Thursday, May 4 to get public input on plans that could dramatically change Las Olas Blvd.

The designs would remove two lanes of traffic between the Federal Highway tunnel and Southeast 11th Ave.—from Cheesecake Factory to Louie Bossi’s.

The landscaped median that now divides traffic, and has served as a visual symbol of the iconic shopping district, would be scrapped. Instead, sidewalks would be widened to give restaurants more outside seating options and shoppers more room to walk. The large trees that currently line the median and provide shade to the street would be relocated to dividers between parallel parking spots.

The plans were designed by Las Olas business owners, whose restaurants and shops could benefit from increased sidewalk space. The business owners presented the designs to the city, which is now seeking public input before moving forward.

Vann Padgett is senior vice president and director of real estate at The Las Olas Co., which owns many of the properties in the shopping district. She said the plans will increase pedestrian safety by expanding sidewalks that in some spots are too narrow for two people to walk abreast.

“Las Olas is the crown jewel of Fort Lauderdale, but right now the crown is tarnished,” Padgett said. She said the median has become unkempt, with termite-eaten planter boxes that dump mulch into the road after heavy rains.“This [median] isn’t attractive. This isn’t iconic. It’s problematic.” 

While city leaders have committed to adding bike lanes into more new construction projects, the revamped Las Olas would not include them. Instead, the plan calls for an alternate bike route that could run in an alley to the north of the boulevard, which is currently used for trash disposal and access to parking lots.

The plans have critics among those who want the city to become friendly to bicycles and pedestrians. Some have called for the boulevard to ban cars in the main shopping district or at least limit traffic during certain hours.

“The design should include making the Las Olas area more accessible to bicycles and pedestrians,” said Whitney Dutton, a Fort Lauderdale realtor. “It’s not a coincidence that the nation’s strongest housing markets right now have downtowns with high walkability.”  

The speed limit in the main shopping district would be reduced, but the road would remain a main artery that feeds traffic to the beach. That could continue the street’s conflict between cars versus pedestrians and bicyclists.

Two pedestrians have died on Las Olas. A hit-and-run driver killed 65-year-old Carolyn Bianco while she tried to make her way in a Las Olas crosswalk. A pickup struck and killed 53-year-old realtor Douglas Allen de Boer while he tried to cross at Southeast Second Ave. Collisions are more common, like the runner who was hit by a car that drove through the barricades last year during a half marathon.

Florida is the number one state in the nation for bicycling fatalities, and South Florida has been ranked as the third-most dangerous metropolis for pedestrians.

But Padgett says the plans will help pedestrians by adding better-marked crosswalks and slowing down traffic with what’s known as “bulb-out” barriers between spots.

“This is progress, and we don’t want to destroy the character of Las Olas,” she said.

The meeting will be held on Broward College’s downtown campus, located at 111 E. Las Olas Blvd. in the 11th floor conference room of building 33. For more information, call the city’s Transportation and Mobility Department at 954.828.4997.

Update: Officials with the city's Transportation and Mobility Department were met with a full house at Thursday's meeting to discuss changes to Las Olas Blvd. More than 120 people showed up to comment on the plans. They broke up attendees into groups to chat about possible changes to the proposal and took comment card suggestions. 

Now planners say they'll adapt the plan to the suggestions and prepare a more formal design in the spring of 2018. State money allocated to the project isn't available until 2020 and construction typically takes two years to complete, so the project won't be done until at least 2022. 

The city has set up an online feedback form for residents who want to comment on the plans here

Photo by Eric Barton