Monday, September 16, 2019

Home City Watch More train talk, some Delray news & other reflections

More train talk, some Delray news & other reflections

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More train talk

There’s always more to write about All Aboard Florida.

In Thursday’s posting, I explained that despite strong public opposition in some parts of Palm Beach County and especially north of the county through the Space Coast, the new passenger service between Miami and Orlando is going to happen. The effort is to make All Aboard Florida as compatible as possible.

To that end, I wrote, horns will sound at crossings, not on the trains themselves, and those “wayside horns” will be quieter. A spokeswoman for All Aboard Florida emailed this clarification: “Between West Palm Beach and Hallandale, there will be a continuous quiet zone, meaning the trains will not sound horns unless the conductor sees a trespasser or an emergency need to do so. All Aboard Florida will not be installing wayside horns.”

I checked this with Nick Uhren, director of Palm Beach County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The group has been working with All Aboard Florida, federal railroad officials and local governments on safety upgrades at rail crossings that would obviate the need for trains to blow horns.

Uhren said the All Aboard Florida spokeswoman’s scenario is “our intended outcome” and the “likely outcome.” If the improvements happen—and the MPO has set aside a local share of federal money to pay for them—the Federal Railroad Administration will approve a quiet zone for the 83 crossings on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between 15th Street in West Palm Beach and the Broward County line. (Trains will travel much faster north of West Palm, requiring a different set of improvements.) Broward’s Metropolitan Planning Organization is working on a separate quiet zone for that county.

Still, Uhren says of the Palm Beach County portion of that West Palm-Hallandale quiet zone, “We’re not there yet.” All Aboard Florida is “forecasting an outcome in advance.” So how do we get there?

Since the federal government is involved, things can get interesting. The feds assign risk ratings to each crossing, based on car and pedestrian traffic, safety features and accidents. But, Uhren says, the feds don’t tell the locals how they calculate those ratings. The locals must rely on a certain level of trust.

Uhren stresses that even without federal designation of a quiet zone, all crossings will be safe for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians who do nothing illegal, such as trying to drive or walk around gates that have closed. Quiet zones, with their enhanced improvements, are designed to prevent that illegal behavior.

The goal, then, is to evaluate those 83 crossings and determine what improvements overall will qualify that stretch of track for designation as a quiet zone. The two main improvements are medians and four-way gates. All Aboard Florida, Uhren says, prefers medians. “So do I.” They are cheaper and more reliable. Easy, right?

Nope. The problem is driveways near the tracks. Install the 60-foot medians, and property owners might be able to turn just one way out of their driveways. Uhren says gates will be installed at those crossings.

And which crossings have the highest risk? You might be surprised.

According to the federal government, the riskiest crossing in Boca Raton is not Yamato Road or Glades Road but Camino Real, south of downtown. In fact, the Camino Real crossing is rated the riskiest of all 83 crossings, beating out Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach, not far from CityPlace and the Kravis Center.

In Delray Beach, the riskiest crossing is not Atlantic Avenue—with all the downtown diners and clubbers—but Northeast Second Street, two blocks north of Atlantic. Well-traveled Linton Boulevard is among the safest.

According to a draft plan, the MPO says it will take the closing of two crossings—near the All Aboard Florida station in West Palm Beach—and the addition of 15 exit gates and one median to meet the quiet zone standard. The clock is ticking. All Aboard Florida has begun work on the West Palm-Miami section, and “wants the final list,” in Uhren’s words, so the company’s improvements and those necessary for the quiet zones can happen simultaneously.

Though federal money will pay for the quiet zone features, local costs will rise, but not by much. Cities are responsible for maintaining crossing gates. The added maintenance costs in Boca Raton and Delray Beach will be $12,600 each —a good deal if it means no horns from All Aboard Florida’s 32 trains per day.

Other improvements also will help the public. Gates will be timed to close sooner for fast-moving passenger trains and more slowly for slower freight trains. The plan also is for sidewalk upgrades at many crossings, paid for with the same federal money that is financing quiet zone upgrades. Eleven of the 12 crossings in Delray Beach will get better sidewalks, thanks in part to lobbying by the Delray-based Safety as Floridians Expect (SAFE). In Boca Raton, sidewalks at Hidden Valley Road, Northwest 28th Street, Northeast Second Street and Southwest 18th Street will get upgrades.

Finally, there’s the question of when the horns will stop blowing. “That’s a sticky issue,” Uhren said. The quiet zone will cover seven cities—Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Hypoluxo, Lantana, Lake Worth and West Palm Beach—and Palm Beach County. Uhren said any one could apply for the quiet zone designation, representing all the governments. The cities are reluctant, Uhren said, because if an accident occurs in another jurisdiction, the city that applied could face liability issues. The county, Uhren said, would be the most logical. With just one applicant, the designation could come sooner.

Some elected officials still may not be clear about all the details of the quiet zone and related improvements. The same goes for the public. Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said after last week’s city commission discussion that there’s “a lot of misinformation” about All Aboard Florida. I hope these last two postings have made more things clear.

Gun thefts

Not long ago, I wrote—with some disbelief—about how someone in Boca Raton left a gun in an unlocked car. The car was in the driveway. The gun was stolen.

That happened in Camino Lakes, a neighborhood in the city’s southwest section. Last week, the Boca Raton Police Department reported that a gun had been stolen from a locked car that had been left in the driveway. The incident happened not far away in the Palm Beach Farms neighborhood.

One might wonder this: Are the two thefts are related? More important, one might wonder this: Who is irresponsible enough to leave a gun in a car, and leave the car in the driveway?

Domestic violence—closer to home

Like so many people, I’m stunned and outraged by the indifference the National Football League showed to the issue of domestic violence until theRay Rice video forced the league and the Baltimore Ravens to take serious action against a player who knocked his wife unconscious with one punch, and then dragged her out of an elevator.

The NFL, though, is just a reflection of a society that too often doesn’t take seriously crimes against women. Flash back nearly a decade in Boca Raton to see how that indifference can happen in the most ironic of places.

In Palm Beach County, then and now, an arrest for domestic violence—misdemeanor or felony—means that the accused spends the night in jail. The point is to drive home to the accused—almost always a man—that the matter is not just between him and the woman. He has to deal with the system.

On a Friday night in September 2005, police arrested the late Gregory Talbott, a developer and a big backer of Police Chief Andrew Scott. Talbott faced five charges growing out of an incident at a restaurant. One was for domestic battery.

Called to the city holding cell, Scott ordered Talbott released. Scott tried to claim that there was a difference between domestic battery and domestic violence, and thus Talbott didn’t need to appear in court. There was no difference. According to a spokesman for the state attorney’s office, there still isn’t.

Some on the city council dismissed Scott’s actions, but the pressure kept up as the chief’s story crumbled. That December, Scott resigned. Remember that story as we see whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will survive his own domestic violence controversy.

Delray city attorney news

The Delray Beach City Commission will send a symbolic message tonight if it approves the hiring of Michael Dutko as assistant city attorney.

Dutko worked previously in the public integrity unit of the state attorney’s office. It was established about the same time as the county commission created the Office of Inspector General and the Commission on Ethics. Under former management, Delray Beach was famously hostile to such outside oversight. That attitude has shifted. Hiring Dutko would show that it has shifted even more.

Inspector General

One of the favors the Office of Inspector General did for Delray Beach was help the city win its case against the 2012 extension—without bidding—of the trash-hauling contract. The hope is that bidding Delray’s largest contract will save residents money.

While Delray seeks those bids, the city signed an agreement with Waste Management to keep providing service. The extension was until Oct. 31, but tonight the commission will be asked to extend the extension until May 31. Mayor Glickstein told me last week that the city attorney’s office wants to get everything right on the bid proposal. Fair enough, but it’s been six months since the city won in court. Get things right, but get moving.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.
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