Update on Delray Beach SAFE Program

Submitted by HerbHiller on

This report follows a late May meeting with Jim Smith, co-founder and chairman of Safety as Floridians Expect (SAFE). Charles Bonfield, SAFE co-founder and president, and Jim Chard of Human-Powered Delray, joined Jim and me at Panera Bread in Delray Beach

Jim Smith: SAFE and in touch

Jim Smith is a peppery guy. He keeps in touch like a hand on a light switch. Jim’s got leverage.

Always had it during his two-decade career at the Miami Herald, starting as a junior accountant and ultimately serving as its controller, when that paper dominated the late 20th century South Florida news scene. He finished his career as the vice president/chief financial officer of the multi-state retailer, Linen Supermarket.

Today Jim leverages a different power. It’s his grasp of the pride of place that his adopted city feels about its built environment. It’s what 15 years ago drew him to Delray Beach, a prosperous city of 64,000.

Shops and restaurants line Delray’s low-scaled Atlantic Avenue most of the two-mile downtown from I-95 to the beach. Historic neighborhoods with traffic calmed streets peel back to the north and south and keep two designated Main Streets a safe walk away. U.S. 1 that runs north-south through downtown has been redesigned as a palm allée with planted bulb-outs and low-rise housing alongside. 

Developers like what they see. Jim knows that when they inevitably apply for their variances and re-zoning that in Delray they will invariably do better if they ante up to keep the place the way residents like by encouraging smart growth.

Negotiating developer buy-in

Jim works through the nonprofit called SAFE. That’s Safety as Floridians Expect. He’s a co-founder and chairman. SAFE meets with developers, encouraging them to make their projects more bicyclist and pedestrian friendly. Jim makes clear to developers that SAFE doesn’t work for the city and is not a lobbying group – just community oriented citizens. At first developers think that gaining SAFE’s support will only result in additional cost, but they later realize that they will derive marketing benefits by including transportation demand management (TDM) initiatives in their design.

So, for example, with a mixed-use project, the developer agrees to construct a shared use pathway connecting his property through city owned property thus creating a greenway from Atlantic Avenue to Lake Ida Park; to contribute $20,000 toward the cost of a traffic signal, and to provide free shuttle service to downtown shops for hotel guests and residents.

Another contract for an apartment project calls for converting on-street parking space to bicycle parking, for providing parklets, for purchasing 200 shopping carts free for existing neighbors who live within walking distance of a grocery store.

Another mixed use project contract requires a secure shower room for exclusive use of employees, providing unlimited 31-day Palm Tran QUIK passes for new condo owners and new employees.

Details are hardly overlooked. Peruse the contracts and you find requirements for on-request installation of attractive wall-mounted apartment bike racks, and sidewalk poop bag dispensers. That US 1 palm allée with planted bulb-outs now has bike lanes as a result of SAFE’s work.

“It’s all about vision,” says Jim. “It’s all about mobility, and not just downtown.”

More than just about downtown

Currently, Jim serves on two of the three Tri-Rail Coastal Link subcommittees – finance and public information -- that are planning for future commuter rail service on FEC tracks. Jim was the one who pushed for quiet zones.

Jim is also serving on a Congress Avenue Task Force created by Delray Mayor Cary Glickstein and chaired by former Delray Mayor Jeff Perlman to redevelop this corridor.  The vision includes transforming Congress Avenue into a “complete street” with a seven-foot-wide buffered bicycle lane, landscaped medians and wider sidewalks. 

The task force is also investigating a possible public-private partnership that involves the area around the existing Delray Tri-Rail Station.  The project could result in a transportation oriented development (TOD).  If it does, workforce housing and office space would be key components along with retail, commercial and entertainment venues.

He is one busy guy!

“We’re not for or against tall buildings. We’re just for smart growth and keeping the small town feeling as we grow,” Jim says.

“Development is coming. As it does, we are trying to convert car trips to alternative transportation trips mitigating future traffic congestion, keep people friendly sidewalks and create more public gathering places. We want sidewalk cafes where you can meet, greet, work, just hang out or read a newspaper.”

Reading papers? Sure. A lot of retirees in Delray, but this man is not out of touch.

Note:  In 2004, Jim was recognized by the Florida Bicycle Association as its Citizen Bike Advocate of the Year.  It was a banner year because John Doyle, Rafael Clemente and Dwight Kingsbury were also recognized.