Just east of the Northern Trust Bank at the Himmarshee Canal bridge, Las Olas Boulevard's village feel ends abruptly as drivers heading east step on the gas, turning part of the commercial district into a drive-by zone for motorists and a danger zone for pedestrians.
Commissioners are in favor of reconfiguring a stretch of Las Olas east of the bridge, from Southeast 12th to 15th avenues, where the road widens to four lanes. They hope the change will slow traffic, make it safer for pedestrians and extend the village atmosphere that attracts people to the boulevard farther west.
The plan, which will also need county approvals, would reduce traffic in the section to one lane in each direction, with a center turn lane and bike lanes in both directions.
Mayor Jack Seiler said "there's no question in my mind that the wonderful feel of Las Olas, the Las Olas shopping district" would be extended eastward by the change.
But rather than ripping up the street and putting in expensive medians, the city plans first to just put down paint, restriping the street with the new configuration to see if the changes make a difference.
Robin Merrill, founder of the year-old Las Olas Village Association, said it's a first step toward putting an end to the "Las Olas Speedway" that the stretch has become.
"That's one of our biggest problems, the speed of the traffic," Merrill said. "It's not inviting. It's not welcoming to be on that side of the bridge because of the feel of the traffic."
The first goal would be to relieve traffic congestion at the intersection of Las Olas and 15th Avenue, which is the main crossover for traffic traveling between Broward Boulevard and the beach, by adjusting the signal timing there.
The plan then calls for making the outer, westbound lane on Las Olas for right turns only as it approaches 15th.
The city is also considering removing the stop signs on 15th at Southeast Second Street, which have been causing back-ups in both directions for the Broward to Las Olas traffic. Some on-street parking would have to be eliminated on 15th, to give better sight lines for crossing traffic.
"We have people stop at that traffic [sign] like they live there and they're going to get out and vote. That's how long they stop," said Riviera Isles resident Lesley Grilley.
Consultants estimate the cost for the proposed changes could be in the $200,000 to $400,000 range.
"We can find the money. We should find the money," Commissioner Romney Rogers said. "We have to make the place safe for pedestrians."
It's not clear how quickly changes could be implemented — or if roadblocks will emerge.
"We still have to go through the permitting process with Broward County," City Manager Lee Feldman said.
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