Jupiter official questions need for more bike lanes
By ANA X. CERON
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 06, 2007
JUPITER — Councilman Jim Kuretski says he's never seen a sidewalk suffer from a traffic jam.
Which is why he doesn't understand how the town of Jupiter is willing to spend millions of dollars to build bicycle paths.
Jupiter is big on bikes. In 2000, it adopted its Bicycle Transportation Plan, which blazes all sorts of bike trails for the future, including on-street bike lanes along Maplewood Drive and "multiuse" sidewalks along Loxahatchee Drive.
It may sound quaint, but with about a dozen bike path projects filling the town's proposed five-year capital improvement budget plan - at a cost to the town of about $4.5 million, according to Kuretski's estimates - it adds up.
That's 4.5 percent of the town's tax rate, the councilman says. Or $130 for every resident, if you include $2 million in grant money.
So while other government officials stress the sacrifices they've had to make under the new state property tax restrictions, Kuretski is desperately trying to shine a spotlight on the projects he says are wasting taxpayers' money.
Part of the problem, he thinks, is that Jupiter's bike paths are not properly planned. No priorities are set on which lanes are needed the most or which should be put off for last.
If this is the way government handles something as simple as bike lanes, what does that mean for the much bigger complicated projects?
"Same thing applies to a whole lot of other stuff," Kuretski says. "We need to change the way government thinks and behaves."
It's a recent Monday afternoon, and the digital clock on Kuretski's 1997 Oldsmobile reads 4:55.
The car is stopped on South Pennock Lane, where the town has plans to add another bike path link. While the rest of the council has agreed to go ahead with the $1 million project, which also adds a right-turn lane at Indiantown Road, Kuretski disapproves.
Now the councilman sits in his car, facing an empty street.
"This is rush-hour traffic," he says, exasperated.
He points out the frontage road running parallel to the two-lane road, then the sidewalk. Seems like enough room for bikes to him.
It's not that Kuretski is the bike lane Grinch. He enjoys taking leisurely rides around town, and with three daughters, he can appreciate that kids need a safe route to get to school.
He's also an engineer, a guy who, as a project manager at Florida Power & Light Co., likes to concentrate on the numbers. As a six-year councilman, he worries that Jupiter is wasting money.
The town's master plan calls for on-street bike paths in places where people may feel more comfortable sticking to sidewalks, like along Frederick Small Road east of Alternate A1A. It also calls for bike lanes in quiet residential roads that may not have the traffic to warrant them, such as Pennock, he says.
About a year ago, town staff members scheduled projects according to grant deadlines, available funding and roads in need of resurfacing, says Thomas Driscoll, the town's engineering and public works director.
Now staffers look at ways to analyze bike projects based on costs and benefits, something that Kuretski has long advocated.
Staff will try out the analysis Tuesday, when the council will be presented with a $623,000 proposal to make way for those who pedal on extended road shoulders. If officials like the process, it could become standard, Driscoll says.
Still, it's likely that the town will see fewer bike projects because there will be less money in its coffers. Property tax revenue will decrease because of state limits, and sales tax money also is expected to fall.
"I don't see us spending $4.5 million on bike lanes over the next five years," Mayor Karen Golonka says.