Broward Boulevard gets commuters in and out of downtown Fort Lauderdale, but it doesn't do much to make them glad they're there.
It's a wide, bleak stretch of asphalt, not Main Street to a vibrant and exciting city.
It's time to change that image and make Broward a true gateway into downtown, officials say. They're reviewing proposals for the roadway that include wider, shaded sidewalks, better bike lanes, more streetfront stores, reduced traffic lanes and iconic landscaping and designs.
"I've long awaited the time where perhaps coming into downtown would be as exciting as going to Delray and Atlantic Avenue," said Chris Wren, executive director of Fort Lauderdale's Downtown Development Authority. "If you go to Atlantic Avenue into Delray, it's an amazing experience."
Delray visitors heading east of Interstate 95 on Atlantic are greeted by artistic scenes on 30-foot tall curved columns. They drive past heavily-landscaped sidewalks and medians — and by mixed-use retail and residential buildings fronting on the avenue — before they get into the city's popular restaurant and entertainment district downtown.
Planners want to give Broward Boulevard motorists a similar experience, using many of the same techniques on the stretch from just west of I-95 into downtown, but with more attention paid to the transportation needs of Fort Lauderdale's downtown office and government hub.
In gradually transforming the corridor into one that relies more heavily on buses, electric streetcars and Tri-Rail for people to get around, officials will have to figure out how much roadway should remain to accommodate automobile traffic.
The proposals include possible lane reductions east of Northwest Seventh Avenue. They also show a "statement" roundabout at Northwest Fifth Avenue that would let visitors know they've arrived in the downtown area and the city's arts district.
Some officials are skeptical a roundabout should even be considered.
"You're basically going to be interfering with the flow of traffic," Commissioner Dean Trantalis said. "Everyone thought it looked pretty, but the reality is you can't put one there ... People are still trying to get to work."
Others said it could be visually stunning and fits into long-term plans to get people out of their cars and using mass transportation.
"You either want all the cars or you don't want all the cars," said Commissioner Bruce Roberts, who likes the roundabout idea.
Dana Little of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, who helped coordinate the study, said the roundabout and lane reductions — from six to four —are a low priority in the overall plan.
The reduced lanes could happen gradually, he said, with the extra space used for express bus lanes and future streetcars, or to allow for parallel parking on portions of Broward, or to provide wider and lusher pedestrian areas.
"The report has laid out a series of sort of baby steps to start to reclaim some of that asphalt in downtown," Little said. "Not something that you would commit major dollars to and then regret and have to undo later, but you can sort of test it periodically."
Other Broward changes would start just west of I-95, where staircase towers and elevators would take commuters directly from bus stops on the bridge over I-95 to the Tri-Rail station below. New I-95 ramps would be created for southbound traffic heading west and eastbound traffic heading south, with the old lanes turned into express bus drop-off spots and used for more landscaping.
Large commercial parcels — including one with a planned Walmart Superstore — between Northwest 27th Avenue and I-95 would have smaller stores fronting on Broward to appeal to pedestrians and create a Main Street look.
The plan also envisions a new, raised bridge over the North Fork of the New River near Northwest 15th Avenue. Besides providing an architectural statement, the higher bridge would allow somewhat taller boats to get through and provide a pathway underneath to let pedestrians and bikers cross from one side of the road to the other without having to dart in and out of traffic.