Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Curb extensions

There's one simple (and relatively cheap) way to make life better for pedestrians: reduce the amount of time they spend in the street, exposed to traffic.

You can narrow streets generally. Or, you can narrow streets at crosswalks.

You narrow streets at a crosswalk by extending the curb line -- and sidewalk -- into the parking area of a street. It's called a curb extension, bulb-out, or neckdown. From a pedestrian point of view, the distance across the street is reduced by the distance you extend the curb into the street.

You, quite literally, take length out of the crosswalk.

Besides shortening the crossing distance, curb extensions help pedestrians by:

visually and physically narrowing the roadway, improving the ability of pedestrians and motorists to see each other, and reducing the time that pedestrians are in the street.

From walkinginfo.org.

A group of us are lobbying for a curb extension one of the crosswalks at Langley Path on Langley Street. It's an important school crossing for Bowen School. It's a point of access for those on the east of Langley to the Bowen playground and playing fields. And, it's a point of access for those on the west of Langley to the reservation lands. Finally, of course, it's a connection between the neighbors on either side of the street.

It's ironic that it's legal to park a car right next to the crosswalk and effectively narrow the street by as much as the proposed curb extension. But, so far, there is no accommodation for pedestrians, in part because of the concern for the effect on traffic.

Again, 6-plus foot wide car. Okay. Four- to six-foot wide curb extension. Not in the cards.

There ought to be a curb extension at Langley (and we'll keep working on it), but there's a more general case to be made. Herewith, the NS&S crosswalk rule:
Every crosswalk in the city should have a curb extension as wide as any adjacent parking lane.
Two exceptions:
  • The curb extension should be reduced to the extent necessary to maintain minimum standards for emergency vehicle access. (But, it might be better to move a crosswalk off the corner slightly to have both a full curb extension and the necessary access.)
  • There needn't be a curb extension where parking is prohibited for a certain period during the day to create a traffic lane. For instance, the parking lane on Beacon Street east of Centre Street becomes a travel lane from 4-6 PM each day.
Start with the crosswalks in the vicinity of schools. Address every crosswalk that is repaved. Then, work your way around the rest of the city.

I'd make a city goal to remove 200 feet of crosswalk each year. (Two five-foot curb extensions on twenty crosswalks.)


jethro. said...

Sean, thanks for your blog! Though I've never been to Newton, you've got some good ideas that can be applied elsewhere as well.

I am a huge proponent of bulbouts. That said, there is some concern with moving the crosswalk further from the parallel street. The pedestrian is further removed from the view of a turning vehicle, so the driver may not see the pedestrian in time to yield.

If the street being crossed has low volume, it is appropriate (IMHO) to allow turning emergency vehicles to use both lanes of the street to turn. This is because the likelihood of an emergency vehicle needing to turn at the exact same time a vehicle is queued in the opposing lane is low. If those in charge buy into that assumption, you'll probably find very few locations where bulbouts don't work.

Adam said...

Jethro makes a good point about turning vehicles being a danger to pedestrians (in general). Which leads me to wonder why a corner has traditionally been considered to be a safe place to cross. Is there data to show that mid-block crossings might sometimes be safer? ...especially where the majority of drivers today think they can negotiate turns with a phone wedged against their neck. Is there any new thinking, sanctioned or not, about crosswalk placement that Newton and other communities might consider?

For those who live in Newton, look at what's being done in neighboring communities like Brookline and Cambridge, and to a lesser extent Needham, and demand this from your elected officials. I think Beacon Street in Brookline is a prime example on how placement of granite and concrete and make a big difference to pedestrians.

Eric said...

Belmont reworked a huge stretch of Trapello Rd with mid-block bulbouts for pedestrian crossing. Safer for all involved because it also changed the way traffic moves on the street. It used to drive as an unmarked four lane road, now it's clearly only a two lane road.

Rhu/nmHz said...

Those of us who live on Mill Street have been arguing about what sort of traffic-calming/pedestrian-helping measures to request from the city. This may be just the thing!

So how do we (as a city) get City Hall on board?

Chuck Tanowitz said...

Didn't Brookline do something similar, along with raised crosswalks?

I think this makes complete sense. Looking at it from the parking angle, it also clearly defines the area for parking, in a very strange way. Just a thought as you're trying to sell it up the chain.

Certainly this makes sense for Cherry Street in West Newton, which is rather wide.

chris in the west said...

Sean, right on. I have been trying to find out how to have the city consider bulbouts (or "neckdowns" as I've heard) along Cherry Street near Franklin School. I had little luck getting anyone to pay attention, despite a child having been struck on Halloween 2005 right there.

Cherry is a cutthrough to Waltham and, as Chuck notes, its being so wide makes it a good candidate for study. Also, many folks in the west-side blocks of Cherry cross near Westland/Upham to visit the park nestled back behind Henshaw. Lots of kids.

Brookline has implemented many traffic calming measures. One of note is the curbless street in front of the Courtyard Mariott in Coolidge Corner. It is alarming to drive on a curbless street; to motorists it feels like you are driving on the sidewalk and thus you slow down.