Friday, July 27, 2007


If there's one thing we're all about here at NS&S, it's safe, self-propelled passage of children to school.

Whatever issues we have in Newton, though, there nothing like the challenges faced by children in the Nujiang Great Canyon in China. (Click through for more neat pictures.)

Without money for a bridge over the river, kids get to school by what looks like a combination zip-line and pulley system.

I can't decide whether I'm horrified or jealous.


Friday delights, Langley Road version

Last Friday, I biked by as City surveyors were measuring out the Langley Path bumpout.

This morning, I saw a fresh (since yesterday) white line marking the outline of the bumpout.

Previously: Langley Road bump out


Al fresco on Route 9

I was dumbfounded to see people eating outside the Cheesecake Factory at the Atrium this this week.

It made me think that there is no reason to give up on a pleasant pedestrian or bicycle experience on Route 9.

There's no need to turn our backs on Route 9. It can be humanized.


On stop signs

To those of you visiting having read my recent op-ed in the TAB about stop signs, welcome.

For those of you starting at NS&S, I have an op-ed, in which I seek to explain why stop signs are not the traffic calming solution they appear and why Newton's Traffic Council is correctly reluctant to install them, despite frequent neighborhood requests.

Use the comments to let me know what you think.

Photo: z6p6tist6


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Transportation Compact

The Full Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works sent me the full text of the Massachusetts Mobility Compact (PDF). It is even more disappointing than Bernard Cohen's op-ed column.

The purpose of the compact is to coordinate the various state transportation-related agencies, which is a great idea. But, the agencies have inherently conflicting objectives. They need more than a promise to talk amongst themselves, they need a clear vision that will help them resolve the inevitable conflicts that will arise.

The compact doesn't have that vision. Section 2 is the compact's closest thing to a vision statement:

The Compact’s principal mission shall be to improve the delivery of transportation services in the Commonwealth by communicating regularly and more effectively and by adopting a cooperative and coordinated approach to transportation planning, design, construction, and operation, aimed principally at:
a. increasing mobility for people and goods in, across and through the Commonwealth in a safe and efficient manner;
b. promoting and adopting administrative efficiency and program improvement initiatives between and among transportation agencies and authorities; and
c. sharing best practice techniques for implementation across transportation modes.

Not a single mention of (or even allusion to) global warming, the health effects of traffic congestion, or the quality-of-life effects of traffic congestion. Nothing.

Arguably, the Massachusetts Mobility is meant to be limited in scope to its administrative purpose: to make the agencies play together better. But Section 2 seems an awful lot like a vision statement. If it's not, then the thing desperately needs one.

The lack of a good strong vision statement in the Massachusetts Mobility Compact means that Secretary Cohen's op-ed is the most complete statement of the Commonwealth's transportation priorities.

That's not promising.

This is a transportation policy?
Coordinating transportation


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This is a transportation policy?

Still haven't seen the text of the transportation compact signed by various agencies, but Secretary of Transportation Bernard Cohen has an op-ed in the Globe laying out the administration's transportation policy.

I hope the compact isn't this soft.

According to Secretary Cohen, Governor Patrick "has charged me with six principles to guide our work."

And the first principle is ... process. Transparency and coordination, to be exact. On a global scale, we've got to be concerned with climate change. On a local scale, we've got to be concerned with the pollution and the deterioration of our way of life that traffic generates. And process is the first principle?

I'm as big a fan of transparency and accountability as you'll find. But, the first principle for transportation in the Commonwealth better be reducing our contribution to global warming. I don't care if the policies that effectuate change occur in a smoke-filled back room (except to the extent that the smoking contributes to global warming). Just as long as we're doing our part.

The second principle is a focus on economic growth. That's not a bad objective. But, I wouldn't have put it ahead of the third principle, energy and the environment.

Beyond its disappointing rank, the energy and environment paragraph describes the problem and potential solutions, but doesn't articulate a clear position:

Transportation contributes about one-third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year. Meanwhile, rising costs of gasoline and oil, all of it imported, hit families and businesses harder every day. Transportation initiatives can be aligned with environmental goals. Efficient vehicles, improved public transit, and greater attention to pedestrian and bicycle access translate into reduced congestion, cleaner air, and less reliance on foreign oil and other fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

Is it the objective of the administration to reduce traffic volumes? Reduce per-househould trip generation? To increase mass transit ridership? To increase walking and biking? To significantly reduce Massachusetts' contribution to global warming?

When the agencies coordinate policy, what is the vision that informs that policy? Should the Turnpike Authority and MBTA be working together to shift people to public transit?

The times call for boldness wholly lacking in the Secretary's op-ed. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have demonstrated how to set an aggressive transportation agenda. A very popular Democrat governor with Democratic majorities in both chambers of the state house should not be serving up such bland mush.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth principles are financial stability, regional equity, and project delivery. Fine principles all, but they (along with transparency and accountability) should be clearly minor relative to environmental responsibility and economic growth.

Previously: Coordinating transportation


Coordinating transportation

Governor Patrick wants the transportation agencies to coordinate their efforts.

It's good news that he's making them talk to each other, but talking doesn't cure the underlying problem that the T needs more money, the Turnpike wants to make driving cheaper, and that other major highways are free.

What are the overall transportation objectives?

I've just seen the AP article. I'll update when I see the actual agreement.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Better Boston Bike journalism

It's not online, but this week's WeeklyDig (available on street corners all over Boston) has a special bike section called Spoke-tacular.

The centerpiece of the Spoke-tacular is a set of profiles of five local riders: a courier, a chopper fabricator, a BMX guru, a racer, and a pizza delivery guy. The short pieces capture the many joys that riding offers.

As someone who rides to eat, I especially liked the piece on Brazilian Jose Carlos Silva, who delivers pizzas for the Upper Crust:

Biking does let Silva save on gas, but he has to eat constantly to fule his rides up and down Beacon Hill."I don't need the gas, but the food!" he exclaims. "I pay for the food."
WeeklyDig's Spoke-tacular is a nice tonic to the crummy Bicycle Bible in the Boston Phoenix a few months ago.


Two friends on bike paths

No, not two friends physically on a bike path, but two friends of NS&S speaking about separated bike lanes in a Seattle Times column. What are the odds?

Anne Lusk has been working with a group of us trying to plan some bike lanes in and around the Chestnut Hill shopping district.

Old friend Aaron Naparstek is the editor of Streetsblog, the inspiration for NS&S and an invaluable resource for anyone who cares about the health of our streets.

So, what about separated bike lanes? Anne and Aaron make the case in the column. If we don't have some, we're not going to have anywhere for our B (basic) and C (children) riders. The only bikers will be the A (advanced), who are willing to mix it up in traffic.

Update: Aaron notes that Clarence Eckerson deserves credit for the film cited in the column. Clarence's excellent work can be seen at
Here's the physically separated bike lanes video:

Here's my favorite, a unique take on intersection repair:

Previously: Connect BC by bike lanes


Wandering around Chestnut Hill Square (virtually)

Here's a look at the pedestrian circulation for the proposed Chestnut Hill Square, rendered through some wicked cool new Google Maps-based technology.

The technology lets you wander around the diagram. Unfortunately, the diagram shows that in real life, it won't be so easy.

A mall and a moat.


Friday, July 6, 2007

What if ...

Instead of asking for improvements and mitigations from a developer like New England Development (at Chestnut Hill Square), the City asked for a one-time payment to do the work itself?

To the extent that improvements were for the benefit of motorists and mitigations to minimize the effect of motorists, the work done would constitute a developer-funded subsidy to motorists.

The outcome is no different when there's no money being exchanged and the developer does the work himself as a condition of getting approval from the city.

So, as we think about the Planned Multi-Use Business Development, which lists as its criteria substantial roadway improvements, and we think about the likely Chestnut Hill Square special permit application, related to which New England Development will tout its $13 million plus roadway improvements, we should be asking ourselves, "Why the enormous subsidy for motorists?"

What if the City, through developers or on its own, radically cutback the subsidy for car travel and re-allocated it to transit improvements?


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Too much by FAR

A nearly mind-blowing moment at the end of the Zoning and Planning committee's meeting last night.

The committee spent 3 hours performing close textual analysis of the latest version of the Planned Multi-Use Business District (formerly Planned Business District) amendment. Around 11:00 o'clock, committee chairman Brian Yates polled the members on their willingness to pass the to-be-further-edited version to the full board.

It looked like there were going to be 4 or 5 Yea votes, when Alderman Danberg reversed course, bringing Alderman Burg and, ultimately, Aldermen Baker and Lappin around. With a solid consensus on holding the item to be re-advertised (a new notice of public hearing), it looked ready for a non-controversial hold vote.

Then Alderman Yates dropped his bombshell.

I couldn't write fast enough to keep up, but Alderman Yates said, in essence, that the PMBD is completely inappropriate for Newton. The PMBD proposes a level of density that can only be supported by an urban level of transit. Had he known that the Business 4 and Business 5 districts allowed a floor/area ratio (FAR) of 3.0, he would have never let it happen. He's going to wipe out a 3.0 FAR in Business 4 and Business 5.

The floor/area ratio is the most basic limit on how much a site can be developed. The higher the FAR, the denser the development. The FAR of Business 4 and Business 5 are important because they are the underlying districts for the PMBD. Planning Director Mike Kruse and some of the aldermen, including Alderman Baker, have said that the PMBD cannot have a more restrictive FAR than the underlying district. Otherwise, the developer would not have an incentive to use the PMBD and would build out according to the Business 4 or Business 5 opportunities.

It's tough to convey in writing just how impassioned and sincere -- indeed angry -- Alderman Yates was. It was a bracing tonic to the previous three hours of his corny jokes and lighthearted interruptions.

Alderman Yates' comments raise some interesting questions:

  • Are there 9 other aldermen who share Aldermen Yates' view? If so, the PMBD is doomed.
  • Since the item is going to be re-advertised, does it make sense to take a look at the Business 4 and Business 5 FAR at the same time?
I don't see how his comments won't have some effect.


Minuteman BrawlBikeway

I'm a little late getting to the Globe's story about conflicts on the Minuteman Bikeway.

Streetsblog has an excellent discussion going in the comments.

Key points:

  • The demand for the bikeway just indicates how underserved the self-propelled are.
  • While converting railways to bikeways is better than leaving them unused or broken up, aren't suburban railways best used for mass transit?
  • What are hard-core bikers doing on the bikeway? We "experts" should stick to the streets.