Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A+ Performance

More than one person has said that Alderman Marcia Johnson deserves better than the C- grade I gave her for her answer to the LWV pedestrian and bicycle question.

After pushing back on the Board President's steady, vigorous, and sustained critique of the draft Comprehensive Plan's transportation section and then making a clear statement that she would have and will vote against the PMBD (she missed last week's ZAP vote), I'm giving her an A+.

I think her answer reflects a troublesome a-pox-on-all-their-houses view of pedestrian and bike issues. But, I'm happy to have a friendly debate on the issue with someone who advocates so well for—and votes for—livable streets.


Just occurred to me ...

Halloween, America's walking holiday.

Update: Streetsblog expands on the notion and adds a great picture.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Grading the unchallenged incumbents

The League of Women Voters posed three questions to all candidates for alderman. The TAB published the answers from the candidates in the contested races in the paper (p.25) and all candidates in an online Voter Guide.

In this post, the grades on question 2 -- How would you encourage safe walking and bicycling in the city, especially during the winter? -- for the unchallenged incumbents. In the previous post, question 2 grades for the candidates in contested races.

Ward 1 ward alderman

Scott Lennon—B+
Short on specifics, but articulates the broader picture: we need to look at the traffic ecosystem (not his word) overall and take care of all users.

Ward 2 ward alderman

Stephen M. Linsky—B
Short on specifics, but gets what's at stake: health and the environment. Bonus points for focus on school kids and for actually having attended BPTF meetings.

Ward 4 ward alderman

John W. Harney—A
Gets it: "The best way to encourage walking and bicycling in the city is to make the roads and sidewalks safer." And, safer means slower; he advocates traffic calming (with a record to back it up). No deduction for promoting stop signs on Grove Street.

Ward 6 ward alderman

George Mansfield—A+
If you want good bike and pedestrian access, it's got to be the law. If you want to reduce driving, you have to make walkability the law. Enforce existing business obligation to clear sidewalks and re-enact resident obligation.

Ward 7 ward alderman

R. Lisle Baker—C- F
Says "small actions can help" and lists minor ward alderman accomplishments. Wearing the board president hat, what should the big actions be? No mention of biking from the one-time bike commuter.

Torpedoed provision requiring bike and pedestrian improvements in PMBD.

Ward 8 ward alderman

Cheryl Lipof Lappin—C-
Good point that we need to update the sidewalk plowing plan, but doesn't articulate how. More plowing? Different plowing? Both? Wants better street clearing, though the city does an excellent job in this regard and any more effort would cost money, possibly diverting resources from sidewalks. Wants to encourage people to clear sidewalks out of civic pride. They should, but it's not a recipe for success.

Ward 2 at-large candidates

Susan S. Albright—A
Excellent point about bike safety in numbers. (Alderman Albright, it's not a "might" it's a "will.") Concrete about bike paths and signs. Concrete about raised crosswalks. Would have been nice to have a mention of funding to tie it all up. (Alderman can't set funding, I know, but they can lobby for it.)

Marcia T. Johnson—C- A+
Good sentiments, but nothing about what the aldermen should do.

Updated: Alderman Johnson submitted an extra-credit performance on the draft Comprehensive Plan.

Ward 4 at-large candidates

Leonard J. Gentile—Incomplete

Amy Mah Sangiolo—A
Another money committer. Textured sidewalks. Bike paths. Signs. Also, very good about a significant pedestrian issue: plowed snow blocking crosswalks.

Ward 5 at-large candidates

Brian Yates—A+
NS&S award winning answer. The branch library beautifully captures the civic value that a pedestrian-friendly environment could provide. Bonus points for commercially revitalized village centers and creative suggestion of aqueducts as off-road facilities.

Paul Edward Colletti—Incomplete

Ward 6 at-large candidates

Kenneth R.L. Parker—A-
Smart growth=smart answer. We also need improvements where there is no new development pending. Could use more concrete and direct improvements. Vague on how what better snowplowing means. Notes crosswalk-blocking problem.

Victoria L. Danberg—A-
Good concrete proposals: raised crosswalks, pedestrian bumpouts, increase city-plowed sidewalk mileage. Good on requirements for future developments. No residential plowing requirement.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Grading the candidates

What are the candidates' positions on pedestrian and bicycling issues? The League of Women Voters ask the candidates, the TAB publishes the answers, and NS&S grades the answers.

Before we dive in. Candidates and public officials, please take note. The League asked three questions: Budget, draft Comprehensive Plan, and bike/ped issues. Those aren't bad priorities.

In this post, grades for the contested races, ward-by-ward. Unopposed incumbents graded in a separate post. Maybe a summary of the top issues across all candidates.

But first a note on a resident snow-clearing ordinance because it comes up in numerous answers (itself a great sign). The official NS&S position is that it should be the city's responsibility to keep sidewalks clear and the city's effort in this regard should match its street-clearing effort, at least on routes to schools, transit, and village centers. But, ain't gonna happen, so a resident requirement is a decent second choice.

Ward 1 at-large candidates

Al Cecchinelli—F
Blames bikers and pedestrians for safety issues.

Allan J. Ciccone—C
Vague. Identifies an important issue: sidewalk clearing, but offers no solution. (There are only two: more money or a resident-clearing requirement.)

Carleton Merrill—B
Clear crosswalks and striped bicycle accommodations are important.

Janet Sterman—C+
Education and marketing are important. But physical infrastructure is more important.

Ward 3 at-large candidates

Leslie Burg—A F
Tough to imagine a better answer: Safe Routes to School, bike lanes, crosswalks, traffic calming, resident clearing, support the Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force.

But, her actions don't match her words. This week she voted for the PMBD stripped of smart-growth provisions, like a requirement that the developer provide pedestrian and bicycle accommodations, despite the BPTF's endorsement of the provision. As far as I know, in her term, she has never attended a BPTF meeting or solicited its advice.

Ted Hess-Mahan—A+
Gets the top grade because he says bike/ped accommodations should be part of law. Articulates a complete streets policy without calling it that: bike accommodations as part of roadway improvement projects. Wants to put ped/bike access into zoning documents. Needs to make that happen with the PMBD. Points for resident snow clearing and bike racks. Vagueness on funding might have cost him if the rest of the answer weren't so strong.

Greer Tan Swiston—BA
Nails the importance of sidewalks. Resident sidewalk clearing. Would listen to the BPTF.
Grade updated to reflect new answer (in the comments).
New answer adds very clearly that we need to shift priorities from cars to walkers and bikers. Explicit about reducing driving. Bike racks.

Ward 7 at-large candidates

Verne Vance—A
Excellent on a crucial point: you want to slow traffic, you have to change the roadway. Good point about sidewalk quality. Bike lanes. A little squishy on resident snow clearing.

Sydra Schnipper—B+
Another proponent of bike/ped accommodations during roadway construction. (But, do we have to wait until a road is improved? Could be years.) Resident snow clearing.

Jeff Seideman—C-
Leads with vague call for better snow plowing. Where? Roadways? They're pretty well cleared. Sidewalks? Paid for by whom? Volunteers? Resident clearing requirement? Says safety is up to kids and parents. Nothing to do with traffic speed or volume? Sidewalk conditions? Crosswalk compliance?

Ward 8 at-large candidates

Mitchell L. Fischman—B+
Touches important topics—sidewalk conditions, sidewalk clearing, shoulders for bikes— but too vague. Saved by strong support of bikes over parking on Walnut Street.

John Freedman—C B
Strong on city plowing sidewalks near schools. Why not elsewhere? Wants sidewalk repair, but not clear on how. Mis-classifies Beacon and Commonwealth as "bike-friendly." Should be "potentially bike friendly." Deduction for suggestion that bikes shouldn't be on all roads. Decent on accommodations as roads are repaired.

Updated: I'm upgrading Mr. Freedman to a B based on his expanded explanation, which puts his comments into the context of budgetary concerns. And, he should have more credit for adding stripes and signs as streets are repaved.

Tom Scheff—C- A+
Leads with education/promotion, but doesn't address whether streets and sidewalks are fit for the biking and walking he'd encourage. Interesting, but underdeveloped idea about public transportation. Wants sidewalks shoveled, but doesn't say how.
New grade for adopting George Mansfield's answer and "adding public transportation." Alderman Mansfield's answer is a good one to steal adopt.

Myra Tattenbaum—C+
Describes the desired conditions—good sidewalks, cleared sidewalks, and bike lanes— without describing how we'd get there. Points for declaring that bike lanes should be as safe as car lanes.

Ward 3 ward alderman candidates

Anthony J. Salvucci—B+
Cadillac Sal (as we like to call him here on NS&S) surprises. Combines call for street improvements and education, though unnecessary focus on bike/ped compliance with the law. What's the bigger problem? Jay-walking or cars failing to stop in crosswalks. Gets all the points for sidewalk snow clearing, making it the city's responsibility and specifying the solution: more machines. Innovative on residential snow-clearing, wants to give incentives.

Anatol Zuckerman—A
Clear, correct positions. Build sidewalks. Bikes lanes instead of parking. City responsibility for sidewalk clearing. Public garages in centers is off-topic, but he's right.

Ward 5 ward alderman candidates

Christine Snow Samuelson—B+
Good answers: complete street road design and sidewalk snow clearing. Touts filing resident snow clearing, now it's time to get it considered and passed. Hoped for more from top traffic alderman.

Bill Brandel—A
Two great points: enforce crosswalk laws and connect neighborhoods. (Think he'd allow widening Boylston Street?) Touches on other issues, but vaguely: maintain streets and sidewalks, promote community shoveling, city clearing sidewalks abutting city properties, street striping, lights.

Great stuff!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Cut-through homing device

This seems like a good piece of technology: a dash-mounted GPS receiver that both provides and reacts to real-time traffic information. As you sit in traffic, the unit sends your speed and position to a central server and then sends you traffic-tailored directions to get you to your destination.

But, it's going to have a nasty consequence. Basically, it's a unit that tells you when you should use a cut-through to avoid traffic on an arterial and where the cut-through is. As if it the situation is not bad enough already.

This just reinforces the importance of lowering the design speed of known cut-throughs.

As you read the article (which you should), just remember that detour is just a neutral way of saying cut-through.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Accommodating turkeys

Brookline biker Tommy suggests equal access:

 | | | | | | | |  MBTA Easement
/  /  /  /  /  /
  /  /  /  /  /   angled parking

                  auto travel lane
-  -  -  -  -  -

                  auto travel lane
                  bicycle lane
                  fowl lane

                  metered parking
|    |    |    |  sidewalk
     I      I
     I      I     businesses


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Drawing the line

It seems inevitable that there will be some double-parking in bike lanes, particularly by FedEx, UPS, &c. But, if there's one thing I can't abide, it's wild fowl blocking the way.

Last night, for the second time, there was a wild turkey on Beacon Street in Brookline blocking my way and forcing me out of the bike lane and into the street.

Friend of NS&S Joe shot this picture of a wild turkey in the same neighborhood (Washington Square). It's not clear from Joe's shot whether the bird is about to walk into the bike lane or has already walked into the bike lane. But, I am absolutely certain that bike-lane blocking is on its agenda.


Healthy Streets

In the needs-no-comment category:

But money isn’t everything. Swedes believe that holistic social care—everything from happier professional lives to better street lights that encourage evening walks—results in healthier citizens and ultimately lower medical bills.

From Foriegn Policy's analysis of the five healthiest countries in the world. Via Tapped.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fat and fast

I've long thought that a problem with the nation's fuel consumption is the proliferation of heavy, powerful cars and trucks. All else being equal, a lighter, less powerful vehicle requires less fuel.

The editor-in-chief of Car and Driver came to a similar conclusion from a different angle. He explains how engines get more efficient but cars do not by noting that cars are getting heavier and more powerful. If you make a more efficient engine, you can use the efficiency to consume less fuel or to create more power. In the U.S., because of cheap gas, the market has demanded more power, with a corresponding increase in vehicle weight.

How can you encourage people to buy lighter and less powerful cars? (Note, I used the word "lighter," not light. A certain amount of weight gain is attributable to safety.)

How about a tax on the combination of power, weight, and performance?

If you need a big truck and lots of power—for towing and hauling—you don't need to be able to accelerate quickly or go fast. In fact, if you're hauling stuff or people, you probably shouldn't be peeling out or going too fast.

If you want some zip—and I'm not completely anti-performance—you should be willing to accept some limitation on weight.

But, there's no reasonable case to be made for a truck like the Cadillac Escalade, which weighs nearly 3 tons, has 400 horsepower, and goes from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. Or for a 4700lb. Dodge Minivan that gets to 60 in 8.2 seconds. Or a 4200 lb. Toyota Highlander that gets to 60 in 7.0 seconds.

It would be trivial to put a chip on cars over a certain weight (3500 lbs?) that limits acceleration to 0-60 in 10.0 (or higher). It's would use the same technology that already applies the brakes and cuts down power to provide stability control and roll-over protection. Tax the bejeezus out of anyone who wants a heavy car or truck without the chip.

The chip wouldn't hurt the working stiff who needs a big, powerful truck. He shouldn't be deterred by slow acceleration as long as the truck can haul and tow.

The chip wouldn't hurt the large family that needs something biggish for kids and kid detritus. Do you need to do stoplight drag racing in a minivan?

The chip should only discourage people who buy cars and trucks that are bigger and and more powerful than they need. (Think of all the weight for off-roading equipped SUVs that never go off road.)

I made a similar argument here.


Unacceptable loss

Sixteen-year-olds dying in car crashes should not be an acceptable part of life.

It should not be okay to say that 42,000 to 43,000 motor vehicle-related deaths a year is simply the price you pay for automobile travel, that it's really not so bad on a fatality-per-million-miles basis.

For years, flying by commercial airline has long been the safest mode of travel in the U.S. Still, over the last ten years, the rate of fatalities in domestic commercial air travel has dropped 65%. In 2007, there has only been a single fatality.

We should seek similar gains with automobile-related injuries and death. I'm not sure zero deaths is a realistic goal. It's unlikely that the commercial air travel is going to remain fatality free year-after-year. And, it's undoubtedly easier to control the factors that lead to airplane crashes than those that lead to automobile crashes (though airplane crashes are nearly always more catastrophic).

But, the young woman who died in Weymouth was not wearing a seat belt in a car driving too fast. That's not an accident. That's a preventable tragedy.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Just for fun

Treehugger has a gallery of bike-powered lawnmowers.


It's a street

What's with the "Route 9 Boylston" in the post below?

The debate over Chestnut Hill Square is, at least in part, a debate over the vision for the Chestnut Hill shopping district and even the larger Boylston Street corridor. The current Chestnut Hill Square design is a vision that turns its back on Boylston Street, consigns it to its Route 9-ness.

Some of us have a different vision, a vision that acknowledges that Boylston Street is a significant artery, but that it can also be host to an attractive and meaningful commercial and pedestrian experience. As part of an effort to articulate—and champion—that alternative vision, this blog will no longer refer to Boylston Street as Route 9.

Boylston is a street. People live on it. People shop on it. And development that turns its back on it is not welcome.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Getting Florence/Heath unbackwards

What if, regarding Heath and Florence Streets, Chestnut Hill Square is not the problem, but a potential solution?

A staggering 95% of current (2004) weekday peak hour Florence/Heath eastbound traffic is cut-through traffic. In New England Development's Final Environmental Impact Report, the traffic study for the weekday evening peak hour traffic show that 474 cars enter Florence from Route 9 Boylston. (Appendix D, figure 5.) All but 25 continue on to Heath and Hammond Pond Parkway. Westbound, about half the 171 cars that enter Heath at Hammond Pond continue on to Route 9 Boylston.

New England Development's projected eastbound figures for 2010 post-build are 513/14, or over 97%. (Appendix D, figure 21.) Westbound about 80% of the 151 cars that start at Heath and Hammond Pond Parkway will be cut through.

No wonder Brookline wants to close Heath Street. If you could get rid of 513 cars an hour while only inconveniencing a handful, wouldn't you do it? (The key is that everyone agrees those 513 cars really ought to be on Route 9 Boylston and Hammond Pond Parkway.)

What's really mind-blowing, though, is a comparison of the projected cut-through traffic along Heath/Florence and total projected traffic in and out of Chestnut Hill Square. According to the FEIR, during peak weekday hours, the site will generate 1349 trips, in and out.

Imagine reconfiguring Florence Street such that it was no longer an attractive cut-through and it provided an entrance into Chestnut Hill Square. Florence and Heath would have to absorb more than a third of the Chestnut Hill Square traffic to equal the existing cut-through traffic. Trade the cut-through traffic for a Chestnut Hill Square entrance and you'd also end up with a Chestnut Hill Square that is much better integrated into the neighborhood.

In part, this is what Brookline is proposing by blocking Heath Street. There will be no more cut-through traffic. And, most likely, Chestnut Hill Square will have to create access through the site for traffic from Florence. The solution is incomplete because it does not provide access to Chestnut Hill Square from east along Florence. And, it cuts off access to the Newton side of the neighborhood from Brookline and vice versa.

A more complete solution is possible. The Chestnut Hill Square frontage along Florence Street is long and the Chestnut Hill Square site is a completely open canvas. There are few limitations.

Imagine rerouting Florence Street north into Chestnut Hill Square. (It would probably require moving some or all of the residences onto the south side of the new Florence and figuring out a way to get into the existing homes along Florence. Details.) Make the route through Chestnut Hill Square circuitous or otherwise an unfit cut-through.

Maybe a roundabout at a Florence Street entrance to Chestnut Hill Square would discourage cut-through traffic.

There has to be a better option than living with cut-through traffic or creating a dead end.

Previously: Florence Street kink


Chuck writes

Chuck bikes, finds that area roads aren't very accommodating.

Chuck drives, finds that Newton North is short on bike racks.

Go, Chuck, go.


Florence Street kink

If the Florence/Heath Street cut-through is a natural because it describes an almost straight line between Florence and Route 9 and Heath and Hammond Pond Parkway, maybe the solution is to make it less straight and, therefore, less attractive.

What follows is a very crude idea of how New England Development could re-route Florence onto its property to add a kink to the street. Forget about whether the chicane I've drawn is the chicane a trained traffic engineer would draw. It's meant only to illustrate the concept.

The chicane could provide at least two advantages:

  • Slow speeds, perhaps enough to make Florence/Heath a less attractive cut-through.
  • Create a safe place for a pedestrian crossing.
Better executions of the idea are welcome.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Street repair

Cold-planing on Langley Road started this morning.

They are cold-planing and patching on Beacon Street around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir.


Walk to School Day

Today was International National Newton Bowen Walk to School Day. (I'm sure some other schools participated, too.)

What a wonderful morning. Traffic was not just noticeably less, it was dramatically less.

Son of NS&S, unprompted upon waking: "We should all wear 'No Cars' signs."

Lauren the crossing guard: "Wow."

Two young ladies behind me: "Do you think your class will have the most walkers?"

The drive in front of Bowen, which is usually backed up, had no cars on it for stretches at a time.

Police Officer Devine stood quietly in a corner with literally nothing to do.

But what really moved me was the human scale of the morning. The front of the school was packed with people, not overwhelmed by cars. It was a community, not a line of traffic.

I'm at a loss of words to describe how much better it was.


It's not all improvements

Alderman Rick Lipof was at tonight's public hearing in Brookline. Near the close of the meeting, he encouraged the good folks of Brookline to work together with Newton to address the traffic problems in the area. Then he trotted out the New England Development line that this project will include $8 to 13 million dollars in mitigation money, some of which could be Brookline's if the town plays ball.

We've covered this ground already. New England Development, in its Final Environmental Impact Report, included a table of proposed "improvements" that total over $10 million (p. VIII-51). But, over half is allocated to projects for which New England Development, not the city or its neighborhoods, is the primary, if not exclusive, beneficiary: $5.8 million to widen Route 9 and $660,000 to create a signalized median break. As I wrote in the earlier post, these two measures won't "'help ease the expected traffic increase.' They will help create the expected traffic increase."

I'm not sure if Alderman Lipof is aware of the nature of the allocations or of the fact that the proposed changes hardly constitute unalloyed benefit to the City. Before he next lauds New England Development for its generosity, he ought to take a look.

By the way, I don't mean to suggest that New England Development is being irresponsible or stingy. Some of the $10 million is principally for mitigation. I think the City should require more money from New England Development, with the allocation skewed more towards alternative transportation. But, it ain't nothing.

Still, let's be more careful discussing the money New England Development says its willing to spend, shall we?

Previously: NED's Overstated mitigation commitment


Three generations of cutters-through

Tonight, Brookline held a public hearing on a proposal to close Heath Street somewhere between Heathwood and Arlington. Closing Heath Street would make Heath and Florence Streets dead ends, until and unless New England Development created a street that connected Florence to Route 9 through Chestnut Hill Square.

The problem is cut-through traffic, not traffic that would travel to Chestnut Hill Square along Florence or Heath. Chestnut Hill Square is designed so that there is access from Florence only to the apartment building on the south side of the site (a mistake for a host of reasons). Chestnut Hill Square's contribution to the -- already existing -- problem is the traffic that it will add to and back up Route 9. The more backed up Route 9 is, the more attractive the Florence/Heath cut-through is. Also, Chestnut Hill Square will introduce two new lights for traffic to contend with: in front of the development and at Hammond Pond Parkway (which one assumes will have allow right turn on red).

A fundamental cause of the cut-through problem -- existing and future -- is the design of Florence and Heath. They describe an almost perfect diagonal from the Route 9 at Florence to Heath at Hammond Pond Parkway. It's no wonder that one of the Brookline selectman described how he was a third-generation cutter-through.

Here are three alternatives to closing Heath Street:

  • Put a kink in Florence Street right in front of the apartment building. The current design has a bit of open land between the apartment building driveway and Florence Street. Use that space to reshape Florence from a smooth curve to a sharper turn or two. This is something that can be introduced and tried now.
  • Extend Louise Road into the development and provide access to the entire site from Florence. Ironically, protecting the neighborhood from the traffic in and out of the site may contribute to more traffic trying to bypass the site. A light at a Louise Street entrance into the site might discourage more cut-through traffic than it generates.
  • Focus on making Florence and Heath Streets pedestrian friendly. Sidewalks, wide shoulders, narrow travel lanes, raised crosswalks would all mitigate the effect of the traffic, may slow it, and may even . Go really crazy and lower the design speed to 20 mph with horizontal and vertical deflection.