Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Car and Calming?

A huge problem with progressive traffic management policies is that they can be a touch counter-intuitive. For instance, it's not obvious that removing signals and signs can lead to smoother traffic.

So, it was with some delight that I cracked this month's copy of Car and Driver and found a ringing endorsement of roundabouts in a column by John Phillips. (Not online yet.)

An editor at the world's most influential auto-enthusiast magazine makes an odd roundabout proponent. Phillip's column traces his path from skeptic to advocate with stops at expert explanation and hard evidence. Oh, and he's quite entertaining.

He opens to type, narrating his navigation around the newfangled roundabouts near him and winkingly describing some of the look-what-crazy-stuff-happens sights he sees (including a car driving the wrong way). Then, just as he seems ready to go in for the kill, he quotes a local police chief and a traffic engineer who explain the significant real-world benefits (over signals): lower accident rate and better traffic flow. Phillips declares himself convinced and a fan.

I gotta believe that Phillips' column could have great persuasive power with skeptics. He clearly shares -- and communicates -- most people's pre-conceptions. That makes his ultimate embrace all the more credible. And, like I said, he's entertaining.

I encourage anybody who's trying to advocate for any progressive traffic management to buy the March Car and Driver and read and share the column.


NED's Overstated mitigation commitment

From the Chestnut Hill Square article in today's Tab:

The developer has also offered to pay nearly $13 million for improvements to Route 9 to help ease the expected traffic increase.
No! No! No!

I don't know where the $13 million figure comes from. But, New England Development's response to the city's comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report contains a table summarizing New England Development's commitment to mitigation (FEIR, VIII-51). Of the $10.5 million committed as of the 11/15/06 date of the FEIR, over $6.5 million was allocated to two line items:
  • Provide traffic signalization and median break with two left-turn lanes on Route 9 Westbound at The Mall at Chestnut Hill Drive and at the Capital Grille Drive. ($660,000)
  • Widen Route 9 east and westbound ($5.85 million)
Those two measures won't "help ease the expected traffic increase." They will help create the expected traffic increase.

Without those two changes to Route 9 (improvements strikes me as debatable, at least), New England Development won't be able to attract as many people cars and trucks to Chestnut Hill Square.

New England Development is entitled to propose changes to Route 9 that will enhance the value of its property. But, let's not mistake self-interested investment with mitigation.


With (some) apologies

The video artist does not exactly share my traffic-related sensibilities, but he has made one wickedly funny cartoon.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Draft Comprehensive Plan -- Transportation and Mobility

The Transportation and Mobility section of the Draft Comprehensive Plan is an impressive document. It is thoroughly researched and well written. The city has been well served by the staff and citizens who drafted it. (No credits are listed.)

It is an important and wide ranging document. The comments that follow are lengthy, but I hope commensurate with the section.

If for nothing else, the authors deserve kudos for slyly noting that "most children now rely on a system of being chauffeured by auto [to school]." Chauffeured. Brilliant.

There can be little dispute with the vision articulated in the section:

The vision of the city we seek includes pedestrian-friendly streets which connect neighborhoods and which work to enhance public transit, which in turn connects clusters of activity. In that vision, traffic calming and streetscape improvements encourage pedestrian-friendly, vital urban and residential environments.
Unfortunately, the authors paint an overly positive picture of the current situation. Which suggests that we are closer to the vision than we are. Which, in turn, leads to less aggressive goals than are warranted.

In the very first sentence of the section, the authors notes that Newtonians "rank traffic as one of their chief concerns." But, one of the two major goals set forth in the section is "To Maintain City Character and Quality of Life." Traffic is a problem for residents because it is having a detrimental effect on our quality of life. We need to recognize that things are broken and then aim to improve, not maintain, city character.

Take, for example, the section's discussion of Newton Centre. The authors hold Newton Centre out as an example, "sometimes cited nationally as an examplar of a neo-traditional neighborhood." Neo-traditional neighborhoods are pedestrian and bike friendly. Their streets are well laid out and narrow. Their streetscapes are well-defined.

Newton Center has none of those attributes.

My purpose is not to rebut the specific analysis or proposals as they relate to Newton Centre. There is already a forum for that: the Newton Centre Task Force. Rather, my purpose is to highlight an underlying flaw in the section's assumptions: that things are pretty good as is.

They are not.

The section is not consistently as optimistic in tone. There are instances where the authors more negatively -- and, therefore, more accurately -- describe the current situation, particulary in the Background section. And, the recommendations state that "pedestrian, bicycle, and public transport provisions are in need of substantial enhancements." But, the emphasis on the positive character of our neighborhoods and the goal of maintenance undercut the particular descriptions of problems and the recommendations. (And, the pedestrian and bicycle goals are not expressed in concrete terms, as discussed below.)

Our villages are central to the discussion of pedestrian, bicycling, and transit issues. Besides being overly generous in their assessment of the current state of our villages, by stating as their goal maintaining the character of the villages, the authors fail to grapple with a critical point: if our villages are to remain vital, they have to be vital in some new way. The report correctly and accurately notes that our villages -- and by extension our city generally -- operated on a livable scale because the villages met a wide variety of needs for nearby residents: grocery, hardware, pharmacy, banking, schools, &c. Those needs, except pharmacy and banking, are being met more efficiently in bigger boxes than can fit in our villages.

If we are going to return to a traditional, livable scale in our villages, we have to reinvent the village purpose in Newton. Again, there are better fora for wrestling with the character of our vilages than the Transportation and Mobility section of the Draft Comprehensive Plan, but inasmuch as the section explicitly aspires to a traditional character for our villages, it needs to acknowledge that livability and pedestrian friendliness are not mere functions of how wide the sidewalks and how narrow the street crossings are. It is going to require enormous creativity and leadership to create a new model or models for our villages.

One thing that is entirely missing from the description of the general situation is the nature of today's automobiles and how that relates to the impact traffic has on our lives. It is well documented that the average vehicle is bigger, more powerful, and safer today than, say, thirty years ago. The average vehicle is also more likely a truck. By safer, what's relevant to this discussion are improvements in tires, brakes, and vehicle management systems that afford drivers much better control.

The consequence of more power and better control? It is easier to go fast and drivers are -- justifiably -- more confident that they can control their cars/trucks at higher speeds. Every day I see the effect on my street and streets throughout Newton. There is probably little likelihood of an accident, but the effect of faster, more aggressive traffic is palpably, viscerally negative.

A significant aim of the Draft Comprehensive Plan is the adoption of a scheme for classifying Newton's streets. Classification should, as the authors suggest, promote better decision making about the streets and their functions and even about land use planning. I support a classification scheme and the proposed classification seems appropriate for the streets with which I am familiar. My only objection is with a single classification per street. The classification scheme should reflect that a street has different purposes during different times of the day and on different days.

To be parochial, my street -- Daniel Street -- appears to be classified as a minor connector, because, one assumes, it provides access to Bowen School. That's all well and good before and after school. But its narrow connecting purpose should not mean that we have to accept cut-through traffic trying to avoid Route 9 or Newton Centre. The classification should be aspirational, not merely descriptive. Outside of school hours, Daniel Street should not be considered a connector.

Here's what's missing from the recommendations:

  • Roadway narrowing. The section commendably recommends against widening roadways. We should also look for opportunities to take back space. Roadways should be no wider than is necessary for travel, with a reaonable shoulder for bicycle accommodation. Anything beyond that should be turned back to grass or sidewalk. The recent repaving and restriping of Beacon Street west of Waban includes shoulders that are as wide as the travel lane. How much better if the roadway had been redesigned and more grassy area provided instead.
  • Intersection narrowing. Roadway narrowing should also include narrowing of intersections. Narrower intersections will shorten pedestrian crossings and decrease vehicle speeds. And, they would simply reduce the amount of blacktop. For example, the intersection of Clark and Center Streets is probably twice as wide as it needs to be. Narrowing the width of Clark at Center Street would make life better for pedestrians and would discourage vehicles from taking turns at high speeds. And, it would make the intersection much more visually pleasing.
  • Specific, measurable goals for pedestrian and bicycle friendliness. The League of American Bicyclists certifies Bike Friendly Cities. The city should make certification a goal. By applying for certification, the city can measure the extent to which it falls short and identify specific measures it can take to achieve bike friendliness. There is no similar certification for pedestrian friendliness. The city can, however, establish and follow a pedestrian safety action plan, according to the guidelines set out by the Office of Safety of the Federal Highway Administration.
  • Focus on bikes and children. The city should aim to creating a safe environment for kids to bicycle and then encouraging them to ride.
  • Traffic calming as an integral part of roadway reconstruction. There is a cycle that's been repeated too often. Traffic conditions on a particular street are bad, but are mitigated somewhat by a poor surface. (A frequent joke: Potholes are great traffic calmers.) The street gets repaved. The new surface encourages more traffic at a higher speed. The neighborhood requests traffic calming. There are limited funds to build traffic calming mechanisms. Before a street gets paved, there should be a full consideration of traffic calming measures -- like curb extensions, roundabouts, chicanes, raised crosswalks, &c. -- any and all of which could be built at a much lower cost as part of roadway reconstruction.
  • Improvements in transit service. The authors painstakingly analyze the likelihood of new transit in Newton and set modest aims for possible expansion. But, the section is silent on improvements to existing service. For instance, Newton should advocate for significantly reduced transit times on the Riverside (D) line, perhaps through the creation of express service from Reservoir (which would undoubtedly require significant capital investment). Newton should also advocate for region-wide adoption of rules that give buses priority access to congested roads. For instance, Route 9 should have an HOV lane during peak periods.
  • The possibility for development above the Turnpike. The section recommends more off-street parking at the rail stations and commuter lines. Building parking lots over the Pike could serve the existing Newtonville and West Newton commuter rail stations, the existing West Newton and Newton Corner express bus stops, and the proposed Newton Corner station.
  • More specifics regarding schools. The sly reference to chauffeuring notwithstanding, the section's description of the problems related to school traffic is limited. And, the goals are modest and vague. As programs like Safe Routes to School recognize, there are numerous dimensions to the issue of how kids get to school, not the least of which is the health and welfare of children who aren't walking and biking enough. This is an area that demands aggressive specific goals, like participation in Safe Routes to School by all elementary schools and a specific reduction in the number of students arriving by car. This is a complicated problem, especially given the number of homes with two working parents, and will require creative problem solving and strong leadership.
  • Taxis. There is no mention of how taxis fit into the transportation scheme. Taxi availability plays an important role connecting people to transit, decreasing dependence on car travel and the demand for parking.

To end on a less critical note, some of the technical development recommendations are so spot on, I almost wanted to cry thinking of recent development that has been built without the benefit of the recommendations. For instance, the section recommends commercial development within large scale housing projects to provide ameneties that reduce residents need for car travel. Neither of the Avalon developments, on Needham Street and Route 9, include commercial space.

The section recommends fewer curb cuts on Needham Street and an effort to move away from proprietary parking across the city. The recently rebuilt Dunkin Donuts on Needham Street has the building on the east side of the lot and the parking on the west side. Newbury Comics has a similar orientation: building on the west side of the lot, parking on the east side. Had the Dunkin Donuts been built on the west side of the lot, there could have been a single curb cut and a shared lot which could have better handled the peak volume of either business.


Signs for Beacon, Winchester, Nahanton

The Bicycle Pedestrian Task Force has recommended some sign strategies to make the most of the bicycle accommodations recently painted on Beacon, Winchester, and Nahanton Streets.

Specifically, the BPTF recommended to DPW Commissioner Rooney:

  1. Standard Share the Road signs -- like on Beacon Street in Brookline -- at regular intervals (once per block or so)
  2. Sharrows on the pavement in the roadway to the left of the stripe, at locations where bicyclists could be reasonably expected to ride in the roadway (for instance, where the shoulder narrows or cars might be expected to park in the shoulder)
  3. Some indication to motorists that motor vehicle traffic is not permitted to the right of the white stripe, particularly where the shoulder appears to be wide enough for motor vehicle travel.
Previously: Unforeseen Striping Consequence


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Updated: Parking Meters in Waban

Parking meters coming to Waban Village have spurred an interesting Tab blog entry and comments -- including one from yours truly.

There's another Tab blog entry with Aldercritter Samuelson's very well-reasoned explanation.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How you measure traffic

This interesting post from Streetsblog discusses the inadequacy of traditional methods of traffic analysis for understanding the affect of traffic on people and places, particularly the oft-used level of service (LOS).

LOS measures the service for vehicles, but doesn't take into consideration other needs and interests -- like pedestrians and bikers.


Unforeseen Striping Consequence

I regularly drive Beacon from Centre to Washington and it appears to me that there are a lot more cars parked on the newly paved and striped parts of Beacon west of Angier School.

Have the stripes made motorists feel its safer to park?

If so, it wouldn't be good news for bikers. More parked cars in the "gutter" (is there a more accurate term?) mean fewer opportunities for bikers to ride out of traffic.

To be sure, I don't think this is an intended outcome. Everyone involved with the striping was looking to make things safer for bikers.

But, if the increase is attributable to the striping, it makes it even more important to follow up the striping with signs or on-street markings to make clear:

  • Motor vehicles are not permitted to travel to the right of the white lines
  • Bicyles are permitted to ride on either side of the white line
It's a tricky balance. How do you communicate to motorists that bicyclists have right to more pavement and not create ill-will?

Previously: New Bike Accommodations


Monday, January 22, 2007

Transparency -- City edition

The Traffic Council has a proposal, currently before the Public Safety & Transportation (PS&T) committee, to give the council authority to make certain decisions itself. It's a good plan.

Before the PS&T committee, during public comment on the proposal, I mentioned that this might be an opportunity to provide greater transparency into the process of traffic petitions. Based on some of the reaction, my comments merit require some clarification.

Considering the word narrowly, there is no dire problem with the transparency of the Traffic Council or, as far as I know, any aldermanic committees, including PS&T. You can go online and find out what the Council considered and how it voted. It's not always easy to find information, but the record is there.

When I spoke about transparency, I meant the word in a broader sense: whether it is possible and how easy it is to find out the whole picture, not just the decisions of elected or appointed officials, but the full record that relates to the decision.

In a not-so-ideal world, I should easily be able to find for each docketed item:

  • The initial petition
  • Correspondence related to the item
  • Reports and presentations related to the item
  • Activity on the item, including a digital recording of consideration of the item
  • Next steps for the item
  • Resolution
Some of this information is available in the agendas, but to get the full picture, you have to work your way through the agendas, which is tedious, at best.

Some correspondence and related reports are available with the printed agenda, at the meeting. But, this does not provide adequate opportunity to review, digest, and respond.

If you want related reports or presentations that are not in the meeting materials (or if you want them electronically), you have to make a request through the city clerk. It's not a huge hassle, but how many people are going to do it?

All the information listed should be available online on a single page (or set of pages) for each docketed item.

And, there should be a list of pending items before each committee, commission, council, etc., that link you to the page for each item.

Providing full transparency in the larger sense is going to take a much broader initiative than the proposed changes to the Traffic Council, but the Traffic Council could take some interim steps.

Here are two:
  • Maintain a list of pending and resolved items. For each item, provide a brief description and a list the reports of the meetings in which the item was considered.
  • Post all city-generated materials along with agendas and meeting reports. For most meetings, this would mean at least Mr. Schuckel's presentations.
By the way, transparency is a much bigger problem with other types of petitions before the alderman.

Related: Transparency - Commonwealth edition


Transperancy -- Commonwealth edition

I'll have something soon about transperancy in the city processes, but I was stunned by the Department of Environmental Affair's response to my request for a copy of comments on the Chestnut Hill Square Final Environmental Impact Report. If I want the comments, and there were 81 comments submitted by my count from the Certificate of the Secretary of Environmental Affairs on the Final Environmental Impact Report, I have to go downtown and copy the comments at a dime a page.

When I asked if I could get copies of those submitted electronically, I was told that they were already printed and deleted. I would have to copy those, too.


There is simply no excuse, in 2007, that all documents submitted to the commonwealth for approval of a several hundred million dollar project are not available online. None.

But a process that takes easily shared electronic files and throws them away is unforgiveable. (I am not moved by the suggestion that it would be a distortion to provide only a segment of the comments. I'm sure that if I decide to go to the MEPA offices, no one is going to force me to copy all the documents or none.)

If you submitted your comments electronically, please forward them to me and I'll put them on the wiki.

According to Deerin Babb-Brott, MEPA Director, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, there are requests for the next two fiscal years to upgrade the systems to manage documents electronically. As they say, contact your local representatives.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

For Shame, III

No parking here to corner ... except if you're dropping your kid off at Sunday School, apparently.

Righteous indignation diminished by the camera phone picture quality. (Click on the picture to see a larger version, on which the sign is reasonably legible.)

Updated: Ninety minutes later. Same corner, same crummy camera phone, different SUV.

Apparently, the exception applies to picking up your kids, too.

It isn't only SUV drivers that think they are above the law. On the other side of the same corner, this Camry Hybrid was flouting the same rule.

Those keen of eye will note the SUV behind the mailbox and wonder if that truck isn't parked -- thoughtlessly -- right at the apex of the corner.

It is! There's no sign posted on that side of the street, so I didn't take a picture. But, yes, you can't park on a corner, even if there are no signs.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Quick and Dirty

But effective!

From Street Use, Wired founder Kevin Kelly's blog (via Streetsblog), this is a picture of an old ship rope used in Mexico as an effective speed bump.

Ropes may not be the answer in Newton (where, among other things, there is no shipping industry to supply surplus ropes), but we should use this as inspiration for the search for cheaper answers to our traffic calming needs.


Vote No

I want to support the Gund design for the Newton North replacement. I really do. I think the design is great. The building would be a real asset for the town.

Unfortunately, the traffic circulation -- vehicle and pedestrian -- is not good. It's bad. The Gund building could not possibly look nice enough or work well enough to overcome the traffic legacy the project would create.

I don't love everything about Anatol Zuckerman's proposed alternative (PDF), but it helps illustrate how badly the Gund design manages traffic. Zuckerman proposes internal circulation on the site and allows entrance to the site from multiple locations.

Personally, I'd like to see a boulevard across the site from Walnut to Lowell with roundabouts at each end and one in the middle in front of a ceremonial and functional -- as in, it's the entrance most people use (probably because it would be across the boulevard from the parking).

It's a tough situation. They've got to build a building on one part of the property while another building remains fully functional. That doesn't leave much room for both an interesting footprint and a radical rethinking of circulation. Since keeping the present building standing is a non-negotiable requirement, the choice becomes one between an interesting footprint and an ideal a well-thought out traffic plan.

The potential upside of a killer building design yields to the inevitable downside of bad traffic management. If the new design has a detrimental impact on traffic, we're all going to be realy unhappy for years.

So, my vote is no. Send Gund back to the drawing board with a mandate to:

  • Create safe and comfortable pedestrian access from all sides of the site
  • In particular, connect pedestrians to Newtonville
  • Draw traffic -- particularly bus traffic -- off Walnut, Lowell, and surrounding streets in the safest, most anxiety-free manner possible
Oh, and please don't even think about construing this as a vote for renovation.


A broken system

The big takeaway from this evening's Public Safety and Traffic Committee meeting?

A conference table full of diligent and well-intended aldercritters, Traffic Council members, and neighborhood advocates can't solve a terrible traffic problem without any idea how much money might get spent on the problem.

Item 323-06 addresses the intersection of Crafts Street and Linwood Avenue. Everyone involved agrees that it's a terrible situation. Apparently, two children trying to cross the intersection (maybe more) have been hit by cars. More later on the details of the problem.

Everyone agrees that the intersection is dangerous and needs a fix. Traffic Engineer Clint Schuckel presented four options whose price tags range from $8,000 to over $125,000. Everyone also agrees that the most expensive option -- a fully signalized intersection -- is the runawy best option.

But, the committee doesn't control the relevant purse strings. The mayor requests appropriations or, in the case of the traffic signal, puts it on the Capitol Improvements Plan. (I'm a little murky on the exact mechanics.) There are already three new lights on the 2008-2012 CIP (PDF). See page 28. For perspective, two of the three proposed lights on the 2008-2012 CIP were on the 2004-2008 CIP, filed in October 2002.

Still, the PS&T committee members have to try to figure out what the best recommendation is. Don't want to go for the full signal if it isn't going to be a capital priority. Don't want to settle for the mid-block pedestrian signal if the full signal is a priority.

Hmmmm. Wonder what the mayor is going to do?

Hey, Mr. Mayor. How big a problem is this?


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Let the fun begin ...

From an aside in Chuck's Derby Street post, we learn that the Brookline Traffic Board has asked Newton to make Heath Street a dead end to prevent it from being overrun by traffic attributable to Chestnut Hill Square.

Can't see it happening.

But, the request is likely a harbinger of things to come. Heath Street is but one of many side streets that will suffer from Route 9's inability to absorb the traffic generated by Chestnut Hill Square. (Mine -- Daniel Street -- is on the list.)

Say it with me, folks: 9ZeroZero.

Chestnut Hill Square wiki page.


Derby Street Condo Project

From Chuck Tanowitz on his Garden City Blog, we learn that the Traffic Council will be considering a request for traffic calming on Derby Street at its January 18 Meeting. The Derby Street item is #360-06 and will be heard after 8:00. The Traffic Council agenda (PDF).

The agenda item doesn't mention the reason for the request, but Chuck's post indicates that the traffic calming request is precipitated by a proposed 4oB development at 254-262 Derby Street. Dan Proskauer posted a detailed description of the project and neighborhood reaction in a comment to Chuck's blog entry. Dan also does a nice job of explaining 40B (PDF).

Traffic-related issues:

  • Traffic impact -- Eight condos will replace three homes and a landscaping business. There may or may not be an increase in traffic.
  • Parking -- Residents worry that the condo parking (two spaces per unit) will not be sufficient for visitor parking, which will spill over into the street. Parking is permitted on both sides of the street.
  • School -- The condos will be up the street from the Franklin school, which is both a generator of traffic and a reason to be concerned about traffic.
My preliminary take:
  • The city should seize every opportunity to calm traffic, especially around schools.
  • A big (the biggest?) impediment to calming measures is $$. If there's an opportunity to have the developer make a reasonable mitigation contribution as a condition of city approval, seize it.

Derby Street wiki page.


On a lighter note -- crocheted bike basket

A nifty bike baskets from Swedish designer Marie Louise Gustafsson. Unlikely we'll ever see it in the U.S. of A.

Perfect for a bringing home a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers.

From Core77.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Missed this on tolls

I missed this good TAB editorial on the Pike toll situation.

I'm sympathetic to the equity argument. But it sure would be nice if the answer was tolls for all, not no tolls at all.

Tolls remain one of the best mechanisms for having motorists directly bear the costs of their commuting decisions.


Newton North Traffic Issue

I have a letter-to-the-editor in this week's Tab in which I weigh in -- just a little -- on the Newton North ceremonial entrance issue. I'll post a link when my letter is online. My letter is online. Search for "safety and comfort."

In short, I argue that a traffic design has to meet more than a safety threshold. A technically safe design should not be implemented unless it also creates a comfortable experience, especially for pedestrians.


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Grocery shopping by bike or foot

One thing that occurred to me after I submitted my comments to the Chestnut Hill Square (CHS) Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR): Has New England Development (NED) factored the likely travel plans of the lifestyle grocery customers into its 10% transit reduction calculation? Nobody's going to bike or walk to get groceries (except CHS residents).

Let me back up.

In order to gain approval for their plans, NED has assumed a 10% transit reduction during peak hours. That means that NED expects that their efforts to promote travel to the site by other than private car -- private shuttle, MBTA bus stop, pedestrian and bicycle accommodations -- will reduce traffic by 10%.

A significant chunk of the traffic to CHS will be to and from Whole Foods the not-as-yet-identified lifestyle grocer. With the exception of a very few, very near neighbors, everybody's taking their groceries home in the car. So, if there's going to be a 10% transit reduction in the aggregate, the non-grocery travel has to have a much higher transit reduction.

Color me skeptical.


Life in Chaos Bike Photos

Updated: There's a big spread, with pictures, on page 25 of this week's Tab. I'll post a link when the article is online.

Go to the Newton Free Library and see Andrew Kessler's photo exhibit: Life in Chaos. It's on display through January 30.

Kessler is a photographer. When a four-year-old child of a friend was diagnosed with leukemia, Kessler decided to do the PanMass Challenge.

The photos in the exhibit are culled from shots he took during training for three PMC rides. He mounted a camera to his bike and set the timer to take a new picture every n seconds or so. He wasn't looking through the view finder as the pictures were being taken.

The pictures really capture the beauty of riding ... and a whole lot more.

Read the library blurb on the exhibit or this Globe article for more.

But definitely run ride down to the library before the end of the month.


More bikers = safer bikers

On the occasion of a memorial ride for the bikers who have been killed on New York City streets, Streetsblog's Aaron Naparstek has an interesting post about whether such memorial rides or the ghost bikes put up at the site where bikers have been killed dissuade other people from taking up or continuing biking. (The image to the left is one of the ghost bikes.) Read through the comments for some very thoughtful feedback to Aaron's post.

It's a fascinating discussion, but the nugget most relevant to Newton is this: studies show that there truly is safety in numbers. The higher the number of bikers, the lower the per-biker crash rate.

It makes some sense. The more bikers, the more attentive motorists will be to bikers. It's nice to know that research supports the assumption.

Memo to aldercritters: Want it to be safer for us bikers? Make the streets more attractive to people who aren't already biking.

Memo to Aldercritter Gentile: Discouraging bikers from streets doesn't make it safer.


MBTA Debt Relief

Story in the Globe today about an effort to have the state assume $2.9 billion of the MBTA's $5 billion debt.

My only question: Why not more?

Actually, the number doesn't appear to have been drawn from thin air. The MBTA took a $2.9 billion charge seven years ago when the MBTA funding structure was changed.

I have written to the members of the Newton state legislative delegation (Senator Creem, Representatives Balser, Khan, and Koutoujian) for their positions on the proposal. I'll post their replies when I receive them.


Monday, January 8, 2007

City Response to Chestnut Hill FEIR

The city submitted its comments to New England Development's Final Environmental Impact Report for the Chestnut Hill Square project.

I've only taken a quick look, but I was delighted to see that Planning Director Michael Kruse, in the introductory letter, encourages NED to put a green roof on the parking garage.

Here are some highlights from the Traffic and Transportation section (my comments in brackets):

  • Widening the roadway between Hammond Pond Parkway and Langley Road may simply push congestion out of the immediate vicinity of the development. [This could be catastrophic for the Eliot Street intersection.]
  • Widening the roadway at all will attract motor vehicle traffic, potentially at the expense of side streets.
  • The Parker Street interchange may not support two signals. [Not sure how a single light would affect through traffic and the incentive to use cut-throughs.]
  • The proposed 10% transit reduction is overly optimistic, especially in light of the infrequency of the proposed shuttle service, the fact that the shuttle won't be free, and free parking for employees and customers. [I had missed that the shuttle would cost customers.]
  • A bridge over Route 9 is a significant opportunity for pedestrian access to the site. [I'm skeptical.]
  • Make the shuttle service to the Newton Centre green line station because there are more things to do in Newton Centre than at the Chestnut Hill station. [Why not both?]
  • Too much of the mitigation money is dedicated to road improvements. [A good point, but it can be taken a step further. What is labelled mitigation -- adding more lanes -- might actual exacerbate.]


From the gargantuan to the tiny (but not trivial)

We take a break from the monumental issues of Chestnut Hill Square to address 30 feet of sidewalk that is becoming increasingly impassable.

This hedge on Jackson Street near White Avenue reduces the effective width of the sidewalk by about half.

I have called the Department of Public Works, which is on the case.

Tomorrow, they'll take a picture of the problem and write the homeowners asking them to fix the problem.

If it isn't fixed within two weeks or so, they'll follow up, though it seems up to me to inform DPW that nothing has happened.


Updated: Chestnut Hill Square

I sent my comments on New England Development's Final Environmental Impact Report to the state this morning. (I'll upload them soon.)

There will be lots of posting to be done about various aspects of the Chestnut Hill Square proposal, but one thing struck me this morning. They seem to be pushing out to the limit in too many ways, leaving no margin for error.

The 8 lanes directly in front of the development. The driveways at the very border of the property. The six lanes at Langley and Route 9.

Update: Here are my comments (Word document).


Newton North Ceremonial Entrance

The debate over the proposed driveway to the proposed ceremonial entrance to the proposed Newton North raises an interesting question. Should the ceremonial entrance:

  • Reflect how most people are expected to get to the building?
  • Reward people who use encouraged mode of transportation?
  • Be purely a function of siting?
Take the library as an example.

It's not the first case. The ceremonial entrance faces Homer Street, but most people drive to the library, park in the lot, and enter the building through the west, non-ceremonial entrance.

It's not the second case. It's not clear that, for most people, there is a viable alternative to driving to the library; there is not a meaningful alternative to encourage.

The library, then, would be an example of the third case. Its ceremonial entrance reflects its siting at the corner of Walnut and Homer. The building shows a proud front to southbound vehicle traffic on Walnut.

I would have built the library to treat people coming by car a little nicer. (Sometimes, you just have to accept reality.) And, I would have engaged City Hall more directly. Imagine a grand entrance at the northwest corner of the building, suggesting a direct connection between the two buildings.

With the Newton North designs, it throws a big red flag that the ceremonial entrance is so far from the Newtonville commercial district and that parking lots are so far from the ceremonial entrance. It means that there are going to be a lot of people entering through a back door.

It seems to me that a greater sense of community would be forged by a cermonial entrance that is also the most practical entrance. Come to think of it, calling it a ceremonial entrance is another red flag.

Updated: Why isn't the library within reasonable walking distance of one of the villages?


Friday, January 5, 2007

The 9ZeroZero policy

I would like to introduce a new policy applicable to any project that affects Route 9, but particularly the coming Chestnut Hill Square development: the 9ZeroZero policy.

It goes like this:

Any changes made to Route 9 or near Route 9 with the purpose of improving conditions on Route 9 must have zero negative effect on surrounding streets, with zero tolerance for deviation.