Friday, March 30, 2007

Folding bridge

This qualifies as on-topic for NS&S as it is a folding pedestrian bridge.

It's a real bridge in London's Paddington Basin development. Hydraulic's make it curl up.

From Gizmodo.


Donald Shoup interview

Through the miracle of embedded HTML, the Donald Shoup interview right here on NS&S:

Update: The video isn't wasn't appearing in Firefox (in mine anyway). If it doesn't appear for you, watch it on the StreetFilms site.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Demand-priced parking

On the op-ed page of the New York Times, parking guru Donald Shoup argues that there are numerous problems with underpriced curb-side parking.

Parking is underpriced if there is greater than 85% occupancy at any given time. (And, prices should be variable and demand based.)

If prices are too low and occupancy too high:

  • Those who get spaces get them too cheap and stay too long, leaving money on the table and reducing parking availability for others
  • Those without spaces cruise for open spaces, creating congestion and excess pollution
When you have demand-based pricing, you get higher turnover, which translates into higher quality use for the spaces. And, you reduce congestion.

Shoup writes:
The balance between the varying demand for parking and the fixed supply of curb spaces is the Goldilocks Principle of parking prices: the price is too high if too many spaces are vacant, and too low if no spaces are vacant. But when only a few spaces are vacant, the price is just right, and everyone will see that curb parking is both well used and readily available.

Demand-based pricing is not only not anti-business, it's pro-business. Rates set for 85% occupancy means that plenty of people are parking -- and shopping. It means that prime spaces are most likely going to be used by customers, not employees. And, it means that shoppers will have spaces available when they arrive.

Plus, the revenue from higher rates can be plowed into cleaning, maintenance, landscaping, &c. in the business district.

In Newton, higher-priced parking has its own special concerns. If you raise prices in a commercial zone, you run the risk of pushing parking into the neighboring residential areas.

But, there are tools available to mitigate that problem, like resident parking and short-term parking rules.

Streetsblog has an interesting interview with Shoup.


Transit and Big Developments

I made note of Srdjan's recommendation that, if the city were to create a Planned Business District zoning district, the city require equal allocations to roadway and transit changes. (I'm hesitant to use "improvements" because not all changes to a roadway can be considered an improvement.)

In my own comments to the Zoning and Planning Committee, I took a different approach, recommending a requirement of 30% (or greater) transit use, meaning that the developer would have to have to demonstrate a likely transit use by 30% of all people coming to or leaving the site.

Which would be better?

Srdjan's recommendation has the virtue of being concrete and immediately measurable. The developer's commitments will either meet or not meet the requirement. It's not based on predictions and assumptions, like my proposal.

And, Srdjan's recommendation would nearly always result in desparately needed money for transit improvements.

On the other hand, a transit use requirement would help shape developer decisions and act as a disincentive to develop too far from transit. Also, an equal allocation requirement would act as a cap on transit improvements. If a potential development is not well connected to transit, but requires no or little roadway change, no or little transit improvement would be made.

The answer, I think, is to combine the requirements.

A developer shold have to spend as much on transit as on roadways and enough to provide for 30% transit use.

Previously: Planned Business District Public Hearing


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Demands on Parker Street

The Route 9/Parker Street overpass is already the subject of study by the city and New England Development (and their respective traffic consultants) because of the effect on the interchange of of increased Route 9 traffic from Chestnut Hill Square.

The scope of study (and potential improvements) needs to be expanded in light of news that the Sam White property (on the south side of Route 9 just east of Parker Street) is going to be developed, likely as affordable housing, pursuant to 40(b).

This significantly changes the dynamic on the interchange. With development on the Sam White property, there will be an undoubtedly large increase in the number of motorists using Parker Street to perform an east-to-west U-turn. That is, westbound traffic coming from the east of Parker Street that will have to go up the westbound off-ramp to Parker Street, turn left on Parker Street (after crossing the northbound traffic lane), then turn left down the eastbound on-ramp (again crossing the northbound traffic lane).

The accumulation of the following factors make it seem like a good opportunity to rethink the whole interchange design and not invest in relatively minor changes (like traffic signals) that address only one source of concerns:

  • The apparently deteriorating condition of the bridge
  • The increased volume to be generated by Chestnut Hill Square
  • The increased volume to be generated by development on the Sam White property
  • The significant bike and pedestrian problems

Considered more broadly, the area needs a better bicycle/pedestrian connection from the north to the south, not only along Parker Street. Both Bowen School and the South/Oak Hill complex are east of Parker, between Parker and Langley. Perhaps a master plan for the Langley to Parker section could include pedestrian access across Route 9 between the two major intersections.


Planned Business District Public Hearing

I'll post something on about the public hearing generally, but here are a couple of key thoughts that relate to streets and sidewalks.

Srdjan Nedeljkovic made the excellent point that we ought to expect and demand that developers make equivalent commitment to roadway and transit improvements. This is consistent with the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization's Journey to 2030 recommended investment allocation for the region as a whole.

New England Development proposes $13.5 million in roadway improvements. Imagine what we do with $13.5 million in transit improvements in the Chestnut Hill area? Imagine what we could do with $6.5 million in transit improvements and scaled back roadway improvements?

Dani Krasa made the excellent point that widening Route 9 is an active disencentive to invest in mass transit. Making extra lanes lets all parties involved postpone the hard choices about and the investment in mass transit on the corridor. If we don't widen Route 9, New England Development (and future developers) will find it in their interest to make meaningful transit improvements (and lobby for the state to make them). It'll be the only way to bring warm bodies to the property.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Proposed Planned Business District

New England Development, the folks that are going to bring you Chestnut Hill Square, have proposed amending the Newton zoning ordinance to create a new district, called a Planned Business District.

In essence, the ordinance change would allow a developer (or developers) who gets control over 10 acres to create a very dense multi-use development. Call it instant village.

There's a public hearing tonight.

Multi-use development is, in most cases, better than not, though there are a load of issues with this particular proposal to create multi-use development. But, multi-use development is particularly appropriate around mass transit service. It's called smart growth.

Yet, the proposal lacks any requirement related to mass transit.

It's understandable. The creation of the Planned Business District is intended to grease the skids for Chestnut Hill Square, which will be notably underserved by mass transit. So, the New England Development-controlled property would not qualify as a Planned Business District if there were any meaningful transit requirement.

That doesn't make it acceptable. Before we go allowing the creation of new villages that are not served by mass transit, let's allow -- indeed encourage -- mixed-use development in our existing villages, each of which is well-served by some combination of bus, trolley, and commuter rail.

Or, let's make sure that creation of a new village is coincident with real extension of our transit infrastructure. Route 9 might be a pretty good place for a new urban village, just not without some new transit, which the Route 9 corridor desparately needs. In the case of Chestnut Hill Square, that might mean creation of a bus rapid transit route down Route 9.

The way to focus attention on the villages or to catalyze new mass transit is to make transit use -- 30%? 50%? -- a requirement of a Planned Business District.

Wiki page: Arguments Against Planned Business District


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Peak-priced tolls

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Feds are in favor of varying tolls based on demand, otherwise known as "congestion pricing."

From a Stamford (CT) Advocate story:

Other cities worldwide use [congestion pricing] successfully, and other transportation systems, such as airlines and railroads, already charge varying rates based on peak hours, [Patrick] DeCorla-Souza [program manager for the Federal Highway Administration's congestion pricing initiative] said at a meeting at Westport [CT] Police Department headquarters organized by the South Western Regional Planning Agency.

"People understand that at certain times during the year, certain goods and services are more valuable," DeCorla-Souza said at the event, attended by about 30 municipal leaders and legislators from Fairfield County. "The idea now is to help them understand it in the transportation arena."

Previously: Integrated traffic strategy


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Overlapping jurisdictions

Ken, who takes the commuter rail downtown from West Newton, is among those who are frustrated by the lack of clear sidewalks around the commuter rail station, particularly on the bridge over the Pike. (Mrs. NS&S is also a West Newton regular.)

Ken thinks the problem may be that it's the Turnpike Authority's responsibility to clear the sidewalks on the bridge. (It doesn't seem quite right. The city clears the streets on the bridges over the T.)

That would be something. Newton residents and MBTA customers at the mercy of the Turnpike authority for safe going.

I'm going to do a little digging.


Smacked down by the Tab

Over on the Tab blog, Greg says I'm a hysterical alarmist for opposing the Whole Foods parking lot expansion. An excerpt:

Meanwhile, the current parking there is hard to navigate and seemingly hazardous for people walking to and from their cars. Hopefully a new lot design with the added space would be better.
I couldn't resist a lengthy response.

Previously: Whole Foods parking lot


Monday, March 19, 2007

More irony

The homeowner on White Avenue who has ignored the city's request to trim a sidewalk-encroaching hedge on the school route to Bowen is doing some serious renovation.

Which means he or she has the nerve to apply for a permit from one department, while ignoring letters from another.

Irony alert
From the gargantuan to the tiny (but not trivial)


Killer sidewalks

I write about the Parker/Cypress/Center Streets route to the Newton Centre T because it is a well-used pedestrian corridor that can get very bad during the winter and because I know it well.

Now comes more reason to justify my focus. I just learned that my neighbor Julie broke her arm walking to the T after the Valentine's Day storm. She slipped on an icy sidewalk in front of 52 Cypress Street. I wonder how many more injuries there were along this and other routes to transit.

It's not realistic to imagine that the city's going to flip-flop it's snow-clearing priorities, but just for kicks, imagine a world where, immediately following a storm, people all over the city looked out their windows and said, "Better take the T to work this morning. The roads look bad, but the sidewalks are clear."

I know not everyone works in Boston or Cambridge and can take mass transit to work. Hence the "It's not realistic ...," above.

Requiring home owners to shovel their sidewalks would surely help make the situation safer, but it would be even better if the city cleared more of the high-volume pedestrian routes, like Parker/Cypress/Centre.

Previously: Shoveling something


Much better, thank you

Took a family walk up towards Bowen School last night. The school route has been cleared by the city's nifty sidewalk snow-blowing mini-truck. The path is now completely manageable.

What a difference from the last storm.

Parsing Mayor Cohen
The Mayor responds
Dangerous Sidewalk Letter to Mayor Cohen


Friday, March 16, 2007

Last Stop

"End of the line" was already taken.

Neat article in the Globe about how the T is retiring the last few examples of the first modern-era trolleys.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Whole Foods parking lot

Whole Foods has a petition pending before the Land Use committee (#164-06(3)) to expand parking to the former Mobil lot at the corner of Walnut and Beacon. The petition is set forth in the Land Use committee's notice of a 3/13/07 public hearing (PDF).

This is a very bad idea for the neighborhood and for Newton.

The effect on the immediate neighborhood is obvious. A bigger parking lot in a mixed residential/commercial zone is not the right land use. In a word: blight.

The effect on Newton is, perhaps, less obvious: more parking = more traffic. Beacon and Walnut Streets don't need more traffic. And, more traffic on Beacon and Walnut has effects on side streets.

Parking follows the principle of induced demand. The more parking you create, the more demand there is for the parking. Increased demand for parking means more cars on the streets that lead to the parking. More traffic volume.

The flip side is that parking is a mechanism -- a valve -- that can be used to help control traffic volumes. In this case, we can't close the valve. Whole Foods already has 85 spaces. But, the city can prevent it from adding 45% more spaces and the attendant traffic.

I have created a Whole Foods page on the wiki. The page includes the text of the petition and my letter to the Land Use committee urging them to reject the petition. I'll add to it over time.


The next step

I had notified the DPW that the school zone light in front of Bowen School was not working. On Monday, the light was partially fixed. It was on at the right time, but it wasn't flashing.

I e-mailed DPW to let them know about the non-flashing problem. Then, I created this little camera-phone video to confirm the problem.

I post it here not because it's high quality -- it isn't -- or because it's interesting -- it really isn't. I post here simply because I can.

Newton Streets and Sidewalks has officially entered the YouTube era!


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cheap and easy

Last week, the Traffic Council considered a speeding problem on Vernon and Chase Streets next to Bigelow Middle School and near Underwood Elementary School.

The picture above illustrates city traffic engineer Clint Schuckel's proposed changes to the street geometry. (The picture's from Mr. Schuckel's presentation.) The changes look great and are bound to make a much more pedestrian-friendly and safer intersection. Of particular note is the way the proposed changes shorten the crosswalks by bringing the various curbs closer to each other. (It ought to be a city goal to take 200 feet out of crosswalks each year.)

The proposed changes, which will probably cost tens of thousands, appear likely to be made, in large part, because there is money available, specifically CDBG money related to nearby Newton Corner. (I have no idea what CDBG stands for.)

But, what if it there were no money available? No response to the safety problem?

It's going to cost tens of thousands because the city is going to make the changes properly: granite curbs, relocated storm drains, pavement removal and new grass between the old curb and the new, new sidewalks with new curb cuts, &c.

The changes need to have the intended effect, however, could be done for low thousands. The intended effect is a function of the curb. Only. Cars are not going to go any slower because there's grass on the other side of the curb. The crosswalk isn't going to be longer because it ends with a new curb cut surrounded by grass.

All of the safety effects could be achieved with a bunch of concrete parking curbs, the kind you drive up against in a parking lot. Hammer a few of those suckers in the pavement along the new curb geometry and ... boom ... slowed cars. Leave gaps at the crosswalk and ... boom ... shorter crosswalks and new pedestrian safe zones.

(Mr. Schuckel mentioned rubber curbing that's more expensive, but probably still less than the standard buildout.)

The city is going to do things nicely at Vernon Street because it can. And, where there is money available, there's no reason to do things on the cheap.

But, where money is not available, there's no reason to forego pedestrian safety and comfort. Start with ugly curbs. Make it look pretty later.

Which raises yet another point: Concrete curbs could be dropped in much sooner than full construction can be scheduled. They'd make a great interim solution, even when the city has money to do it pretty.

Previously: Best v. Good


Parking Demand

Apparently, there's a high demand for parking in the Cypress Street lot in Newton Centre. And, there's no need for a honking SUV to manage snow and ice.

This picture's from just before noon on Saturday.

Yes, the right rear tire is off the ground.

No, there were no cars queued up to take the spot when it opened.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Route 9/Parker Street interchange under study

Traffic engineers for the city and for New England Development (the proponents of the proposed Chestnut Hill Square) are studying a number of traffic issues related to the changes that will come with Chestnut Hill Square, including increased volume of traffic on Route 9.

Among the areas of study is the Route 9/Parker Street interchange.

Any change to the interchange should have the following goals, in this order of priority:

  • Ensure pedestrian safety in the interchange
  • Make it comfortable for pedestrians to cross over Route 9 on Parker Street
  • Not cause cut-through traffic on nearby side streets
  • Not cause crosswalks or side streets to be blocked by traffic backed up on Parker Street
  • Not materially degrade traffic on Parker Street
  • Improve traffic flow on, to, and from Route 9

I have recently updated the wiki page for the interchange. The page has a description of the problem, the goals (those just listed), and a discussion of some proposed solutions.

Please give me your feedback (by e-mail, in the comments, or on the wiki). I'll continue to update the page based on that feedback and on other developments.


A new device: the bus bulb

A bus bulb is an extension of the sidewalk into the street at bus stops.

Instead of going out of the flow of traffic to pick up and discharge passengers, the bus stays in the lane as it pulls up to the stop. The bus bulb forces traffic to wait behind the bus, greatly improving the ability of the bus to return into traffic. That has the effect of improving bus service.

This topic and the picture above are from Aaron Naparstek at Streetsblog. More information about bus bulbs in the The Federal Transit Administration's Evaluation of Bus Bulbs (PDF).

I'm not sure how many places where getting back into traffic is an issue for buses in Newton. But, if it is ...


Thursday, March 8, 2007

Integrated traffic strategy

Commenting on correspondence to officials about the Mass Pike polls, John made these good points:

On the larger question of the effect of tolls on driver behavior, I think you have to consider the possible effect of diversion of traffic off the Turnpike onto local roads when tolls are increased. This, like the interaction between tolls and T fares, is hard to estimate without the use of computer models, and even then the results may not be dramatic.


On time-varying tolls, I support that, although it would be good to seem some analysis showing that it encourages drivers to "spread the peak" rather than divert onto local roads. Unfortunately, ours is the only corridor into Boston where tolls are charged on the highway as opposed to just the bridges.
I think he's hit the nail on the head.

If you want to shape transportation behavior in the region, you have to think comprehensively about the interrelationship among modes. And, before you consider significant changes to one mode, you have to model the effects on the other modes.

Whether the changes end up being dramatic depends on whether the objective is revenue change or behavior modification. It may be that meaningful decrease in motor vehicle commuting -- where mass transit is currently available -- is going to need a combination of sharp increases in the cost of commuting by car, particularly during peak hours, and improvement in mass transit service.

And, steps will have to be taken to mitigate the effects on local streets.


Obama parking tickets

I can overlook not paying parking tickets on time, but I'm not sure I can support a candidate who parked in a bus stop.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Inconsistent bike accommodation signage

While I am a proponent of a new type of bike sign -- Bikes by Right -- I also recognize that regionally consistent signs will greatly help the cause of educating motorists to be on the look out for bicyclists and to give them necessary space.

The topic came up at last night's Brookline Bike Committee meeting.

On the topic is this great page of the variety of bike signs in use in the commonwealth.


Monday, March 5, 2007

Classifying Vehicles

The city of Newton (and every other city or town in the commonwealth) ought to have priority parking for smaller cars. There ought to be smaller, better placed spaces (which costs less to build and maintain) for smaller cars.

Unfortunately, nobody considers theirs a big car. There are a bunch of parking garages in the area with "compact cars only" spaces, but with definitively not compact cars in them.

Part of the problem may be that the definitions are not obvious. Betcha didn't know that, according to the EPA, a compact car is one with passenger and cargo volumes under 110 cubic feet. Huh?

So, how can cities and towns have meaningful parking policies that properly favor smaller cars? What if the commonwealth put the EPA class (or a Massachussets equivalent) on the inspection sticker? Motorists and parking enforcers would know a car's classification.

In London, they are considering charging for parking based on car length.


Livable streets are healthy streets

No surprise, pedestrian-friendly streets are healthier streets because they promote walking.

From a study of walking patterns by the Center for the Advancement of Health (published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine):

People are more likely to go for a walk in areas with four-way intersections and a large number of shops and businesses as possible destinations.
Density = less obesity.

Of course, density also means lower energy consumption and a smaller carbon footprint.

From Tapped.


Friday, March 2, 2007

Sweet quote

Aldercritter Danberg to the mayor about Pike tolls:

Although many Newton residents including myself use the Pike and would certainly love a discounted rate, I question whether this is personal candy that will result in more village tooth decay.


Woodland Road to get speed tables

It was a remarkable meeting last night.

With Kevin Flaherty's sister and parents in the front row, Mayor Cohen promised a whole host of pedestrian-focused safety improvements to Woodland Road, the centerpiece of which are raised intersections (or speed tables) at Woodland and Cheswick and Woodland and Lake. (Kevin Flaherty is the Lasell College student who was struck and killed by a motorist on Woodland Road.) If built, they would be the first
speed tables in Newton.

From the engineers' report (PDF), to the mayor's commitment to implement the engineers' recommendations, to the aldercritter response (Sangiolo and Harney in attendance), to the neighborood support, the focus was on pedestrian safety, comfort, and convenience.

If the recommendations are implemented, particularly the speed tables, it will represent a very important early step in efforts to recognize that pedestrians have an equal right to at least some of the city's 300 miles of street and that pedestrian concerns -- and not just vehicle throughput -- should be a critical factor in roadway design.

The high profile of the meeting reflects Mr. Flaherty's death and the efforts of his friend Randy Stillman to organize Lasell students to press for change. Not every pedestrian issue is going to get this kind of attention, mayoral attention in particular.

I hope that the city's responsiveness is not solely a function of Kevin Flaherty's death and that similar efforts will be made across the city.

The process isn't over, yet. The aldercritters have to approve hizzoner's appropriation request for the changes. (Mayor Cohen promised to have the request docketed today.) Undoubtedly, there will be questions about the speed tables. As that time approaches, I'll have more thoughts and information about speed tables and some of the issues related to their installation.

At least for now, good work Mr. Mayor. Good work Mr. Stillman.


Snow falling on Waban Village meters

With the furor over the proposed Waban meters but a dim memory and the snow turning to rain, it might be a good time to do some more math.

Motor vehicle traffic in Newton is heavily subsidized. By the city, by the commonwealth, and by the feds.

A highly visible example of the city subsidy is the cost of street snow removal, a cost that is borne by all, regardless of how much one drives.

Parking meters, whatever else their benefits, are a good way of recovering the cost of maintaining our city streets from the very people who use them.

We should be looking for more ways to have motorists more directly pay for the infrastructure and services that they use. If you drive over city-cleared streets to work or shop in Waban Center, you shouldn't begrudge the city a fiew pieces of silver.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

Bad Transportation Math

Just months after the MBTA increased fares, there is a serious proposal to reduce Pike tolls.

Could there be any worse combination of transportation policies?