Thursday, May 31, 2007

Safe(r) Routes to School?

The Globe is reporting that Newton's own Rep. Kay Khan is a sponsor of a bill to create a Safe Routes to School program to take advantage of federal funds (text of bill).

But, we already have a Safe Routes to School program. I should know. I helped get Bowen school enrolled in it.

Anybody know what makes the bill's program any different from the existing program?

I have an e-mail into Rep. Khan.

Update: The TAB had a similar article yesterday. The TAB article doesn't make things any clearer. There's already a state-level program that distributes federal funds and is adminsterd by the Executive Office of Transportation. Here's a quote from the (current) Safe Routes web site:

In August 2005, the SAFETEA-LU transportation legislation allocated federal funds for statewide Safe Routes to School initiatives. As a result, states now have dedicated funds to encourage and enable students to walk and bicycle to and from school through program activities and infrastructure improvements.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mitt and Matt on buckling up

Have you ever heard lamer excuses for not buckling than those proferred by Matt Lauer and Mitt Romney?

Lauer interviewed Romney as they shared a ride through New Hampshire. Neither wore a seatbelt, even though Lauer had recently interviewed Governor Corzine about his not wearing a seat belt and almost getting himself killed.

Romney: "Sometimes I forget to wear my seat belt. For my own safety, I need to keep reminding myself to buckle up." Unlike, say, your positions on abortion, gun control, and a host of other issues you can't seem to keep straight, you shouldn't need a reminder on your position on the wearing of seat belts. It ought to be a core principle.

Lauer: "...I should have set a better example. There is no seat belt law in New Hampshire, but, again, it was the wrong example to set." No, you should have worn a seat belt because it's the first thing you do when you get into a car, you pompous doofus.

This is what happens to you when you spend too much time riding in the back seat.

Passenger Patrick
Too fast
Buckle Up


Karla spurs discussion

A couple of weeks ago, Karla Hailer-Fidelman had a nice op-ed column in the TAB about the need for bike lanes on Walnut Street.

My letter in response was one of three the following week.

This week, there are another two letters, including one from John Bliss, the chairman of the Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force.

A few thoughts:

  • That Ms. Hailer-Fidelman wrote and so many responded is a sign that Newton is due better bike accommodations. People want them.
  • We really need to find out what's going on with Walnut Street.
  • There's an inherent tension between the needs of pedestrians and cyclists. Jeff Hecht cites traffic calming (street narrowing) at Comm. Ave. and Lexington St as removing space for bicyclists. I like the rules of the sea, where rules favor the least powerful. As a rider, I recognize that my needs should yield to pedestrians' needs. What would really be nice is if there were a greater sacrifice by motorists to accommodate pedestrians' needs without impinging cyclists' needs (too much, anyway).
All in all, a very pleasant conversation to read over three issues of our favorite local weekly.


Zero-sum circulation

It's not politically wise to say it, but it may be that with traffic circulation and pedestrian circulation, what benefits one harms the other.

Los Angeles radio host Marc Porter Zasada (the Urban Man on KCRW) has a lovely essay in which he argues that enhanced vehicle circulation destroys neighborhoods and that poor vehicle circulation is a necessary condition of healthy, walkable neighborhoods.

Personally, I'm thrilled to see drivers waiting in growing frustration for left hand turns. In fact, I'd like to propose making this area much more difficult to navigate in an automobile.

Today, the Urban Man would like to formally propose narrowing Pico to one lane in each direction, then running a trolley right down the middle, from Downtown to the sea.

Just imagine the complications. In fact, such a move might improve not just my neighborhood, but encourage many happy affairs in what could someday be a great city for people instead of cars.
Something to consider as we try to improve the pedestrian experience in places like Newton Centre while maintaining traffic throughput.

From Streetsblog (of course).


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hating on bikers

Once every few months, some less-enlightened motorist gets frustrated by my presence on his (it's almost always a man) for-cars-only street and decides to express his frustration with an exhibition of biker-unfriendly driving.

Like this morning.

I was riding north on Langley Road towards Beacon. The macadam is not pristine on Langley, especially towards the curb. (Langley is scheduled for resurfacing this summer.) So I was riding near the center of the lane. I was going about 27 mph, which is either a little under or over the posted limit. (I can't recall if it's 25 mph or 30 mph on the stretch in question.)

A guy in a black Toyota SUV rides up behind me and starts honking excitedly. When I didn't immediately surrender unto him his birthright, he pulled over the yellow lines, passed uncomfortably close to me, and cut back in front of me, honking all the way.

Not surprisingly, he cut across Chase, Herrick, and Braeland to Parker St. (He was in a hurry. Why put up with Newton Centre congestion when you can bomb through residential streets?)

When I caught up to him at Parker, he screamed at me for riding my bike in the road.

People with such a distorted understanding of the rules of the road -- Massachusetts Law allows bikes on the roadway and actually forbids them on most sidewalks -- and such an unfettered willingness to enforce their misunderstanding of the law with multi-ton vehicles should not be allowed to drive.

Update: I have notified the Newton Police Department and the Registry of Motor Vehicles about this guy's conduct. I'm not looking for jail time, just for somebody to give him a call or make a visit and encourage him to share.


Why community input matters

In consideration of a stop sign on the Comm. Ave. carriage at Robinhood St., the Traffic Council seemed poised to recommend removing a stop sign on Robinhood St. and putting a stop sign on the carriage road until a nearby resident pointed out that pedestrian and bicycle traffic from the bridge over the Turnpike is blocked from view of motorists on Robinhood St. approaching the intersection.

This simple point killed the move-the-stop-sign solution, as it should have.

This kind of contribution to the conversation is critical to proper resolution of traffic issues, and can only be made by the people who are intimately aware of the complexities of the particular situation.

It is no insult to the vastly more experienced members of Traffic Council to say that there is a particular form of expertise that comes only from living in a neighborhood.

Fortunately, the Traffic Council members seem to get this important point.


Comm Ave. Carriage Road at Robinhood St.

An item before the Traffic Council last week presents a perfect opportunity for the kind of semi-permanent -- and cheap -- traffic calming measures that I have advocated before. In a split vote, the Traffic Council denied a request for a new stop sign at the intersection of the Commonwealth Avenue carriage road and Robinhood Street, but seemed unanimous in agreement that there was a problem at the intersection and that the problem would best be cured by a redesign.

The problem is money. While it is tempting to say that money should be no object in keeping our streets safe, the reality is that the city doesn't have the money to execute a redesign in granite curbing and new asphalt.

Rather than throw up our hands and say, "revisit the problem when the street is up to be repaved," we should rethink our aesthetic standards. This particular problem could be addressed for (well?) under $5,000 (not counting study and design).

Click through for a full description of the problems and a semi-permanent solution.

The two problems at the carriage road/Robinhood St. intersection are fairly easy to understand.

Problem 1: Lots of traffic travels west(ish) on Auburn St., then turns right onto Comm. Ave. at the light (heading northish). To beat the light (and the traffic waiting at the light), some of that traffic turns right on the carriage road, left at Robinhood St., and right onto Comm.Ave. It's a nifty little cut-through to save precious seconds, if you're willing to use the carriage road as your own personal speedway.

Problem 2: The right-of-way at the intersection of the carriage road and Robinhood St. is ill-defined. (Hence, the request for a stop sign on the carriage road.) Problem 2 is exacerbated by the cut-through traffic wanting to execute the quick left/right from the carriage road to Comm. Ave.

There are a number of solutions, all of which would have the same purpose: eliminate the benefit of the cut-through and return the carriage road to its proper uses, which include safe and comfortable walking, running, and biking.

A resident of the carriage road described how she wouldn't let her sons (8- and 10-years-old if memory serves) bike on that stretch of the carriage road. That's a civic loss that is much larger than the trivial benefit the cut-through confers on clever motorists.

One solution would be to place chicanes along the carriage road and a roundabout in the intersection of the carriage road and Robinhood street. Chicanes would physically slow traffic along the carriage road. The roundabout would eliminate the quick left-right from the carriage road to Comm. Ave., making the intersection more rational and adding more time to the cut-through. The combination should remove the advantage of the cut-through and re-route cut-through traffic back onto Comm. Ave. from Auburn St.

Done to current Newton standards, the combination of chicanes and roundabout would probably cost over $25,000 and as much as $75,000 (rough estimates). Ultimately, we'd want construction done to those standards.

But, is there something we can do in the meantime for less?

Yes. The picture of stacked-paver chicanes at the top of the post is from the front page of Each chicane appears to be built using about 150 pavers, which probably cost $.50 to 1.00 each. There's no nice grass fill in, just the existing pavement.

Pavers would work, but I'd recommend using 5-10 concrete curbs (like you drive up against at the end of parking spaces). Even with some signs behind either, the material costs would be under $500 per chicane. And, the installation would be very simple. Stack the pavers or nail the curbing into the pavement.

Likewise the roundabout. Consultants studying a mini-roundabout for the intersection of Daniel and Jackson street estimated the cost at $25,000 to $100,000. But, the same effect could be accomplished for probably less than $1,000 with 15-30 concrete curbs to define the roundabout and reshape the intersection, as necessary, and a handful of chevron signs inside the roundabout to alert motorists.

From experience, we know that sandbag trials of new geometry work to produce the effect of the eventual construction. Sandbags are cheap, easy-to-install, and easy-to-remove (for permanent construction, plowing season, or if the trial is unsuccessful). But, sandbags are only a short-term solution. They get run over and disintegrate (if they are not taken!).

My concrete curb proposal would give the city a step between sandbags and permanent construction. Like sandbags, they are cheap, easy-to-install, and easy-to-remove. And, they would accomplish the traffic-calming objectives. But, they last.

Installation of concrete curbs would not interfere with drainage. Concrete curbs have drainage slots on the bottom and they could be set with space between them to allow for further drainage.

Above, I qualified my own (amateur) estimate as "not counting study and design." It's an important qualifier. Even a solution rendered in cheap materials needs to be properly studied and designed. And, the city engineering staff is already spread pretty thin. But, design costs should not be a show-stopper.

In sum, concrete-curb traffic calming devices would not be as attractive as fully-realized construction, with granite curbs and grass fill-in. But, they would be plenty attractive as a medium-term solution to real traffic problems that are a lot uglier.


The Year of Traffic Calming

At last week's Traffic Council meeting, city traffic engineer Clint Shuckel said, "This is the year of traffic calming demonstrations" in Newton (or words to that effect).

He was speaking of the projects that are scheduled for construction before the end of the year:

  • Speed tables on Woodland Avenue
  • Raised crosswalk near Brimmer and May and the Chestnut Hill T station
  • Geometry changes on Hagar Street and at the Jackson Street/Daniel Street intersection
These are very encouraging developments that show the city is headed in the right direction. I, for one, can't wait to celebrate the completion of each one.

Not to be wet blanket, but we also need to keep in mind that these types of traffic calming tools have been in wide use in communities like ours for years.

It's a good start, but we have some catching up to do.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Unofficial Guide to Traffic Council

For some time, I have been meaning to put a page on the NS&S wiki with guidance about navigating Traffic Council (pun intended).

I have been spurred to action. A commenter on the curb extension post asked what can be done to solve problems on Mill Road. Start by reading my guide.

It's a rough start, which I will refine over time. I welcome any and all feedback.

Rhu/nmHz, this one's for you.


Not sure what to make of this

Recklessly avoiding a little walking or cleverly avoiding some driving?

You decide.

From Crunchgear


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You're busted

Boston police set up a sting to catch motorists who fail to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. The operation is covered in this Fox25 segment.

Drivers who didn't stop for an undercover officer pushing a baby carriage got a big dollar ticket and points.

That is just so right.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Curb extensions

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Conversation fodder

I IM'd with friend-of-NS&S Joe about my ride into Boston this morning. "Glorious" was the word that I used. What struck me was how frequently I have something I want to share about my bike commute: weather, a particularly good workout, something I saw, &c.

I can remember exactly two times in my life when I've felt like discussing my car commute when it was over (other than to bitch about the traffic). Once, on the 'Pike, I had a wondrous sunset in my rear-view mirror and a full-moon rising ahead. And, I once saw a car spin NASCAR-style spin across four lanes on 128 without hitting or getting hit.

But, that's it.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Dog walking

I'm not a big dog person. Don't have one. Unlikely to get one.

But, I like the fact that dog people are generally walking people. On the whole, I know my dog-owning neighbors better than other neighbors because they come by my house a few times a day.

So it pains me to no end that some dog walkers are such poor neighbors. Most days that I walk son-of-NS&S to school, there's a pile or two along the three-block walk.

We pedestrians have to stick together -- dog-walkers and kid-walkers.

Please, scoop the poop.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Too close call

For the second time in four years, a car ends up on the sidewalk used by scores of students and parents as a route to Bowen School

Neighbor Adam has the details:

This crash occurred about 10 minutes after Bowen School dismissal this afternoon. My wife and kids had just walked by minutes earlier. The car came downhill from Jackson Street, just like the previous accident, except the car did not hit the "DRIVE SLOW CHILDREN" sign this time; the children were apparent. The driver was distracted and, I would guess, driving too fast. The planned improvement to this intersection, in addition to its calming effects, would have likely deflected the car much earlier and protected the sidewalk where the children walk from school. It can't happen soon enough.

Behind the stretcher are a few kids on their way home from school.

The driver was apparently unhurt. The passenger was taken away in the ambulance.

You can see the back of the "DRIVE SLOW CHILDREN" sign in the pictures above. The driver in the previous crash ran it over.

Fortunately, the Jackson/Daniel Street intersection is due to be reconstructed once school's out. The redesign should physically prevent drivers from carrying the kind of speed that results in crashes like this.

Like Adam said, can't happen soon enough.


Richardson on energy and municipalities

Democratic presidential candidate (and former Secretary of Energy) Bill Richardson makes the makes the point that land use and transportation policies are keys to solving the energy puzzle.

These are municipal and regional issues that are not going to be solved with broad strokes, but with diligent incremental change and regional coordination and cooperation.

But, I do think there is a state and federal role in establishing policies that promote smart growth and greater transit availability.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cities leading the way

The post below on the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement was prompted by this week's C40 Climate Summit in New York City, meeting of the mayors of some of the largest cities in the world, hosted by the Clinton Foundation.

Choice quote from New York City Michael Bloomberg:

Mayors are leading, quite frankly, because we have to. Mayors can't wait for the future.

Newton isn't New York City, London, Paris, Stockholm, or any of the other large cities where aggressive measures have been taken to combat global warming. We are part of a larger ecosystem with elements we don't control.

But, the gist of Mayor Bloomberg's comments still apply. It's at the city or regional level where decisions are going to be made that make a difference: land use, public transportation, parking, &c.


Betcha didn't know

That Mayor Cohen is one of 514 signatories (to-date) of the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (PDF).

Among the provisions of the agreement, signing mayors strive to:

2. Adopt and enforce land-use policies that reduce
sprawl, preserve open space, and create compact,
walkable urban communities;
3. Promote transportation options such as bicycle
trails, commute trip reduction programs,
incentives for car pooling and public transit;

Those are values we can all support.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Save the date: 9/21

I'll be organizing some sort of PARK(ing) event on national PARK(ing) day, Friday, September 21. Details, as they say, to follow.

Here's an account of a 2006 PARK(ing) Day event in NYC.


Speed tables coming to Woodland

The city is going to fund the speed tables on Woodland Road out of its discretionary budget, so there's no need to gain the approval of the Board of Alderman.

Made for an interesting dynamic at the Public Facilities committee meeting as the aldermen asked questions and weighed in on something they don't control.

Expect construction of the speed tables between late May and late August.

A few other thoughts from the Public Facilities meeting after the jump.

Tip of the bike helmet to Mayor Cohen, Commissioner Rooney, the Ward 4 Aldermen (Sangiolo, Harney, and Gentile), and Traffic Planner David Koses for getting this done. There will be others -- like the city engineers -- who play important roles in the design and execution, but this crew got the deal done. Apologies to those whose roles were less visible.

The city's going to do its part to manage the car/pedestrian conflict on Woodward. Now, Lasell has to do its part. Over and over again people commented that students cross all over Woodward (though David Koses was clear that the overwhelming majority cross where the speed tables will be built). Lasell needs to build walls and other mechanisms to funnel students to the new crossings.

There is a great deal of skepticism about using vertical deflection (speed bumps, speed tables, &c.) for traffic calming. With some, the skepticism amounts to outright hostility.

Much of the skepticism about vertical deflection concerned emergency services. It's an appropriate concern. But somebody's got to get Fire Chief LaCroix (and the Mayor) to stake out a clear position on traffic calming. Alderman Salvucci says the chief hates speed bumps. But, David Koses reports that the chief has yet to respond to requests to participate in the city's traffic calming scorecard. Chief LaCroix shouldn't be able to have it both ways.

NS&S hereby installs it's first aldermanic nickname: Alderman Salvatore "Cadillac Sal" Salvucci. Alderman Salvucci's hostility to the speed tables (good-naturedly expressed) creates an image in the mind of him behind the wheel of his Cadillac, fuming as he has to slow and endure the discomfort of the speed table.

Choice Cadillac Sal quote: "They're a problem for me. I just don't like them. Period. End."

There was nothing for the Public Facilities committee to do on the item, so they NAN'd it (no action necessary). I would have liked to see what the vote would have been on a motion to express support for the plan. Ben Wiesbuch and Cheryl Lappin made clear statements in favor. Only Cadillac Sal was vocal in opposition. (He was so upset, he wouldn't even participate in the unanimous NAN vote!)

Previously: Woodland Road on the docket


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Crosswalk as memorial

Here's a little bit of street art where they painted a crosswalk with the names of pedestrians killed by cars and a message that 1/4 of all people killed in car crashes were not in a car.

Very provocative, but it seems wasted on other pedestrians. The folks who need to be enlightened are not going to be able to read the names as they drive through the crosswalk. And, it is a bit disturbing that pedestrian attention seemed to be distracted from the task at hand.

No idea where this is. Interesting that this is not a guerrilla activity, but appears to be sanctioned. (Note the police car blocking the intersection.)

From Core77.

Previously: Traffic Art


Upper Falls walk with Rep. Balser

State Representative Ruth Balser is guiding a walking tour of Newton Upper Falls next Sunday, May 20, at 12:30 P.M. The walk is part of WalkBoston's Spring Walk series (PDF) with state representatives hosting walks in their districts. Rep. Kay Kahn will lead a tour of Lower Falls on Saturday, June 16.

Rep. Balser's hour-and-a-half walk will explore the "hidden mill village tucked into a busy corner of the metropolitan area."

Reservations are required. Call Rep. Balser's office 617-722-2060 to reserve a spot and to find out the meeting place. The walk is T-accessible (Eliot Station), so we have some hint where it might start.


Road Diet for Nonantum Road

Nonantum Road is going to be narrowed from four lanes to two, with wider shoulders and sidewalks. No mention of bike paths, but one might hope.

Some call this a road diet. Others call it a complete street.

We'll call it a good sign.

Tip of the bike helmet to state reps Peter Koutoujian (D-Waltham), Kay Khan (D-Newton), Ruth Balser (D-Newton), and Rachel Kaprielian (D-Watertown) for securing state money to fund improvements.


Crystal Lake T stop

In his announcement that the city is going to purchase 20 Rogers Street and expand the Crystal Lake public beachfront, Alderman Ken Parker asks for suggestions for the site.

If the entry headline didn't give it away already, my suggestion: a T stop at Crystal Lake. I'd make it a stop only during park hours.

I'll bet that Crystal Lake is not so close to the Newton Centre or Newton Highlands T stops that many people travel by T. Add a T stop right at the beach, and (more) people could reasonably use the T.

A T stop would increase the number of Newton residents with access to Crystal Lake, without adding to the traffic or parking in the neighborhood.



Friday, May 4, 2007

Watertown Bike Parking Plan

Watertown has a bike parking plan.

Nothing spectacular or unusual, just a good solid analysis of current parking inventory -- location and condition -- with thorough, detailed recommendations for where to put new bike racks (63, taking advantage of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council's bike rack reimbursement program).

Here's a diagram from the report showing recommended racks for Coolidge Square.

We should do one for Newton.


Woodland Road on the docket

The proposal to build raised crosswalks on Woodland Road is on the Public Facilities agenda for Wednesday, May 9.

Note that the meeting begins at 7.

Raised crosswalks will be good for Woodland Road. And, more generally, it will be good for the city if raised crosswalks are a tool in the traffic-calming toolkit.


Why you're nostalgic for college

BLDG BLOG's Geoff Manaugh has posted an eloquent rant about the nature of streets and about how "street" has sadly come to mean: "an infrastructure for the near-exclusive use of trucks and automobiles."

He posits a theory that people's nostalgia for their college days is actually nostalgia for the only time in one's life where you "walk everywhere."

He winds up the post with three thoughts:

1) A "street" is not simply space devoted to automobiles. It's a place of movement, outdoors, that connects different destinations.
2) Cities could be designed to look like college campuses, full of trees and paths and benches and interchangeable varieties of long walks between different locations – whether those locations are churches, bookstores, police stations, football stadiums, private homes, or hash bars.
3) The reason you need a car is because you're surrounded by highways and parking lots – it's not the other way around. City planners need to realize this.

Can't improve much on that (though I might have foregone the "hash bar" reference).

Read the whole thing.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Your parking space table is ready

Are parking spaces the best use of city land?

Imagine two fewer spaces out front of Johnny's and something like Covent Gardens, London:

You wouldn't even have to do something so permanent. You could it do it part of the year or just on weekends.

From Streetsblog.