Saturday, August 25, 2007

Beacon St. islands

Beacon Street is enormously varied in width. This causes some real problems with striping a shoulder for bikes.

If you stripe a consistent (car) travel lane—as the city did in its striping trial—you end up with shoulders that are so wide, motorists confuse them for travel lanes. If you stripe a consistent shoulder, you end up with an inconsistent width travel lane, which is also problematic.

So, which is it? Consistent shoulder width or consistent lane width?

How 'bout both!

Work from the outside, in. Consistent shoulder width (4 ft., I believe). Consistent travel lane (14 ft.). Where the curb-to-curb distance is greater than 36 feet, create a painted "island" with diagonal yellow stripes.

Eventually, when the road is repaved again, the city could make the road width consistent (one hopes with separated bike lanes east of Newton Centre), adding to the grass berm. Or, maybe turn the paint islands into real, landscaped islands.

That would be cool.

Another possibility is to create a buffer between the shoulder and the travel lane.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Route 9 at Winchester/Centre

This is a rough idea of what I proposed for Route 9 and Winchester/Centre Street. Click on the picture for a larger version.

  • Add a Two-Way Left Turn Lane, like what's on various parts of Needham Street.
  • Add an island on the westbound ramp. (It's the triangle on the top.) The purpose of this island is two-fold:
    • Create a single lane for turning left. You'd be amazed how often aggressive drivers will go around a waiting car's right than turn left across the front of the waiting car.
    • Create a pedestrian refuge.
  • Add an island on the eastbound ramp. (It's the diamond on the bottom.) This island also has two purposes:
    • Create a a pedestrian refuge.
    • Manage conflicting traffic at the bottom of the ramp.

The diagram doesn't show the improvements to sidewalks— especially the crummy sidewalk on the existing island on the east side of Centre Street—and narrowing the Curtis Street intersection.

More Needham Street (area) thoughts
Alderman Fischman on Needham Street


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kids PMC ride in Newton

Here is something I didn't know anything about. There's a Kids PMC ride around the Wells Avenue Office Park on September 16th.

Anybody want to sponsor son or daughter of NS&S?


Parking in the Globe

If you're coming here from the Globe, welcome. What did you think of my op-ed? Leave a comment.

If you didn't see it, I have an op-ed in the Globe today in which I argue that on-street parking is too cheap in Boston.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More Needham Street (area) thoughts

Is there any reason for the enormous crossing at Curtis and Winchester? I have (inelegantly) added lines to represent the curb lines in the picture above.

In addition to a roundabout at Christina and Needham, why not a roundabout at Winchester and Needham, too? Plenty of space. A roundabout could improve traffic flow through the intersection.

It looks like the Skipjacks renovation includes removing the parking spaces from in front of the restaurant and adding a little greenery instead. The lot between Skipjacks and International Bike now looks plenty big enough to house the very complementary parking needs of IBC and Skipjacks. Maybe IBC could be persuaded to share the lot, green up its front lot, and get rid of some curb cuts.

In fact, they could both use the eastern Avalon curb cut and have customers enter the parking lots from the back side.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Before this week's TAB comes out ...

A few comments on things from last week's TAB.

Five of the letters to the editors touched on traffic or transportation.

Responding to Jim Feldman's op-ed about bike accommodations in Newton (or the lack thereof), Leonard Wolfe wrote a letter chastising bicycle riders for their smugness and their lack of attention to pedestrians (last letter on the page). Mr. Wolfe has been hit by bikers twice and nearly hit another two times ... in the last year! There's no excuse for that. Bikers have to yield to pedestrians and be on the lookout for them. In a sense, bikers need to protect pedestrians.

It's really a shame that pedestrians view bikers with such hostility. Pedestrians and bikers should be natural allies. Bikers need to rehabilitate their image.

Mark Lichtenstein asked if Langley is ever going to be repaved (fourth letter on the page). Answer: Yes. In September.

Cara Lichtenstein uses the occasion of Alderman Mitch Fischman's op-ed on Needham Street to urge support for Senate bill 2029 and House bill 3694, which would relieve the MBTA of much of its debt (third letter on the page).

I have a letter about the Comprehensive Plan (first letter) and Barry Bergman has a follow-up to Adam Peller's letter from the week before (which was a response to Mr. Bergman's letter about my stop sign op-ed).

Those are a lot of traffic-related letters.

And, Chrissie Long has a long article about the Woodland Road speed tables. The article ends with a quotation from an admitted speeder who wishes more were done to educate Lasell College students to wear brighter clothing.

The guy has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years, knows that Lasell College kids cross the street—in dark clothing, and yet he still drives "maybe a little too fast down that road."

Is there any better explanation for why we need to lower roadway design speeds?


Beacon Street observations

Two interesting sights on Beacon Street from my ride in this morning.

The first was truly moving: a mother and two children crossing Washington Street on their bikes. A boy of about 7 was on a tag-a-long behind his mother and a nine-ish girl was on her own bike. What made it moving were the crutches strapped to the tag-a-long. They were clearly not temporary. It seems that the boy has some sort of disability. But, regardless of the disability, the family was biking to its destination. And, the crutch set up looked like riding was a reasonably frequent event.

Inspiring. If only more able-bodied children were encouraged to bike and walk!

The second was an automatic pedestrian detector on a mid-block crosswalk between Fairbanks and Marion Streets (I think). An automatic pedestrian detector, as the name implies, automatically detects a person about to enter a crosswalk and triggers a pedestrian crossing cycle.

I'm a little skeptical of technical solutions at crosswalks out of concern for the false negative, a pedestrian entering the crosswalk without having pushed the button or tripped the sensors. Obviously, the point of these automatic detection systems is to lower the false negatives by eliminating the need to have the pedestrian do anything. But, I wonder about having to rely on technology that can malfunction, especially when it can take a while for broken things to get fixed.

If the technology proves out, I think the automatic detection systems make a lot sense on busy roads, like Beacon Street. On busy roads, it's not appropriate to lower speeds for all traffic to pedestrian-friendly speeds. And, pedestrian-detection means that traffic flow is only interrupted when there's actually a pedestrian.

Apart from the cost, I don't think such a system makes sense on more residential streets. The point of traffic calming on side streets is to lower traffic speeds overall, not just when a pedestrian needs to cross. Pedestrian-actuated signals, automated or not, send the signal that motorists only have to slow when there is a pedestrian ready to cross. And, that's the wrong message.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Why stop?

I've argued against stop signs as traffic calming from what I'll call the random-compliance angle. If you put up stop signs where there is no right-of-way conflict to manage:

  • Pedestrians will rely on the stop signs and expect that traffic will stop.
  • Some motorists will recognize the stop signs as unnecessary and will not stop.

The combination of reliance by one party and non-compliance by another party has the potential for injury or worse.

But, there's another angle. Let's call it the excess-compliance angle.

The purpose of traffic calming is to slow traffic, not stop it. (This is not the case on our busier streets and intersections.) Sufficiently slowed traffic has time to stop for pedestrians. Pedestrians have enough time to react to traffic. Motorists are better able to stop for crosswalks, making crosswalks more useful for pedestrians. Slowing traffic reduces the severity of injury and the risk of death.

Our neighborhoods don't need to stop traffic flow to enjoy these benefits. Pedestrian traffic, while it should be a priority, is rarely as heavy as car traffic. (Not that we wouldn't like it to be!) Outside of school time, crosswalk crossings are especially infrequent.

It's unreasonable to bring every car to a full stop just so we can make conditions ideal for those occasions when there is a pedestrian.

The point of traffic calming is to balance traffic flow with pedestrian safety, convenience, and comfort. Appropriate traffic calming measures allow traffic to flow at a reasonable pace ... except when there is a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Stop signs stop the flow of traffic all the time, regardless of actual need to stop.

Which brings us back to the random-compliance problem. Non-compliance stems from the motorist's intuitive—and correct—understanding that a stop-sign is not needed to resolve a right-of-way conflict and that it is overkill to address pedestrian issues.

Why stop traffic when you don't have to?


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Livable streets v. passive safety

Laurence Aurbach on his Ped Shed site provides an invaluable framework for understanding the safety benefits of traffic calming .

The post, entitled Connectivity Part 7: Crash Safety, is too rich with information and insight to summarize adequately. I encourage everyone to read it in full.

One piece of Aurbach's analysis is useful in terms of addressing an objection to the the proposed Daniel/Jackson Street intersection redesign: the concern that that the proposed bumpout creates a new danger for motorists.

Aurbach compares two approaches to traffic safety (search for "safety first"). On one hand are the passive safety advocates, on the other are the livable (or complete) streets advocates. (Aurbach draws heavily on the work of Eric Dumbaugh's Safe Streets, Livable Streets: A Positive Approach to Urban Roadside Design (2005)).

Here's Aurbach on passive safety:

Passive safety assumes that driver error is random and impossible to predict, removes human judgment from the equation, and treats safety in a similar manner as structural engineering.


Passive safety calls for reducing all physical conditions that could conceivably be involved in traffic crashes. It means that anything drivers might crash into, like street trees, benches, parked cars and intersections, should be cleared away and minimized as much as possible. Guidelines based on the passive safety philosophy make livable streets difficult or impossible to construct.

In their objections to the bumpout, Barry Bergman and Neal Fleisher have made comments in a passive-safety vein. Mr. Bergman has said that the bumpout at the bottom of a hill introduces a new risk. Mr. Fleisher has said that the tighter confines of a redesigned intersection will lead to more accidents. Update: Mr. Fleisher rejects the characterization. See his comment to this post.

Livable Streets advocates, those that promote roadway design that enhances the pedestrian experience, argue that the additional potential hazards of livable streets—like the proposed bumpout—encourage drivers to exercise more caution, which reduces speeds, which reduces accidents.

The key factor in crash risk is design speed. Design speed is the speed at which drivers feel comfortable traveling; it is an entirely different concept than posted speed limits, which drivers usually feel are safe to exceed. Thanks to context, slow speeds prevail on livable streets. Drivers drive more slowly because the context signals the type of activity, amount of activity, and potential hazards that can be expected. Drivers “read” the context of livable streets and are impelled to exercise more caution.

Conversely, idiot-proof roadsides foster the illusion of safety and encourage speeding and lack of attention. High speed plus a lack of caution increases crash risk.

If you design to avoid or eliminate the risks that concern Messrs. Bergman and Fleisher, you make it comfortable for motorists to speed. And, they will.

Slower speeds are safer speeds. And, it's not just theory:

Traffic crash reports from a variety of countries are furnishing evidence that more pedestrian-oriented intersections, cities and regions are safer.

While I have a personal interest in the Daniel/Jackson intersection problem, the point here isn't just to promote my favored design. (Actually, it's my second favorite, but the City scotched the mini-roundabout.) I think that there is a larger point.

We need to recognize that the goal of traffic calming is to trigger the driver's immediate self-interest* to slow down. Stop signs don't trigger that immediate self-interest unless the stop sign is on an intersection where the motorist, by not stopping, risks hitting another car if he doesn't stop. Lowered speed limits don't trigger immediate self-interest because drivers respond to design cues in determining what's a safe speed, especially on roads they are familiar with.

We need to redesign our problem roadways to make drivers unwilling to drive fast.

*I say immediate self-interest because the threat of a ticket is too low to be a factor in driver attitude. The police couldn't do enough enforcement to permanently change driver behavior. There are frequent speed traps on Parker Street, for instance. Yet, Parker Street rarely moves at or below the speed limit.


Bergman on the bumpout

Barry Bergman has another letter in the TAB today about the Daniel/Jackson Street intersection redesign. (The letter is the sixth one down. Do read the first one, too.). Here's Mr. Bergman's letter in full:

I disagree with Adam Peller’s comments in his Aug. 8 letter regarding the design of the Daniel/Jackson Street project. The placement of the proposed bumpout, which has not yet been fully tested by the city, has been designed in a manner that deflects westbound Jackson Street traffic southbound rather than allowing it to continue through to Parker Street. If the purpose of the bumpout is for slowing down traffic, maybe traffic-calming measures should be instituted along a bigger section of Jackson Street rather than building a dangerous obstruction at the bottom of a long hill.

As Mr. Bergman knows, the City has responded to his and others' criticisms about the adequacy of previous trials by agreeing to do another, more complete round of testing after school begins. It's ironic that while Mr. Bergman has demanded—and will receive—further testing to validate the City's assumption that the Daniel/Jackson intersection redesign will not materially deflect traffic, he continues to press his hypothesis that, by his own standard, is also untested. Mr. Bergman makes a similar deflection point in his comment to my response to his first letter to the TAB (fourth letter on the page).

The planned trial is going to answer the deflection question. If there's material, unacceptable deflection down lower Jackson and onto Walter Street, then it seems pretty clear we'll be back to the drawing board.

I addressed in detail Mr. Bergman's concern that the bumpout, at the bottom of the hill, constitutes a danger. To summarize: the beauty of the bumpout is that every motorist is going to share Mr. Bergman's concern about the danger of going too fast through the intersection and slow down. Slower traffic is safer traffic!

Finally, Mr. Bergman is absolutely right about the need for traffic calming at other locations along the Daniel/Jackson cut-through. There should be something on Daniel to address eastbound traffic that goes too fast. There should be a raised intersection at the corner of Cypress and Jackson. There should be other measures to address other spots of concern. (While not strictly on the Daniel/Jackson cut-through, but in the near neighborhood, the corner on Cypress near the school merits some immediate attention.)

The need for other traffic calming, however, doesn't reduce the need for traffic calming at the Daniel/Jackson Street intersection to address very serious problems that are specifically attributable to the intersection's current design.

Let the trial begin!

Previously: Daniel Street Stop Sign


Why is handicap parking free?

I know that this one's going to get me into trouble, but here goes ...

In response to a Globe report on handicap parking-placard abuse, I wrote a letter to the editor that placard abuse stems, at least in part, from parking scarcity and too-low meter rates. (Full letter below.)

Thinking about it some more, I realized that there is another contributing factor: the free-ness of handicap parking.

Let me get one item out of the way. I am absolutely in favor of plentiful, convenient handicap parking. People with limited mobility absolutely have a right to park close to their destinations. I would not remove a single existing handicap space, on-street or off-.

But, there's no reason at all that handicap parking should be free. More precisely, there's no reason that handicap parking should be priced any differently than other spaces. If there were no difference between the price of handicap parking and other spaces, you'd remove one of the incentives for placard abuse.

Before you, dear reader, curse me for my insensitivity to the people who deservedly make use of handicap parking spaces, ask yourself this: why is it that parking—alone among all other aspects of private vehicle ownership and use—has a different fee for handicap and non-handicap users?

As far as I can tell:

So why should there be a discount for handicap parking?

To be sure, if you put meters on handicap spaces, they are still more attractive because of their relative availability compared to regular spaces. But that's because all meter rates are too low. Higher rates would create regular vacancies and further diminish the distinct value of handicap spaces.

My full letter to the Globe:

There's no question that the abuse of handicap parking placards is a story of appalling immorality. But, it is also a story of parking scarcity and the poor management of the city's parking assets.

Metered on-street parking is scarce—in part—because the meter rates are so low. High off-street parking rates and the illegal ends people are willing to go to secure on-street parking tells us that the market will bear higher, market-based meter prices for on-street parking. Properly set market-based parking rates would create regular parking vacancies, reduce cruising for parking, and generate revenue that could be used in the immediate business district.

Market-based meter rates won't prevent handicap parking placard abuse, but it would remove one proffered excuse: that there are just no other spaces available.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Time for tolls on I-93

The Globe's reporting a likely toll increase on the Turnpike to pay Big Dig costs.

Higher, peak-priced tolls on the 'Pike would be welcome (with standard caveats about managing the impact on the complex transportation infrastructure).

But, it's insane that I-93 remains a free ride, especially given that technology exists to charge vehicles without erecting a single tollbooth.

Peak pricing on the 'pike
Integrated traffic strategy
No pike toll, increased gas tax


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Langley Road bump out construction

This is an admittedly poor quality picture of construction of the Langley Road bump out.

The yellow ditch-digging truck's left-front wheel is parked where the sidewalk will extend into the street. Today a truck tire, tomorrow (or shortly thereafter) a school kid.


Speed tables up on Woodland Road

NS&S neighbor Adam reports that the speed tables are up on Woodland Road and that they are "beautiful."

Previously: Speed tables coming to Woodland


Alderman Fischman on Needham Street

In a TAB op-ed this week, Alderman Fischman has identified a number of traffic/pedestrian problems on Needham Street. It's not a tough challenge. Needham Street is a mess.

Here are my thoughts on four of them. I might address others later, but these are four I've thought a lot about.

Route 9
Strictly speaking, Alderman Fischman has identified a problem on Centre/Winchester streets and Route 9, not Needham Street and Route 9. (I'm not clear where Winchester starts and Centre ends.)

I've written about this problem on the NS&S wiki.

My recommendations are fairly simple:

  • Better define the area under the bridge to create a middle turning lane, as is on Needham Street. There's plenty of room for a third lane. Unlike Alderman Fishman, I think the two-way left-turn lanes (TWLTL) on Needham Street help.
  • Create islands at the intersection of the two ramps on the east side, to direct traffic better and to provide a pedestrian haven
  • Generally improve the quality of the sidewalks from Walnut Street to Needham Street

Dunkin' Donuts
Here's a land-use problem that has serious traffic implications. Dunkin' Donuts and the next-door Newbury Comics have complimentary usage patterns. Most notably, Newbury Comics is closed during Dunkin's morning rush. Together, the two stores have need for maybe three-quarters of the combined spots. Yet, antiquated zoning and thinking result in two side-by-side businesses each with its own parking lot and its own curb cut.

The Dunkin' Donuts building is on the east side of the lot, oriented to the west, with parking to the west. Any of an number of settings would have been preferable. Imagine if the Dunkin' Donuts building were on the front of the lot, oriented to the street, parking in the Newbury Comics lot and behind the Dunkin' Donuts building, with access to parking through the existing Newbury Comic curb cut. You'd have a much more usable lot and one fewer curb cut. Throw in a couple of tables in front, and you have the start of a nice pedestrian way.

The Draft Comprehensive Plan would discourage just the kind of building that was built and encourage the kind of set up I've laid out as an alternative.

But, the building's built. What can be done now? Two, relatively cheap steps:

  • Encourage Newbury Comics and Dunkin Donuts to work out an arrangement for shared parking in the two lots (Newbury Comics probably doesn't need the extra space in the Dunkin' lot)
  • Build a sidewalk along the two properties that more clearly defines a path between the Newbury Comics lot and Dunkin' Donuts entrance and prevents/discourages parking on the sidewalk

Starbucks/Marshall Mall
It's important to recognize that this is probably the least bad part of Needham Street. While set back a little too far, the Pizzapalooza and Starbucks stores are at least oriented to the street with a nice, usable patio in front. While attached to a very problematic strip mall, Fresh City has outdoor seating, too. (The continued existence of outdoor dining here is proof positive that, as with Route 9, we shouldn't turn our backs on Needham Street as a pedestrian boulevard.) It's appropriate that there is a pedestrian crossing here.

Side note: Neither Starbucks or Pizzapalooza have a bathroom. When Family NS&S dines at Pizzapalooza and one of the two kids (3-1/2 and 6) have to use the facilities, Fresh City is the closest option. We use that pedestrian crossing and are very familiar with the lack of motorist compliance.

Alderman Fischman proposes a signal. I don't. If we put up lights at a handful of special crossings, we dilute the effectiveness of standard crosswalk markings and signs. We need to make it clearer that pedestrians have the right of way.

This would be a perfect place for a raised crosswalk. A raised crosswalk would:

  • Alert motorists to expect pedestrians.
  • Slow motorists so that they can more easily stop for pedestrians
  • Undoubtedly create some breaks in traffic for cars exiting and entering Needham Street in the vicinity
  • Slow traffic generally
  • Be a much cheaper alternative to a signal

I wouldn't put in just one. I'd put two or three more down the length of Needham Street, including one near McDonalds and the Avalon entrance.

I should note that a raised crosswalk can be designed with a fairly shallow approach angle, so traffic doesn't need to slow to a crawl, but to a reasonable speed for this section.

While I rarely think enforcement is a long-term answer to traffic problems, this is one area where I think it could help. The City needs to ticket people who don't stop for pedestrians. This will help educate people that crosswalks are special places.

If we get to the happy situation of so much pedestrian crossing that traffic can't pass, then, and only then, we should rethink a light.

Christina/Oak Streets and Charles River Bridge
It helps to understand the problem. And, again, this is one with which I am more than passing familiar. For that last six years, I have passed through this section on a nearly daily basis to take the children of NS&S to day care and the summer camp bus stop.

As Alderman Fischman points out, this intersection has an awkward offset. The two streets -- Oak and Christina -- that join Needham are not directly opposite each other. When a four-way intersection has no offset, two left-turning cars going in opposite directions approach each other head on. This gives room to traffic passing through to pass to the right of the turning cars. Traffic flows around the left-turning cars until there's a gap to make the turn.

Because of the Oak/Christina offset, approaching left-turning cars can't stop facing head on. Instead, they have to go past each other. Waiting for a gap, they are tail-to-tail, not face-to-face. Having to go past each other makes it difficult for through traffic to get by, which further reduces opportunities for gaps. It's a mess.

A separate left-turn signal would only help the problem if there were room for a separate left-turn lanes on Christina and/or Oak. There isn't room. The room that's there is used to allow right-turning traffic to turn onto Needham, which is, after all, the major road. If you had a left-turn signal, left-turning traffic could get stuck behind traffic heading over Needham.

What's needed here is a roundabout, provided there's sufficient right-of-way. A roundabout would cure the problem caused by the offset. Regardless of you're eventual destination, everybody goes right to join the roundabout. And, everybody turns right to get out of the roundabout. Traffic in the intersection wouldn't compete as it does now.

A roundabout would also have two happy collateral benefits. It would slow traffic to a reasonable speed as motorists entered the commercial district. And, it would keep traffic flowing more efficiently than a traffic signal.


Do you know what a crosswalk is?

Driving on Parker Street this morning, I stopped at a crosswalk just south of Route 9 for a woman and her dog.

Six cars passed after I had stopped for her. Her presence on the edge of the crosswalk should have been enough, but didn't any of the six drivers process the extra clue of my having stopped?

While I am rarely a fan of enforcement, I think that people in Newton might just not realize their state-mandated obligation. Perhaps a sting operation is in order.

Previously: You're busted


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cardboard kids

More intrigue and uncertainty.

A West Salem, Ohio, man is using life-size cardboard cutouts of kids to slow traffic in his neighborhood. Even sold one to someone driving by.

Cardboard kid advantages:

  • Slows traffic

  • Won't actually run into the street

  • Easier to get to bed, one assumes


  • Not so good in the bath

From WKMG Orlando.

Previously: Traffic calming frisbee playing


Friday delights, Wednesday version

Biking on Langley Road this morning, I saw a full crew set to begin building the pedestrian bumpout at Langley Path.

Friday delights, Langley Road version
Langley Road bump out


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Next train in 10 minutes

I've always thought that one of the big drawbacks of transit-taking is not knowing how long you have to wait for the next train or bus. It won't get you there any earlier to know, but it would make waiting a much less anxious experience. (Plus, you'll know if you have time to grab a cup of coffee.)

There are a couple of GPS-based projects in the San Francisco area to provide next-train information.

Can you imagine if you could go to a bus stop, send a text message to a unique number for the bus stop/bus combination and find out how long until the next bus?

Sorry, NS&S will not have equivalent "next post" functionality.


The big whoop

What's the big whoop driving more than 25 mph on a residential street?

If you hit a pedestrian:

  • At 20 mph 5% will die

  • At 30 mph 45% will die

  • At 40 mph 85% will die

Figures is from the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration (NHSTA) by way of the site Keep Kids Alive Drive 25® (KKAD25).

Another fun fact, most speeders on your street live in right in the neighborhood. I'm not sure KKAD25's basis for the assertion, but it sure accords with experience.

Thanks to NS&S collaborator Srdjan for the tip.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Complete Streets in USA Today

If it makes USA Today, it's got to be a trend. They have a short piece on "complete streets."

Nothing any NS&S reader doesn't already know: narrowing the amount of street given over to car travel makes streets better for walkers and bikers and the community at large.


Walkability Index

Run, don't walk, to Walk Scorecard, a new site that allows you to calculate how walkable your neighborhood is. NS&S headquarters on Daniel Street gets a 55 out of 100. Friend of NS&S Joe lives just behind Beacon Street in Brookline. He gets an 89.

According to the site, the measure of walkability is proximity to "stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc." As discussed on the site (and on Streetsblog -- read the comments), the algorithm doesn't consider the physical aspects of walkability -- sidewalks, traffic, hills, highways, rivers, etc.

Given the gargantuan effort that would be required to measure, store, and consider the physical factors, I'm not inclined to quibble. Whether a location is walkable starts with nearby amenities. So, an index based on amenities makes sense.

An index that doesn't take physical factors into consideration is best thought of as a potential walkability index. The first order of business is to make more of Newton walkable according to this potential index. There are limits because there's only so many opportunities to add new amenities into our neighborhoods. The second order of business is to make sure that the actual walkability accords with the potential index. There's a lot of opportunity there.

NS&S HQ gets points, apparently, because we're near enough to the AMC theater on Route 9 and Charley's Eating & Drinking Saloon in the Mall at Chestnut Hill. But, to neither is it really feasible to walk. There's no safe and pleasant route.

This isn't a problem of the tool. It's a problem of the built environment. I'd rather fix the latter than the former.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Daniel Street Stop Sign

Barry Bergman has a letter in today's TAB (fourth of five letters on the page) responding to my Stop Sign op-ed from last week. Mr. Bergman applies my op-ed to the situation at Jackson and Daniel Streets and raises an interesting question about the relative safety of a stop sign and a curb at the bottom of the hill.

First though, I think I may have been unclear. Mr. Bergman attributed to me the position that "roadway redesign is always preferable to stop signs." In fact, I believe that stop signs are appropriate where the right of way is unclear. The point I intended to make was that roadway redesign is the better solution when there is no right-of-way issue and the intention is to slow traffic.

That leaves two issues from Mr. Bergman's letter:

  • What's the point of the Daniel/Jackson Street intersectionredesign?

  • What's the better solution for Daniel the intersection

Mr. Bergman writes:

For example, at the intersection of Jackson and Daniel streets, Jackson Street veers off at a 90-degree angle. In order to clearly establish that Jackson Street has the right of way, the city of Newton is proposing a bump-out in the westbound lane of Jackson Street at this intersection to encourage traffic to continue southbound on Jackson Street to Route 9 rather than continuing west to Parker Street.

But, clarifying the right of way is not the point of the Daniel/Jackson intersection redesign. The point is to slow traffic heading westbound on Jackson to Daniel.

The intersection doesn't have a right-of-way question. The vast majority of traffic through this intersection travels eastbound from Daniel to Jackson or westbound from Daniel to Jackson. Eastbound traffic from Daniel has a stop sign. They clearly do not have the right-of-way. No clarification necessary.

Westbound traffic only has a potential conflict with traffic from the south turning left from Jackson to Daniel. Since there is virtually no traffic making that turn, there is no conflict. The best evidence that there is no conflict? Westbound traffic speeds dangerously through the intersection, hence the effort to calm the traffic.

The intention of the bumpout is to cause westbound traffic to slow before entering Daniel Street. In fact, it is explicitly a design goal not to encourage traffic to continue down Jackson or to use Walter as an alternative to Daniel. (Whether that design goal will be met is the reason for another round of trials once school starts.)

Had resolving the right-of-way been the issue, stop signs might have been appropriate. The reason that stop signs were rejected by Traffic Council at the intersection (two or three times, depending on how you count) is that there is no need to clarify the right-of-way. The need is to slow traffic.

Now what's the safer way to slow traffic at Daniel and Jackson? Mr. Bergman suggests that a stop sign at the bottom of a hill is a safer way to slow motorists than introducing a curb and a turn at the bottom of the hill.

A bump-out on Jackson Street at the bottom of a long hill would be a hazard in the winter. It is easy to see how a westbound motorist could collide with it or cause an accident when trying to avoid it. Stop signs at this intersection are a safer method of controlling traffic flow than road redesign

As I wrote in my op-ed, the problem with stop signs where they are not needed to clarify right-of-way is that they become routinely ignored. This is a problem that is weather and conditions independent. Even if Mr. Bergman is right that there is a problem in bad conditions, it would have to be weighed against the year-round problem of non-compliance.

But, I don't think that a redesign is any worse than a stop sign in bad conditions, or when a motorist is unfamiliar. (By the way, most of the traffic on Daniel and Jackson is local residents, traffic to and from Bowen School, or cut-through. Lack of familiarity is not really an issue.) For starters, a turn requires the motorist to slow less than a full stop would. If it's slippery, how is it safer to require more of the motorist?

Reading between the lines, it appears Mr. Bergman is suggesting that a stop sign provides a greater margin of error. An out-of-control driver only blows through a stop sign, which, using Mr. Bergman's logic, is better than having him hit a curb.

I think that gets to the heart of the matter. To me, it's the concern for the potential damage to a car that is going to make a curb redesign much more effective in getting the driver's attention and promoting slower and safer driving.

Motorists will use the margin of error that Mr. Bergman would provide to drive faster. Without that margin of error, with the concern about running over a curb, drivers will provide their own margin of error. There is nothing like an appeal to a driver's sense of self-preservation to change driving behavior.

To be clear, the point isn't to make it unsafe to drive through the intersection. The point is to make it unsafe or uncomfortable to drive fast through the intersection. If it is unsafe or uncomfortable to drive fast, drivers slow down, making it safer for all of us.

A gentler way to put this: a large, ambiguous intersection encourages speeding. A narrower, better defined intersection promotes more caution on the part of the driver.

Finally, Mr. Bergman's letter overstates the case. Newton is filled with turns at the bottom of hills. When it snows, we rely on the City to make these roads dry enough to make the turns slowly. From the DPW's own pages:

In general, it is the goal of the Department to have all streets fully cleared within eight hours after an average storm has ceased.

Jackson is a school route. It gets attention pretty quickly.

More importantly, we rely on motorists to use good judgment when driving down these hills. If the Jackson Street hill is snowy or icy, it's up to drivers to go at a speed where they can not only slow to make a turn, but come to a complete stop in the event of an emergency.