Monday, July 28, 2008

Wrong responses

The Turnpike faces debt problems because of declining revenue due to declining usage and the Commonwealth responds by guaranteeing its debt. The MBTA faces crowding issues because of increased ridership — fiscal 2008 ridership set a new record: 375 million riders, up by 21 million riders (6%) from 2007 — and Charlie-in-Chief Grabauskas is considering taking seats out of some cars to make more room for rush-hour sardines commuters.

Sometimes, this stuff just gets embarrassing.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Brookline's Bike Lanes

The Brookline Tab has a cover story on bike lanes. (Yes, that's yours truly in the picture. Fortunately, black is slimming.)

Newton is going to have to struggle with the two camps represented in the article: those who believe a separate zone is better for bicyclists and those who believe bicyclists are best served when they are included in the traffic flow. Here at NS&S, we're in the first camp, though there has to be plenty of care given to the dangers of dooring and right-turning traffic at intersections. Ultimately, a separate zone is going to get more people out on bikes and there's safety in numbers.


Bike Convoy II

Great bike commuting convoy from Newton City Hall to Boston City Hall via the Charles River this morning. More then 30 people rode, with Boston PD bike cops escorting the entire way. This is about double the riders from the May ride.

The ride was part of Bike Fridays, sponsored by bike maven Tom Menino and organized by bike czarina Nicole Freedman. Again, the Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force provided the ride leaders: Chairman George Kirby and moi.

Pictures to come. Pictures are here:


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Google Maps Walking Contest

Google Maps has added a a new walking directions feature. For trips under 10 kms (6.2 miles), you can get directions for travel by car or by foot. I'm looking for the opportunity to provide feedback on what are and are not good routes for walking.

In the meantime, find the goofiest route that Google suggests for a walk in Newton.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Spare a few seconds for pedestrians?

How should Newton time its traffic signals to promote pedestrian safety and convenience?

According to WalkBoston and Streetsblog/Streetfilms, give the folks on foot a little headstart. The headstart has a technical name: Leading Pedestrian Interval. Instead of the crosswalk going green at the same time as same-direction motorists (concurrent) or pedestrians getting an exclusive walk signal, pedestrians get a few seconds of green before the same-direction motorists. This gives the pedestrians a chance to get into the crosswalk where they are more visible to right-turning traffic and less likely to be hit.

WalkBoston breaks it down (PDF):

Re-time lights for longer WALK time: Time traffic
signals so that pedestrians cross with, and for as long
as, the motorists’ green light in the same direction
[concurrent WALK light]. This gives pedestrians more
time to cross. Concurrent WALK also gives a shorter
wait between WALK phases.

Ask for short light cycles: 60-90 second cycles are
ideal. Walkers will wait about 30 seconds for a WALK
light; longer waits lead to jaywalking and danger.

Request countdown signals and advance WALK:
Countdown lights show how much crossing time
remains. When installed at a high-accident intersection,
pedestrian crashes drop by 50%. A WALK shown
4 seconds before the green light gives walkers a
head start before cars begin to turn. Thus, walkers
will be more visible to drivers.

Here's three minutes of Streetfilm that animates and explains it all:


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Walnut Stripes

Big step for Newton with the striping of Walnut Street between Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue. The project is slated to continue down To Newtonville, stripes ending near Clyde Street, for now.

The stripes on Walnut Street are part of an effort by the Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force, particularly Chairman George Kirby, to promote biking by Newton North High School students.

Lots of room for cyclists, like this young lady approaching Beacon just hours after the stripes were painted.


A new limit

Haunting Numbers
WalkBoston is promoting legislation that will lower the default speed limit in denser areas in the Commonwealth from 30 to 25 mph. All for it.

As noted here just about a year ago, there is a dramatic increase in the death rate of pedestrians hit by cars as the speed of the car increases. At 20 mph, 5% of those hit die. It's up to 85% at 40. So slower speeds are better for pedestrians, and denser areas of the Commonwealth ought to be pedestrian-friendly and -safe.

Lower speed limits are unlikely, however, to lower speeds. At least not immediately. The biggest factor in automobile speed is roadway design, not speed limits. But, lowering the speed limit by 5 mph will make it easier to argue that design speeds should be lower.

As the saying goes, write your state legislators. Ask them urge House Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo to act favorably on House Bill 4635.

Thanks to Andreae for the info.

Photo by SPangborn used under a Creative Commons license.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Anne Lusk Quixote

Washington Post writer Neal Peirce cites two NS&S favorites — Anne Lusk and Aaron Naparstek — in a column about the benefits of cycle tracks — bike paths separated from motor vehicle lanes by something more than just a painted stripe. The point is at once revolutionary and painfully obvious: the more separation there is between cars and bikes, the safer it is for people on bikes. Peirce doesn't raise the point, but it is equally true of pedestrians and cyclists (which is why the Charles River paths don't really qualify as cycle tracks).

On my daily commute, I ride on:

  • One block of cycle track in Cambridge (Vasser Street)
  • Dedicated bike lanes in Brookline
  • Super-duper wide lanes in Boston
  • Wide striped shoulders in Newton
  • Right in traffic in all four

There is no question that the potential for bike/car conflict increases as you move down that list. There is also no question that bikes are an increased nuisance to motorists as you move down the list, which contributes to the hating on bikers.

Peirce sums it up well:

It is true -- the U.S. has a long way to go to get serious about bike usage, including dedicated cycle paths. Even leading cycling cities (Eugene and Corvallis, Ore., for example) lack contiguous grids of separated bikeways.

But who is to deny that our towns and cities (and environment) need bicycling opportunities, safe routes that serve both sexes and all ages? The debate should be about the how, not the whether.

Tip of the helmet to Andreae for the link.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

OMG I just killed a man

The headline says it all: "Hit-and-run driver allegedly texting."

Extra irony value provided by auto insurance ad on the home page.

(Click for larger size image.)


Friday, July 11, 2008

Paradigm shift

State Transpo Major Domo Bernard Cohen wants to make the recent uptick in T ridership permanent by rolling out new Orange and Red Line trains.

"While I don't think fuel prices are going to go down in the near future, we really have an opportunity to take advantage of a change in the marketplace and a shift toward public transportation," Cohen said. "But we are going to need vehicles to carry people."

Might I suggest a little uptick in the gas tax to pay for those new shiny chariots?


Slide on down the Pike

Like the dip in Pike traffic in May? You'll love June's numbers!

The Globe is reporting a 4.7% decrease (800,000) in June. Pike usage was down 3.5% in May. (At least this month, the Globe isn't calling it a "dip.")

There's still concern about the revenue impact. And, the same response applies:

Oh, and elation.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

A perfect storm

There are too many daily indignities to document them all (or even some), but (one of) this morning's was too good not to share.

As I was riding along Beacon Street in Brookline, a guy in a silver-grey Ferrari F430 Spyder pulled across me to park without using his turn-signal. Since Spyder is fancy-car speak for convertible and a Ferrari is very low-to-the-ground, I had a good opportunity to look into the cockpit and to speak with him, so I stopped.

I pointed at the little stalk behind the steering wheel on the left and explained to him that it is customarily used to set in motion a string of events that culminates with a light on the back of car blinking on/off/on/off. Then I looked at his left hand and realized it was a little unfair of me to have expected him to use the turn signal. His left hand was occupied. With a Starbucks and an iPhone.

I am not making this up. A guy in a Ferrari. Drinking a Starbucks. Talking on an iPhone.

His response: He saw me and knew that he wasn't going to cut me off. To be fair, it wasn't that close. But, that's not the point.

Use of turn signals is not optional. The driver doesn't get to choose whether it's necessary or not. My father taught me that I have to signal a turn, even if I'm at a four-way stop in the middle of nowhere with miles of visibility and no cars to be seen. It's especially true when you're driving on a busy street, during peak commuting time, and you're sharing the road with bicyclists.

Even if you're driving a Ferrari. Drinking a Starbucks. Talking on a iPhone.


They don't really like us

Bella English wrote a column in the Globe noting that it isn't very safe for bicyclists out there on the streets. A nice collection of biking horror stories, it also includes this mini-rant:

I just have one question: Why are you so angry? We're out there obeying the rules, getting exercise, and saving gasoline. We've ridden in charity rides that benefit cancer, mental retardation, poor children, multiple sclerosis, and myriad other causes. We stay on the far right side of the lane. We never blow through traffic lights or stop signs. We're cautious because we know that you're out there in mega-ton vehicles, any one of which could flatten us in an instant.

If you just read it in the pulp-based, reflective technology version of the Globe, you might get the mistaken impression that the appearance of such a column is a good sign, even if what it reports is not so good.

I, however, read it online, on the Green Blog. Which has comments. And, 402 people have seen fit to comment on Ms. English's piece. Well over half of the comments I read expressed anger at bicyclists. Real, visceral, anti-bike sentiment.

It shouldn't be a surprise. As I wrote a little while ago, I don't think that the situation is going to change until there are a lot more people who both bike and drive. But, still, it's frustrating.

Let's hope that this letter-to-the-editor writer has it right, that we're reaching a tipping point. The letter writer, a doctor who has studied police on bikes, thinks that more police on bikes might help shift public perception of bicyclists.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Bike Style

Caught this stylish guy riding across the Mass Ave. bridge this afternoon.

While his porkpie (?) hat isn't quite as safe as a helmet, he was riding at a very sedate, controlled pace.

Looks like Streetsblog contributor Alex Marshall's lament for lost hat-wearing was a bit premature. Alex: please note our chapeau-topped friend also has a chainguard.

Here's another shot.


Bad brew from New England Coffee

If we're all residents of Red Sox nation, then Kenmore Square is our neighborhood. New England Coffee clogs up the neighborhood with an ad truck.

New England Coffee joins McDonald's as an ungreen company.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

A rallying cry

This from an opponent to the portion of the planned Bruce Freeman rail trail that would go through Sudbury:

My whole theory is: Go to the gym that you got the membership for and that you know you are not using[.]

None of the trail opponents cover themselves in glory in today's article in the Globe. A nervous owner of a 100-acre estate worries about the lost solitude. (People? Not people!) Opponents threaten to build affordable housing. (Not just people, poor people!) A woman worries that should she be threatened by any of the ruffians that she expects will frequent the rail trail, it's so desolate that no-one will hear her scream. (People, but bad people, and not any other people who might help people.)

Has to be read to be believed, all the way to the end.

There ought to be a t-shirt: Go to the gym.



Thursday, July 3, 2008

No more drive-throughs

It's time to put drive-throughs in the cross-hairs, starting with the BankAmerica and Sovereign Bank drive-through in Newton Centre. Drive-throughs serve no good purpose anywhere in Newton, but are particularly noxious in a village commercial center.

A drive-through attracts traffic to a commercial center, without adding any commercial benefit. A car driving-through the drive-through is, by definition, not stopping. It's driver is, therefore, not patronizing the other establishments in the area. And, by adding traffic to the area, it's diminishing the attractiveness of the area.

A drive-through requires additional curb cuts to get cars on and off the road to the teller machine. If you closed the Bank America curb cut on Beacon Street and the western of the two Sovereign Bank curb cuts, you could have at least two more parking spaces and you'd decrease the negative effect on pedestrian circulation. (I dare someone to say that there's not so much use of the drive-throughs that they interfere with pedestrians. If that's the case, there's no need for them in the first place!)

A drive-through requires additional impermeable surface. Without the drive through, there's no need for the driveway between the BankAmerica teller machine and Beacon Street or the driveway on the west side and around the back of Sovereign Bank. Tear them both up. Put in grass, a walkway between Beacon Street and Union Street, a couple of tables or picnic benches that can be used by customers of Pie and other restaurant, public art. Anything's better than more asphalt.

A drive-through promotes idling and emissions. 'Nough said.

In this day and age of banks and bank machines at every corner of our fair city, there is no need for the incremental convenience offered by a drive-through.

Drive-throughs are a creature of public policy. It's up to the city to allow curb cuts or not. A good question to ask is why banks deserve special policy consideration in our village centers. It's not like the evidence suggests that we need special policy considerations to attract them.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Coolest messenger bag ever?

Massachusetts General Laws chapter 90, section 14 is a goodie. I'm also partial to MGL 85 § 11B.

Toted by a lovely young woman on Beacon Street in Brookline.


Paging John Kerry

According to this Grist interview with Maryland junior senator Ben Cardin, Cardin has been the leading proponent of federal transit funds during debate on climate change legislation. Why isn't the junior senator from the transit dollar-hungry Commonwealth leading the charge? (We'll give the recovering senior senator a pass.)

Here's Cardin's nearly pitch-perfect discussion of the importance of mass transit:

Grist: You authored the transit portion of the Climate Security Act. Clearly this is a priority issue for you. What role do you think transit policy should play in climate legislation?

Sen. Cardin: A huge part. [The transit portion called for] $171 billion over the life of the bill. That's big money. That can make a major impact. It can make a huge difference in the capacity for transit programs. We are in desperate need of significant transit improvements. We've got to have the facilities and we don't today, and then we need the fare-box and economic policies that reward people for taking public transportation. Some try to say that it should be "self-sufficient" or have a certain percentage return through the fare-box. We don't do that on our roads, and public transportation is much better for so many reasons -- not just the environment or the quality of life. We should be providing much stronger incentives for people to use public transportation, but first you need to have the facilities.

I'm a big, big supporter of dramatic change in public transportation. It includes more than just the bus and rail systems in our urban areas. It includes a commuter rail and inner-city rail -- the whole gamut of services that get people out of their personal vehicles. I don't want people driving their personal vehicles the way they are today.

Grist: In addition to this kind of infrastructure improvement, what other actions should Congress be taking to encourage better mass transit and more use? You also mentioned that we have become a "car culture" -- how can we influence that on a federal level?

Sen. Cardin: It starts with service. You have to have economical, convenient, mass transit service. At the national level there are interstate areas that the federal government needs to do a much more effective job on Amtrak and passenger rail. We know about all the controversy surrounding that. Everybody looks at the bottom-line. We shouldn't be looking at the bottom-line. We should be looking at whether adequate passenger rail service in this country so people have alternatives to using their cars. We don't have that today.

I would make the Northeast corridor much more convenient, much better serviced, and more reasonable. There are people who literally can't afford to use the corridor because it's so expensive on a train, even though in reality it's less expensive then driving your car. But it still could be made more convenient to get people out of passenger cars. (Emphasis added.)