Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Baker on pedestrian issues

Last night, Board of Alderman President Lisle Baker issued his President's Report for 2008 (PDF). Because it summarizes the work of the aldermanic committees, including Public Safety and Transportation and Traffic Council, it's not surprising that it covers some pedestrian issues. It's a useful summary of what the board accomplished in the area of pedestrian and bicycle safety.

How did the board do? Progress was modest at best.

In January, the board approved a pedestrian actuated signal at Craft and Linwood. Getting it funded and installed will be the real challenge, but approval is an important threshold. It would be nice to see signals at busy crossings across the city, especially on school routes.

Slightly troubling is the report's section on the "Walking School Bus Program." Walking school buses are great. (I lead one once a week, myself.) And, efforts across the city to encourage walking school buses are important and impressive. The board's October resolution recognizing city schools participation in International Walk to School Day was a nice show of support. But, otherwise, walking school buses, schools participation in the state Safe Routes to School program, the Newton Safe Routes Task Force, and the selection of Newton for WalkBoston's Community Safe Routes program had little to do with the board.

Lisle doesn't pretend otherwise. He doesn't claim credit on the board's behalf. But, if a board resolution is the highest achievement the board can cite for walk-to-school efforts, it hasn't really been a good year.

The fields trial ordinance is, on the other hand, an important step forward. A key to changing the shape of Newton streets is going to be actually changing the shape of Newton streets and seeing what happens.

On the Traffic Council front, again, not a lot of great news. The raised crosswalks on Woodland Road near Lasell are noteworthy, but not exactly fresh news. The dreaded Daniel/Jackson intersection is still being studied years after the board approved construction. And, the reconfiguration of traffic on and around Lowell Street promises great benefit. But, other than that it's guidelines and policy changes. I am not familiar with the details of the Traffic Council docket, so there may have been other important victories, but the president's summary doesn't exactly wow.

I don't want to suggest that there aren't hard-working people trying to do good things. I know that there are. But, the board isn't distinguishing itself on this front.

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