Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who you calling loud?

Chrissie Long has an article in the TAB about our favorite bit of tarmac: the Daniel/Jackson Street intersection. It was with great anticipation that we awaited its publication. (It was ready to run a week earlier.) Our worst fears went unrealized. Especially in light of the demands on Chrissie to cover every last burp in Newton (nearly single handedly), the article covers a lot of ground and gets a lot right. Not a bad job.

That said, the article incorrectly casts the debate as between those who say it is safe and those who say it isn't. Seems even-handed, but it contradicts the plain facts.

There is no question that the redesign is slowing cars through the intersection, which necessarily means that it's making the intersection safer day-in and day-out. As we at NS&S never tire of reminding, speed kills. Each day, 1500 to 2000 cars pass through the intersection, nearly 50,000 a month. When you slow those thousands of cars, you reduce the risk of physical injury and death. That's not debatable.

If you are going to argue, as Barry Bergman does, that the redesigned intersection is, in his words, "dangerous," you not only have to explain what makes it dangerous, but also how the increased danger outweighs the overwhelming safety benefit from slowing traffic. But, the opponents have never made a credible argument that the bumpout creates a danger, much less a danger that outweighs the safety benefit.

Previously, Mr. Bergman has called the redesign "a dangerous obstruction at the bottom of a long hill." Here's a long post addressing the obstacle-as-danger theory. In short, roadway obstacles are oversold as dangers. In fact, obstacle-free roadways encourage motorists to drive faster, which is a real, quantifiable danger.

A good intra-neighborhood squabble makes for good copy. (See also Chrissie's article about the split in Newton Lower Falls over a rail trail through the neighborhood, with blog post and commentary.) But, treating two sides to an argument fairly doesn't necessarily mean giving equal weight to their arguments. The facts on the ground are tilted against the redesign opponents and the article should have made that clear.

We get to this false balance, perhaps, because either Chrissie or I really screwed up. She paraphrases me thusly:

Taken too fast, the intersection could cause an accident, Roche acknowledged, but it’s his hope that people would recognize the threat and slow down. (Emphasis mine.)

It's conceivable that I used the word "hope." If so, I misspoke.

It's not my hope that people will slow down. It's my observation. People recognize the threat and are slowing down. It's seems counterintuitive; but drivers' concern about their welfare is what makes the intersection safer. It's the same concern that slows motorists at every corner: you can slow down or you can go over the curb or into oncoming traffic. It's the calculation that Clint Schuckel nicely alludes to in his comment that "there's a fine line [between] making someone uncomfortable and someone unsafe."

Chrissie writes that the redesign "may" have negative effects and that its my "hope" that the redesign will slow traffic. Let the opponents argue that there "may" be negative effects, but make no mistake that the redesign does slow traffic. Significantly.

And, that's a point I'll make loudly.

31 comments:

Barry Bergman said...

I am certainly not a traffic expert, but neither are the writers of this blog. I have received a number of e-mails from area residents over the past couple of weeks describing the perceived danger of this intersection. Before money is spent building this bump-out it is very important for the city to prove that it is safe. It is hard to watch traffic go through this intersection and believe this bump-out is actually safe. This blog is named "Newton Streets and Sidewalks". Yet, the traffic calming measures it supports at the Daniel/Jackson Street intersection have divided the neighborhood. The entire neighborhood is in favor of traffic calming, but not the current plan. The time has come for this blog to support traffic calming measures that truly benefit Newton's streets.

ibk said...

It has also come to light that the traffic experts who recommended the bumpout in favor of stop signs also stated that a benefit of the stop signs was to not burden the streets parallel to Daniel/Jackson. That appears to mean that the bumpout may very well add traffic to the surrounding streets. That is something that I remember the Daniel St. folks saying would not happen. And the criteria for the trial succeeding was that it would not divert traffic. We are still waiting for the data, but the data for the last trial indicates it does divert cars to Walter and lower end of Jackson. I don't understand why the proponents of this bumpout embrace it with such fervor. Also, the ice and snow buildup make it an even more dangerous situation for people crossing Daniel to get to Bowen Elementary School. You're forced to walk at a diagonal, spending more time in the street. It was supposed to be more pedestrian friendly, but that is definitely not the case. I've seen folks from Daniel St. avoid it altogether by jaywalking in the middle of Daniel. That is not something we should be showing our kids is acceptable.

ibk said...

Interesting that I can comment here. Juat as a followup, the parallel streets to Daniel and Jackson that may incur additional traffic as a result of this bumpout are Duxbury, Marshfield, Lantern Lane, Walter and south end of Jackson Streets. If you are not familiar with why I'm saying this, please contact ikronitz@comcast.net (Ira Kronitz)

Eric said...

Mr. Bergman-

You, Sir, are a classic case of the NIMBY mentality that is eroding the wellbeing of this city. You sit in your home content to let other around you suffer, and you contribute nothing to the neighborhood. Then, when your neighbors actually go out and do something that impacts traffic in your neighborhood in a positive way, you react as if you've been insulted personally.

Here is my challenge to you. As you so aptly state, no one in this discussion is a "traffic expert", so why don't you produce one that will say the current proposal isn't safe, or doesn't do exactly what's it's supposed to do, ie. slow down traffic. Find someone that wants to talk about real danger, not the "perceived danger" your numerous e-mails allege.

What do you think, that a bunch of city workers can down to your street with some leftover asphalt and put something up for fun? Nothing in this City gets done without the approval of at least one or two commitees, and I believe that those persons are much more compentant, and in most cases, elected by you, to make these decisions.

The neighborhood was already divided into those that live on Daniel, and those that are glad the traffic on Daniel isn't on their street. All your arguements do is prove you desire to continue that division, without addressing in the least any sort of relief for your neighbors on Daniel St.

Anonymous said...

No, we think a couple of people on Daniel St. tried to push something through without enough thought, or the desire to work with neighbors to have something that works with everyone. At this point, there was an agreement, documented by Sean Roche at a neighborhood meeting that said a study was going to be done and its success would be dependent on it accomplishing the traffic calming goals while sending no material traffic down neighboring streets. That "material" amount was indicated by Mr. Daley to be 15% difference. So far, the numbers we have indicate more traffic was diverted.

Eric said...

Anon-

So the fact that the current temporary measures are effective in preventing traffic westbound on Jackson from continuing down Daniel without slowing is the problem?

You can't honestly tell me that you thought nothing would change except the speed of the traffic that cuts through your neighborhood. And if you say yes, then you're not rela bright, or completely disingenious.

If some traffic is diverted, through driver choice mind you, to Walter or another street, isn't that part of the solution? Those streets are 90 deg. turns from Jackson, and already designed to slow traffic that encounter them.

I would contend that your comments only prove my point. You're glad you don't live on Daniel and you're upset that your little world has changed. You can't wrap your mind around the greater good, or self-sacrifice for the benefit of your neighbors.

At least be honest enough to say that you don't care what happens on Daniel St. as long as it doesn't affect you.

Sean Roche said...

Anonymous flatters me with much more influence that I possess. Years ago, we (ten neighbors and I) submitted a proposal for stop signs at the intersection. Through the process of multiple open meetings, an independent study, neighborhood input, and multiple trials we came to understand why stop signs didn't make sense and came to embrace the mini-roundabout suggested by the consultants. When it was clear that the roundabout wouldn't work, we embraced the next-best solution.

To suggest that a small cabal pushed through something without thought is just flat-out contradicted by the ... what's the word? oh, yeah ... facts.

Anonymous said...

So what was presented as a benefit to all, and detraction to none is now being billed as something everyone should embrace as a benefit to the neighborhood. Maybe the fact that it was not presented this way in the first place is what a lot of people are angry about. And, no I'm not the one that thought nothing would change, that's the way it was billed by the proponents. And, as stated before, it was the purpose of the of the trials to prove to the detractors that no diversion to other streets was taking place. The minutes of the neighborhood meeting indicate that. If some folks were supposed to take it on the chin for the good of the neighborhood, that was never brought up. And "how much" was never discussed. How much should the neighboring streets take, 20%, 30%, 40% of the traffic? Whether I'm happy or not happy about not living on Daniel St. has nothing to do with any of this discussion. I picked a house on a different street and it seems pretty absurd for neighbors to start coming up with plans that tend to divert traffic without any discussion as to what's "best" for the neighborhood, and what other streets might expect. And obviously, by your last statement, the Daniel St. proponents of this should stand up and say, they don't care what happens to other streets as long as they benefit from what is proposed. Instead, the changes have been heralded as beneficial to all. Only when the facts say differently, are folks suddenly being accused of an acute lack of self-sacrifice. In regards to "not real bright", it's not the Walter and Jackson St. folks that didn't think things would change, it was the proponents that continually insisted nothing else would change. Now we come back to the minutes of the meeting and the agreements made between the neighbors, with the aldermen present.

Anonymous said...

Sean, I didn't think it was just traffic signs, are you talking about a MAy 23, 2004 letter that started out with:
As you are aware, the residents of Daniel Street have been concerned for some time about the traffic situation in our neighborhood. We are writing to request that you:
• Authorize the City Traffic Engineer and the Department of Public Works to redesign and reconstruct of the intersection of Daniel and Jackson streets, such work to be paid for with money from the Terraces mitigation fund;

Even the rfi for the traffic consultants indicated that they were to evaluate the neighbor's plans:
 Task 4: Consider various solutions to problems including following:
(a) Alteration of the width of the roadway(s)
(b) Alteration of the surface of the roadway(s)
(c) Evaluation of the viability and effectiveness of the neighborhood organization’s current proposal for redesign of the Daniel / Jackson intersection
 Task 4: Consider various solutions to problems including following:
(a) Alteration of the width of the roadway(s)
(b) Alteration of the surface of the roadway(s)
(c) Evaluation of the viability and effectiveness of the neighborhood organization’s current proposal for redesign of the Daniel / Jackson intersection

Evidently this redesign was not even originally the brainchild of the consultants. That doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. However, it exhibits an involvement by the proponents far and above what they seem to be admitting. And maybe pride of ownership explains why they are hanging on to a solution that just meets their needs. As far as the open meetings comment. That has been discussed many times. And it's now evident that a number of folks were never notified. And why Sean still refuses to send out anything via the bowen/thompsonville association mailing list still seems to be a mystery.

Sean Roche said...

Our petitions date back to at least September 2003. I incorrectly remembered being the petitioner on the request for stop signs. I was not. Adam Peller was. I was the petitioner on a request for speed limits. (I'm pretty sure I signed the stop-sign petition.) With the benefit of hindsight, they were both bad ideas.

As for pressing a single solution, the neighborhood proposed a number of designs, including one that involved stop signs.

It was unfortunate that there was not better notice, but two facts are worth noting. Petitioners before Traffic Council are not responsible for notice. The city is. Notice was sufficient, however, that opponents of the intersection redesign (and other interested parties) from Walter and Jackson north and south of the intersection attended meetings. Those opponents made the same arguments that have more recently been raised, like the concern about deflection to Walter Street.

The bottom line continues to be that the redesign reduces the speed of tens of thousands a car a month through the intersection, something that redesign opponents continue to ignore.

Anonymous said...

First of all, we're still waiting to see the data that says anything has been accomplished. Second of all, why do you insist that is the bottom line? The scope of the traffic consultants indicated that the goal was to limit traffic moving from rte. 9 to the side streets. We don't even know if that was done, and we still don't have any data from the last trial. And it wasn't the "neighborhood" that proposed the options. It seems to be a couple folks on Daniel St. that wrote up the proposals and got some signatures, from residents on Daniel St. If there is anyone from another street that had a hand in it, it might be nice to know why they think it's a good idea. And, why do you not comment on the fact that there was an agreement between the neighbors that you documented? Please stop the refusal to answer a direct question. Doensn't it bother you at all that you're just turning your back on that agreement? It's silly on your part, it just tends to undermine your "bottom line" argument. And it has made the intersection even more dangerous for school children trying to cross in the snow. You ignore all these side issues and continue to push for something that we now find out that a couple of people on Daniel st. designed regardless of how it affects others. And, as the president of the BTNA you still refuse to disseminate the information on how to get in on the discussions. On top of even that, now, after 2 years of saying there was plenty of notice, you're saying it was unfortunate there wasn't enough, but that it wasn't your job. And it's obviously something you have no desire to correct is it?

Anonymous said...

I find this "redesign" to be extremely costly, a potential increase risk to both pedestrian and car traffic, and somewhat lacking in logic.
The truth is the goals would have been better met with a stop sign, and for much less money, without the potential increased risk.
The argument that people would not head the stop sign is without any merit. There was never a test done to prove it, and it flies in the face of the observations we all make at all other stop signs in Newton.
Additionally, the decreased speed of vehicles only takes place when there is on coming traffic with the present design. With a stop sign, all vehicles would be forced to come to a stop; which ultimately would be a safer design.
Neal Fleisher

Anonymous said...

okay sean....how do you put up with this??? your blog will be very interesting reading for the next few days. for what it's worth, i don't live on daniel and i have been a supporter of changes to the daniel/jackson intersection for at least a few years, as long as i have known someone was working on improving it. i walk through/across the intersection with three dogs probably 6 to 10 times a week. i like what the change has done to the intersection. people appear to drive slower through it. and i don't notice as many folks ignoring the existing stop sign on daniel (as you approach jackson) i don't notice a big increase in additional traffic on down jackson (towards rte. 9) or on lantern lane or walter (other streets i frequently walk on). i have no data, just personal opinion. but i'm quite happy to go along with what is in place now. and i never thought that there would not be changes in traffic flow on other streets in the vicinity of jackson/daniel intersection. surprised that folks would be surprised about changes....anyway, what comprises material????

margaret alexander

Eric said...

Where to begin...

I'm sure Sean can point to the sites and studies, I can not, but it is common knowledge that stop sign do not always have the desired effect when it comes to slowing traffic and creating safer pedestrian crossings. Let the first person who's never rolled through a stop sign cast the first stone.....

It would seem to me, as someone who doesn't live in the neighborhood, but knows the streets, that the main complaint of the opponents to the current redesign is that there is traffic deflected down other streets, ie. Walter, Latern, southern end of Jackson. Traffic that originally would have continued down Daniel to Parker.

No one can prove anything else. You can't prove "it has made the intersection even more dangerous for school children trying to cross in the snow", and let's face it Newton side streets are a crap shoot anyway in the snow. You can't prove it "to be extremely costly", unless your NIMBY-ism and shortsightedness make it so.

As for "the decreased speed of vehicles only takes place when there is on coming traffic with the present design" that is blatently untrue. Traffic going south on Jackson that desires to continue west on Daniel is dramaticly slowed, and that particular path has always been the most dangerous and most in need of traffic calming.

To say that the current design should fail for the simple fact that it may deflect/divert, I'm not sure the correct term, some traffic on to another street is illogical and counterproductive. The goal should be slower safer traffic across the board, regardless of the path of that traffic.

Some have complained that Sean doesn't answer direct questions, so I have one for you. If the current design was sucessful in slowing traffic in the Daniel/Jackson intersection and deemed safe for pedestrians, but deflected some trraffic on to other streets would you consider the current design a success? Forget what you think someone promised you or conversations you has years ago, or the fact that no one provided you enough notice, write your own bottom line...

Anonymous said...

Sorry Eric, I just fundamentally disagree. Nothing personal. Stop signs might not bring all cars to a complete stop, but surely you aren't telling me people routinely blow through a stop sign at full speed? In fact, I can't imagine how anyone figures cars will slow more for the current configuration instead of a stop sign.
As for cost, I think it is nothing short of a crime you would endorse spending over $70,000 of taxpayer money for this elaborate over designing of an intersection, when a stop sign would cost a fraction as much, and do at least as good, and probably a better job of slowing traffic.

Neal Fleisher

Sean Roche said...

Neal,

Seventy thousand of taxpayer money? How about twenty-five thousand of developer money that reverts to the developer if not used?

I wrote about the danger of stop sign non-compliance: cars only slowing for stop signs. If pedestrians assume the motorist is going to stop, only slowing is a real danger. Stop signs fail when there aren't clear expectations.

But, stop signs also fail for over-compliance. In the most optimistic scenario, pedestrian traffic through the intersection -- across the street, not on the sidewalk along the street -- will never be anywhere near as high as car traffic. Even if creating safe passage for pedestrians when they want to cross is the goal, there's no need to stop every last car that goes through the intersection to do it. It's wasteful and unnecessary.

The whole thing comes full circle when you realize that creating wasteful and unnecessary stops is what leads drivers to blow through stop signs.

A better question is why you want to stop every one of the tens of thousands of cars that go through the intersection in a month.

Anonymous said...

In regards to Eric's comments: The intersection is more dangerous for kids crossing because they are out in the street longer. You step into Daniel street and you have to walk further in the middle of the street because the access to the sidewalk is blocked because of the snow piled up on the bumpout. And if the driveway in the area isn't shoveled, you have to walk even further. And if a car is coming down Jackson towards you with ice in the road, it's more dangerous. If that type of logic needs proving, then I'd like someone to prove that Daniel St. is safer with cars moving slower. How long has the configuration been this way, and how many people have been hurt in the past? The bumpout was supposed to provide a shorter distance across the street, not extend it. It's one of those practical things that has not been addressed. In regards to whether success is determined by speed alone, NO, I would not consider it a success. Sorry, but that was part and parcel of how it was billed. No one is going to forget the original criteria. It was not supposed to divert cars. If someone told us up front that it would, then we could come up with criteria for making it work for all. Or, if it was clearly pointed out that the traffic consultants reported that only the roundabout and the stop signs provided the added benefit that cars were not diverted, then we all could have moved towards a workable solution with stop signs. Again, as someone said, no one really blows through stop signs. Very rare, and if that's the case, they are just as unlikely to see a curve in the road that narrows it to one lane. I've been in many neighborhoods with 4 way stop signs. People roll through, but no one blows through it, and it certainly slows things down. And it doesn't divert any traffic, since one way is no better than the other. You don't have to be a traffic consultant to understand that.

Anonymous said...

Well Sean:
I feel much better that you are only wasting $25,000. A stop sign works better, is safer and costs less. Your high tech over design will prove to be less safe over time.
All your arguments against stop signs do not ring true to either the casual observer or hard scrutiny(and yes I know about your "studies"- not all studies are good)
There will be a car jumping that curb some day, and it won't take too long. It will either hit a pedestrian or crash into a tree and injure or kill the occupants. Those who pushed this through will be responsible for the needless agony. A stop sign was the answer here.

Neal Fleisher

Eric said...

Neal,

A car that hops the curb would have hit a pedestrian without a redesign.

Your idea that a stop sign would work is just silly. The traffic that was the major problem was westbound Jackson traffic that wants to go west on Daniel. There's no oncoming traffic for those folks, ergo no real reason to stop, except for your stop sign, which would be routinely blown through and could be just as dangerous as anything you've predicted. (Assuming I can forcast doom and gloom along with you...)

The only way to slow traffic from Jackson to Daniel is to give them an obstacle in the roadway, ie. change the look of the intersection. I think, over time, west bound traffic on Daniel will be markedly slowed, and the traffic that continues through the rest of the neighborhood will benefit from the slow down at the redesigned intersection.

ibk said...

The experts don't say that it's silly. It was their third option, with the benefit that it didn't result in additional traffic to parallel streets. And they made the case that it would meet the criteria for state approval. Maybe it came in third based on their scope of the problem. My reading of their scope s that they want to keep cars on route 9. We don't know what Sean's scope is, he hasn't told us. My scope was that it was supposed to calm traffic without diverting it. As per the neighborhood agreement.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric:

My thinking on this is that you have now placed a curb out of the natural curvature of the road. It is jutting out. Under some circumstances a car will be more likely to jump such a curb.
As for "no reason to stop", except because it is there". I don't know about your experiences in driving, all I can say is that in all the times I have been driving in and around Newton, the vast majority of times, people stop at stop signs, regardless of time of day, or traffic configuration at the particular intersection. Even if they didn't come to a complete stop as prescribed by law, they will have slowed to a lesser speed than with the present configuration.
It is my belief that your feelings or mine are not the way to have decided this situation. It could have, and should have been evaluated with a complete assessment of the various options. To my knowledge, a stop sign was never placed at the intersection with an evaluation of the number of cars that did not stop, the average speed, etc.
This wasn't done; only the more elaborate expensive solution to the problem.

By the way Eric, if you like, I will be happy to spend an hour with you on a street corner in Newton with a stop sign, and would be willing to bet you the vast majority(over 70%) of cars will slow to less than 10 miles per hour when entering the intersection.
Neal Fleisher

Sean Roche said...

Intellectually, I would be very interested to see what would happen with a stop sign trial. If nothing else, I'd love to know if making people come to a complete stop westbound would cause as much frustration as making people slow to 10 or 15 mph. My guess is that there would be a lot of unhappy motorists. And, my guess is that there would be a disturbing rate of non-compliance.

Ultimately, though, I was convinced -- and remain convinced -- that a stop sign trial is a bad idea for the reason the city traffic engineer articulated back in May 2006: it creates confusion when signs are installed and then removed.

Anonymous said...

I have asked a number of people a number of times, but am never given an answer.
Does anyone have the statistics on accidents at this intersection during the past 10 years?

Neal

Sean Roche said...

As of May 2004, there had been one accident. There has been at least one since.

Anonymous said...

So, 2 accidents in 9 yrs( that report indicates 1 accident in the 3 yrs before 2004)? Aren't you really overreacting to a non issue, just because you happen to live there, and have a near obsession with this? Everyone thinks cars travel too quickly on their street. It is a natural protection mechanism for their kids, but come on, 2 accidents?

Neal Fleisher

Barry Bergman said...

I believe that traffic calming measures should be in place that benefit the entire neighborhood. The fact that cars are slowing up going westbound on Daniel is great. However, those drivers not wanting to slow up due to the perceived danger of the Jackson/Daniel intersection are speeding down neighboring streets.

I think obstacles on Jackson through Daniel Street are actually a good idea. They can take the form of steet narrowing or raised crosswalks. However, I have a problem with the design of the bump-out at the corner of Daniel and Jackson, which diverts faster drivers onto other streets. There is no reason that the traffic calming measures can't have a win-win result rather than the win-lose situation we have with the proposed bump-out.

Anonymous said...

Raised cross walks are a hazard and health risk to ALL emergency vehicles. It puts the occupants of these vehicles in danger.
They damage emergency vehicles as well.
They have no place on our streets- none.

Neal Fleisher

Eric said...

Neal-

We could conduct the stop sign trial at the corner of Willow and Centre, just down the street from where I work. It's a similar intersection in that it is frequented by those who are cutting through and trying to avoid some traffic. The major difference is that there is the possibility that one will have to stop at Centre due to traffic; and yet the stop sign at the end of Willow is, more often than not, blown through without even the attempt to tap the brakes. Jackson and Daniel lack any sort of traffic constraints for westbound traffic.

Jackson and Daniel would be the same situation if not worse. If there's nothing that forces people to stop, ie. obstructions or vigilate police enforcement, odds are commuters will blow through a stop sign in order to beat the traffic.

And 2 accidents is not the benchmark for this redesign. Traffic on Daniel should not routinely be upwards of 40 MPH. The street is not designed for those speeds.

I find the arguement that traffic is slower, but more dangerous due to this redesign to be illogical on its face.

I do however completely agree with you in regard to your stance on raised crosswalks and speed bumps. I could not have said it better myself.

Eric said...

I wouldn't say I rest my case, but......

http://www.wickedlocal.com/newton/news/x844647949/Driver-runs-stop-sign-strikes-cop-car-off-Route-9-in-Newton

Anonymous said...

Well, build a bumpout on the off-ramp; it's obviously a known trouble spot. How many stop signs do you think there are in the city, or state? If they were routinely overrun, don't you think we'd have more than the occasional story?

Anonymous said...

This morning (Sept 23) several of us who actually live in the neighborhood near this intersection saw area residents meeting with Alderman Greer Tan Swiston -- thank you for meeting with us!!! -- about this very project. Apparently people who actually live as close as right in front of this proposed "bump out" have never been consulted, and there appears to be a widespread suspicion that someone, or some group, in the neighorhood wants to jam through City Hall construction of this shoddily conceived project, apparently as a campaign-flyer bullet point for a future ward or citywide race. I am hearing over and over that people in the neighborhood actually affected by this think there is someone "with juice at City Hall" who is trying to ram this bad idea through for reasons that are utterly unclear. Why are the dangers of this project not being paid attention to by the Board of Aldermen and Mayor David Cohen and mayoral candidates Setti Warren and Ruth Balser? What I heard this morning is this is a bad, dangerous idea relentlessly pursued by someone(s) in the neighborhood -- we heard the nickname "The Funnel of Death" -- and somehow noone in power in the city is paying any attention to what most neighbors in the area really want.