Thursday, May 28, 2009

Globe Editorial: Paths are good

The Globe has editorialized in favor of a rail-to-trail conversion in Lower Falls. While it comes to the right conclusion, it kinda misses the point.

The Lower Falls trail will never be a Minuteman trail, for good or for bad. It needs to be assessed on its own terms.


Adding roads doesn't solve traffic problems

I've noted before that increasing roadway capacity creates induced demand, in which additional traffic absorbs the new capacity and creates more problems in streets feeding the new capacity. There's more to the story. Traffic engineers are finding that more roadway choices causes more congestion because of something called Braess' paradox. One day I hope to understand it well enough to summarize it. Until then, there's this excellent explanation.


Boston T Party

There having a party. On the B line. While the train goes from stop-to-stop.

Sunday at 7:00 PM at Washington St. inbound. Then at 7:11 at Packards Corner, 7:40 at Kenmore, and 7:35 at Government Center. (Interpolate times for stops in-between.)


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Knit one, pedal two

This is just neat.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Globe story on Lower Falls bridge/path

The Globe has a story on the Lower Falls rail bridge/path, which is very similar to the TAB's article of a few weeks ago:

  • There's a 1.1 mile bike path in the works
  • It's causing great divisiveness in the neighborhood
  • Proponents think it will connect the neighborhood
  • Opponents think it will divide the neighborhood

And, by the way, there's an old train bridge to be turned into a pedestrian bridge.

Two nuggets from a bridge/path opponent:
  • State Rep. Kay Khan supports the trail because she wants to increase her property value (she's an abutter)
  • The path will be a "major thoroughfare"

The first point is an odd argument, and a telling concession. Until now, opponents have been arguing that it would make abutters' properties less valuable.

The second point is not really new, but it continues to be odd to think of a bicycle/pedestrian path -- which is too short to be a destination recreation rail trail and is kind of long to be heavily used by Wellesley commuters walking to Riverside -- as a "major thoroughfare." It would be interesting to know the number of users that the opponents anticipate.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mayor of London nearly killed

There is so much to this video: London's mayor nearly got killed, he was on his bicycle, he was out scouting bike routes, the cause of the crash was very clearly the truck driver's impatience with the mayor's group of bikers.

At about 1:15, the mayor comes around from the back of the truck, helmet in hand, to inspect the damage.

More at the New York Times.

Recall that Mayor Menino of Boston was hit one day on a morning ride.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Steven Baddour thinks driving and talking on the phone is safe

The state Senate passed a bill that would make driving and texting illegal, apparently having come to the conclusion that it's okay to "legislate against stupidity" when said stupidity will lead to the death and serious injury of others. In fairness, there are lots of stupid activities that could lead to driver distraction and an argument could be made that we don't need or want legislation that identifies and bans every last activity. Still, it shouldn't have required a high-profile T crash to make the point that texting and driving might constitute a special problem.

The Globe article on the vote contains this doozy:

"A lot of us who opposed this in the past realize that there's a new generation of drivers who think it's OK to text while they're driving," said Senator Steven Baddour, a Methuen Democrat who is chairman of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation and was one of the leading opponents of previous proposals. "This generation clearly doesn't get it. It's not the same as talking on a cellphone. You can't text safely while driving." (Emphasis added.)

Does Steven Baddour really think that it's safe to drive and talk on a cellphone? Does he get it?

There may be reasons not to ban cellphone use while driving, but it's just plain irresponsible to suggest that it is the safe counterexample to texting while driving.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Stop Signs as Traffic Calming

Tonight, City Traffic Engineer Clint Schuckel suggested to the Public Facilities committee that they Google stop signs and traffic calming to see the policy reasons against stop signs as traffic calming.

Here's what such a search returns:

  • Northampton, Mass.
    Research has shown that unwarranted STOP signs and STOP signs that have been used for speed control, do not have the effect desired. Speeds between the STOP signs increase as drivers try to make up for lost time. Drivers tend to roll through the unwarranted STOP signs with higher frequency (over 50%).
  • Kirkland, Washington (scroll down to the bottom)
    All-way or 4-way stop signs are usually not an appropriate traffic calming tool on neighborhood streets. Citizens frequently request all-way stop signs at a neighborhood intersection to slow cars down and make the intersection safer. However, all-way stops that are placed in inappropriate locations do little to to slow traffic and can actually make the intersection less safe.
  • Portland, Oregon
    Stop signs may often seem like a good solution to neighborhood speeding, but traffic studies and experience show that using stop signs to control speeding doesn't necessarily work.
  • Victoria, British Columbia
    Stop signs should not be used as Traffic Calming devices.
  • Anacortes, Washington
    Overuse of stop signs may actually reverse the benefits. Studies have shown that motorists may ignore stop signs or increase speed between controlled areas if the stop signs are poorly placed.
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia
    The City installs STOP signs to indicate right-of-way. Installing STOP signs for speed control goes directly against federal guidelines. The guidelines are based on previous engineering practices and studies, and have determined that STOP signs can actually exacerbate problems after extended use. First, people tend to speed in between STOP signs, to "make up" for their perceived lost time. Second, when drivers must constantly stop for traffic, but do not see good reason to, they will develop contempt for STOP signs.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cell Phones and Bikes

A recent Newton Tab article discussed traffic enforcement for bikers. Bikers could also help enforce traffic rules for cars as follows: when a motor vehicle is illegally parked in a bike lane, bikers could stop, take out their camera phones, take a photo of the offending vehicle with license plate showing, and phone the picture to a city traffic enforcement phone number. Offending motor vehicle drivers could receive a friendly warning on a first offense, with steeper penalties for multiple offenders. When Newton gets bike lanes, the city should consider setting up such a system.


Cell Phones in Cars

Today on my ride in to Boston, through Newton Center at Beacon and Center streets, I was momentarily irritated by a motorist turning left in front of me in spite of my right of way. She was talking on a cell phone. I wagged my finger at her, and then a more sympathetic thought washed over me: all these isolated people in these large metal boxes, reaching out to connect and communicate. How much of the phenomena of cell phone use in cars a symptom of the social isolation wrought by our single-occupant-car-dominated lifestyles?


Bike Newton pictures, round II

A few more pictures from Sunday's rally and ride:


Pedestrians rule! and other rules

New York City's Transportation Alternatives has proposed Biking Rules: a New Streetcode for NYC Cyclists. Rule #1 should be #1 in any jurisdiction: Pedestrians Rule.

I would love to have been in the various meetings where they came up with the appropriately vague fifth rule: "Untangle Intersections," which advises cyclists to "Take a break and relax at red lights."


Bike Newton pictures, round I

The TAB got a hold of some pictures of the Bike Newton event.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Gas prices up eight cents

We ought to make it a regular feature: this week's gas price increase.

The Mass price for a gallon of regular unleaded is up $.08 to $2.31. It's the sixth straight week with an increase.

The data is from AAA Southern New England through

NS&S says: economic recovery = higher gas prices.


The AARP joins the Complete Streets movement

Guess who wants streets with good pedestrian and bicycling accommodations? The older folks among us.

The AARP sent a press release to announce a report of a recent study: "Planning Complete Streets for the Aging of America." The conclusion? Our nation's streets don't meet the needs of our aging population. No surprise there.

From the press release:

Streets, sidewalks and roadways designed to achieve “Complete Streets” can make getting around safer for everyone, the report suggests. Yet in a poll of adults age 50+ also conducted for the report, two in five said their neighborhood sidewalks were inadequate (although, by 2030, 20% of those age 65+ will not be drivers). Nearly half said they could not cross main roads close to their home safely, preventing many from walking, bicycling or taking the bus. But safer, more accessible streets won’t happen until federal, state and local authorities and planners wake up to the need for roads that address the challenges of the coming age wave, the report charges.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising, but it was a bit of a shock to see that the AARP is a member of the Complete Streets Coalition.

The full press release follows. (If the link doesn't work, click on the title, above.)

Road Planners Display Blind Spot for Oncoming Generation of Older Drivers

Update Design Guidelines and Complete Streets Will Accommodate Everyone, AARP Report Challenges

WASHINGTON, DC--Two-thirds of transportation planners and engineers have yet to begin addressing older people in their street planning; yet by 2025, 64 million people will be over age 65 according to census projections and by 2030 a quarter of all U.S. drivers will be 65+. This is the alarm raised by “Planning Complete Streets for the Aging of America” a major new report on roadway safety and the aging of the American population from AARP’s Public Policy Institute. The full report can be found here:

Streets, sidewalks and roadways designed to achieve “Complete Streets” can make getting around safer for everyone, the report suggests. Yet in a poll of adults age 50+ also conducted for the report, two in five said their neighborhood sidewalks were inadequate (although, by 2030, 20% of those age 65+ will not be drivers). Nearly half said they could not cross main roads close to their home safely, preventing many from walking, bicycling or taking the bus. But safer, more accessible streets won’t happen until federal, state and local authorities and planners wake up to the need for roads that address the challenges of the coming age wave, the report charges.

“Improvements can reduce older driver crashes and pedestrian injuries without adversely affecting traffic; in many instances, local travel flow and accessibility are improved,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President for Social Impact. “But while a growing number of states and localities have Complete Streets policies, too few have been built. Furthermore, an outdated bias in engineering practices competes with current local desire for user-friendly “Complete Streets” design.

The report recommends that federal, state, and local highway and street design guidelines serve older people by 1) reducing vehicle travel speeds at intersections where older drivers and pedestrians need more time to make decisions and execute changes, 2) making the physical layout of roads, crosswalks and sidewalks easier to navigate, and 3) making it easier for older drivers and pedestrians to notice, read, understand and respond to visual cues and information.

Because of time required to plan and make these improvements, communities need to begin now in order to be ready for the age wave, the report states. “It takes time to plan, design, fund and build capital projects,” said LeaMond. “Federal officials, planners and traffic engineers need to focus now on adjusting roads to become safer and more user-friendly for everyone.”

Men outlive their driving years on average by 7 years and women by 10, the AARP report reiterates. “’Complete Streets’ make walking more appealing and crossing streets safer for everyone,” said AARP’s LeaMond. Complete Streets legislation was recently introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives. AARP is a member of the Complete Streets Coalition (

The research process for “Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America” included an online survey of 1,134 state and local transportation planners and engineers conducted from August 4 to September 3, 2008. A public opinion telephone survey of 1,006people age 50 and older was conducted from July 9-15, 2008 with a margin of error of +/-3.09% at the 95% confidence level. An interdisciplinary team of planners, engineers and policy advocates reviewed safety research and offered policy and design recommendations as part of the development of the report and the report includes an inventory and evaluation of 80 existing “Complete Streets” policies.


Teach your child to ride the easy way

One word: balance bikes.

Balance bikes are the no-stress, guaranteed-success way to teach your child to ride a bike. Actually, your child will teach herself to ride.

A balance bike is a bike without a drive-train. No pedals, cranks, or chain. Without the pedals and with the seat low enough, she can comfortably place her feet on the ground and make the bike go by walking and make it stop by, well, stopping. As she becomes comfortable, she starts running. And, then, she glides. Finally, when she's got the gliding thing down, she'll be ready to jump on a regular bike and work on the relatively easier skills of pedaling and braking.

It's really that simple. Note that training wheels never enter the picture. (They're bad, really bad.)

The picture above is then three-year-old daughter of NS&S gliding on a Like-A-Bike, a fancy wooden balance bike, a gift from an overindulgent grandfather. It worked great for her and her older brother. But, you don't need anything nearly as fancy (or expensive).

Keep an eye out for a cheap or free 12-inch or 16-inch bike. (The numbers refer to the diameter of the wheel.) They show up all the time at tag sales and on the curb ready to be thrown out. Take off the training wheels. Take the bike to a local bike store and ask them to remove the bottom bracket. (It's the part at the bottom of the bike that hosts the pedal and crank assembly.) They'll probably do it for free.

Voila. You own a balance bike.

Lower (or raise) the seat so your child can sit comfortably with both feet flat on the ground, but can still walk along without getting off the seat.

Give the kid the bike. Offer some words of encouragement. And, your work is done.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Newton to Boston Bike Convoy

Pictures from the first bike convoy of the year.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

General Interest Groups for Rail Trails

On the TAB blog, proponents of the lower falls rail trail were said to include 'muscular special interest groups'. Presumably this refers to the Newton Bike and Pedestrian Task Force, Newton Conservators, Charles River Watershed Association, and Bike Newton. But these aren't special interest groups; they are general interest groups. These are people who value walking, biking, and the environment. They want to help themselves and people other than themselves value things and activities that are good for health and good for the environment. Further, many of these 'outsider' proponents would never make personal use of a potential lower falls rail trail - it is not of special interest to them, it is of general interest in promoting sustainable transportation throughout Newton.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wellesley High bus ridership

What happened when they took away student parking at Wellesley High? The number of applications for buses jumped from 246 (of 1200 students) to 372 (so far). Apparently, the demand for student parking is not all need-driven.

The depressing nugget in this little tale of parking supply driving car use? Seventy-one percent of Wellesley students are driven to school by their parents. That's appalling.


Community Rides

Updated with more accurate times ...

The big event is Sunday's Bike Newton Rally. Newton City Hall. Rally at 12:30, ride at 2:00. Make sure to register.

There are also (at least) two other interesting local rides coming up. On Saturday, Cambridge Bikes leads Literary Cambridge by Bikes, a "leisurely [ten-mile] ride through the streets of Cambridge past homes and sites associated with well-known authors, poets, publishers and printers." Ride leaves at 10:30 from the plaza between the High School main entrance and the Main Library construction site between Broadway and Cambridge Street (map).

On May 31, bike the length of Beacon Street in Brookline (and back) without cars! The Brookline Bikes Beacon parade begins at 12:30 at Armory Street (map).

Mass Bike has a list of other community rides.


Monday, May 11, 2009

The Upper Lower Falls divide

One of the opponents of the bridge conversion and rail trail in Upper Lower Falls has been making the argument that the rail trail would divide the neighborhood, just like 128 divided the neighborhood.

Physically, the rail trail already divides the neighborhood. The proposal is to make it more rather than less passable. Presumably the backyard fences to be erected to maintain privacy would be the dividers, but are there current neighbor-to-neighbor connections being made across the path that will be shut off by fences?

It's just hard to imagine how a walking path can be compared to a major highway for its disruptive effect on a neighborhood.


The coming gas-poclypse

A gallon of go-juice in the Commonwealth is up $.15 this week, because crude is going up. While it may go back down (and up), the trend is almost certainly going to be up as the recovery hits and demand goes up.

We need to be making policy decisions based on the inevitable $4.00+ a gallon price, not on the current, recession-caused $2.18.


Bikes on the wireless

A little late on this, but the Internets cure a host of ills ...

Radio Boston on WBUR had a show on biking in Boston with friends of NS&S Peter Furth, Anne Lusk, David Watson, and Nicole Freedman. You can still hear it on the Radio Boston site.


Bike Convoy on Friday

The bike convoys to Boston begin on Friday, as part of Mass Bike Week. The convoy runs from Newton City Hall to Boston City Hall, with stops in Newtonville and near Watertown Square.


  • 6:45 -- Gather at all stops for registration
  • 7:00 -- Leave from Newton City Hall
  • 7:10 -- Leave from Walnut St. and Washington Park
  • 7:20 -- Leave from California St. footbridge
Sign up for the convoy at the Bay State Bike Week site.

Pictures of previous convoys at the Bike/Ped site.


A modest proposal

For the last year or so, when I drive, I have been consciously driving at the speed limit on Newton roads. Not at the assumed safe-from-a-speeding-ticket speed limit plus 10 mph, but right smack dab at the speed limit. So far, it does not seem to have a meaningful effect on trip time within the city. And, when I go the speed limit, everyone else behind me goes the speed limit.

There isn't any epidemic of speeding by Newton city vehicles, that I'm aware of anyway, but I have noticed that most don't seem to abide by the same careful attention to posted limits that I've adopted. It would be a nice statement of support for our neighborhoods and recognition of the impact speeding traffic has if the mayor would institute and mayoral candidates would support a policy that all city-owned vehicles and all city-contracted vehicles (school buses, plows, &c.) are to be driven at the speed limit.

Not within a reasonable margin above, but right at or below.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Options

Thursday, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) held a meeting about the three foot bridges in Newton to be restored or created under the Commonwealth's Accelerated Bridge Program. One of the opponents of the conversion of the Upper Falls rail bridge to a pedestrian bridge and the potential rail trail between the bridge and Riverside noted that there were other options for getting to Riverside by bike or by foot and that the path would be "redundant."

Dan Driscoll of the DCR said that the agency was interested in creating as many bike and pedestrian opportunities as it could. He noted that there are plenty of redundant routes to travel by car.

What the opponent (and most opponents) don't acknowledge is that an off-road bike path offers a non-redundant opportunity for children.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2nd Annual Bike Newton Rally & Ride

Sunday, May 17, 12:30 – 3:00PM, City Hall War Memorial Circle/Steps

This year, Nicole Freedman, Boston's Bike Czarina, will be addressing the crowds, the Nate Aranow Nextet will add jazz to the mix, the Dutch Bikes conference bike will be back, and there will be free drawings for bikes and bike equipment, and vendors, including International Bikes, Farina's, and Harris Cyclery. Trader Joe's, J.P. Licks, Whole Foods, and Clif bars are donating snacks. And a big shout-out to the Bike & Pedestrian Task Force, who came out in force last year to help with set-up & ride logistics, and have pledged help again this year.

The ride itself will be a gentle 3 ½ mile loop down Commonwealth Ave., up Temple (past Pierce Elementary School) and back by Prince and a few side streets to Comm. Ave. The pace will be leisurely, and we'll have a police escort & rolling closings for added safety.

Last year's rally and ride had 350 participants. Let's make this one BIG for the election year: let's show the candidates for Mayor of Newton that making Newton a bicycle safe city has to be part of their agenda and vision for Newton's future.

Go to the Bike Newton website to download registration forms. (There are different forms for Adults and for Minors.) Register early! You can register at the event, but the lines will be long!

Hope to see you there!