Friday, June 26, 2009

Newton Car Sharing

Since we have downsized to a single vehicle, there have been a few times in which we truly need two cars, and we are forced to make an increasingly expensive car rental. A zipcar model might not work as an alternative in Newton, but what about a community car sharing program? For example, we won't need our Subaru Forester during this August. But we could really use an extra 5-seater this July 7-9. For drivers with demonstrated clean records, it shouldn't be too difficult to set up a low-cost supplemental group insurance plan. Any insurance experts out there?


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Texting while driving

Hate to be a snitch, but as this is a life and death matter:
Cafe Eliat van texting while driving through busy intersection, eastbound on Beacon St at Washington Square, Brookline, 10:01 am Thursday June 25.


At the pump

Saw this sticker on the pump at the Mobil station on Needham Street. Can't be certain of this, but dollars to donuts, the owner of this Mobil station would love to have state money spent rebuilding Needham Street.


Way far afield, here

Maybe you've heard about South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, his supposedly going on walkabout on the Appalachian Trail, but then it being revealed that he was in Argentina with is inamorata. Sad and sordid. A South Carolina newspaper has some of the e-mails between the governor and his mistress, which include this glorious passage to her:

To me, and I suspect no one else on earth, there is something wonderful about listening to country music playing in the cab, air conditioner running, the hum of a huge diesel engine in the background, the tranquility that comes with being in a virtual wilderness of trees and marsh, the day breaking and vibrant pink coming alive in the morning clouds — and getting to build something with each scoop of dirt.

Yup, nothing says taking in nature like rising at dawn, jumping in a hermetically sealed compartment, cranking up the stereo (enhanced by the sweet rhythm of an industrial diesel engine), and digging it up.

Ah, tranquility.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Riding for charity

Ever notice how much money is raised for charity by people on bikes?

Here's a touching story of an 11-year-old riding in the kiddie PMC in honor of her father.


On-street bike parking is legal in Boston

Boston's Traffic Rules and Regulations appear to permit bike occupancy of metered parking spaces. Read the definition of "vehicle" and Article IV here.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Measuring bus lateness

No idea how the MBTA measures bus on-time performance, but this is interesting.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On-street bike parking

Over at the TAB blog, there's a vigorous discussion about the propriety of using parking spaces for bike parking, a discussion prompted by Nathan's ice-cream adventures post. Brought to mind this video from Portland, Oregon.

There seems to be some consensus that Newton Centre needs more bike racks. But, where you going to put them? Taking a few on-street spaces -- even on just a seasonal basis -- would seem to be a good allocation of available real estate.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Concert bus

It's (sorta) understandable why places like the concert facility formerly known as Great Woods and Gillette Stadium are out in the boonies. Even still, the overwhelming it isn't totally explicable why nearly every last person comes by car. Whenever you get tens of thousands of people in the same place, there's bound to be a heavy overlap of routes traveled. (Though, to be fair, there are probably fewer single-occupancy vehicles off to see the Patriots or a concert than in any other situation. Tailgates = car pools.)

So, it is great to see a service like the Rockbus operating. They've harnassed the web to efficiently fill a long-standing need. This also helps fill a gap for the growing number of young people who get by with no car or Zip Car.

Updated. Here's a link to Rockbus. You'd think by now that would have standard policy to include relevant links, especially in a story that notes the importance of the Internet to the company's success.


Public seating area

Here's a shot of the corner of the Newton Centre parking triangle that will become a public seating area during July and August (and perhaps into September): all the space to the left of the striping indicating access to the handicap spots.

That's going to be a nicely big area, sufficiently removed from traffic, with a little shade.


Monday, June 15, 2009

On-Street Bike Parking in Newton

Newton is out ahead of Boston and other communities for once on biking: we had the first on-street bike parking we know of in the area, last Saturday, June 13. The event was seeded by four members of Bike Newton, who rolled up to JP Licks Ice Cream shop in Newton Centre, found an empty parking space, parked our bikes and paid the meter. Other bikers, single and families, joined the space; the number of bikes grew to more than a dozen, at which point the adjacent spot opened up and we took that one too. This photo shows a couple of interesting things: bikes parked in pedestrian spaces, indicating lack of bike parking; some bikers riding on the sidewalk, rather than street, presumably because they felt safer on the sidewalk; and the remarkable indifference of bystanders, who treated this as if it were the most natural thing in the world to have in a metered parking spot.


Public seating in Newton Centre

The four parking spaces at the end of the Newton Centre parking triangle are going to be converted to public seating for a 60-day trial beginning July 1. Traffic Council unanimously voted in favor of the trial this morning. Alderman Vicki Danberg has arranged for privately supplied tables.

This is going to rock!

More to follow.


Who's Nathan?

Enjoying posts from the latest addition to the NS&S team? Want to know more?

Nathan Phillips is an associate professor in the Dept. of Geography and Environment at Boston University. His professional interests are in the cycling of water, carbon, and energy in natural ecosystems, especially as impacted by environmental change. Over the last several years these professional interests have converged with interests in environmental sustainability, including sustainable transportation like biking and walking, and human energy generation.

And, he's sharing his commitment to making Newton more bike- and pedestrian-friendly here!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Barrel Monster creator arrested

The North Carolina State student and artist who created the Barrel Monster has been arrested and charged with stealing construction materials to make it.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Auburndale library needs a bike rack

There were over a dozen bikes strewn about the lawn today for the opening of the Auburndale Community Library, and even one locked to the handicap-handrail and partially obstructing the main entryway. All this in plain sight in front of many of our local civic leaders, at least one of whom commented on the need for a bike rack here. Sounds promising!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The value of a parking spot

It's not in Newton, but this Herald report of a $300,000 parking space in the Back Bay illustrates a point we like to make on occasion: parking spaces have value, especially where parking is limited. Maybe it's not $300,000 everywhere, but there is some value. To the extent that the city allows free or nearly free parking on the on-street and off-street spaces it owns, the city is foregoing revenue. It is giving a hand-out to drivers.

From Universal Hub.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's your point exactly?

Not sure the news value of this Globe article on the legal challenge to the DCR's ownership of the rail bed in Lower Falls. A future legal decision might have an impact on an idea that might be a future proposal.

Meanwhile, there is a bridge that is going to be rebuilt, creating a wonderful pedestrian connection, with an awesome opportunity for a terrific park.


Traffic Smackdown harnesses a healthy competitive spirit to conserve household energy. What about doing this on our streets and highways? How about a Mass Pike vs. I-93 (or more comparable freeways) smackdown, coordinated through WBUR 90.9 to captive NPR-listening commuters on their morning/evening routes? The goal being to measurably reduce traffic on our major feeder arteries, shunting people to public transit. Bonus points for increased bus ridership on the freeways or streets. We could choose a single day or week, or maybe go-green fridays. Go Metrowest! (that was intended to rile up the other burbs).


Bike-powered move

Here's an opportunity to be part of something cool and unusual: volunteer to help a bike enthusiast move by bike power. It's a 1/2-mile move within JP on June 20 at 3 PM.

A few years ago, Livable Streets Alliance head guy Jeffrey Rosenblum moved within Cambridge with the help of buddies on bikes.

Being exploited will never again feel so good.

From Universal Hub.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

The Federal Government is about to deprive Massachusetts of gas-tax revenue. The cash-for-clunkers bill just passed by the House will reward anyone $3500 for trading in a car that gets less than 18 MPG for one that gets 22 MPG or more. There's an extra $1000 if the new car gets 10 MPG better than the old one.

That means that a driver currently paying the Commonwealth 23.5 cents every 18 or fewer miles, will pay at a minimum 20% less in gas tax, assuming fixed miles traveled. Combine that with the steep rise in mileage that is coming in new cars and the fact that the costs of maintaining roads goes up as gas prices go up but the revenue per gallon is fixed, and one comes to the following conclusions: the gas tax is too low, but more importantly it's a pretty stupid way to fund roadways (and transit).

It's time to tax based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT).


Save the MBTA!

Today, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council released a "new plan for growth and preservation in Greater Boston" called MetroFuture. Not surprisingly, the plan, according to an op-ed by council director Marc Draisen:

... calls for a new pattern of development based on "smart growth" - concentrating new homes and jobs near existing infrastructure, preserving farms and fields, and protecting air, water, and habitat. However, attaining the lofty goals of MetroFuture depends more on one institution than on any other: a healthy, stable, and growing transit system.

We need to be investing in transit infrastructure and services, but instead we face higher fares and significant service cuts.

Draisen does a nice job of highlighting the difference between how transit needs get different treatment than roadway needs.

Much attention has been paid to toll hikes proposed for the Mass. Pike, Tobin Bridge, and harbor tunnels. The Commonwealth now appears poised to prevent those hikes by pumping state money into the Turnpike Authority. Yet no such commitment has been made to the T. Are those who pay T fares any less worthy of state assistance than motorists? Are they any more to blame for the state's transportation woes? The answer, in both cases, is no.

While transit spending is more progressive, providing services to the elderly and poorer residents, I don't think it's really a class issue. It's more a function of how transparent the subsidy is. It's easy to see how transit riders don't cover costs at the farebox. It's less clear how heavily subsidized driving is.

No fare increases without a gas tax. No service cuts.


One rail bed to another

The design process for the park around the Lower Falls pedestrian bridge is about to kickoff just as New York's High Line Park opens. While they are obviously much different projects, the High Line Park offers a lot of thought-provoking design concepts that might inform the decisions in Newton and Wellesley. Like the way the linear park reads as a destination and not a path from one point to another. And, like the way the old rail bed is incorporated into the design. My favorite is the chaises on rollers that run on the tracks, above.

Check out the full gallery at Inhabitat. It's just plain gorgeous.


Slow down ... or else

Maybe this would calm traffic ...

From Jalopnik.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Ken Parker on Walnut Street

If you are a complete streets advocate, if you hope for better accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians, you can't ask for a better statement of vision than this one that Alderman Ken Parker* articulated at the Bike Newton Transportation Forum in April.

Even I don't dare imagine a day when there are more bikes than cars on Walnut Street.

Turns out that Alderman Parker's focus on Walnut Street (where he lives) takes his comment out of the realm of the hypothetical into an ongoing debate about a concrete problem. The long-delayed reconstruction of Walnut Street is a state-funded project, which means that it is subject to the Paulsen Bill, which requires that bicyclists and pedestrians be adequately accommodated. There has been a long-standing disagreement between the city and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force about what constitutes adequate accommodations, whether the city should seek a waiver of the Paulsen Bill, and whether the city's proposed alternative is adequate (though there has been recent rapprochement on a workable compromise). At issue is a stretch of parking from Forest Street north, which -- if maintained -- would preclude on-street accommodations, such as bike lanes. We're currently awaiting the state's review of the parking and waiver request.

Surely, if your vision is more bikes than cars on Walnut Street, than you'd be against a waiver of the Paulsen Bill for Walnut Street and you'd be for the most substantial on-street bike accommodations possible. So, I asked Alderman Parker his position.

Very disappointing. Not only did he avoid the question, in doing so he posited a false choice that pits pedestrian v. cyclist needs, when on Walnut Street (as in the vast majority of cases) the choice is very clearly between driver and cyclist needs. If the choice is between a "wide walkable sidewalk and a dedicated bike lane" choose both and get rid of on-street parking.

Most notable, however, was what he didn't say: he has already taken a position on the retention of on-street parking on the contested part of Walnut Street. At a November 1 meeting on the subject in the mayor's office (attended by Anne Paulsen, herself!), Alderman Parker strongly supported the continued use of Walnut Street for parking, even going as far as to joke that his wife Kelly would kill him if he worked to get rid of parking.

You can't have more bikes than cars for Benjamin and have parking instead of bike lanes for Kelly. Not on Walnut Street.

*I am supporting Ruth Balser for mayor, in large part because I believe that she is the most likely candidate to actually accomplish complete streets and other progressive policies. (Ruth was also at the November 1 meeting.) Please read my posts on the candidates in light of that support.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Testing drivers

During discussion of Traffic Engineer Clint Schuckel's MUTCD primer (more about that to come), Mitch Fischman suggested that we need signs to educate drivers about, among other things, the need to keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead of you. Some snickering about that being a basic drivers ed concept ensued.

Turns out Alderman Fischman might be onto something. According to the most recent GMAC National Drivers Test, a fifth of the country's drivers could not pass a basic written drivers exam. The average score was 76.6%. That means that, on aggregate, the driving population doesn't know or understand 25% of what they should.

The story's even worse in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth's drivers ranked 45 of 51 (including DC), with an average score of 73.8%.

Take the test yourself.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Update on Park and Vernon

The Public Facilities committee, to its credit, voted to urge the mayor to get a solution designed and trialed and showed a great interest in getting something built. It's unfortunate that such an obvious solution takes so long.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Park and Vernon

Tomorrow night, Public Facilities will be taking up the matter of Park and Vernon Streets (PDF), next to Bigelow and Underwood schools.

These things sure do take time. My original post on the intersection is from two years ago.

It's a good, straightforward solution to a badly designed intersection: bumpout the corners to reduce speeding through the intersection and to make the pedestrian crossings shorter.


Brady bikes

See Tom Brady and son Jack on a bike in the Back Bay (gallery). Uh, Tom, the orange thingy goes over the kid and how 'bout a helmet to protect the ol' noodle.

Boston Herald via Streetsblog.


Monday, June 1, 2009

What's the MUTCD all about?

There is a great deal of confusion about what the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is and how it governs decisions about signs, stripes, and signals on Newton's streets. (The confusion is no doubt exacerbated by traffic engineers talking about "warrants" and not using the simpler "criteria," but that's the stuff of another post.)

Wednesday, city Traffic Engineer Clint Schuckel will, one hopes, start clearing up the confusion when he presents to the Public Safety & Transportation committee about the MUTCD. Learn about how traffic engineers (are supposed to) make decisions about signs, stripes, and signals. This should be of particular interest to those who are unclear on decisions about the installation of stop signs.

Wednesday, June 3
City Hall, Room 202

Note: Health Commissioner David Naparstek is scheduled to speak at 8:00 about the flu outbreak.