Monday, August 30, 2010

Soldier Ride -- Labor Day

Looking for a ride on Labor Day? Check out the Soldier Ride to support the Wounded Warrior Project. Leaves at 10 AM from the North Bridge Visitors Center in Minute Man National Historic Park.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Construction pending in Lower Falls

Evidence that work is imminent to convert the existing rail bridge in Lower Falls to a pedestrian bridge.

The shot above is from the Wellesley side. The hay bales may be related to also impending construction on the former Grossman's site.

This is a post along the approach from Concord Street.

These are marking on Concord Street at the entrance to the approach to the bridge.


Friday, August 27, 2010

What the hell is going on?

Updated: As Universal Hub reports, the man who died was a Andrew McAffee, an emergency-room physician and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He was, apparently, riding a scooter, not a motorcycle. The comments to the Universal Hub post include the text of an e-mail sent to hospital staff.


Yet another death on Newton streets on Newton-area streets. The TAB/Wicked Local reports a motorcycle rider died in a crash with a car on Beacon Street and Reservoir Road near BC.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Would a seatbelt have saved Adam London?

Updated: In a follow-on Wicked Local/TAB article, Howard London says his son was speeding:

And he was speeding—I know he was speeding—and he was told not to.

My heart goes out to the London family. I don't think there is anything harder or sadder than burying a child. And, I admire the hell out of Howard London for, so soon after Adam's death, acknowledging that Adam wasn't wearing a seatbelt and promising to promote seat-belt use.

But, when a crash is bad enough, seat belts don't make a difference. Based on the pictures, Adam's was a horrific crash. A seat belt may not have saved him. And, if that's so, it's going to take more to prevent a repeat.

We all need to wear our seat belts. I haven't driven or ridden in a car in probably 20 years without buckling up. But, we also need to get drivers to slow down. And, we need to redesign unsafe streets to make them safer.


Monday, August 23, 2010

TWLTLs have failed on Needham Street, make room for bikes

Most of the mile of Needham Street is three-lanes: two lanes in each direction sandwiching what is called a two-way left-turn lane or TWLTL. Here's the theory behind a TWLTL. A driver wanting to turn left into one of the abundant driveways along Needham Street pulls into the center lane and waits for a gap in traffic that's going in the opposite direction. Traffic in the same direction can proceed. The turning car doesn't block traffic. And, the turning driver can wait without anxiety until a safe gap for turning appears.

It's a similar theory for a driver making a left turn into traffic. Once the driver has a safe gap in the traffic she's crossing, she can turn into the center lane. From there, she can wait for a gap in the traffic she's joining. The left turn is broken into two elements that don't require simultaneous gaps in both directions.

Great in theory. But, after years of observation on Needham Street, definitely not working in practice. So, the TWLTL is a waste of real estate, real estate that could be put to much better use for bike lanes. No, not bike lanes in the center of the street. Re-stripe to put the travel lanes together and put nice big bike lanes along the curbs.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

McDonald's drive-thru is a bellwether

What does Needham Street want to be when it grows up? Because, right now, it's not one thing or another.

For starters, the Needham Street corridor is one of the economic engines of the city and one of the few areas in the city with real growth potential. But, it is hobbled by some serious traffic issues, many of which stem from -- or are at least exacerbated by -- half-assed, piecemeal development. The city should tread carefully, as decisions made on a lot-by-lot basis may limit what can be accomplished if a vision is ever articulated.

Reasonable people might venture that the best use for Needham Street is to allow or encourage the kind of strip-mall, auto-centric development that exists now. There are already a number of uses that are distinctly auto-centric and pedestrian-unfriendly: drive-in oil-change shop*, a service station, a tire store, and a largish hardware store and lumber yard. Even the uses that could be part of a walkable commercial district are pedestrian-hostile, like the configuration of the New England Mobile Book Fair, International Bicycle Center, and Newbury Comics/Dunkin Donuts**. A drive-thru McDonald's is entirely consistent with the neighborhood.

On the other hand, with the addition of the Avalon apartments and the likely Northland mixed-use development at the west end, it's not just another stretch of strip malls. It's a residential neighborhood. It's now a place that could support -- and be revitalized by -- pedestrian-scaled, walkable commercial areas.

The whole length of Needham Street isn't going to turn into Newbury Street any time soon. But, the parcels nearest to Avalon should certainly be considered for the potential to support a retail streetscape. Adding a drive-thru would make such a streetscape all but impossible.

Again, it's a shame that there is not master plan for the corridor that would allow us to test the drive-thru against a shared vision for Needham Street.

* With another just around the corner on Winchester.

** One of the great missed opportunities in recent years was the failure to have Dunkin Donuts built with a shared parking lot with Newbury Comics. Instead, there are two separate, difficult to use lots with their own curb cuts.


Friday, August 20, 2010

McDonald's drive-thru on Needham Street

Let's start with the bottom line. There shouldn't be a drive-thru McDonald's on Needham Street.

As a general matter, a drive-thru McDonalds promotes driving and the eating of junk food. We want to reduce both. Arguably, the city shouldn't be in the business of regulating what people eat. But, unquestionably, the city has a role in discouraging bad transportation choices.

The more interesting questions involve the impact on Needham Street. It's troubling that there is no agreed-upon vision of Needham Street that would allow us to say, yes or no, a drive-thru is consistent or inconsistent with the vision. Without such a vision, a proposal like this gets addressed outside any context. And, it's context that makes a drive-thru more or less appropriate for Needham Street.

Drive-thru restaurants are inimical to a pedestrian-scaled, destination-type commercial district, with shared parking and clusters of walkable retail. A drive-thru guarantees a single restaurant surrounded by a sea of asphalt. The restaurant is permanently isolated from other retail establishments, making it unlikely that people will park in one place and shop in a few places. The traffic generated by a drive-thru will make the sidewalk less pedestrian-friendly. In short, a drive-thru restaurant, by design, can never be part of -- and discourages the transformation to -- a walkable commercial district.

To be sure, with a couple of minor exceptions, Needham Street is not a walkable commercial district. But, there is no reason it can't be. The immediate impact of adding a drive-thru is probably limited to additional traffic, provided that plans do not include an additional curb cut. After all, this McDonald's is already an island in a sea of asphalt. But, the long-term impact of a drive-thru is to postpone, probably for decades, any possibility that that stretch of Needham Street becomes a walkable commercial district. And, that's a shame.

Keep in mind this McDonald's neighbors: an enormous apartment complex to one side and an office complex to the other. This is an ideal part of the city for a bunch of dense retail. Imagine that, instead of this one McDonald's on this location, there were two restaurants, with a nice sidewalk (with seasonal outdoor seating) and shared parking. And, some retail in front of Avalon. And, ...


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Yup, free parking still costs too much

Economist Tyler Cowen isn't exactly an early-bird to the party, but he makes the case against free parking in a New York Times column:

Is this a serious economic issue? In fact, it’s a classic tale of how subsidies, use restrictions, and price controls can steer an economy in wrong directions. Car owners may not want to hear this, but we have way too much free parking.

Matt Yglesias had a different take on the problem, comparing free and underpriced parking to Soviet-style price controls:

People generally understand that there were shortages and long lines for things in the Soviet Union because goods weren’t priced according to supply and demand. And people generally understand that, in general, price controls will tend to lead to either gluts or shortages. And yet few people understand that this same principle applies to on-street parking. In many places, it’s hard to find and that’s because it’s not priced properly.

More food for thought.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Unsafe riding will get you killed

While it's not an open-and-shut case of reckless riding, first person accounts on Universal Hub of the crash that killed 24-year-old swim coach Marly Pineda in Brighton make it highly likely. Not for the feint of heart.

I was the 1st car at the red light looking to go straight onto Kelton Street. There were no cars at the red light coming from Kelton but one was driving from a distance. The light turned green, and just like anyone coming up to a green light, the car just proceeded to drive through the intersection as he should. Right when he got to the cross walk a biker (girl, mid-late 20's) FLEW through the intersection with no caution whatsoever and got SMOKED by the car!

Also here:

I saw it too. Was waiting at the red light on Comm Ave. The driver from Kelton Street didn't have a chance to react. The bicyclist came from nowhere, way too fast down the Comm. Ave hill, and ran the red light. The driver was not going fast, and the driver had the green light.

If these accounts are accurate, the young woman was riding at a good clip, didn't see anyone in a limited field of vision, and went through the intersection, which others describe as among the worst in Boston.

Does it really need to be said? If you're not careful on a bike in traffic you could get killed.


Car hits bike at Horace James Circle

Fortunately, the cyclist was not badly injured. But, Horace James is not a friendly place for non-motorists.

More on Hammond Pond Parkway and Horace James to come ...

Via Universal Hub.


To every rule, there is an exception -- angry driver edition

Okay, it's not just the inattentive who pose a risk to cyclists. An angry motorist drove through a Brookline park chasing after a cyclist before being stopped by the police.

Via Universal Hub.


The kids are all right

Friend of NS&S Andrea Downs has a neat article on about how four school kids got the town to set a $50 fine for blocking a bike lane. We suggest enforcement start on Beacon Street between Park Drive and St. Mary's Place.

Seems hard to imagine, though, that there wasn't any fine before the lads started lobbying.


Two types of drivers

One of the best t-shirts I've seen in years:

There are 10 types of people in the world.
Those who get this t-shirt and those who don't.

But, I digress.

From a cynical cyclist's perspective, there are two types of drivers:

  • Those who hate us
  • Those who are going to kill us

I had this insight the other day as a commercial van driver in the lane I was in honked at me. The people who get angry at bikes honk, which is tedious. But, the angry drivers are rarely -- in my experience -- the ones who are involved in close calls. Most people just aren't homicidal.

Almost to a person, the people who cut me off, are abjectly apologetic. "Sorry, I just didn't see you." That also seems to be the case in the recent car v. bike incidents where the cyclist was not at fault.

The notion, if generally true, that the inattentive driver, not the hostile driver, is the greater threat to cyclists has important implications for both the we've-just-got-to-get-along crowd and the same streets/same rules approach. The get-along advocates stress the need for mutual respect. But, a lack of respect doesn't make streets unsafe for cyclists, it's a lack of attention. And, there is no logical causal connection between bad cyclist behavior and inattentiveness. It just doesn't make sense that a driver, consciously or otherwise, is going to decide to be inattentive as a response, for instance, to seeing cyclists ride through red lights. ("Damn those two-wheeled scofflaws! Next right turn I take, I'm definitely not looking in my side-view mirror!")

The same streets/same rules advocates suggest that mutual respect for existing rules will make the roads safer and calmer. It's not clear that existing rules prevent conflicts. The driver who ran over a bicyclist on Comm. Ave., for instance, was not cited and the cyclist was blamed though he was engaged in perfectly legal conduct. And, any policy that relies on strict adherence to the laws of the road is bound to fail. Motorists and bicyclists routinely flout the law. (More on that in another post.)

The reality is that bikes and cars are radically different beasts and engage in radically different behaviors on shared roadways. To prevent incidents, we need to do what we can to separate bikes from cars. And, we need both motorists and bicyclists to understand and recognize the opportunities for potential bike v. car conflict and avoid them. The potential bike v. car conflicts are different than car v. car conflicts. The specifics of the rules are almost irrelevant, especially by focusing on the rules that are the same. Ultimately, the same/same philosophy masks or distracts from the need for motorists to engage the road differently than they have before. And, it falsely suggests that law-abiding is all that bicyclists need to do to stay safe.

You don't have to like me. Just don't kill me.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Pedestrian ahead!

Speed and proximity. They are the two factors that lead to both pedestrian anxiety about and actual bike v. pedestrian conflict. If you are walking and a bike whizzes right by your shoulder, it's disconcerting and unpleasant. A person on foot is highly maneuverable (no momentum) and may dart left or right or stop suddenly without warning. So, there is a high risk of a bad outcome.

People on bikes are bigger than pedestrians -- bike plus biker plus gear -- and less forgiving. And, bikes are faster. Keep in mind that the squared variable in mv2 is v, velocity. So, bikes have a special obligation to watch out for and take care of pedestrians when sharing the road (as in crosswalks) or shared paths.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently because, as previously noted, I've been riding the paths along the Charles River to accommodate camp drop-off for Princess NS&S. (I really did get stung, I didn't really give up the bucolic route!) I'm following two simple rules that I encourage others to follow:

  1. Give a wide berth when passing a pedestrian, particularly from behind
  2. If you can't give a wide berth, slow to just faster than the person you're passing

What's a wide berth? Depends on the speed, but at least three feet and ideally five feels right.

What about yelling "On the right/left"? If you need to warn the person you're passing that you're passing, you're going too fast or coming too close. Plus, in my experience, yelling something just heightens the risk that the person will do something unpredictable. (Does he want me to move left? Is he coming on my left?) And, it's just downright annoying.

When I'm riding in traffic and a driver honks just to warn me that he's behind me, it's aggravating. I'm in traffic. I know cars are going to pass, I don't need to be reminded. And, if it's a dangerous situation, slow down until you have room to pass slowly. I feel the same way as a pedestrian among bikers. Get by me safely ... and silently ... or cool your jets.

Finally, the anxiety and risk created by a high speed differential between bikers and pedestrians makes most shared paths a lousy place for faster riders. We should stick to the streets or just take our time.


Sharon Tramer

I was surprised and saddened to learn yesterday of the death on Monday of Sharon Tramer.

Sharon was a Bike/Ped Task Force stalwart and a regular at our monthly meetings. A lovely woman with a ready laugh, she cared deeply about making Newton better for bicyclists and pedestrians, especially children and the elderly. And, she was optimistic that through hard work and with good intentions we really can make a difference.

Sharon was also active in Newton Safe Routes to School and WalkBoston.

She'll be missed.

WalkBoston sent this e-mail, which includes visiting hour and memorial service information:

We are sorry to share the news of the death of Sharon Tramer, a long-time WalkBoston board member. Sharon passed away on Monday, August 9th, 2010. She was an active advocate, assisting in nearly all of our annual meetings, hosting walks and serving on the Newton Safe Routes to School Taskforce. We remember Sharon warmly as an enthusiastic and supportive contributor at our many events, especially in our early, formative years.

Visiting hours and a memorial service will be held on Friday, August 13 at the Faggas Funeral Home in Watertown at 551 Mt. Auburn Street. Visiting hours are from 1 - 3 and a memorial service from 3 - 5.

We extend our condolences to Sharon's friends and family, and we will miss her.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Irony of Same Roads, Same Rules

The Same Roads, Same Rules campaign was prompted in part by the fatal bicycle accident of Eric Michael Hunt last April 7.

Yet Eric's accident illustrates just why the roads are not the same: he apparently got his wheels caught in the trolley tracks.

The same physical road surface is experienced differently by bicyclists than it is by motorists.

The same track or pothole that is scarcely noticeable to a motorist may be fatal to a bicyclist.


Good outcome, wrong mechanism

So, according to Ted Hess-Mahan*, Land Use co-erced Pie into paying for custom bike racks as a condition of a special permit waiving the parking requirement for more seats:

For its special permit, Pie agreed to pay for custom bike racks in Newton Centre. Check out the fork, knife & spoon.

Good that Newton Centre is getting some more bike racks. The novelty bike racks are fun. There is a nice symmetry here: Pie gets seats not by providing car parking, but bike parking. In fact, it suggests a re-write to the ordinance. Allow the parking requirement to be filled with either car or bike parking.

But, in the end, it really is the city's obligation to provide bike racks. And, a decent outcome doesn't change the fact that the parking requirement is out-dated, counter-productive, and bad for our village centers. Using a bad regulation to coerce a small-business owner to donate a bike rack does not equal good government.

Where are they going to go? That's a narrow sidewalk. (If they could get Bank of America to put them on their property near the drive-thru exit, fabulous.)

*This Tweeter Twitter thing is pretty nifty!


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pie-prosal passes Land Use

Ted Hess-Mahan tweets:

It took longer than I thought it would, but Newton's Land Use Committee voted to recommend approval of special permits for Fiorella's & Pie.

Don't know what conditions they extracted from Pie, but another step in the direction of sane parking policy (if not actually sane rules).

For those counting at home, that's three parking waivers in Newton Centre in the last several months. The next step is to remove the requirement for a waiver.


Monday, August 9, 2010

The $40K man

Beyond the jaw-dropping fact that somebody would spend $40,000 in an effort to block bike lanes, there's not much to the Globe story about Eric Berger, the Arlington man who doesn't like that town's plans to make Mass. Ave. more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. He doesn't think the plans are a good idea. He's spent all that money trying -- unsuccessfully -- to stop them.

Some irony in Berger's claim that the nearby (and parallel) Minuteman trail is so well-established that on-street accommodations on Mass. Ave. are not necessary.


San Francisco adopts demand-based meter pricing

San Francisco's meter prices will vary based on location and time of day to reflect demand for the spaces. Appears to be the largest-scale implementation of a Donald Shoup's fundamentally simple proposition: too low meter prices lead to sub-optimal use of parking spaces.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Car-free Crystal Lake -- tomorrow from 1 to 4

Thanks to the good efforts of Alderman John Rice -- and sponsored by the Bike/Ped Task Force, Bike Newton, and the Newtonville Neighborhood Council -- Lake Avenue will be closed to cars and trucks from 1 to 4 tomorrow. (The sign is waiting to fulfill its destiny closing off the street.)

This is the first of a series of street closings John's organizing. Such car-free events are known globally as cyclovia and locally as NewtonStreets (we're flattered!).

So, tomorrow, go out and enjoy Crystal Lake in a whole new way!


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Battered Biker Syndrome

A driver chatting on a cellphone almost hit Jonathan Simmons, the Globe's On Biking columnist. When confronted, she told him he had no business on the road. His response? He wrote a column wondering how biker behavior has contributed to the "road rage" and proposing a 10-point share-the-road pledge, six of which points apply exclusively to bikes and one of which applies only to pedestrians.

Let's break this down. Biker nearly gets killed. Biker promises to make drivers less angry.

These are classic symptoms of someone in an abusive relationship. You harm me or threaten to harm me. It must be something I'm doing. I'll be a better person. Promise.

Suggesting that there is some causal relationship between cyclists' behavior and the woman's potentially fatal actions is just wrong. Let's be clear. There is absolutely no behavior on the part of a cyclist that excuses or explains a motorist putting a cyclist in jeopardy. There is nothing that cyclists do that excuses or explains a motorist being ignorant of cyclists' right to the road.


Certainly, there are cyclists out there doing things that are wrong and things that are technically illegal. Let's identify and address those behaviors. But let's not even suggest that those behaviors somehow justify the anti-bicycle sentiment that's demonstrably out there on the road. Especially -- and this also reflective of abusive relationships -- because of the inherent power differential in the motorist/biker relationship: motorists' attitudes and behaviors can get a cyclist killed or seriously injured.

Perhaps most importantly, its foolish to think that drivers are going to respect cyclists and give them plenty of safe cushion if we could just convince those pesky two-wheeled scofflaws to stop at red lights. Dangerous driving, road rage, and rampant violations of the rules of the road pre-date the recent surge in bicycling. Cyclists have just become another target for the bad actors in our car-dominated culture.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Dangers of off-road bike paths

After dropping Princess NS&S off at camp at the New Arts Center (she loves it!), for the first time in months, I took the path along the river to get to East Cambridge. My reward: a bee sting.

It can't be coincidence. I'm sticking to the streets!


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer Reading

Before I go sit on a beach for a week, I thought I'd provide everyone with some summer reading: 31 resources (web pages, government guidelines, local and state planning documents, peer-reviewed engineering and medical journal articles) about making Newton more bicycle friendly.

(cross-posted at Newton Bikes.)