Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chestnut Hill Square -- designed in danger

Probably the key connection in the entire Chestnut Hill Square plan is a connection not made: the connection between the north retail building (A) that runs along Boylston St./Rte. 9 and the residential/retail building (B) to the south and east.

In its pedestrian circulation plan (the image above), New England Development has not include a crossing between the two buildings. While it seems odd to leave out such a short and obvious crossing, it's a matter of safety: a crosswalk there would be too close to the development entrance.

Omitting a crossing, NED is proposing that people wishing to go from A to B will go south through the parking lot to the south retail, cross two driveways, and walk down the residential retail building. In fact, one of three things will happen, two of them bad. As NED hopes, some people will take the long march, which will keep them on foot, in the development, and a little healthier. More likely, people will be put off by the hike and not go to both spots in the same trip, which is bad for the development.

But some people will act like pedestrians often do, and simply cross the driveway. While pedestrian accommodations encourage walking, the lack of accommodations don't necessarily prevent walking. For an illustration of this truth, just wait a few minutes along any major street in Newton when sidewalks full of snow force people on foot into the road.

By creating demand for a crossing at a spot that they say is too dangerous to provide a crossing, NED has designed in a dangerous situation. The developer ought to be obligated to eliminate the danger.

Fortunately, the solution seems to be straightforward: create an overlap between the north retail building and the residential/retail building farther away from the development entrance, by moving the north retail building south (into the site), making the north retail building deeper, by creating a deeper sidewalk-cum-pedestrian plaza, or some combination of all three. Moving the whole building south is consistent with providing a better sidewalk along Boylston. Making the building deeper is consistent with breaking the two buildings into one to relieve the blank facade along Boylston.

But, somehow, NED has to connect the dots.


Possible gas tax reform

According to this Josh Barro post, there's a compromise under consideration in Washington that would extend the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a switch to an ad valoremgas tax. The misguided priorities and the deficit havoc of the Bush tax cuts are beyond the NS&S jurisdiction, but adoption of an ad valoremgas tax would be a step in the right direction.

Currently, the federal and state gas taxes are fixed: the federal tax is 18.4 cents-a-gallon. Meanwhile, gas prices have gone up.

Really, this change shouldn't be thought of as a tax increase - instead, think of it as canceling the annual gas tax cut. The federal gasoline tax hasn't been raised since 1993, when it was set at 18.4 cents per gallon. That means it has fallen by a third in real terms over that period - if the tax had kept pace with CPI, it would sit at 27.8 cents per gallon today.

In the meantime, "spending on road construction and maintenance grew almost exactly in line with the economy from 1994 to 2008 - a 102 percent increase." As a consequence, "[f]ederal, state and local governments grew road spending faster than road revenues by borrowing more and by diverting general tax revenues to spend on roads."

It's just math. Federal and state gas taxes are too low.

Read the whole post. Barro has some excellent analysis of the relationship between road and highway spending and related revenues.

Ultimately, though, simply stemming the backward march of gas-tax revenue is not enough. We need to make up lost ground. We need to account for the impact of increased fuel economy. And, we need to capture more of the costs of driving from those who drive (or consume goods that have been shipped). One of the virtues of switching to an ad valorem gas tax, though, is that it has no immediate impact, but preps for the future.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection J

The predominant features of Chestnut Hill Square as proposed are a big blank wall along Boylston St./Rte. 9 and a big parking lot surrounded by strip-mall like retail. It's not a very friendly pedestrian model.

It is not overstating the case to call the back side of the retail building along Boylston St. blight. Combined with the widening of Boylston St. to 8 lanes, it's a complete sacrifice of the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists in favor of car traffic. It's hard to imagine how it could be worse.

While the predominant problem is the design's mean sidewalk hard up against traffic, part of the problem is the sheer length of the blank wall along Boylston. If the single building were simply broken into two, with a nice gap, it would be more pleasant to walk along and would provide an alternative route for pedestrian circulation.

Vast parking lots with retail on the sides are the apotheosis of car-centric design. It doesn't get much more pedestrian hostile. New England Development attempts to mitigate that with two pedestrian boulevards (B and C) from the south retail strip to the north. As noted, the boulevards don't really enhance the connectivity of the residential/retail building to the north retail building.

There are two different purposes that the boulevards are intended to serve. Theoretically, they allow or encourage people to park in one spot and then shop in multiple buildings. It just doesn't seem likely that a shopper is going to come to Chestnut Hill Square, go to one building, and then wander down the boulevard to the other side of the development. More likely is the case of someone who walks from off the property who uses the boulevard to get to a destination on the other side of the property.

Since the latter is the more likely use case, why not just have a single, wider, more appealing pedestrian boulevard (D)?

Combine a gap along Boylston St. (A) with a single pedestrian boulevard (D) and the result would be an organizational spine connecting Boylston St. to the pedestrian plaza feature at the south buildings (E) and on to the proper entrance from Florence St. (F). Such a spine would greatly mitigate the car-centricity of the site.

Splitting the front building in two and moving the store side farther north would have an interesting collateral benefit. It would create an overlap with the residential/retail sufficiently removed from the development entrance to allow for a crosswalk, curing the present design's isolation of the residential/retail building and solving the pedestrian circulation issues identified here. It would also solve a concern raised by the developer's traffic consultant of traffic turning left (east) to enter the parking lot near the north retail building possibly causing back ups to Boylston St. This design would move the left turn farther from the entrance, allowing more queuing space.


Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection G

The best connection of the proposed site is at the northwestern corner. Not coincidentally, it's also the most prominent corner for visitors arriving by car. But, there are still serious unmet challenges to good pedestrian access and circulation.

Ideally, the retail in the north building would have Boylston St./Rte. 9 as its front. Barring that, getting to the north retail (E) from the northwest corner is as direct as it could be. A to D is a straight line. The walk along from D to E isn't short, but it promises to be a much more friendly path than it's northeast counterpart.

There is a substantial entrance at D. The entrance at D seems designed to catch the attention of drivers, but it provides a collateral benefit to pedestrians. A building front, with glass and doors, is much more hospitable to pedestrians than the building's back. Plus, there's no dumpster or loading dock along this side of the building. And, of course, pedestrians can enter at least one store right at D!

What's definitely not good is the sidewalk in front of David's (B). Currently, there is a very wide shoulder and a very wide grass berm between the sidewalk and traffic. When New England Development is done with its widening, the only thing between pedestrians and traffic will be a measly 2' shoulder. Again, New England Development is making things substantially worse for pedestrians. Pedestrians need more room than a bare-minimally ADA compliant 5' wide sidewalk and a tire-width shoulder.

Also unfortunate, there is no way to get directly from the northwest corner to the residental/retail building (F). A nice direct path would be along the Capital Grille property. All that's missing is a paved section at G and a crosswalk at H. Given how direct this path is, it's hard to imagine that people won't use it, even without a paved section or crosswalk.

Another option would be to provide a sidewalk on the west side of the main driveway (I) and a crosswalk across the residential/retail building's driveway (J). Because the sidewalk along B is so crummy and because the path along the Capital Grille is so much better, this is an much less attractive alternative.

What's to be done here?

  • Make the sidewalk in front of David's no worse than it is now. There should be an equally wide grass berm. While there's no way that the shoulder will be as wide, the developer should compensate with some street trees.

  • Make the connection along the Capital Grille building. A small section of sidewalk and a crosswalk will pay big dividends.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection F

Chestnut Hill Square needs to connect to all of its neighbors. And, there is a terrific -- unmet -- opportunity to connect to the Capital Grille/office building to the west. Fortunately, capitalizing on the opportunity shouldn't be that difficult.

The office building (A) is just feet from the residential/retail building. But, there's no accommodation across the driveway (B). That seems like a no-brainer. Add a crosswalk at B.

Once on the residential/retail building's sidewalks, the office workers would have the same difficulties discussed here. There's no way to easily cross to the north retail building because there's no accommodation at C.

Whether heading to the north or south retail, the workers have the challenges discussed here. They will have to cross the driveway (as proposed, unaccommodated), pass by the dumpster, and then recross the driveway to get to the south retail/grocery/medical office/fitness center and, perhaps, wind their way back north to the north retail building, via the long and circuitous route described here.

The route from the office building to the south complex could be made considerably easier and more direct by establishing a sidewalk along the southish/westish side (E) of the residential/retail driveway, which is also discussed here.

Once the office workers are across the driveway, the share the same problems as other pedestrians starting from the southwest corner or from the residences. But, crossing to the residential/retail building could be easier. And a sidewalk could remove the need for two crossings and make a nicer, more direct route to the south complex.


Wouldn't it be just as simple to wear a helmet?

Airbag helmet. Video has to be seen to be believed.

Would make a good supplement to a helmet, though.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

First do no harm -- CHS and sidewalks

Not only does the proposed design for Chestnut Hill Square fail to make things better for pedestrians along Boylston St./ Rte. 9, it makes things worse. Substantially worse.

All things considered, things aren't that bad for pedestrians along the site. There's an enormous shoulder between the travel lane and the sidewalk. There's a decent grass buffer. And, there are bushes and trees.

Things aren't great along the Mall at Chestnut Hill side (the north side). But, there is, effectively, a big gap between the travel lanes and the sidewalk.

The proposed plan is going to bring traffic right up to the sidewalk. The sidewalk is going to be no wider than is required by the ADA. And, on the south side, the sidewalk will be hard up against the back of a building, with no windows at the street level.

Making things worse for pedestrians is not a Complete Streets-approach to traffic design.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chestnut Hill Square -- sidewalks along Boylston/Route 9

At tonight's Land Use working session, Deb Crossley asked a good series of questions. Why aren't the sidewalks along Route 9 wider? Why aren't there street trees and buffers? She wants the sidewalks to be attractive enough to encourage pedestrians.

New England Development's traffic engineer Jeff Dirks answer suggests that the developer's hands are bound. They are restricted by right-of-way, utilities, and ADA requirement of 5-foot sidewalks.

That's just not true. What's preventing wider sidewalks are the extra travel lanes and the position of the northern building. Dollars to donuts, the state would have allowed them to widen the sidewalk and add buffering on the northern side. And, the design of the southern sidewalk is completely up to NED. They are building travel lanes on their own property. They could just as easily make wide sidewalks in addition to or instead of travel lanes.

The city should demand top-level sidewalks.


NYC-bound buses returning to Riverside

Buses to New York City returning to Riverside Station. And, cheap.


Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection E

You can't really talk about the pedestrian connections at the southwest corner of the Chestnut Hill Square site without talking about the internal circulation from the entrance to the residences. What starts well, ends badly.

Be sure to click on the images to see them full-size.

There is a nice, protected, tree-lined pedestrian path (A) from Florence St. to the driveway in front of the residences (B). But, there is nothing that will bring pedestrians to the path. There are no sidewalks on Florence on either side of the path (C) and (D). And there's no crosswalk connecting to the other side of Florence. It's sort of a path from nowhere. (Or, to nowhere if you live in the residences.)

The crosswalk at B seems fine, but, do they really need a 20-foot wide driveway?

While this path is fine to the residences, what do you do if you want to go to the other retail buildings? Having crossed the driveway, pedestrians will have to walk by the dumpster and loading dock (G), re-cross the driveway they've just crossed, and then cross a driveway (F) over to the other retail building.

Why not just have a sidewalk (preferably wide and tree-lined) on the other side of the driveway (E) and avoid the over-and-back driveway crossings and the pass by the dumpster/loading zone?

It gets really crazy imagining the path from the southwest corner to the retail building along Boylston St./Route 9. For those of you counting at home, that's five driveway crossings along a very circuitous route, much of which is through the parking lot. It's likely that people will cross over at H, which has no pedestrian accommodation.

It's not just folks coming off the site who face a long, circuitous route to the front retail building. It's the route for residents, too.

There is another way to get from the residence/retail block: across a raised crosswalk (I). But, that doesn't connect to the other buildings. It's the primary route from the parking lot to the residence/retail block, particularly for those using handicap spots.

It's too bad. It's the best driveway crossing on the site because it incorporates a raised crosswalk. Because it is more direct, this may become a unplanned for, but used path. Better to plan for it and add accommodations across the parking lot to the nearer cross-parking lot walkway.

The final use case to consider is the resident who wants to walk to the west, to the Atrium or Imperial Towers. According to the plan, this (above) is the route the resident is supposed to take. Crazy.

If there were a crossing and a sidewalk along the west side of the entrance (J), the route would be much more direct.

Even better, put a crossing at K and a sidewalk along entrance along the David's property, which entrance the developer controls (so is free to squeeze in a sidewalk).

The best solution would be to take advantage of the existing sidewalks and crossings along the Capital Grille building. It would be a nice direct path. All that would be needed is a sidewalk from the Capital Grille driveway to the Boylston St. sidewalk (L). Obviously, the developer doesn't control what happens on the Capital Grille lot, but the option should be explored. In the worst case, NED should create a connection to the Capital Grille lot (more on that later), that could be completed later.

The takeaways on this section of the site:

  • The whole plan needs more sidewalks -- along Florence Street, along the residence driveway, along one of the entrances from Boylston St./Route 9

  • More crossings, particularly to connect the residences to the north retail building

  • The design needs to better address explicit use cases: this person getting from a specific point A to a specific point B. For example, from the residences to Imperial Towers.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection D

While the planned pedestrian connection in the southeast corner of the proposed Chestnut Hill Square site is an unmitigated disaster, there is a potential solution: create a pedestrian entrance at the point along the property closest to an internal sidewalk.

Sacrifice a parking spot or two, and there could be an entrance that is a short hop across the parking lot to the sidewalk (A). Given the contour of Florence St., it wouldn't add much length to the walk to avoid the straight shot across the parking lot (B) for the more attractive, safer, and more comfortable route to the crossing at A (represented by the orange line).

It would require more than just creating a sidewalk along Florence St., an entrance, and a crosswalk. The sidewalk that pedestrians would land on is pretty mean (C) and could stand to be widened. But, it does lead straight to the pedestrian plaza that NED touts as the core of the development.

Maybe I'm missing something, but this seems like a no-brainer.


Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection C

Chestnut Hill Square's connection to the southeast simply fails. How does someone from the neighborhood get to the grocery store? To the residences? To the bus stop? Especially with the entrance to the parking lot closed, there's simply no safe, comfortable, and attractive access to the site from the southeast.

As noted earlier, even New England Development's own circulation plan drops pedestrians at the edge of the parking lot, to fend for themselves (A). Not only is it the edge of the parking lot, it's probably the spot along the southern border of the site that is most distant from any sidewalk ... it's the longest possible walk across a parking lot.

There's no provision for a sidewalk to accommodate any neighbors traveling along the north side of Florence Street (B) ... from as far away as the apartments on Hammond Pond Parkway or as close as the building next door. And, there's no sidewalk on the other side of the so-called pedestrian entrance (C). There is no excuse for not having a sidewalk along a commercial property.

This whole section indicates that NED didn't even try.

Fortunately, this one would be easy to solve: a pedestrian entrance at the point where the street is closest to the sidewalk.


Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection B

The eastern edge of the development is a bit of a no-man's land, and shows the best and the worst of New England Development's pedestrian accommodations.

On the one hand, it demonstrates the openness to connection with whatever gets developed -- if it gets developed -- to replace the Barnes & Noble and Milton's buildings. It would have been great if those properties were part of a whole master plan. And, NED's design hardly constitutes a master plan. But, it does signal that NED isn't going to prevent CHS's eastern neighbors from joining the party.

On the other hand, it could have been more.

It's an okay place for a crosswalk, bringing pedestrians to the sidewalk (A) of the south retail/commercial building. But, it's really limited to connecting to parking spaces (B). There's a grade change along to the back of the site, but C could have included a nice, protected sidewalk.


Helmet-less Tom Brady

Wearing a helmet is a good thing. With a few exceptions, I haven't been on my bike in 15 years without one. Won't let the kids ride without them.

But, we can take things a little too far. Tom Brady pacing his son as he rides a scooter. Probably not essential that he wear a helmet. It's great that he's out riding.

Call off the dogs.


Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection A

The northeast corner of the Chestnut Hill Square lot is a good measure of New England Development's commitment to pedestrians. It's not great.

There is potentially meaningful pedestrian traffic to that corner: from Avalon, from the apartment buildings on Hammond Pond Parkway, from next door at Barnes & Noble and Milton's. Yet, there is no sense of the corner as a gateway or main entrance to the site. This is in striking comparison to the northwest corner, which is treated like a gateway, largely because it's the corner that motorists are likely to see.

It appears that the principal route is meant to be along Boylston St./Route 9 to the entrance/exit, along the side of the north retail building, and onto the retail sidewalk. (Avalon is to the left in the bottom of the following diagrams.)

It would be better if there were only a single lane of traffic to cross (A). But, at least there's a pedestrian refuge. There doesn't appear to be very good sight lines for cars coming off Boylston turning left into the site (B). So, that crossing might be a bit hairy.

But, once across the entrance/exit, pedestrians are ill-treated. It's a mean little sidewalk with no street trees or other vegetation to separate people from cars (C). It takes the pedestrian past first the building dumpster (D) and then the building loading dock (E).

It seems likely that pedestrians may choose to take a slightly more direct, and likely safer route.

While there is no crosswalk at A, it's not likely to have a lot of traffic. There's no refuge at B, but cars will undoubtedly be going slower than they would at the corner above (also B).

Taking this route, pedestrians avoid the dumpster, but not the loading dock (C).

As with the "main" route, there is a distinct lack of green -- trees, lawn, bushes.

The most successful aspect of this corner is the direct connection to the Barnes & Noble and Milton's sidewalk. To New England Development's credit, they have not created any obstacles to connection with neighboring properties (even if they haven't exploited all the potential).

There's a nice crosswalk from sidewalk to sidewalk (A). But, pedestrians will still have to cross in front of the loading dock (B).


In an ideal world, the retail space would be facing Boylston Street, and this would be a whole different design. (More on that in a later post.) But, given this retail configuration, this entrance to the site needs to be safer, more comfortable, and more attractive for pedestrians. Specifically:

  • Open up the east end of the north building with an entrance similar to the west entrance

  • Wider sidewalks

  • Green -- trees, lawn, shrubbery -- between the sidewalk and the street

  • A crosswalk across the Milton's lot entrance (A in the middle diagram)

  • Raise the crosswalk across the driveway (A in the last diagram)

  • Better camouflage the dumpster and the loading dock


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Toward a unified rule for biking safely

Biking on the road can be complicated -- and, obviously, dangerous. There are a lot of different situations, which require different kinds of alertness and preparedness. But, there are a bunch of problems that can be avoided by following one simple rule: when car traffic slows, watch out!

How could the woman on bike avoid hitting the man on foot yesterday? The report indicates that traffic had stopped. Traffic doesn't stop just to give cyclists a reminder of how much more efficient biking can be. Traffic stops for some activity that's likely going to have an impact on the bicyclist. In this case, traffic stopped for a pedestrian in the crosswalk. In the case of the man hit this summer at Beacon and Grant, traffic stopped to allow an eastbound car to turn left on Grant into the path of the cyclist. In the case of the woman hit on Beacon and St. Thomas More, traffic stopped to allow a car to turn.

Whatever traffic is stopping for either poses a potential threat to a cyclist (a turning car) or is a potential victim for a cyclist (a pedestrian entering the roadway). If you're on a bike, be ready to stop, get hit, or hit someone else.

Abiding the rule is not going to prevent every harm. It won't protect you from getting hit from behind or doored. But, it covers a lot of situations.


Car-shaped bike rack

A neat rack that makes a statement.

From Inhabitat


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pedestrian circulation at Chestnut Hill Square

There are eight potential points of connection between Chestnut Hill Square and its neighbors and various issues of internal pedestrian connectivity. I'm going to address each separately and then update this post with links.

The connection points:

  • Between the residential building and the other buildings (H)
  • Between the residential building and the various connection points listed above (H)
  • Between the two commercial buildings (I)
  • Along Boylston St. (J)


More car on pedestrian crime

Reports that a pedestrian hit an eighth-grader was crossing Beacon at Hancock (no crosswalk). An older driver didn't see him. The boy ended up with a broken nose.


Bike on pedestrian crime

A 24-year-old woman on a bike hit a 61-year-old man on foot and in a crosswalk on Beacon (presumably) near BC. Presumably because the Wicked Local Bike Blog (didn't even know there was one) says the cyclist was in a crosswalk in Newton.

There is no excuse for a cyclist hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk, especially when traffic has stopped for the pedestrian. The kinetic energy of a cyclist can mean serious injury to a pedestrian. Cyclists have to take care to make sure that they don't put pedestrians in jeopardy -- or even cause anxiety with close calls.


Monday, October 4, 2010

An irony that never gets old

New England Development insists on the necessity for two left-turn lanes to handle traffic volumes, but publishes a picture of Boylston Street with just five westbound cars and six eastbound cars along the entire length of the development.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

CHS Pedestrian Plan -- on NED's terms

An analysis of pedestrian accommodations really ought to start with New England Development's own Pedestrian Circulation plan. The picture does not tell a good story. Assuming that all the planned pedestrian circulation is high-quality (it's not), on its own terms the pedestrian circulation plan is inadequate.

The picture above is NED's own submission to the city. (I added the letters A-E.) Click on it for a larger version. Go here for NED's original, without the letters.

Neighbors from the south and east are essentially not provided for. The pedestrian path stops ominously at the edge of a huge parking lot. See A. And, surprisingly, there is no accommodation at the point on Florence St. closest to the grocery store building. See B.

What's really disappointing -- and odd -- is the failure to connect the planned residential building with the rest of the development. NED itself is saying that there is no direct pedestrian connection between the residential building and Retail C (the building along Boylston St./Rte. 9). See C. If someone who lives in the residential building wants to walk to a store or restaurant in the Retail C building, she's expected to cross two drives to get to Retail B and then cross a big parking lot to get to Retail C. Another oddness, there is a raised crosswalk from the parking lot to the residential building, apparently to satisfy handicap parking requirements, but not otherwise integrated into the pedestrian circulation. See D.

And, there's no pedestrian connection to the Capital Grille building at all. See E. If integration is going to mean anything, then there needs to be integration to all of CHS's neighbors. Certainly, we would hope and expect that people who work in the Capital Grille building would eat in the CHS restaurants, use the CHS health club, and shop in the CHS shops. They need to be able to walk.

This is not good pedestrian circulation. It's not good integration. And, the story gets even worse when you look at the quality of the pedestrian connections.


Road diet in Cambridge

While we're considering adding lanes to turn a portion of Boylston St. (Rte. 9) into a super-highway, Cambridge is taking a lane out of Galileo Way in Cambridge. Earlier this year, Boston took travel lanes out in and around Kendall Square to make way for bike lanes.

Sure Newton is heading in the right direction on this?