September 28, 2004

Sprawl Makes Us Sick

"[D]ata from about 8,600 people in 38 metro areas ... found their ailments increased directly in proportion to the amount of sprawl to which they were exposed. Among the most common health complaints were asthma, arthritis, headaches and high blood pressure — some of the most prevalent, but preventable, illnesses," concludes the Atlanta Journal Constitution, commenting on a study published in Public Health.

"Spending hours every week stuck in grinding traffic — getting very little exercise and breathing polluted air — can make you sick. . . .

"One of the study's most surprising findings was that those living in denser, more walkable communities tend to live four years longer than their sprawl-stressed peers. By taking steps to address the health effects of sprawl, we have an opportunity to improve the quality of life in our communities while having more time to enjoy it."

September 25, 2004

Mall Adds Outdoor Dining, Activity Areas

"It's back to the future for Northgate, as Durham's oldest enclosed shopping mall opens new outdoor space for dining and gatherings and brings back movies after a 20-year absence," the Herald-Sun reports from North Carolina. The revamped area of the mall "will be ringed by outside entrances to shops and restaurants, which could feature outdoor seating."

Mall managing general partner Ginny Bowman told the paper: "Everybody's trying to be more pedestrian-friendly, and it's hard to do that when you have a wall of back doors..."

Is *everyone* trying to make a more appealing environment for walkers? Let's see what the new Natick Mall designs look like. Reminder: Simply installing sidewalks is not enough.

Rally For Car-Free Central Park Loop

In a place like Manhattan, a park should offer an oasis away from motorized traffic -- not allow cars on the park loop! And now, activists are battling to return Central Park loop drive "to its original car-free state." About 75,000 New Yorkers have signed a petition seeking to reserve the loop for pedestrians and bicyclists. A rally is planned on Oct. 26.

September 23, 2004

Wellesley Development To Stress Walkability

"The company developing one of Wellesley's largest and busiest tracts of commercial property says it hopes to turn the jumble of asphalt and random buildings into a pedestrian-friendly downtown area," according to the Boston Globe.

The project, on 18.5 acres of Linden Street, would include both housing and retail. Work isn't scheduled to begin until early 2006.

Paris Hosts Car-Free Day

The French capital yesterday hosted "the annual car-free day it launched six years ago and which is now copied by 1,100 other cities, most of them in Europe," AFP reports. Car-free day came just several days before the annual Paris Auto Show is set to open this weekend.

The left-leaning Paris city government has tried to reduce the influence of private motor vehicles there, adding bus lanes and bicycle paths. It's also considering banning large SUVs.

But the more conservative national government is much less enthusiastic about the effort, AFP says. "As a result, the car-free day introduced in 1998 by the then-Socialist government is in decline. In 2002, 98 French cities and towns participated. Last year, it was 72."

More than a thousand other communities in Europe joined the effort to discourage auto use. However, some were less successful than others. "The Automobile Association has confirmed that European Car Free Day turned out to be the busiest day of the month so far on Dublin's roads," one Irish news site reports.

September 19, 2004

$800M ‘Mini-City’ Planned For Ventura County, Calif.

"The $800-million RiverPark mini-city, the largest mixed-use project in Ventura County history, is set for official groundbreaking Tuesday with the dedication of a new elementary school and a fire station, and the unveiling of a smaller, redesigned business core," the Los Angeles Times reports.

When finished, the project is expected to include 7,500 residents and 1.2 million square feet of retail and commercial space.

"Taken together, developers have pledged well over $100 million in public benefits: three schools, a fire station, a county maintenance facility, a vital sewer extension into El Rio and a hiking trail along the Santa Clara River. They also plan to upgrade nearby roadways, convert three huge gravel pits into water recharge basins and build 392 affordable or low-income housing units."

Original plans for a traditional "Main Street" design have been changed "to a tonier shopping promenade," the paper notes.

September 17, 2004

Will It Play In Peoria?

"A public technology magnet school, chic restaurants and shops along Main Street near Bradley University, neighborhoods revitalized with renovated homes, wide pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and technology companies offering employment are only a few of the many ideas Philadelphia-based consultant Richard Huffman offered for the Med-Tech District" of Peoria, the Journal Star reports .

"Bradley can begin to see Main Street as a part of its campus," Huffman said, according to the article; "but Main Street has to serve the neighborhoods as well. Now it does not."

That makes me think of Main Street in Framingham, right around the state college, just south of Framingham Centre. That stretch of Main Street doesn't have a connected feel to the campus; and it's certainly not a pedestrian-enticing area to serve the neighborhood. It's a great opportunity to develop some pedestrian-friendly retail for those living, working and studying nearby.

September 12, 2004

Mass. Bicycle & Pedestrian Conference

Moving Together 2004, a statewide bike and pedestrian conference, will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at the Worcester Crowne Plaza. Sessions include promoting bicycling, walking and transit use; funding trail projects; conducting walkability audits and more.

The $30 registration fee includes "a full day of workshops and other valuable presentations, continental breakfast, luncheon, other refreshments, and conference materials." Registration is limited to 200.

September 8, 2004

It’s Not Your Imagination: Traffic IS Getting Worse

"In the effort to catch up with the effects of traffic congestion, American cities are falling farther behind with each passing year, according to 20-year trends announced on Tuesday," says the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Study.

That report "shows traffic congestion growing across the nation in cities of all sizes, consuming more hours of the day, and affecting more travelers and shipments of goods than ever before," according to a press release announcing the study.

Rush hour travelers suffer through 46 hours of delays per year -- up from 16 hours in 1982, the study says.

Can additional road-building help cut back on delays? The report says only 5 of 85 metro areas were able to keep pace with traffic growth via road construction.

Natick Smart Growth Meeting Thursday

Is "Smart Growth" in Natick Smart?

That's the title of a two-day community "charrette" that kicks off tomorrow, Thursday Sept. 9, 6 to 10 p.m. at the Morse Library. It's cosponsored by Natick Center Associates and the Community Development Office of The Town of Natick.

On this first night, attendees will examine the 10 major principles of smart growth and discuss how they might apply to Natick Center. The second night, Sept. 23, will be focused on specific areas of the downtown center.

September 7, 2004

‘Smart Growth’ Projects Big Minn. Sellers

From Finance & Commerce in Minneapolis:

"Many of the hottest housing projects in the market are dense, multi-family condominium projects in the core cities. Many new home buyers are eschewing long commutes and high-maintenance houses for condos close to downtown. Proximity to public transit (including the new light-rail transit line) is often touted as a benefit of many housing projects.

"Mixed-use projects combining residential and retail elements are becoming increasingly popular. "

September 4, 2004

The Cost of Driving

I'm always astounded when conservatives complain about "public subsidies" for mass transportation, because it's so inconsistent -- none of them seem to mind our massive tax subsidies for road construction and maintenance. (Well OK, even some mass-transit haters balked at the multi-billion-dollar Big Dig pricetag. But that doesn't seem to sour them on the general concept of public funding for private automobile travel.)

I'm not even talking about the endless billions we pay in defense money to keep a presence in oil-rich Middle Eastern nations, or the medical costs we all end up paying because of air pollution-related diseases (not to mention the health costs of living a lifestyle where nobody walks anywhere anymore). I'm talking about our tax money going directly for road construction, repair and maintenance.

Barnard College Professor Owen D. Gutfreund notes in a New York Times op-ed piece today:

There is a mistaken notion that American drivers pay for their roads through gas taxes. Actually, even though states collect gas taxes and a modest federal levy was imposed to pay part of the Interstate expenses, the total of these charges never amounted to more than one-third of highway costs. Such taxes, adjusted for inflation, have actually decreased, and efforts to increase them are politically risky, even though each 1-cent rise in the gas tax costs the average driver less than $8 a year. In practice, our roads and highways have been underwritten by general taxation. With gas taxes and tolls capped by effective lobbying, this annual subsidy has grown, amounting to billions of dollars annually.

With driving so generously subsidized and the true costs hidden, Americans have driven more and more miles each year.

It sometimes appears to cost less to drive your car than take the train, but that's because you're not paying anything close to the real costs of that automobile trip.

September 1, 2004

Walking Route 30

It was a beautiful day today, so I went for a stroll along Rte. 30 near the proposed new Lowe's on my lunch hour. Despite the fabulous weather and proximity of numerous offices (and office workers), the sidewalks were devoid of pedestrians. In half an hour, I saw two recreational walkers and one woman walking to the post office from somewhere nearby. Period. Of course, the area was teeming with people -- all of them in cars.

Why? Because despite the presence of sidewalks, almost everything about this area is ACTIVELY HOSTILE to pedestrians.

* There is no pedestrian-friendly paths from the sidewalk to any of the strip-mall destinations along the road. None! There is no walkway from the sidewalks to the Target mall, or even to the post office! You have to leave the sidewalk, and walk into the same paved way that cars are turning into, crossing a traffic-filled asphalt parking lot, to actually get anywhere.

In the case of the restaurant-filled mall across from the post office (Big Fresh Cafe, Boston Market, etc.), there is an active guard rail barrier preventing anyone from walking through from the street -- the only way in is by using the place where all the cars are streaming into the parking lot.

In fact, the ONLY place in that immediate area with a pedestrian alternative from the sidewalk to the business is the McDonald's. Sad commentary, Framingham.

* There is no buffer or screening of any kind between sidewalk and rushing traffic. This tends to make walking an unpleasant experience overall, scaring off all but the hardiest, most dedicated walkers.

Oh, and if you want to walk from, say, Stop & Shop or BJs on Old Connecticut Path through to Rte. 30? This is Framingham's idea of providing pedestrian access. Yes, some painted lines in the roadway saying "pedestrian walkway."

Walkway - just painted lines on the road

Planning Board Ponders Rte. 30 Lowe’s

The developers of the proposed new Lowe's store in Framingham (where the Verizon building now sits) claim that most of the traffic to their new store would be existing cars, not new trips, according to the MetroWest Daily News.

As a former member of Town Meeting's Standing Committee on Planning & Zoning, my analytical response to that woud be:


Are they kidding?

All you local Home Depot shoppers: How many of you stop in there while you're out and about shopping anyway, as opposed to going out there because you need something?

More importantly, even if that is true, the fact that the current design would make it unappealing and nearly impossible to walk there from anywhere else would add tons of turns in and out of the store, with an adverse affect on traffic. Let's listen to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee member who urged a multi-use path be built between that proposed store and Shoppers World, so people could park once and walk around to different area retail centers.

Note: I had an opinion piece in the News about this project recently.