March 12, 2006

How to Kill Off Foot Traffic: Framingham State College

It was a gorgeous spring yesterday, and you'd expect people to be out in droves. Yet in Framingham Centre, as I was stopped at two cycles of the light by Framingham State just before lunchtime, you could see a ton of cars but no pedestrians. (Well OK, not entirely true, there was one older man walking swiftly somewhere who didn't look very happy to be out and about walking). Now, college students are among the demographics to most naturally flock outside on foot on nice days after long winters. Have you ever been in the Boston University area on a nice spring day? The area is flooded with foot traffic, and it's NOT because of a rustic campus and lack of vehicular traffic. In fact, many are out sunning themselves along busy Storrow Drive. However, it IS because the area around Commonwealth Avenue is designed with pedestrians as well as cars in mind, encouraging both to share the streetscape. Framingham Centre around the college, on the other hand, is just about optimally designed to kill off foot traffic.

There are technically sidewalks that exist on Union Avenue and the ramp up from Rte. 9 around the college, but they are so exceptionally unpleasant as to discourage all but the most desperate users: They're narrow, they have absolutely no buffer between multiple lanes of traffic and pedestrian, and the streetscape on the other side is decidedly unappealing. There's also an existing bridge over Rte. 9 to get to the stores on the other side, but the pedestrian path to that bridge from either side is also unappealing.

This is nuts. There's a ready-made, large groups of would-be walkers who could bring pedestrian life to the business district immediately around the college. But instead of being designed in a way to encourage a flourishing retail center in symbiosis with the college, the design of the area maximizes the separation of campus and community, discouraging pedestrians to stroll out from their dorms to Union Avenue just about as effectively as if the campus were surrounded by barbed wire.

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