February 8, 2007

More Thoughts on Edgell Road

Based on what I know now, I oppose widening Edgell Road. We do not need another "traffic sewer" in town to negatively effect streetscape and make it more difficult, dangerous and unappealing for people to cross the street in a neighborhood business district.

What we need is some design to make a more appealing streetscape. It may not be possible to get a lot of people to Nobscot via public transit, but it is possible to create a "park once, walk to multiple destinations" business district, as well as encourage more people living in nearby housing to cross the street to the retail areas.

We could get many more people to Framingham Centre on foot from the nearby college if there was a more attractive streetscape and pedestrian path in that area. If we are contemplating doing anything to Edgell Road, there ought to be serious thought given to making Framingham Centre a more attractive place to walk around on foot. Park once, walk to multiple destinations.

The fact that a project to widen the road might also include constructing sidewalks does not impress me. The simple existence of sidewalks does virtually nothing to encourage walking if the surrounding environment is pedestrian-hostile. As exhibit A, I give you the recent work on Rte. 30. There are sidewalks. Have you ever tried to walk from Target to the Bella Costa shopping center? I have. It's an extremely unpleasant experience, despite the sidewalks. There is no good place to try to cross the street without feeling like you're in danger. This is poor design. I cross Beacon Street in Coolidge Corner, which has as many if not more lanes of traffic as Rte. 30 does, and it doesn't feel difficult or dangerous. Why? Better design, taking into account the needs of pedestrians and public transit as well as private vehicles.

I'm not arguing to do away with decent roadways. But it's time to bring some balance back to our planning. It's long past time to start considering the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and appealing streetscape in addition to the legitimate needs of vehicular traffic. Because we cannot build enough roadway capacity to meet vehicle demand. Never. Period.

From one of my favorite planning books, Suburban Nation: "Building more highways and widening existing roads, almost always motivated by concern over traffic, does nothing to reduce traffic. In the long run, it actually increases traffic. This revelation is so counterintuitive that it bears repeating: adding lanes makes traffic worse. ...

"This paradox was suspected as early as 1942 by Robert Moses, who noticed that the highways he had built around New York City in 1939 were somehow generating greater traffic problems than had existed previously."

Why? Make a longer commute easier, and more people will choose to do it, in order to take advantage of cheaper housing. I wrote more on this here.

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