How can downtown Framingham become a safer, more appealing environment for people on foot?
That was the key issue of this morning's Walkable Communities Workshop, designed to give planners, town officials and residents (not to mention bloggers :-) ) more information about ways to improve walkability -- both theory and implementation details.
* Better intersection designs -- including curb extensions and "islands" breaking up multiple lanes of traffic -- can help create a safer, more attractive pedestrian environment, attendees at today's Walkable Community Workshop in downtown Framingham were told. This downtown crosswalk in the photo at the left works, with a well-marked crosswalk and landscaped island breaking up the many lanes of traffic that pedestrians need to traverse.
* Crosswalks need to be wide and well marked, with cues for cars to stop well before the actual crossing area. Things like signs, cones and flashing lights can help.
* It's also important to slow down traffic in areas where pedestrians cross, because "speed kills walkers," Cathy Buckley Lewis at the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization said. When vehicles traveling 20 mph strike walkers, the fatality rate is less than 5%. At 30 mph, it's under 50%. But once speeds hit 40 mph, about 90% of pedestrians struck are killed.
* Sidewalks need to be wide enough, flat enough and screened in some way from heavy traffic. Streetscapes need to be attractive enough so people want to be on foot. The sidewalk at right is technically usable, but the environment is not appealing for people to actually want to be out of their vehicles.
Specifically, several groups walked around some downtown streets after the initial presentation, and then came back with recommendations on how to improve the pedestrian environment:
* Fabric Place is a regional destination, but the area immediately around it doesn't compel shoppers to go anywhere else in town. Can there be landscaping around it? Tables, benches, trees, something to make it appealing to walk from the store to the main shopping streets? Would a mural on the building help make it look more attractive?
* What can be done about the Salvation Army building facade across from the Fabric Place, which right now is largely a parking area and large blank wall, both off-putting to walkers? Can thre be benches there? Landscaping? Tables with umbrellas? My ideal would put more windows in there, some nice bay windows, and include a cafe with outdoor seating.
* Could we get a program together where an organization would donate planters and window boxes to businesses and residences around town, in return for pledges to take care of them?
* Some streets have unattractive fences abutting walking areas, are there ways to landscape those and make them look less offputting?
* Some sidewalks need to be in better condition, especially so those in wheelchairs (or pushing carriages) can navigate them. Curb cuts, encroaching vegitation, surface degradation, slanted surfaces to accomodate cars, and so on were all mentioned as issues.
* What can be done to make the areas abutting the railroad tracks more attractive?
* How can we knit together attractive walking environments from downtown retail to proposed new residences, the train station and the nearby pond?
More than 20 people attending the morning workshop, including town officials and interested residents. All the suggestions were collected and handed over to town officials, who suggested they also be sent to those working on the town master plan and downtown revitalization efforts.
See more photos from the walking audit of downtown.