September 27, 2007

How to make Framingham more pedestrian-friendly? Walkable Communities Workshop report

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.


Crosswalk done right * 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. Streetscape needs landscaping

* 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:

Pedestrian-friendly ‘Portwalk’ planned for Portsmouth

" 'Portwalk,' a pedestrian-friendly, integrated mixed-use development will soon replace the Parade Mall in the city's North End," the Foster's Daily Democrat reports.

"Cathartes Private Investments, the Boston-based real estate investment and development company revitalizing the Hanover Street property, recently announced the name and unveiled its visual brand image to be used on all signage and marketing materials. Portwalk will feature boutique shops, cafes and restaurants, residences, office space, and an extended-stay hotel. . . .

"Jeff Johnston, principal of Cathartes Private Investments, said the heart of the project will be the main Broadwalk, which will have wide brick sidewalks with trees, flowers, outdoor cafe seating and storefront access to each shop and restaurant."

Yet another case where planners are realizing that appealing streetscapes and walker-friendly developments are key to revitalizing urban neighborhoods.

Aside: I hope to post a report on today's Walkable Communities Workshop sometime tonight.

September 26, 2007

Walkable Community Workshop Tomorrow

Sorry for the lack of posts the past week or two, I've been moving all my Web sites - including this one - to a new Web host, After multiple, multi-day interruptions of e-mail service at my old host, I decided it was time to move on. Suffice it to say it took way more time than I'd hoped to move all the sites and get them working again on a slightly different server. If you see anything odd here, please do leave a comment.

Anyway, the Framingham Walkable Community Workshop is tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 27, starting at 8:30 at the Memorial Building. I hope to post a report from it sometime tomorrow. It's free to attend, and not too late to decide to go!

September 12, 2007

Downtown Framingham pedestrian improvements in the works

Several projects are planned or underway to help boost downtown Framingham's pedestrian appeal, a town planner reported last night. And, other efforts will encourage more use of mass transit and accommodate bicyclists.

Thanks to federal and state grant money, the area's regional transit authority will be receiving 10 new minibuses, each equipped with wheelchair lifts and bicycle racks, over four years.

There's also money to install new bus shelters downtown, bicycle lockers at the train station, and bicycle racks around town, said Bryan Taberner, assistant director of the Division of Community and Economic Development. The bus shelters will include solar-powered lighting, and information about bus routes and schedules.

Taberner gave his report to the Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

A detailed engineering plan to improve streetscape features such as lighting and sidewalks will be funded from money the town received as part of an economic stimulus package.

September 11, 2007

‘We consider walking and biking forms of transportation’

"We consider walking and biking forms of transportation in Kirkland," Kirkland, Wash. Deputy Mayor Joan McBride tells the AARP Bulletin. "We've been doing this for years."

What a refreshing comment from a local official.

Kirkland's "public thoroughfares accommodate all members of the public—not just those who drive," according to the AARP Bulletin. They do so with "wide sidewalks, flowered medians and flashing lights embedded in crosswalks at busy intersections. Bike lanes and bus stops line even some of the town's busiest streets. At many corners, pedestrians can pick up a red flag to catch drivers' attention, cross and return the flag to a holder."

Quite a contrast from the design around, say, Shoppers World and the new Natick Collection, where walking is generally treated as some kind of optional frill, but not a serious transportation alternative to get from one place to another (unless you're walking to your car).

Here, sidewalks come to an end between Speen Street offices and the shopping area across Route 30. Apparently, local planners at the time didn't think walking as a form of transportation was important. In fact, sidewalks disappear between two office buildings my company occupies on different streets less than a hundred feet apart -- a real danger in the winter when there's no safe way to walk between them. It's either walk in busy streets narrowed by snow piles, or drive 50 feet to get to a meeting.

On the other hand, Kirkland is among "52 cities and towns, six counties and 10 regional governments that now have policies requiring their transportation agencies to ensure that roads are routinely designed or redesigned for all modes of travel."
"In 1992, the town was granted $3 million in state and federal funds toward the cost of adding three lanes to a busy two-lane street—and it turned down the money. Instead, says Daryl Grigsby, director of public works, Kirkland spent $400,000 to expand the street's intersections—a move that helped the traffic flow—and was able to maintain and even add to the sidewalks along the street.

"The road is still two lanes, and traffic is fine today," Grigsby says. "Cars move, people walk and the sense of community is preserved."

Hopefully, the Walkable Communities workshop scheduled for Sept. 27 in Framingham is one sign that today, we're designing more for all modes of transport, not just the car.

Thanks to William Hanson, chair of the Framingham Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, for the citation.

Cochituate Rail Trail Fall Work Day Sept. 29

From the Framingham Cochituate Rail Trail Committee:

Trail Fall Clean-up Day, Saturday, Sept. 29
9:00am - 3:00pm
Rain date is Sunday, September 30th

Park at 500 Old Connecticut Path, Framingham. Cross the street and check in at our table near the entrance to Cochituate Brook Reservation.

Join us for a day of trail work and clean-up on the Cochituate Rail Trail! Arrive in the morning or afternoon. Work for as long as you can. Lunch, snacks, and water will be provided.

Please bring any of these tools that you have: rakes, shovels, hand saws, and loppers. Pick-up trucks are extremely helpful. Work gloves, long sleeves, and long pants are recommended.

See the Fall colors on the CRT. Bring your friends and help create this unique multi-use trail! This work day is sponsored by REI and Whole Foods Market.

For more information:
Contact the Framingham CRT Committee at:
Visit our Web site at:

September 3, 2007

We CAN make walker friendly strip malls (without the strip part)

A downtown commercial center's streetscape needs are fairly clear -- make sure there's an attractive, unbroken vista for pedestrians, without gaps and buildings or big setbacks for parking lots that create unappealing walking environments. But what about a suburban district where strip malls are the norm, and individual property owners are unlikely to knit their building facades together?

Manchester, Vt. Manchester, Vermont came up with a pretty interesting development pattern for its collection of retail outlets, not too far from the town's historic center. Although some buildings are set back a bit from the sidewalk, and there are small gaps between some of the buildings, the shopping district manages to combine blocks of traditional downtown stores all at the streetscape with newer stand-alone buildings, all reasonably walkable if not perfect.

It's a welcome change from the typical strip mall approach, like we've got on Rte. 30 (used in Kittery, Maine), or stand-alone mega-mall separated from the surrounding community by asphalt ocean (Wrentham or Lee, Mass.; Shoppers World, Framingham). There's some on-street parking with an emphasis on off-street, "park once and walk to multiple destination" lots. While some buildings have parking in front, it's limited enough so that walking from the sidewalk to the buildings doesn't seem too off-putting; and most parking is at the side or rear. There's a good balance between the needs for cars to go in and out, and the need for pedestrians to have a walking corridor that feels safe and not offputting.

September 1, 2007

Walkable Community Workshop Coming to Framingham Sept. 27!

I'm extremely happy to report that the town of Framingham is sponsoring a Walkable Community Workshop on Thursday, Sept. 27 from 8:30 to 11 am, starting at the Memorial Building (town hall, 150 Concord St.)

The workshop, run by the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, will consist of a presentation, community "walking audit" and follow-up session for brainstorming potential improvements.

The pulic is invited, and there's no charge to attend. For more info or to pre-register, contact Bryan Taberner at 508-532-5455 or

You can see the 1-page workshop flyer here.