November 29, 2009

Black Friday ... on foot

I find sitting in holiday shopping traffic about as appealing as fingernails on a blackboard, which is why I decided to try a bit of local Black Friday shopping as a pedestrian. Instead of driving over to Kohl's, across from Shoppers World and all its traffic, I left my car at Stop & Shop and walked.

How did it go? Thanks to the pedestrian path alongside of Lowe's (back to back with Stop & Shop), the walk from my car to Rte. 30 was actually pleasant. Thumbs up to the new sidewalk that's actually designed to make walking attractive as well as safe -- as opposed to the ludicrous yellow stripes painted on the busy street that was supposed to pass for pedestrian access between BJs and Target across the way.

Crossing Rte. 30 is always a dicey proposition, and trying to cross an intersection on foot with 5+ lanes of traffic and no pedestrian-friendly separator is even more so. However, at least there are clearly painted crosswalks (although I'd prefer something like the brick crossing at Elm Street & Potter Road), as well as traffic signals that stop traffic all ways.

It's still a bit scary crossing Rte. 30 on foot, even with the light, since most drivers don't expect pedestrians at that intersection; if they're looking to make a right on red, they may be checking for oncoming vehicles to their left and not walkers to their right. Plus, you've got to use a pretty brisk pace to make it across the multiple lanes of traffic in the short amount of time you're given to cross a rather wide multi-lane road.

However, it all worked out fine. It only took me 7 or so minutes each way -- really not much longer than driving through traffic-choked roadways. And much to my surprise, I saw other people out walking between Target, Shoppers World and/or Kohl's, despite the light rain. I'm not the only one who's discovered that even in an area not well designed for pedestrians, it can be less hassle to walk from place to place than take your auto.

Bonus: When I got back to my car, I was well positioned to pop into the grocery store and pick up some post-Thanksgiving, non-turkey-related weekend dinner ingredients, without having to make multiple stops.

As I've said in earlier posts, it's unlikely many of us who need to travel to work each day can realistically live car-free in a suburb like Framingham. Existing development patterns tend not to support meaningful public transit, especially in areas of town with lower population densities. Instead, planners need to strive toward commercial and retail development that encourage parking once and walking to multiple destinations. How much traffic would be reduced if there were a safe and visually appealing way to walk between destinations like the Natick Mall, Shoppers World, Target, Kohl's, the Logan Express Bus and nearby offices on Speen Street, Route 9 and Old Connecticut Path?

November 23, 2009

Residents rally for safer crossings after pedestrian struck, killed in Denver

After two pedestrians were struck - one fatally - in a Denver neighborhood, officials have responded to make the crossing less dangerous. The blog Evidence Soup reports:

"Although it took two years for a nearby block to convince the city to add a crosswalk, within 6 weeks our Public Works folks announced a plan to make this a 24-hour "Safety Zone" - by December they'll be adding signage, speed-monitoring equipment, crosswalks, double yellow lines. "

Blogger Tracy Allison Altman notes that others in the area had been asking the wrong questions and ignoring compelling evidence that neighborhood patterns were changing and more people were out walking. "It's not about cars. It's about pedestrians. . . . Sometimes it's best to draw attention to your evidence without discounting someone else's. Go around them, not at them."

As traffic around the Rte. 9/Rte. 30 retail area worsens this holiday shopping season, will more people try to get form place to place on foot, despite the dangers? I crossed Rte. 30 to Shopper's World on foot last weekend, and for the first time I can recall, I saw another pedestrian out crossing with me. It's time for us, too, to pay more attention to walkers, not only drivers, when designing traffic flow -- before we end up with a similar tragedy.

November 22, 2009

New pedestrian crossings in town

A look at two upgraded pedestrian crossings in Saxonville, at the McAuliffe branch library and Potter Road/Elm Street.


'We're eating ourselves to death'

That's the title of a recent blog post from Paul Levy, in which he notes the ludicrous state of the average American meal. "A single sandwich with 1500 calories. A 32-ounce drink from the soda fountain with hundreds more."

One commenter notes that it take more time and money to eat healthy than to eat nutrition-free junk. My response: Of course, part of the reason it costs more to eat healthy than eat junk is U.S. government food policy. Why is it that tobacco and corn production are subsidized but fruit and vegetables are not?

A lot of this is culture - many parts of our society are conditioned to value quantity over quality, so a gigantic plate of mediocre food is "better" than a smaller portion of quality food.

Few of us are taught to value fresh ingredients and quality meals, or the effort that goes into making them. Michael Pollan has some excellent analysis of this in "In Defense of Food."

And, as I noted in a Facebook post responding to the issue of a sedentary society, many Americans' environment makes it all but impossible to walk anywhere. New development patterns cordon off commercial from residential, which means most people can't walk to walk to a grocery store. Most new schools are sited in ways that make it dangerous for kids to walk.

I work less than a mile from major retail centers, but the suburban development patterns are such that you take your life in your hands if you try to make the trip by foot. It's crazy.

It would be illegal under most modern zoning codes to design a pedestrian-friendly development patterned after one of America's great walkable neighborhoods like Boston's Back Bay.

November 9, 2009

Thursday in Cambridge: Designing for how we move through space

For those interested in the role design has in transportation advocacy, come hear Shauna Gillies - Smith and Mark Pasnik at a presentation hosted by the Boston Society of Architects and LivableStreets Alliance. Thursday, Nov. 12, 7-9 pm at 100 Sidney St., Central Square in Cambridge. $5 suggested donation.


November 1, 2009

Better crosswalks

I'm pleased to see more visible crosswalks in a couple of key pedestrian crossing areas: the dangerous crossing from the parking lot to McAuliffe branch library, and the Potter Road/Elm Street intersection.

At Potter Road there's now a highly visible brick walkway, instead of the yellow lines on the street that seem to wear away after a few months. And there's a slight "raised" walkway now for the library crossing, along with a sidewalk that extends a bit into the walkway to make it visually clearer to drivers that something "unusual" is happening in this part of the street. Hopefully some drivers whipping around the corner from Water Street -- especially those yakking on their cell phones and not paying attention to the fact that people on foot are crossing to and from the library -- will realize they need to be watchful for walkers.

I've been meaning to snap photos of them both, hope to get to that soon.