June 13, 2011

How to reduce our "epidemic of preventable pedestrian deaths"

In 15 of the country's largest metro areas, pedestrian deaths increased even as overall number of traffic deaths fell, according Transportation for America's new study, Dangerous by Design 2011.

Why? Walker safety simply isn't taken seriously by most governments. Pedestrian fatalities account for nearly 12% of total traffic deaths, but states only spend 1.5% of available federal funds for improving pedestrian safety, Transportation for America concludes. Many of these deaths occurred on roads "with little or no provision for people on foot, in wheelchairs or on bicycles." You can see an interactive map of locations with reported pedestrian fatalities on the Transportation for America Web site.

In fact, walking is not an optional activity for many people, any more than driving is. Yet non-auto transportation simply doesn't come into consideration in so many places across the U.S., from roads designed for driving only to to snow removal for vehicles only (far from making sidewalks clear for walking, many communities actually worsen the pedestrian experience in winter by piling snow at corners where people usually walk).

I went to see a friend in Switzerland last month and the contrast was dramatic. In every city and small town we visited, there were walking areas that were safe and appealing. It was easy to get from a train station in one town to her apartment nearby in another town without a car, either by bus along a major road or a beautiful pedestrian path between the towns. In how many American suburbs is it easy to walk from a station in one town to home in another? In Framingham, it feels dangerous to walk from one shopping center to another, if that involves crossing Rte. 30 or Rte. 9.

Two-thirds of pedestrian fatalities in the US occurred on major roads that are eligible to receive federal funding, the study notes. Transportation for America suggests several changes to the next federal transportation spending bill that could help reduce the number of walker fatalities in America, such as demanding that streets be designed for safe use by pedestrians, cyclists, public transportation users and motorists alike.

May 26, 2011

Your ideas for the future of 495/MetroWest

What transportation needs should be addressed in the region? (The ability to walk places, of course!) Where should open space be preserved? How to ensure continued economic prosperity? Share your input at one of two public forums sponsored by the 495/MetroWest Development Compact, an initiative of the Patrick-Murray administration: Wednesday, June 15 at Westborough HS (90 W Main St) or Tuesday, June 21 at the Boxborough Holiday Inn (242 Adams Place). There will be an informal open house at each meeting from 5-7 pm and the public meeting is slated from 7 to 9:15 pm.

Want to go? RSVP to info@495partnership.org.

April 3, 2011

Yet more data: Walkable neighborhoods improve health

Australia's Institute of Health is the latest organization to discover that living in a walkable neighborhoods decrease the likelihood that you'll be obese.

Imagine that: If you get out and walk places instead of spending more time sitting in a car, it helps burn calories and improve your health. Who would have guessed?

From the latest study, courtesy of the Herald Sun:

Australians living in more populated neighbourhoods with well-connected streets and shops within easy walking distance were more likely to be active and less likely to be obese, the report found. The proximity of recreation facilities, parks and open spaces, good footpaths, pedestrian crossings, less - and slower - traffic, and feelings of safety and security were also important factors associated with lower obesity.

February 28, 2011

Boston group to invigorate the Common

Great news in today's Boston Globe about a plan to rejuvenate a portion of Boston Common.

In addition to important cosmetic changes such as repairing concrete and planting trees, there are plans for patio tables & chairs; a piano keyboard for lunchtime music; "reading room" with magazines, newspapers and books; chessboard & checkerboard rental and, in a nod to the 21st century, free Wi-fi.

"It's going to be like a Parisian park," Elizabeth Vizza with Friends of the Public Garden told the Globe.

It is heartening to see some serious attention being paid to upgrade a public space, especially in a time when spending on public anything is being slashed. Public spaces such as the Common and Public Garden are the heart and soul of a city. Attracting people to use them brings not only life, but a feeling of safety, to urban spaces. It improves the quality of life for people living and working nearby, as well as the overall appeal of a place. If you think about the neighborhoods that people most want to visit in Boston - Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the North End -- they tend to be not only attractive, but pedestrian-friendly with highly inviting streetscapes.

I'm just back from a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina. In downtown Raleigh, one main street leading to the capitol building, Fayetteville Street, was walker-friendly, with outdoor tables & chairs, lights on the trees, a reasonable streetscape, and restaurants. The ambiance clearly said "we expect people to be walking here." And they did. However, nearby streets radiated all the things that make a walker naturally uncomfortable: streets that were too wide with buildings that were either set back too far or had no windows looking out, depriving pedestrians of the "sense of enclosure" we naturally crave. Not surprisingly, most of them were nearly deserted of foot traffic, even on a sunny, 74-degree March day. I'd guess the retail rents were higher on Fayetteville Street than nearby.

In any case, I'm looking forward to the new Boston Common, giving the city another appealing outdoor destination to enjoy when the weather gets nice.