Neighborhood Slow Streets — They’re coming, so learn about how to participate!

2/13/17 storm update: note changed location to 20 Belgrade Avenue!

On Monday, February 13, 2017, at 6:30 pm at 20 Belgrade Avenue, Unit 7 (2nd Floor) the Roslindale Community Center (Washington St & Cummins Hwy), WalkUP Roslindale will host a community organizing and informational workshop on the Boston Transportation Department’s new program on Neighborhood Slow Streets and how our neighbors throughout Roslindale can come together and go about preparing for and applying to become part of the program.

Learn more about the program here: https://www.boston.gov/transporta…/neighborhood-slow-streets

Here are the stakes for the FY2018 Boston Vision Zero Budget

Take 5 minutes to:

  1. Read this article in the Herald: Battle for safer streets: Nine pedestrians hit in Boston in 1 day.
  2. View this local TV news piece from WCVB: Steps being taken in Boston to curb pedestrian crashes.

Here’s the upshot: Policy and aspirations in this city around walking and cycling and safer streets for all are not being met with resources. When the Herald takes note and publishes a front page article on the 9 pedestrian crashes that occurred on a single day last week and then local tv devotes as much time as they just have to the same issue, it begins to feel like the time may finally have come to really do what needs to be done to make our streets safer and better for all users. The municipal fiscal year starts every July 1. The FY2018 budget will be developed and approved in the next handful of months. The Vision Zero line item in the current FY2017 budget is $3.1 Million for a city of about 670,000 people. As the TV piece indicates, that’s woefully inadequate. On a per capita basis, it’s on the order of a third of NYC’s vision zero budget and 1/25th of San Francisco’s. Let that sink in. More to come on this.

South/Bussey Proposed Improvements – Public Meeting – 6 pm on 2/1 @ Arboretum Weld Hill Facility

Bussey and South Street

Intersection of Bussey and South Street, seen from South Street heading southwest away from Jamaica Plain

Share this as broadly as you can: the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) and Public Works Department (PWD) will hold a public meeting on proposed improvements for the Bussey-South intersection – 6 pm on February 1, 2017 at the Weld Hill Research Building in the Arboretum (1300 Centre Street). This is currently one of the least pedestrian friendly intersections in and around the Arboretum and is in desperate need of a walkable redesign. Please attend to lend your critical thinking and advocacy skills for safer vehicle speeds and better walking and cycling in our neighborhood.

 

Looking back at 2016 – Pausing to take stock at WalkUP Roslindale

We saw our share of highs and lows this year in advocating for the cause of a more walkable (as well as bikeable and transit-accessible) Roslindale. Here are my own personal five most important things that happened and as with last year, I would ask that any differences of opinion or emphasis be raised in the comments or in a follow up blog post:

  1. Arboretum Gateway Path Visioning and Initial Feasibility Analysis – Picking up a worthwhile idea that others in our neighborhood had already championed, we held a visioning session at the RCC in late March on the Arboretum Gateway Path. Turn out was high and enthusiastic and included the extremely able support of the students from Tufts University’s Urban and Environmental Policy program, who released their community vision report in May. We then partnered with LivableStreets Alliance on hiring Horsley Witten as the selected consultant to further the effort by doing an initial feasibility analysis, undertook a ride-walk of the proposed route in June and, in early December, we hosted a more focused potential route walk with LSA, HW, and the Arboretum. Surveying work on the portion of the proposed path within the MBTA property adjacent to the Needham Line was completed in late December. We hope to have the feasibility study available to share with our neighbors, the Arboretum, and city and state officials, in spring with a follow up meeting at the RCC.
  2. Responses to Pedestrian Fatalities – Our city witnessed a spate of pedestrian fatalities early in 2016, and Roslindale was not spared. Silvia Acosta was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver at Washington and Blue Ledge in January and then Johnette Sims was struck and killed by a drunk/hit-and-run driver at Canterbury and Morton in September. Although it was slow in coming and the topic of much frustration, the tragedy at Washington and Blue Ledge did finally result in improvements to that intersection several months after a site visit by Boston Vision Zero Task Force members. Not so with the fatality at Canterbury and Morton. Because Morton is a state highway at that location, there has, to my knowledge, been no site visit or any attempted response of any kind to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists at that location. The city has no jurisdiction there and the state agency that does have jurisdiction, MassDOT, has not taken any action.
  3. Ulrich Bike Corral – After what seemed like an interminable delay, the Ulrich Bike Corral was finally installed at Corinth and Cohasset in early June. Many WUR folks played a role in working with RVMS to bring the corral to fruition, especially including Sarah Kurpiel Lee, who was instrumental in the final push with city staff and elected officials. Special thanks are also due to the owners of Fornax – Chris and Kim Fallon – for taking on maintenance and care of the corral along with the parklet. We are hoping to be able to install some improved directional and identification signs for the corral this spring.
  4. Roslindale Village Walkable Film Series – With a huge lift from Kevin Tobin, son of Greg, we hosted a rotating film series in and around the village that focused on urban and social issues, including battling disinvestment in the Dudley Triangle, struggling against the 1970s arson wave in the Fenway, and issues concerning gun control in our country. We are hoping to have another set of dates and films of more general interest this year as well.
  5. Vision Zero Rally for Safer Streets – There is no question that the city, despite adopting Vision Zero in early 2015 and producing what seemed like an achievable action plan in December of 2015, moved far more slowly than had been expected in making real progress on improving the safety of our streets for all users – especially people on foot and on bicycles. The major advocacy groups involved in Vision Zero — WalkBoston, LSA, Boston Cyclists Union, and MassBike — felt compelled by the lack of access to hold a rally on City Hall Plaza in late September. I was happy to attend as WUR’s representative (we also signed on as co-sponsors) and focused on implementing Rapid Response and the Neighborhood Slow Streets components of the Action Plan. My comments especially urged that NSS be implemented city-wide in 3 years — currently policy calls for 2 areas per year and given the size of the areas, likely several decades to complete. Despite immense popularity among local residents in the proposed areas, NSS remains a dead letter. Plans that were supposed finalized in the late fall with a first phase done before year-end have come to exactly nothing on the ground. We will need to push, and push hard, for the city to move more quickly and do the right thing faster. Perhaps the imminent reset of the city’s default speed limit from 25 mph to 30 mph will help break the logjam.

Of YIMBYs and Widespread Nonconformity

The Boston Globe’s editors got this one right: Obama’s YIMBY Moment. The whole thing is worth reading, but one data point about the recently proposed downzoning of a swath of Cambridgeport really stands out:

…over the years some residents have persuaded the city to tighten zoning rules to the point that their own neighborhoods could never be rebuilt the same way. The Riverside area had previously been downzoned to the point that 59 percent of existing buildings break the rules, according to the city’s Community Development Department; under the new restrictions, a full 80 percent of existing buildings would be nonconforming.

Got that? The proposed downzoning would have resulted in 80% of the existing built fabric in the neighborhood being rendered nonconforming — allowed to remain, but disfavored and not allowed to be expanded or built anew without zoning relief — in a sense, illegal. This is particularly striking because the proponents of the downzoning claimed that it was directed at preserving neighborhood character. The linked blog piece at “break the rules” calls out the illogic of this position fairly well:

The most specious of the petitioners’ arguments, however, is the idea of preserving “character”. They have happily actually defined what they mean: single family homes. But the slightest examination of the neighborhood dashes that idea to pieces. The area of the proposed change is a pleasing mix of styles, heights, types, ages and uses. Yes, there are a few single family homes, but there are also triple-deckers, brick apartment buildings, row houses, a complex belonging to the Cambridge Housing Authority, mixed-use buildings, schools, churches and parks. Hardly any two buildings are alike.

 

Making Riverside into an exclusive country club will only line the pockets of homeowners and prevent people from moving in and improving the neighborhood with their individual touches and styles. With its transit accessibility, walkability and a population already going car-free, Riverside is the perfect neighborhood for new, parking-free apartments and homes.

The “exclusive country club” phrasing is a bit hyperbolic. But there is certainly a disconnect at work — essentially, the downzoning’s proponents are seeking to “preserve” their neighborhood by making it more illegal than it unfortunately already is. It would be tempting to be amused by what is being attempted in Cambridgeport if our neighborhood hadn’t already done essentially the same thing to itself about a decade ago. Indeed, here’s the relevant excerpt from my own comment on a now-dormant proposal for 14 units in a “Local Commercial” zoning subdistrict at Walter/South about 15 months ago:

An additional concern raised in opposition to the project was that the LC zoning from which so many variances would be required is part of a neighborhood-wide Roslindale strategic planning/rezoning effort that was completed in 2007. Accordingly, to paraphrase how the argument went, there should be no deviating from that zoning because it reflects the neighborhood’s established preference, which was, it is said, to (1) preserve the existing density and character of this LC subdistrict and, more importantly, the surrounding 2F-5000 (“Two Family-5000 Square Feet”) residential subdistrict, and (2) channel development like this project to the commercial district in Roslindale Square.

 

The Fundamental Disconnect of Our Current Zoning

 

Focusing first on the 2F-5000 residential subdistrict in which all of the Longfellow Area except the LC subdistrict has been zoned, it is critical to realize that “2F-5000” is itself a misnomer. When you look at the dimensional table for this subdistrict under Article 67 (the Roslindale Neighborhood Article), it’s actually a minimum of 5000 square feet (SF) in lot size for the first dwelling unit, and then a further 3000 SF for the second unit. So, it’s really a “1F-5000/2F-8000” zone. Now, consider for a moment that the most common lot size in the neighborhood is actually closer to 4500-4800 SF in area. For example, the lot for my single-family house is 4600 SF in area, and the lot sizes for the existing 2 families on my street are 4900 SF, 4340 SF, 5150 SF, and 4600 SF. In other words, the zoning that was adopted in 2007 means the majority of us are non-conforming at the most basic level.

 

This is not insignificant since any infill development (think of the scattered “double-lots,” many of which don’t meet the 5000 SF threshold) would have to meet this ill-fitting standard, and non-conformity applies also to additional dimensional aspects of the typical developed lot in the neighborhood, such as side yard widths (required to be 10 feet on both sides for detached structures – my house and every house on my block has at least one side yard that is narrower than 10 feet – most houses in the subdistrict do), rear yard setbacks, FAR, you pretty much name it. In addition, the parking requirement is 2 off-street spaces per unit throughout the entire Roslindale district (not just the 2F-5000 zone), with only limited exceptions right in Roslindale Square and for affordable units. I have a single space on my lot. Several of my neighbors have 1 space or no spaces at all. Overall, then, the zoning for our neighborhood, ostensibly meant to “preserve” us, actually treats us, with few exceptions, as legally not within the vision of what the neighborhood “should” be. In practice, this means that the existing zoning requires almost any change in the neighborhood’s built environment to go through the zoning relief process.

 

An object lesson in exactly this issue was in fact given at Monday night’s meeting. The first item on the agenda was a single-family home owner on Walter Street who was before LANA to seek support (or at least non-opposition) for his proposal to add a dormer to the upper story of his house to allow for a second full bathroom. He needed relief because the existing house, which appeared to be similar to almost every other house in the Longfellow Area, is non-conforming and the dormer would exacerbate that non-conformity. Thankfully for him, he appears to get along well enough with his immediate neighbors that this small change is not an issue. But the question has to be asked as to what kind of land use regulatory system would routinely require this level of process for such a small change?

 

The same mismatch of the current zoning with existing use and development, let alone what we might want, occurs in the LC subdistrict in which the South Street project is proposed to be located. The most obvious mismatch is the 0.5 FAR, with which I suspect none of the properties currently comply and which, if it were really to be complied with, represents a fundamentally dispersed, low-density suburban vision for this area. Furthermore, if the saving proposition of the rezoning was supposed to be that Roslindale Square was rezoned to accept more development, that didn’t actually happen. The two projects that have been done – the 3-story commercial building that replaced the old abandoned gas station, and the substation/funeral home redevelopment – both required zoning relief in the form of variances. In other words, the zoning for the square was so good that it had to be varied from to do two projects that the community wanted. Should they also have been told that the zoning was relatively new and they would have to live with it?

 

To summarize, we have what amounts to “zoning by variance” and it has been quite effective at slowing the pace of change. That may have worked in a period when Boston’s population was declining or remaining flat. It does not and cannot work when population is increasing, as it is today and appears poised to do for the foreseeable future. This is why the Mayor’s housing plan is so important to support and why Imagine Boston 2030, the citywide planning process that is just now getting going, is to important. We can no longer afford to treat any part of Roslindale as totally off limits to change, as if there were a growth boundary around the square and that is it. The square is great, but it can be better for everyone, and it won’t be better unless we welcome new neighbors within walking distance of its amenities.

Washington @ Blue Ledge – Finally done!

I wasn’t able to take pictures, but I did verify this morning that the flashing pedestrian beacon has finally been installed at the reconfigured crosswalk at Washington and Blue Ledge. In addition, the lane striping that had been torn up by recent utility work has also been restored. While I have, at times, expressed frustration with the pace of the response to the tragedy at this location, the end result here is definitely a substantial improvement from a pedestrian safety perspective.

Thanks again to the city’s transportation and public works departments, and their consultants and contractors, for developing a plan, taking on this installation, and getting it done.

We can only hope that we don’t have to do any more rapid responses in Roslindale and elsewhere in the city. Instead, it would be great to step up the effort to turn Vision Zero from policy to reality — to take the lessons learned about planning and process here and apply them to all of the many, many places around our neighborhood where we know dangerous pedestrian and bicycle conditions exist.

Washington @ Blue Ledge – Flex posts are now on the ground!

We are happy to report that flex posts have gone in the ground at Washington & Blue Ledge. Our sincerest thanks to BTD and PWD for moving the Vision Zero crash response here to this milestone. All that remains is the installation of the pedestrian crossing beacon. A couple of photos taken early on Saturday morning.

View looking north. Unfortunately, recent Comcast utility work has damaged crosswalk and bike lane markings.

View looking north. Unfortunately, recent Comcast utility work has damaged crosswalk and bike lane markings. Flex posts look good, though!

View looking south.

View looking south.

Two Greenway Partner Sites are in Roslindale!

We were a bit busy this past week, so not much time to post, but wanted to make sure folks knew that both the Arboretum Gateway Path and the American Legion Greenway have been selected by LivableStreets Alliance to be Greenway Partner projects! The selections were made public at the Tour de Streets event a week ago Saturday. Links here:

This means LivableStreets Alliance has committed to working with both WalkUP Roslindale and the American Legion Corridor Coalition and helping them move forward. This is great news and we all deeply appreciate the work LivableStreets Alliance is doing all around the region on the interrelated issues of walking, bicycling, and transit connectivity.

Stonybrook Neighborhood Slow Streets — We see what VZB means by the term and we definitely want it now

Readers of this blog may recall that we offered written testimony to the Boston City Council at their hearing on Vision Zero in May of this year —

WalkUP Testimony at City Vision Zero Hearing

— and that a major part of our focus was on the Neighborhood Slow Streets program and the slow pace of its rollout in Stonybrook and Talbot-Norfolk Triangle. Back then, we put it this way:

And we also applaud the concept of Slow Speed Zones outlined in BTD’s December 2015 Vision Zero Boston Action Plan. These zones would combine a lower speed limit in defined areas with the physical interventions needed to really make a difference – curb extensions, refuge islands and medians, raised crosswalks, special crosswalk signals, vehicle speed monitors, narrower vehicle travel lanes, street diets, and separated bicycle lanes/tracks. We are eagerly awaiting the initial roll out of Slow Speed Zones in the Norfolk-Talbot Triangle in Dorchester and the Stonybrook Area in Jamaica Plain this year. That said, we are surprised that there has been so little information shared or made available broadly about the progress on those areas and we have heard nothing definitive to date about the expansion of the Slow Speed Zones to other neighborhoods once the first two have been implemented. This is desperately needed, it should happen as fast as possible once the essential combination of interventions has been decided, and BTD should be planning for this expansion right now – I can safely say that my own neighborhood of Peters Hill will be among those areas seeking designation as soon as the expansion process is made public. Slowing speeds in our neighborhoods will save lives. While we understand capacity constraints, there is no need to wait or take this part of the Vision Zero effort slow. Everyone in Boston deserves to live on a street on which vehicle speeds are safe.

This past Wednesday evening, the public finally saw the plan for Stonybrook at a community meeting held at English High:

stonybrook-plan-2

I was there myself, along with 3 WUR compatriots, and can attest to the strong support this plan had with the people from that community, including the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association. The most critical features of the plan are a 20 mph speed limit, gateways and signs at the entrances to the area announcing it as such, daylighting of crosswalks, and strategically spaced speed humps (wider than speed bumps, much more effective, and much less taxing on vehicles). I should also mention that this is only phase 1 and that phase 2 is intended to include curb extensions and raised crosswalks at key locations. All in all, the recipe makes sense and BTD deserves thanks and praise for putting this together. We will thank and praise them even more if they get this and Talbot-Norfolk Triangle (their meeting comes later this month – we should all go to that one too in order to show our support) done before the year is out.

And, then, dear friends, we should push everyone we know in our city’s government to find more funding and more capacity to roll this set of changes out to every residential neighborhood in Boston as soon as possible. The stated goal is 2 areas per year. It should be 20. There is no reason to wait.

Everyone in every neighborhood deserves to live on a safe street.

UPDATE: Materials from the meeting have now been posted online here, including the full plan of which only a snapshot is provided above.

Trivializing headline and narrative, but read the article – Somerville should be a model for Boston once ImagineBoston 2030’s work is done

Somerville eyes zoning code to match its hip reputation

It’s turning out to be a long process, but what Somerville is proposing and will likely soon adopt is truly nothing less than a radical reform of the rules governing buildings and their uses. And our city should follow suit as soon as ImagineBoston 2030‘s work is done and we are ready to embark on the hard work that will be required to recast our zoning code in a way that fits the city we actually have and love already and the ways in which we want to make it better. I’ve personally blogged here about the fundamental mismatch between even our neighborhood’s relatively new zoning article and the real thing as it exists on the ground. But the graphic in the middle of the article that shows that there are exactly 22 out of Somerville’s almost 12,000 residential lots that are fully conforming to their current zoning code is mind-blowing.

Think about that for a minute — almost the entire urban fabric of Somerville’s existing residential neighborhoods is outlawed.

I very strongly suspect that the results would be almost identical in our neighborhood and you couldn’t build Roslindale or any neighborhood in Boston as it exists today by following the letter of the zoning that is currently in place. Speaking for myself, I love where I live and want the regulations that govern buildings and uses in my neighborhood to reflect a due respect for what we collectively have by making it the rule instead of the exception.