Everyone concerned about traffic violence in Boston, which touches every part of our city, every day, day-in, and day-out, felt incredible sadness at the tragedy late last month in South Boston in which a crash on L Street between reckless drivers resulted in one of them driving onto the curb and killing a 3 year-old boy and injuring his sister. There have been similar tragedies around the city over the years, taking both the young (such as the 5-month old girl killed on Humboldt Street in Roxbury a couple of years ago) and the elderly (such as one of our own neighbors here in Roslindale in 2016) and everyone in between. For whatever reason, perhaps because with Vision Zero as the city’s adopted policy for the last several years, we all have a better collective vocabulary and understanding that these crashes constitute a form of traffic violence that degrades our public spaces and puts us all under threat every time we venture out onto our streets, this tragedy seemed to hit a particularly raw nerve.
And such is that nerve that first-term District 2 City Councilor Ed Flynn has quickly stepped up his game on safe streets to a level that I think every City Councilor will have to match if they aren’t already. Go read “Flynn Recommends 12 Point Safe Streets Plan” over at Caught in Southie and then consider whether the 12 point safe streets plan he is pushing for in that neighborhood deserves to be rolled out, as quickly as humanly possible, to every street in every neighborhood of this city. Below, I have converted the 12 points he raised to a generic list that could be applied anywhere:
- A complete traffic study of ________________ and all high traffic roads. [NOTE: This works only if it’s done in the background while proven traffic calming measures are advanced right away, and isn’t ultimately used as a way to force more vehicular traffic through the neighborhoods at higher speeds.]
- Reducing the speed limit to 20 MPH throughout all of ____________. [NOTE: Exactly. The recent shift to 25 mph was a compromise. We really should be at 20 mph.]
- Speed humps (permanent or temporary to move for plows) and raised crosswalks along _________ and other high traffic roads, near parks and recreation centers where children and seniors gather. [NOTE: Speed humps should be permanent wherever they go. I continue not to see why plowing in Boston is different than the many other snow belt places in North America and really anywhere else that already have speed humps and raised crosswalks.]
- 4-way stop signs along _________ and relevant locations throughout ________.
- Additional posting of Speed Board Signs on high traffic roads throughout _________ for feedback to reduce speeds.
- Blinking Pedestrian Crossing signs at high traffic areas like we have on _____________.
- Bumping out our sidewalks at crosswalks on ___________, school zones and elsewhere to shorten crosswalks, make stop signs more visible & narrow our streets to encourage slower speeds.
- Road Diets on ___________, one lane from ____________, and speed humps in appropriate locations.
- Increased police patrols in order to reduce speed. Increased fines for driving the wrong way on a one-way street and trucks on ____________. [NOTE: It would be good to have more enforcement, but this fight is ultimately about rectifying decades of bad, unsafe street design. Relying on enforcement also raises concerns about profiling of both people of color and immigrants.]
- More delineators in high traffic areas reminding drivers to stop for pedestrians; paint in the roads advising drivers to slow, yield and stop.
- A Study to determine if _______________ would become safer if they became one-way streets. [NOTE: I would not support this in my own neighborhood. Narrow two-way streets, also called “Yield Streets,” are perhaps the most effective method of low-tech traffic calming we have.]
- Designated time and space for delivery trucks on ________________ to eliminate double parking. [NOTE: Better curb space management needs to be implemented on essentially every street in our city, but especially on major commercial streets.]
There’s an excellent piece linked over at Public Square celebrating the 10th anniversary of the pathbreaking NYC program that has turned excess pavement into plazas at dozens of locations throughout the city. Check it out at “Reflections on 10 years of the NYC plaza program.” It’s a pretty short read and draw your own conclusions, but I was reminded, yet again, of three things about this program:
- It really has been wildly successful. If you’ve been to Times Square in the last 5 years, you’ve been treated to the marquee example of the program in the several blocks of pedestrian areas that were inserted into a “square” that had been, for many decades, little more than the meeting of 3 major traffic sewer mains. I grew up in NY and can well attest that it was a shock when I heard that something was finally happening there. The pedestrian experience had been so horrible for so long that I had long since given up any real hope that it would ever change. But change it did. And not even Bill DeBlasio’s 2015 bizarro flirtation with scrapping it in his car-culture-fever to protect New Yorkers and the tourists who flock to Times Square from – gasp – risque costumes could make an impression on a place so instantly loved and vigorously defended.
- It has demonstrated the value of tactical urbanism many times over. Tactical urbanism is perhaps the most significant innovation in urban planning and design in this century. Briefly stated, the approach calls for making fast, incremental, light, inexpensive changes in the public realm, observing how they work, adjusting, and then working on long-term interventions based on those results. Here again, Times Square is a worthwhile poster child – the initial intervention there consisted of cones, cheap beach chairs, and movable planters, placed overnight to open up several former blocks of Broadway to pedestrians. Nothing fancy, but people on foot absolutely ate it up. They stood, they sat, they lingered, they chatted. It was instantly amazing.
- We here in Boston have lagged, but we are starting to get with this program. As I write this post, the Boston Transportation Department is putting the finishing touches on a TU-based intervention on Franklin Street downtown. You can find pictures and a play-by-play on twitter from Marc Ebuna at Transit Matters. BTD is working on several others and is also getting set to roll out a public-private partnership program very similar to NYC’s in the next few months. More to come!
The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) has just announced the 2018 Neighborhood Slow Streets (NSS) process and is inviting applications. In brief, applications are due August 24, 2018, and there’s a streamlined process this time, especially for areas that submitted last year. We here at WalkUP Roslindale were actively involved in encouraging all parts of our neighborhood to apply for the program in its initial phase and were delighted when the Mt. Hope/Canterbury area garnered a selection. We heartily encourage everyone who applied last year, but didn’t receive the nod (we’re looking at you, LANA, Lower South Street, and the Cornell Street area) to go for it again. As we have said more than once here at WalkUP Roslindale, the program really should go to every neighborhood citywide asap. Be that as it may, as long as we have the current system, everyone who can pull together the requisite focused area and community support should absolutely throw their hat in the ring and see what happens!
And we should take heart from the below images of the installed results over in the Stonybrook area of Jamaica Plain – one of the 2 initial pilot areas for NSS along with the Talbot-Norfolk Triangle in Dorchester. All of these elements – speed humps, diverters, and daylighted crosswalks – would be of use in every single residential neighborhood of this city. Every. Single. One. Anyone interested in applying should feel free to contact us at email@example.com. We will be happy to help your application in any way we can, whether it’s through peer-to-peer technical assistance or anything else we can do. Thanks!
Photo 1 – Crosswalk daylighting.
Photo 2 – Diverter to prevent wrong-way cut-through traffic.
Photo 3 – A recently-installed speed hump (there are several in this area)!!! Would, however, prefer the sign to be located in a way that it didn’t take up sidewalk, but that’s a minor quibble right now.
The Roslindale Gateway Path — the linchpin of a multiuse off-road trail to connect Roslindale Square with Forest Hills — took a significant step forward earlier this month when our Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, ensured that complete funding for the path was included in the House’s Environmental Bond Bill. You can find the authorization — for $3 million — right there on line 378, page 19 of the bill! Based on our preliminary estimates including the 10% design study, we believe this state funding coupled with city support and cooperation from the MBTA will be sufficient to design and build the entire path, including the Blackwell Path Extension on the Forest Hills/Jamaica Plain side, as well as the Gateway Path starting at the Roslindale MBTA Commuter Rail Station and extending into the Arboretum.
While the bill still needs to get through the Senate and be signed by the Governor, we are delighted by Rep. Sánchez’s leadership on this important sustainability issue. We expect Senator Michael Rush, who represents much of Roslindale in the Senate and serves as Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, will also go to bat to help see this through.
At this point, we have no immediate action item for path supporters (other than to thank our elected officials when you get a chance!), but we will be keeping a close eye on the bill as it moves through the Senate. We expect the authorization will come up in the Senate some time before the end of July.
Earlier this spring, the Walsh Administration announced next year’s transportation budget, which included a substantial increase for Vision Zero and walkability. We sent a letter at the time in support of the budget. Tonight (Tuesday, May 22) the City Council holds a hearing on the budget. We encourage everyone to speak up for safe streets and better transit at the hearing:
Boston Transportation Department Budget Hearing
Tuesday, May 22, 5 pm – 7 pm
@ Boston City Hall, 5th Floor, Iannella Chamber
1 City Hall Square, Boston
Last year, hundreds showed up at the BTD Budget Hearing, and it had a direct impact on securing more funding for the Neighborhood Slow Streets program. It’s critical to keep the momentum going in 2018, so please show up and support the proposal!
WalkUP also submitted an additional support letter today in anticipation of the hearing, which we will deliver in person tonight. The full text of the letter is included below.
Washington Street Bus Lane (Image Courtesy Universal Hub)
We’re now a couple weeks into the Washington Street Dedicated Bus Lane pilot run and all reports are that it is going swimmingly for bus riders, bicyclists, and car drivers alike. The bus commute time from Rozzie Square to Forest Hills has been shortened for many from as long as half an hour or more to just a few minutes, making the bus a much more practical alternative to the commuter rail (which is infrequent and too expensive for many) or individual driving (we’ve already heard several anecdotes about people who have switched to save time and avoid traffic angst).
It’s now time to make sure the City hears feedback from the community about the pilot–if we don’t speak up, there is no guarantee that they will be able to justify continued investment in the resources necessary to keep the morning rush hour bus lane in place permanently, and ultimately to expand to an evening rush hour bus lane as well (when peak outbound traffic is even worse than in the morning).
So please drop a note right now to the Boston Transportation Department at BTD@nullboston.gov with your thoughts about the bus lane. It need not be lengthy–a sentence or two will do–but just let them know what you think. Lots of people are watching and this could be the start of big pro-walking/bike/transit changes in Roslindale and around the City of Boston, and it’s critical we seize the momentum.
Some press coverage below:
As part of the Mayor’s Vision Zero Boston initiative, Boston Public Works will make some significant pedestrian infrastructure improvements in the village this coming week, beginning Tuesday, April 24. We are extremely excited to be officially entering “Phase I” of this process, and appreciate the City’s efforts in engaging with WalkUP and the community at large to help advance our vision of making Roslindale the most walkable neighborhood in Boston. The safety upgrades we will see this week were set in motion, at least in part, by our neighborhood Walk Audit back in 2015.
In particular, much of the Square will be re-paved and re-painted this week. If all goes according to plan, we will see two new crosswalks corresponding to some well-tread desire lines — one at the bottom of the steps coming down from the commuter rail station, crossing Belgrade Ave, thus creating a straight shot pedestrian route from the T to the soon-to-open (can’t wait!) Distraction Brewing Company at the corner of Belgrade and Birch (previously Emac and Bolio’s as well as the Select Café space). Another new crosswalk should appear connecting the Taft Hill municipal lot to the Village Market area, crossing South Street mid-block between Taft Hill and Belgrade. Indeed, this archival photo (perhaps from the mid-1980’s, showing then-City Councilor Thomas Menino across from now-753 South Street) shows that we once had a crosswalk here, so it’s great to get it back!
Tom Menino in Roslindale With Crosswalk
Particularly exciting is that we will also be getting our first raised crosswalk in the village, at the corner of Belgrade and Birch Street.
Two additional notes:
- We expect most of this work to happen late and overnight. While this may be a short-term noise hardship for those living nearby, it means the work will be done much faster — with cooperative weather and no unpleasant surprises, hopefully in less than a week. We support the City’s decision to get this work done quickly, which will allow us to enjoy the benefits quite soon and also minimize daytime impact on village businesses. Earplugs can be purchased at Sullivan’s Pharmacy for pennies a pair!
- Part of this “Phase I” effort also involves improving the locations of the village bus stops and installing flexposts to better protect “daylighted” areas. For various logistical reasons, these steps will roll out as “Phase I(b)” — not this coming week, but (we hope) in the very near future. Stay tuned for more info on this front.
Yesterday, we sent an official letter to Mayor Walsh in strong support of his proposed Fiscal Year 2019 transportation budget, specifically in view of several major steps forward on our most important goal for Roslindale and the City of Boston: walkability! The full text of our letter is below; we encourage everyone to drop a quick note to the Mayor and their elected representatives on the City Council to insure the active and mass transportation aspects of the budget are enacted. Once implemented, we expect residents and business owners will immediately appreciate major returns on these investments in walking, bicycle, and bus infrastructure, which will then lay the groundwork for even bigger progress in the future.
With yesterday’s announcement by the Mayor’s Office and the Boston Transportation Department that BTD’s requested budget will be increased by $5 million annually starting in FY 2019 (i.e., July 1 of this year), we can all now safely say that the implementation of Vision Zero and Go Boston 2030, the major mobility policy and plan that took the better part of the administration’s first term to develop and adopt, has begun in earnest.
Check out the full announcement, Mayor Walsh announces transformative investments. There are quotes from the Mayor, State Rep. Russell Holmes, Roslindale’s own City Councilor at Large Michelle Wu, Sam Tyler from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, and BTD Commissioner Gina Fiandaca. There is also what I view to be the money quote from Chief of Streets Chris Osgood, as follows:
“To manage our region’s growth, to address climate change, and to increase equity, we know we need to transform our transportation system. Building off the Go Boston 2030 plan, this set of investments is a major step towards that goal. It increases investment in the basics of our streets, such as well-timed traffic signals, smooth roads and good sidewalks, and it builds out a team that can help more people get around our city by bus, bike, car or foot.”
As can be seen, this really is a big step forward and worth the attention it’s getting. The additional funding, proposed to be generated by increasing the penalties associated with a carefully constructed list of major parking and traffic violations, is significant. (And we here at WalkUP Roslindale are excited to see the Roslindale Gateway Path cited as a key GreenLink eligible for some of the new capital funding.) But even more significant is what much of the new funding is intended to be spent on – “building out a team that can help more people get around our city by bus, bike, car or foot” – a team that includes:
- 6 new staff to form a “Transit Team” led by a “transit coordinator” that will plan, facilitate, implement, and maintain bus improvements like the Washington Street pilot in several more corridors across the city;
- One new traffic signal engineer to manage and re-time traffic signals to increase safety, and reduce traffic congestion and related vehicle emissions;
- Two new traffic signal mechanics to keep signals working as designed;
- Two new planners and two new engineers to focus on designing and implementing key Vision Zero programs, such as Neighborhood Slow Streets, and efforts to make quick improvements to some of Boston’s most challenging intersections; and
- Up to four new maintenance & operations personnel to ensure that infrastructure added to improve street safety, such as pedestrian delineators and flex posts, are kept in a state of good repair.
All of that new dedicated staff should be music to anyone’s ears who was concerned that the combination of Vision Zero and Go Boston 2030 were more ambitious undertakings than BTD had staff or resources to implement. It is now clear that the Mayor and his administration intend to make good on the promise the policy and plan embody. He and they are to be applauded and thanked for taking this important step. We here at WalkUP Roslindale look forward to supporting the budget request before the City Council and then doing everything we can to help the Mayor and BTD implement both Vision Zero and Go Boston 2030 in our neighborhood. We recommend that you do the same!
The Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab (part of New Urban Mechanics) recently put out a “request for information” (or RFI) regarding housing with public assets–a public process intended to “allow the city to explore new ideas without committing resources to a particular concept.” Specifically, the City is interesting in improving its core city assets–libraries, fire stations, community centers, and municipal parking lots–to help address the housing crisis and make a dent in the goal of adding 53,000 new units of housing in Boston by 2030.
The City of Boston owns hundreds of parcels of land and hundreds of buildings that could play in a significant role in achieving this goal. Among these is the Taft Hill parking lot right in Roslindale Square. From our “Walkable Urban Place” perspective, the lot has several attractive features: it is literally yards away from our main street shopping district that would be enhanced by greater density of residents who would frequent the shops on foot, and the only location closer to the commuter rail station is the commuter rail lot itself. Moreover, we’d like to see more land dedicated to housing people and businesses, rather than serving as dead “free” car-storage all day. We are thus quite interested in helping lead dialogue with the city on this idea.
On the other hand, we’ve seen several smaller developments in recent years in and around Roslindale which have gradually increased population and density. While we’ve generally applauded this increase in housing supply, the inescapable fact is that the City has done far more on housing than on transportation, and unless we change course immediately, the lack of meaningful coordination between transportation and land use will take a real toll on livability and likely engender strident community opposition to any further development. In short, Boston can and should accommodate 100,000 new residents, but not 50,000 new cars.
To that end, we’ve sent the letter below to respond to the City’s RFI on developing the Taft Hill lot. The focus here is not any specific development proposal for the lot–a process which is still some a ways off, but rather an urgent call to arms to start putting the right sustainable transportation pieces in place now, so that when it comes time to evaluate specific development proposals, we will have some assurance that these will enhance the neighborhood’s walkability and vitality and not result in increased gridlock, pollution, and harm to the pedestrian environment.
If you share our concerns and our vision, be sure to reach out to all the officials listed below and let them know!