Sunday, August 19, 2007

Drive Calmly

Turning now to the infrastructure crisis, please read this hilarious -- and totally accurate -- column written by Monique Spencer. She writes about the "traffic calming" measures installed on Beacon Street in her home town of Brookline, MA. An excerpt:

You put a red light on every block. You get rid of parking in order to kill the retailers. You make new pedestrian crossings appear overnight, in between the red lights. Special bike lanes appear on one block, then disappear, with nanny signs that say "Share the Road." Meander the side streets and you'll find giant mounds in the road that are supposed to make you slow down. The traffic engineers call these "vertical deflections." Their real function is to eject the newcomer. At night, he does not see the mound, because it is not lit. He hits the takeoff ramp at 30 miles per hour, and by the time his car touches ground again he is in the next town.

I do not feel calmed.

In a more serious vein, part of the reconfiguration was to remove one lane of traffic to create a protected area for on-street parkers along the median island of Beacon Street -- accompanied by a "bulb-out" or "neckdown" at each intersection (see picture above). Let's please recall that the Brookline section of Beacon Street is one of the evacuation routes from downtown Boston in the event of civil emergency or natural disaster. Now that three outgoing lanes have been transformed into two, it seems that we have a 50% reduction in traffic capacity. Were the emergency preparedness people from Boston notified before this happened?


Anonymous said...

I have to say I am not calmed by the evacuation routes at all. there are signs on my street and I follow them regularly only to find they take me to the next town over and disappear. where do I go from there. That town is surly not a good place to be say, in a hurricane, it is a coastal town. yet there are no more evacuation signs. Boston is done with you, you're on your own.

Anonymous said...

I may be missing something but
>>>Now that three outgoing lanes have been transformed into two, it seems that we have a 50% reduction in traffic capacity.
3 lanes down to 2 is is 33% reduction
Not to take away form the points

Unknown said...

Have you driven down Beacon Street since the lane reconfiguration? Or better, had you driven before the reconfiguration?

On most of Beacon Street we had three narrow lanes, one of which was smack dab against a row of parked cars. So, effectively, there were two narrow lanes, since no one but the grizzliest of taxi drivers would risk taking off the door of a parked car. One of the remaining lane was in a constant struggle against those parked against the median, since there was no clearance for entering or emerging cars.

These days, two wide lanes of traffic move with relative ease (excepting when remaining construction crews are in the way), and some of the white-knuckled terror of Beacon Street driving has been ameliorated.

And let's not forget about cyclists. Frankly, I was terrified the couple times I commuted by bike between Brookline and the medical area -- it's certainly not for amateurs. (I grew up in the suburbs, where a bike ride was a calm and safe endeavor.) Any addition of dedicated bike lanes is most welcome.

Now, we haven't yet seen the impact of all the new traffic lights -- many aren't enabled yet -- but we were promised that advanced timing techniques would assure a smooth ride from one end of Brookline to the other.

What remains, of course, is the pedestrian perspective. Bulb-outs and speed bumps can be annoying for drivers, but when it's midnight on Winchester Street, and some drunk BU student is barreling down at 50 MPH, I'm pretty happy there's a "vertical deflection" that'll tear up his car.