Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pedestrians an Afterthought?

You've got to wonder what they were thinking. The design of the new Beacon Street must have looked pretty impressive on all those drawings. Despite the excessive intuitive lane weaving that the driver must somehow have the precognition to execute, the autos for the most part seem to have been accommodated. After all that's what the highway department thinks its job is.

But what about all the other life that goes on around and across and in the road? It is, after all those of us who cross Beacon on foot, take the trolley, walk or jog along the sidewalks, ride a bike, shop, talk to our friends, window shop, attend Arts Festivals, tend our front yards and sometimes just sit on our front stoops to watch the world go by all on or along side historic Beacon Street. Just how much thought was given to the way all of this was going to work out?

If the intersection at Harvard and Beacon is any indication, not much. Stand on the southeast corner of this intersection and watch as the streams of pedestrians weave and dodge there way around the two huge signal boxes placed directly in the middle of the obvious travel path, not to mention the many poles, etc. These impediments are so intrusive, we are forced to dodge each other dodging the boxes and poles! Yes, we can manage I guess, although I think people in well chairs or on walkers would have a hard time of it. But managing is not the point is it?

This crossing should have been designed and planned to be plenty big, wide, clear and with a good flat surface and if we were really lucky it could have been aesthetically appealing with some nice T signage thrown in. Doesn't anyone know how to plan for pedestrians? Didn't anyone think about the amount of people on foot that cross this street daily. My experience with the St.Paul Street T stop has not been much better. Here we have crowds of people with suitcases destined for the Holiday Inn getting off onto a strip of asphalt only to find that they must circle around on a narrow little circuit of patchwork pavement wrapped around a few poles, signal boxes and planting beds. Again, no real thought was given to accommodating numbers of people or making it easy, convenient or pleasant. My friend Susan Bartek tells me that the narrow passage way was actually much smaller and it was only through her quick action as she watched this error being committed and called it to the attention of the Town and T that some slight accommodation was made. Pretty incredible that this kind of ineptitude is still going on.

In this day and age of global warming we should be doing everything we can to make walking, biking and riding the T the preferred transportation alternatives. Part of this means making sure the effort is made to design and build functionality for all transportation modes, especially when masses amounts of time, energy and tax dollars are being expended.

This seems to be a case where better, professional expertise in the form of design review and oversight were needed. Whether or not this was a failure of attention or a simple lack of staff resources, it revels yet another instance where the complexities of the governance we are in need of has outstripped our ability to provide it. And I'm afraid this seems to be happening on just about all fronts at once. Ours is a complex, dense and in many ways urban community and we are not really managing change let alone planning for the future adequately.

[Where: 1319 Beacon St., Brookline, MA 02446]

1 comment:

Tommy Vitolo said...

I've been working on this problem for months. There's at least four legally blind people in my precinct, and at least that many in wheelchairs. We spent a few hours detailing the problems along Upper Beacon with Peter Ditto, a representative from Mass Highway, a representative from State Representative Frank Smizik's office, and others.

We pointed out problems like you mentioned (poor placement). It's bad enough for able-bodied pedestrians, but if you're blind it means that the crosswalk buttons aren't in logical places. It means the speakers announcing "it's now safe to cross the street" don't coordinate with a direction because they're too far from the curb [is it safe to cross Beacon or the cross street?]. It means poles are in the way -- and when you're blind, that could mean a nice bump on the forehead. The curbcuts aren't facing each other -- when you go down a curb cut and you don't have sight, you follow the direction of the curb cut -- right into the middle of the intersection because it isn't perpendicular with the curb. Furthermore, those curbcuts aren't near the corner -- they tend to be as many as 15 feet down the street, making it hard for those without sight to find them, and hard for them to weave around the cars who have pulled all the way up to the intersection and are now parked right on the crosswalk.

In a wheelchair? It's not much better. The poles scattered across the sidewalks make areas a tighter squeeze, creating uncomfortable pinch points that slow down these 36" wide pedestrians. Try getting to the St Paul MBTA station in a wheelchair -- it's not physically possible in a wheelchair, and that is an ADA violation.

As I wrote, these problems were brought to the attention of Peter Ditto, the Brookline Department of Public Works Transportation Director. He listened attentively, came on site for a few hours to see the problems, and has done nothing to help alleviate them so far as we can tell. Nothing has improved, and he hasn't communicated with us about any intentions to fix any of it.

It's been a major disappointment, and my concern is that the large majority of the design flaws don't violate code, and will therefore be implemented in future projects, even though they are design flaws. The constant response from DPW was "it's to code" even if the poorly placed poles, terribly placed curb cuts, and sidewalk pinch points make for a far worse experience for pedestrians.

Don't even get me started on the fact that a constituent of mine with cerebral palsy can't cross Beacon Street in front of her apartment without crossing Carlton St first -- and then a second time to get back to "her" side of Carlton but the other side of Beacon. Why? They took away the striping and curbcuts across Beacon on the west side of Carlton Street. You can't cross Beacon on either side of the cross streets any more in a number of places -- they took away a huge number of crosswalks, making it either less safe and/or less convenient for pedestrians at every single intersection.

Tommy Vitolo
Town Meeting Member
Precinct 1