Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Boston

The State of Livable Streets in Boston

boston_crosswalk.jpgThe Boston Globe serves up a smorgasbord of livable streets storylines in this gripping read, "The Future of Crossing the Street." An overview of Boston's evolving transportation scene, the piece starts with a look at the "shared space" philosophy of Hans Monderman, the pioneering Dutch traffic engineer who designed intersections with minimal controls, signals and boundaries.

Reporter Billy Baker captures the tension between making pedestrians conform to current street designs and adapting streets to put walking and other modes on more equal footing with driving. Here's how the situation looks to Boston transportation commish Thomas Tinlin:

The transportation department has a secure roominside City Hall known as the Traffic Management Center. It looks a bitlike the war room in a Hollywood movie. Eight large screens and severalsmaller ones show real-time video of different intersections, andcomputer screens display the city's signal maps. A technician sits at adesk monitoring the ant farm, ready to make traffic-light adjustments.But fixing one intersection could create gridlock in the next.Everything they do, Tinlin says, is a trade-off . "Transportationcommissioners of the past have always been about 'move the car, movethe car.' The world is so different now. It's cars and bikes andwheelchairs."

The new reality, however, is still playing outinside an old reality. Greater Boston is artery-heavy; its mainpedestrian streets are often choked with vehicles. Shared Space,Tinlin's engineers point out, is not designed for heavily traffickedstreets. And tearing up and rebuilding the city is not realistic.Instead, there are many retrofits that are coming into vogue andappearing in a few nearby cities and towns to calm traffic and make thepedestrian safer.

A big one is to install things like bump-outs, bulb-outs, and curbextensions... They bring the sidewalk out past the parked cars,closer to the edge of the travel lane, put the pedestrian into thesightlines of drivers, and shorten the distance the pedestrian has tocross to the other side of the street. These extended sidewalks canalso improve bus stops. Because the curb comes out to the travel lane,it eliminates the need for a 90-foot bus stop (which can actually add aparking space or two), makes the on/off safer and easier, and keeps thebus from having to fight its way back onto the street -- improvingservice and reliability and, advocates believe, encouraging more peopleto use mass transit, which they view as a huge component for making theentire system better. Of course, moving out bus stops means cars haveless chance to pass a slower-moving bus, but advocates say you need toconsider the fact that there could be more people on that bus than inthe cars behind it, and the best way to balance the system is toconsider how many people you move, not how many vehicles.

Anotherretrofit in wide use is the raised crosswalk, which brings thecrosswalk level with the sidewalk and forces the car to have to come uponto the pedestrian's space, instead of the pedestrian having to stepdown onto the vehicle's territory (it also functions as a speed bump).

The full story is well worth the read, and another recent Globe article, on Boston's first bike lanes, makes for a good companion piece.

Photo: NYCviaRachel/Flickr

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Wednesday’s Headlines: Citi Bike By the Numbers Edition

Haters of Citi Bike are really going to detest the new website. Plus other news.

July 17, 2024

Once Again, There is More Evidence that Safer Streets Help Local Business

...and there's more insight into why people simply don't believe it.

July 17, 2024

Bedford Ave. Protected Bike Lane Would Benefit Residents, Businesses: Data

A new report debunks the common myth that street safety projects aren't built for the benefit of people who live in a given neighborhood.

July 16, 2024

Tuesday’s Headlines: Rajkumar’s Citywide Bid Edition

The potential candidate for city comptroller cares more about "quality of life" than transportation, she says. Plus more news.

July 16, 2024

Report: The 3 Deadliest Districts for Pedestrians are Represented by Republicans

According to Smart Growth America, Suffolk County and the southwestern part of Nassau County are the worst places to be a pedestrian in the state.

July 16, 2024
See all posts