A Walking City

Boston is a walking city… or so they say. And sometimes I try to walk places. But when you’re on foot, Boston is more of a waiting city…

A Walking City

We don’t want car traffic to get backed up do we?

 

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24 Responses to “A Walking City”

  • I have been reading missives from the UK that are saying that the attitude of “Smoothing the traffic flow” has caused more than half of the pedestrian and cyclist deaths in London. I’m sorry to see it in this country as well.

  • SW Corridorer

    Amen! The absolute worst is the light at Ruggles Street on the Southwest Corridor. I’ve waited 5 minutes for the light to turn there on a regular basis. Even in Boston, which has done so much to improve conditions for cyclists, the mentality remains to keep everything convenient for cars.

  • My girlfriend just moved here from NYC and is totally confused by the pedestrian signalling in Boston. I hadn’t really ever thought about it before, but she’s totally right to be confused.

  • Ben

    I bike most places, but when I actually walk or run somewhere I don’t usually, I find it is far more difficult to walk than any other mode! My neighborhood and the surrounding area lacks sidewalks on about half the blocks, and that is in the old part of the city, where the grid was laid out specifically for pedestrians and wagons.

    The bridges and viaducts connecting the chopped-up urban core sometimes have narrow, rusted “sidewalks” that are extremely dangerous and the suburbs have insane arterials that are a 200-foot walk curb-to-curb (if you can even get there in the first place). If I go to some shopping development, I find myself walking twenty minutes from store to store, cutting through parking lots and landscaping that are clearly meant to funnel cars from place to place. It’s amazing to me how little thought is given to the idea that someone might actually walk from place to place.

  • Ethan Fleming

    Just like Ben, I bike most places. Boston does get crowded with pedestrians during certain times of the day/week. I do a little bit of walking and I have a little bit of experience driving in Boston but I try to avoid driving. I personally think that pedestrians have to wait a longer time for a walk signal than cars have to waiting for a green light. This city has been made more convenient for people who get around by driving than by anyone who gets around by any sort of non-motorized transportation.
    It is weird. Most of the roads and blocks were designed for horse and buggy transportation and has had a lot of trouble adapting to the automobile. That is why we have so many one way streets in Boston. Now that there is not only an increase in bike transportation but walking transportation as well it is like the city has make a big change all over again.

  • I’m not from Boston, but enjoy visiting – one of my favorite cities. It is evident to me when I visit that in fact Boston’s traffic woes are really all because of one demon – the automobile. Boston, more than almost any other city, is a place that is not designed for automobiles; it suffers greatly by trying to accommodate them. (Case in point: Casey Overpass debacle.) Imagine a Boston in which automobiles are banned inside the 128: an attractive, cozy, and more user-friendly city. Wouldn’t even need those failed pedestrian signals! But then, just another of my impossible “bike dreams” – sigh!

    • Marianna

      I agree that Boston would benefit from a London-style tax on city center car traffic, but you’re only going to lose potential allies by suggesting that 128 be the dividing line! Although, it might lower home prices on some nice bikeable territory…

    • dr2chase

      How about inside Route 60 instead?

  • Antony

    I visited Boston (from Toronto) last fall, and do I ever agree with this comic. Some things you missed:

    - No pedestrian crossing light unless you push a button, almost ever
    - Pushbuttons attached in convenient-to-electricians places (like behind a post 5′ from the crosswalk)
    - Even working pushbuttons take 3-4 minutes to change lights, no matter how long cars have had right of way
    - Light cycles too short for elderly/unfit people to cross
    - Curvy on/off ramps chopping up pedestrian crossings into 3-corner detours
    - No ‘buffer zone’ between yellow light (cars finishing left turns) and green light (oncoming traffic).

    How much of this is Federal, and how much just Boston?

  • Out here in Suburbia, for decades the focus has been on improving traffic flow and getting cars through town as quickly and efficiently as possible.
    Just now they’re starting to realize that just pushing those cars THROUGH downtown means nobody’s stopping to shop or eat downtown, and all these Main Street businesses have been suffering for it.

  • Sao Paulo, in Brazil, is just like that… BUT WORST!

  • Andreae

    there’s a great graphic in http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2013/01/america-walking-disaster/4409/ showing a car driver repeatedly pushing a button waiting for the pedestrian traffic to break–#WhatBostonNeeds

  • Charlie Denison

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves! The reason why the signals are so confusing is because they vary depending on location, day of the week, and time of day. Most but not all of the pedestrian signals have buttons. Some are automatic all the time. Others are automatic during the weekdays between 7 am and 7 pm but require you to push the button at other times. Some signals actually require you to wait MORE than one full light cycle if you don’t press the button within a certain part of the cycle. And at many intersections, some crosswalks will be automatic and others require you to press the button, at the SAME intersection! You have no way of knowing which one unless you’ve been through that intersection before and have studied how it works. The signage is of no help at all. And yes, many highly traveled crossings by pedestrians require people to wait 3+ minutes before getting a walk signal, including periods of time when there are no cars in sight. It’s absolutely insane!

    I recently wrote a blog post about this very topic a few months ago: http://somerville.patch.com/blog_posts/why-we-jaywalk-and-what-we-can-do-about-it

  • Hmmm, try imagine standing in freakin’ cold winter -25 degrees C ….at least 500 km. northwest of Boston. That’s how it is in Calgary downtown and they have several 4-5 lane car roads..one-way to speed up cars..just for a few peak hrs.

  • Kevin Love

    Downtown Boston should be car-free. The streets were never designed for cars.

    If Boston were in Asia or Europe the downtown would be car-free. This is a profoundly disfunctional North American obsession that blights cities.

  • Geoff

    Great comic as always. Couldn’t you add an MaDOT label on the guys t-shirt that wants to dig under the intersection, or is that too obvious?

  • dr2chase

    And since you have to look anyway for safety even when you have the signal, why not just go when it’s safe and ignore the signal? Why divide your attention between the things that might hurt you, and some unfairly timed signal?

  • Bikey,

    Another fine post. I’ve been irritated by this phasing issue (as I relate here – http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/07/grids-lights-and-why-new-yorks-traffic.html) in New York, where I moved in August. Along the Hudson River Greenway – which is meant to be a cycle artery – there are lights on the few, lightly-used road crossings. They all hold the cyclists – of whom there are many – on red for a long time, even at crossings where I’ve never, ever seen a vehicle cross. The lights continue dutifully to turn red for cyclists even when it’s impossible for a car to get through – for example, when the gates to the cruise terminal are locked.

    There’s a real failure on the part of most transport planners to consider non-motorized modes.

    All the best,

    Invisible.

  • Matt D

    For a long time, the attitude in Boston was that BTD basically said “watch out pedestrians, we’re not going to make the lights easy for you” and the pedestrians said “that’s ok, we don’t give a !@#$ what the lights say anyway”.

    The city has tried to improve things recently, but it takes a long time to overhaul all the lights. Even where there’s no ped button and you don’t have to wait, no one cares. Go watch the intersection of Purchase, Summer, and the ramp from the tunnel. It’s a basic three-phase light: ramp, Purchase, ped, ramp, Purchase, ped. But many can’t even wait that long and sprint across during the all red.

    I lived in the North End and worked downtown for a long time, and walked to work every day. I can’t remember ever caring what the lights were. If there were no cars, you crossed. Few streets in Boston are really so wide that you can’t just look to see if it’s safe. And despite what Bostonians like to think, traffic volumes in the city are pretty tame. Compare that to trying to cross, say Venice or La Cienega in Los Angeles.

    Bottom line, as the city replaces or upgrades lights, they should get rid of the beg buttons and just have concurrent ped phases. But other things, like fixing the MBTA’s decrepit infrastructure, should be higher priority.

  • liz545

    This frustrates me so much! We all have to walk at some point, once we’ve got off our bikes or out of our cars, so why do we make life so difficult for pedestrians? There’s a crossing that I used to use on my ride home in London (Hyde Park Corner/Constitution Hill), on a very busy roundabout with lots of car and foot traffic. If you’ve pushed the button to cross the road, the wait time is around 90 seconds. The green phase for people to cross the road is SIX SECONDS. Even joggers can’t get all the way across in that time! It’s almost impossible for older people, those with disabilities, or young children.

  • Duncan M.

    Almost fifty years ago I had to learn how to jaywalk ~ in Cambridge.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • Ray

    Is this representative of a particular intersection?

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