Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bad Traffic Circulation is Good for the Neighborhood: Bring the Streetcars Back to Washington Street

The Urban Man on Los Angeles radio station KCRW writes in "The Joy of Poor Circulation" that lousy traffic circulation is just what is needed to make an area a good neighborhood.

The olden days had people walking around their neighborhood making it feel personal, but lots of efficient traffic flow puts people into cars driving to Costco:

On Monday you walked around the block for coffee and croissants, down where narrow streets filled pleasantly with a confusion of people and cars. There you idled in front of a flower shop and popped into a tiny market for apples, where you joked with the beautiful cashier.

Then lo, Tuesday morning you step out your door and find that someone has widened the street and added an onramp. At the end of the block, an Office Depot looms.

Just like that, romance flees. Soon you're driving to Costco for apples and croissants. Soon, you forget the beautiful cashier.
Instead of having wide boulevards with many lanes of efficiently moving traffic, people stuck in lousy traffic on overburdened streets begin to think about walking, riding bikes, and using mass transit. And the neighborhood is all the better because of it.

Brightonians have been complaining a lot lately about the horrendous traffic that is building up on Washington Street between Oak Square and the Police Station. It's so bad that 3-5 cars are regularly stuck in gridlock-mode in the middle of the intersection of Foster Street and Washington Street.

The Urban Man thinks that bad traffic is good, so let's apply his arguments: keep Washington Street one lane in each direction, have no dedicated left-hand turn lanes, install lots of raised crosswalks, make it one-way in a few places, set the traffic signal programs on "random" (so that some unlucky cars have to wait several light cycles), and plop a trolley line right down the middle of the street...

...But wait, the street used to have the trolley, so let's bring it back! Brighton Center might then return to feeling like a neighborhood instead of way station for Newton commuters. Wouldn't the return of the streetcar be a beautiful sight?


Suldog said...

As a Watertown resident, I agree 100%. Good job.

t.s. said...

Yes! Yes! The only way people are going to use mass transit is if it's there -
The MBTA should restore streetcar service on Washington Street. If there were decent mass transit around me here in Allston/Brighton, I'd ditch my car in a jiff, but right now, that's not an option because mass transit here is shamefully bad.

Dennis Mahon said...

It's a nice idea, but it will never happen. The MBTA isn't about to open a new line while the Kenmore station restoration project is still going on. And the Mayor certainly isn't about to rip up the medians that were just installed on Brighton Ave.