Somerville by Design: A complete streets approach

On March 8, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

mayor_webBy Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

As residents of the most densely populated community in New England, our choice to live, work, play and raise families in an urban environment is dictated by many factors, like proximity to family and friends, access to jobs and services, and the cultural and entrepreneurial energy that defines cities. Walkability and bikeability between neighborhoods and squares, immediate access goods and services, and the cultural understanding that comes with sharing close borders with neighbors are all key factors setting us apart from suburban or rural communities. Perhaps the most fundamental element to our quality of life in an urban core is choice in transportation.

We know that choice is important to Somerville residents, because we’ve asked. From our first-in-the nation Happiness Survey, the award-winning, grassroots SomerVision Comprehensive Plan, and our semi-annual ResiStat public meetings, the same themes emerge: we want our city to be safe, accessible and navigable whether we are walking, biking or driving. Our residents consistently and passionately advocate for transportation improvements, from neighborhood-serving crosswalks all the way to big issues like saving MBTA bus routes and extending the Green Line. Easy access to transit, and therefore to jobs, schools and amenities, is what separates urban communities from suburban and rural ones, and what makes cities so desirable for our young, educated residents.

This tradition of using resident feedback to improve our urban environment is exactly why the city recently launched the “Somerville by Design” initiative. Somerville by Design is a philosophy focused on the idea that we realize the best results in planning, zoning, and infrastructure projects when our residents are engaged to establish a physical, collective vision for our city’s future, how we want our neighborhoods, squares and streets to look, feel and function.

Between October 2012 and January 2013, more than 200 Somerville residents, business leaders and community stakeholders participated in the Somerville by Design “Station Area Planning Series,” geared toward planning for physical improvements around future MBTA Green Line stations.  Through a series of public meetings, open studio design sessions and one-on-one discussions with property owners, led by walkability expert Jeff Speck, we are generating physical design plans that will be published this spring and summer, and will lead the way for future design goals throughout the GLX process.  Make no mistake, public processes like these can and do yield very real improvements.  Take, for example, the 1984 Davis Square Action Plan, which was critical to producing many of the square’s best-loved public spaces and urban design characteristics.

A second phase of work under the Somerville by Design umbrella, the “Complete Streets Series,” kicked off in February. Rather than limiting its focus to areas surrounding future T stations, this Complete Streets series considers development citywide, with participants exploring how we can create and maintain safe and attractive streets that offer the best possible access to, from, and within our neighborhoods.  Nationally-recognized engineer and designer Ian Lockwood joins us for this series, working with our city staff to develop and run an exciting, interactive public involvement process that will translate best-practices in urban design to Somerville’s constrained urban environment.  (If you haven’t seen Ian’s presentation on City Cable, be sure to check out the OSPCD page on the city’s website.)

Our emphasis on and commitment to a truly multimodal and accessible community is already apparent: we’ve installed more than 25 miles of bike markings in the last three years; we’ve implemented projects like the East Broadway reconstruction, which will include wider sidewalks and bike lanes; we’re discussing the addition of a cycletrack along a reconstructed Beacon Street; and we will break ground on the extension of the Community Path from Cedar Street to Lowell Street this spring. In short, we’re committed to increasing walkability and bikeability, and with that, increasing access to goods and services both in our city and outside of our borders, and each of these projects has been undertaken through open, public processes that incorporate community ideals.

We know from our recent successes in Magoun Square and on Somerville Avenue that an inclusive approach to transportation planning will better serve all of our constituents. In my 2013 mid-term address, I issued an ambitious challenge: let’s work to make Somerville the most walkable small city in America. Walkscore has already ranked us the 10th most walkable community in the nation.  The Street and the League of American Bicyclists have named us the 8th most bikeable community.  But this is Somerville, and we can do even better. A proactive, complete streets approach will allow the city to balance the needs of different users and offer better transportation choices for all.


14 Responses to “Somerville by Design: A complete streets approach”

  1. Spencer says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Very excited for all of these improvements.

  2. A. Moore says:

    what makes cities so desirable for our young, educated residents

    Like we haven’t already figured out it is not meant for the rest of us uneducated older people. Please, you have been too obvious.

  3. j. connelly says:

    Nothing wrong with bicycles as long as they obey the rules. The City however placing markings on roadways already too narrow for cars is wrong and outright hazardous and a lesson in their stupidity. Whoever makes those decisions should be pink slipped. It is truly evident that if they have common sense and actually went out and viewed the width, etc of some of these streets..those streets should not have bike markings.
    Cycletrack = Cyclecrap!

  4. Somerbreeze says:

    As some posters (elsewhere) have pointed out, the City’s current plan for this cycle track only increases the chances for dangerous bike/pedestrian interactions…

    You must admit that the Mayor’s Yuppy Praetorian Guard has done an excellent job of fending off Common Sense!

  5. A. Moore says:

    We shall see what this deficit problem is going to do to some of this. Even the Dems are not buying the Deval plan. They are going to have to do a realty check here. Borrwing our way out of debt does not seem like a realistic approach to this.

    At some point the City of Somerville may have age and income guidlines. Othewise you don’t belong here.

  6. Bostom says:

    From this morning’s UK Daily Mail: The San Francisco pedestrian a cyclist hit in a crosswalk doing 30 mph after blowing through three red lights died. The biker’s response: a Facebook tribute to his broken helmet.

    When will the taxpaying, home-owning, voting citizens of Somerville wake up? When will the scofflaw cyclists slow down? When will the traffic laws be enforced even-handedly? Never, if Joe has his way – it’ll be more of the same on streets and sidewalks of Somerville..

  7. Blood Hound says:

    You will be assured that Joey Cakes will never ride a bike to and from work as he would soon become a Hood Ornament. not the angel from a Rolls Royce but a replica of the water tower that went the same way as the pumping station at Assemble Square and the famous 1 sale of the Junior high building to Tuffs, two for Clean Gene and one for Joey Cakes.

  8. Bostom says:

    Maybe it’s all part of the larger plan – as of 1 pm Saturday, (and since at least 11 am) the website, billed as an “expanded service” because “You asked and we listened” as a means of renewing parking and visitor permits online and for which we all received both a letter and a postcard explaining how it works, isn’t, um, working. Error 505.

    Now, instead of wasting hours standing in line at the Holland Street office to renew your permits, you can waste additional hours online trying different browsers, retrying the url, etc. and not accomplish the same thing. The dress code’s a little more casual, but the result’s the same: my time wasted by people being paid (handsomely I’m sure – the site’s outsourced, of course) in order to waste it.

    Progress, folks, progress. Meanwhile, hundreds of parking spaces are disappearing, revenue from parking fines are way up, store owners are losing customers who won’t risk a ticket due to a lack of nearby spaces, and unless the site is fixed soon, you won’t have the permit you tried to order during the “21 days in advance” required before the old one expires on March 31st.

    After that, it’s April Fools Day and we’re the fools for letting it continue.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    “we’re discussing the addition of a cycletrack along a reconstructed Beacon Street”

    It’s not a discussion. It’s a done deal and you haven’t done anything to prove to us otherwise, Joe. Stop steamrolling long time residents and business owners just so you can add some extra line to your resume before you try running for governor. The neighborhood petitioned against the parking cut. Cyclists are divided on the tracks actually being safe. What happened with the November resolution from the Board of Aldermen requesting OSPCD present alternatives to the cycle track? They never did at any of the following meetings.

    Our state senator had to stand up for us and publicly oppose the design because it’s becoming quite clear that city hall doesn’t care about people on Beacon Street. If you did – you would’ve repaved the road a long time ago instead of letting it crumble all these years. Now? You’re trying to permanently inconvenience an entire neighborhood just to build some small sections of cycle track that probably aren’t even that safe. Get over yourself – just repave the street and paint the bike lanes!

  10. A Moore says:

    Jeffrey, the ceo has his mind set and it is best not to disagree. Don’t have to look far the record speaks for itself. Somewhere along the line the pols somehow got sidetracked into thinking they are not our employees. This one is the worst of the worst, definetly not working for all the citizens of Somerville, just select groups which is very obvious.

  11. Blood Hound says:

    Well well A Moore are you sugesting to Jeffrey that the streets of Somerville are not paved with gold ??

  12. sharon says:

    Seems like if the city really cared how people felt, and wanted to make it easier for them to get around, they would stop adding brick sidewalks and crosswalks. These are difficult and dangerous for anyone with a walker, cane, crutches, wheelchair, or electric scooter. It’s been pointed out many times but noone seems to care. What happened to the city’s Disabilities Commission? Did they all quit out of frustration?

  13. A Moore says:

    My father aproaching 90 with a hip and knee replacement called about then after he escaped harm crossing them. Obviously got nowhere. They are dangerous plus they cost more. Go figure.

  14. krisKringle says:

    Sharon’s said the important thing. if SteroidzJoe give a damn he’d heed the complaints of our most vulnerable residents who are still stuck inside be cuz Joey don’t seriously give a damn. he only puts out PR about safety to hide the lack of safety citywide, as if saying it enuf will make it true. Take a look at the new brick walks around the high school, it’s yet another slap in the face and punch in the gut for people who walk with wheels.

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