Somerville begins data-driven street management

On June 12, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

The city is taking a scientific approach to street management, looking to improve ADA accessibility and overall quality of roadway infrastructure.

The city is taking a scientific approach to street management, looking to improve ADA accessibility and overall quality of roadway infrastructure.

Starting immediately, hard data and an innovative new statistical model designed to prioritize community needs and values such as ADA accessibility, transit access, and development of the city’s tree canopy, will guide the paving and sidewalk repair plans of the City of Somerville.

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone has announced that the new Neighborhood Street Reconstruction Program, which also takes advantage of significant cost savings offered by a shift to more preventive maintenance, also recommends an increase of approximately $1.5 million in supplemental city funding for roads and sidewalks beyond expected state funding of roughly $1.5 million, as well as an additional $1 million in funding for further ADA improvements.

To form the basis of the model, a team of city engineers worked with engineering consulting firm Fay, Spofford & Thorndike last year to survey and document the condition of every public way in the city including 93 miles of roadway, 6.5 million square feet of sidewalks and 3,200 curb ramps. Existing statistical models that evaluate only for road condition and likely rate of deterioration were then expanded to include other ranking priorities including:

• Accessibility needs

• Safety and traffic calming needs

• Preventive maintenance impact

• Economic and environmental sustainability (such as tree canopy needs, lighting quality, opportunities for increased green space, multimodal transit needs, infrastructure improvement needs)

The need for accessibility improvements to sidewalks, crosswalks, and curb ramps along a stretch of roadway is doubly weighted in the model to ensure the paving plan prioritizes access for residents of all abilities.

“This approach puts real community needs and priorities out front,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “We’ll be targeting our road plan not just to ensure a smooth driving surface, but roads lined by curb ramps and sidewalks with the greatest need for accessibility improvements will also rise toward the top of the queue. We’ll also factor in other community benefits as well, such as safety needs, the opportunity to improve below-ground infrastructure such as sewer outflow, or to add transit features for all modes of travel such as bike lanes and crosswalks. When we go in to make the roadway better for cars, we’ll also be improving the public way for all of our residents regardless of their mode of travel or abilities.”

Preventive maintenance is also heavily weighted in the plan, and is a key cost saver built into the new approach. Just as painting a home shields a homeowner from the greater cost of replacing rotted exposed wood, earlier and more intensive preventive care of roadways has also been shown to reduce the scale of later costs. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-$14 needed to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly.

“This means residents may be surprised to see us out sealing cracks or putting fine skim coats on roadways that are in relatively good condition. But what we’ll be doing is making sure the road remains well maintained for a longer period,” said City Engineer Robert King. “Think of it as us out there changing the oil on time to make sure the engine doesn’t need to be replaced before its time.”

Residents are still encouraged to report potholes to 311 and any safety concerns to 311 or the Somerville Police Department. The model will be adjusted to respond to emerging safety concerns, and immediate repairs such as potholes will still be made as the need arises. But road repaving and sidewalk improvement plans will now be guided by the Neighborhood Street Reconstruction Program, which will be implemented by a cross-departmental team from Engineering, the Office of Accessibility, and the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development.

“Making the city’s streets safe and accessible to everyone is our top priority, and the cost savings we’ll gain by applying the more effective approach of preventive maintenance will allow us to improve more roads, make more ADA improvements for our residents with disabilities, and address more community needs along our roadways,” said Mayor Curtatone. “This plan allows us to shift from short-term, case-by-case repairs to a rational, data-driven approach that allows us to plan with a larger horizon and for broader community goals.”


33 Responses to “Somerville begins data-driven street management”

  1. Barry the Pig says:

    Wow, evidence-based, rather than crystal ball-based decision making! What a novel concept! Way to go.

  2. Anna says:

    ADA? Really? After years of insisting on brick sidewalks and crosswalks, now they are looking at the ADA? How about the numerous sidewalks in the city that, due to tree roots, are at a 90 degree angle and have been for years. Dump the street festivals, etc., and fix what makes the day to day lives of Somerville residents better.

  3. confused says:

    Anna, what do street festivals have to do with sidewalk and street repairs? Maybe you should go to one and relax a little. Please, keep the festivals and KEEP THE BRICK SIDEWALKS! This program sounds like a way to better maintain them, making sure they remain ADA accessible.

    By the way, no one would want to go to Beacon Hill and make every street and sidewalk ADA compliant – it would destroy the character of the place. Hopefully there is a similar level of rational restraint in Somerville. While making sidewalks accessible is clearly a great goal, there should also be some care given to the quirks that make our streets special.

  4. Villenous says:

    How about keep the street festivals, which are great and get thrown on a shoestring budget, and instead dump the handful of people who complain about the street festivals? Miserable people are just so … miserable.

    There’s more to a city than just running the DPW, and from what I can tell Somerville’s roads and sidewalks are generally better maintained than most other cities. So if the city has figured out how to improve on that, then hats off to the city.

  5. lslapiko says:

    Street festivals notwithstanding, I couldn’t agree more about those fool brick crosdwalks.

  6. KrisKringle says:

    Check it out- from Bill’s recent column

    “In 2005, the Disabilities Commission submitted a CDBG proposal. Among its recommendations were to [e]nsure that mandated ADA-access improvements were planned as part of all street improvement projects…
    “In 2006…The Disabilities Commission encouraged the mayor and relevant officials to be sure that project plans and implementation were consistent with ADA regulations…
    “In 2007, the Disabilities Commission published a survey regarding barriers to full participation in civic life. Inaccessibility of streets, curb cuts, crosswalks, etc. received the most complaints and the most comments…

    “In the summer of 2009, CAPS surveyed 80 streets listed as “Somerville Street Reconstruction Projects, 2004-2008.” …Over 700 recently reconstructed intersection and sidewalk locations contained multiple violations…

    “In December 2010. CAPS submitted to the state Architectural Access Board photographic and digital evidence of hazardous conditions at 114 locations within 200 feet of municipal programs and along bus routes….
    …In March 2012, CAPS filed a complaint with the Federal Highway Administration. Its Office of Civil Right, which oversees municipalities that violate disability laws, opened an investigation the following month…”

    Now Enter Joe2013, rolling out his “innovative new statistical model” with his usual cock-a-doodle-doo. D-oh!

  7. Joe says:

    Wow. I hope that ‘confused’ and ‘villenous’ never have a temporary or permanent disability. Have you ever tried to cross a brick crosswalk with a wheelchair, walker, scooter, or cane? Maybe you should try it some time. It’s nice that you find them ‘quirky’ but for others they are a barrier. As for street festivals. There is no way that I know of to get anywhere near a street festival to park your car if you are disabled or have difficulty walking, and all of the public transportation gets re-routed away from the festival. So while they are wonderful for the young and the able-bodied they are not available to others. People need to get out of their cocoon once in a while and see how the rest of us live.

  8. eila says:

    Kris is so right! And now for some rejoicing. This evolution in the city’s streetscape policies, practices and programs is excellent news. I hope these surveys will be made public and that there will be a way for public input to be submitted and responded to.

    Also, i hope that the city will be instituting a Public Safety & Accessibility curb cut, crosswalk and sidewalk repair request program that is available for everyone (not solely internet-based) – how ’bout it, Mayor?

  9. Marie says:

    We clamor for diversity, just don’t bring any of those handicapped people around.

  10. Somerbreeze says:

    And how about keeping the DAMNED CYCLISTS OFF THE SIDEWALKS?

    They’re STILL at it, while City Hall pretends it doesn’t happen–Oh, I forget–it would be harassing cyclists if the ordinance was enforced…

    Now is it true that City Hall wants cyclists on the sidewalks, and pedestrians should use the bike lanes…?

  11. Kay says:


    You just don’t get it. Doesn’t matter how pretty the brick is if it is a major safety or access barrier. Why do you believe that people with disabilities should not get the same rights as you?

  12. Scooby Doo says:

    Sidewalks at 90 degree angles? Tough to get anywhere when you can only go straight up!

    On the cyclist issue, I constantly read about them riding on the sidewalks. I’ve been pushing a stroller all over the city for the past 2 years and have never had a run-in with one. Where is this most prevalent? Is it Davis Square?

  13. Anna says:

    Sorry for the confusion, Kay, my comment was facetious.

  14. amen says:

    most prevalent in my experience, Highland Ave, Union, Davis.
    today I waited for 3 cyclists who were using the marked pedestrian crossings. their mantra is ‘we’re traffic’, they want to be considered the same as vehicles, unless they want to be pedestrians sometimes. someone has to make some rules here.

  15. A. Moore says:

    Winter Hill Broadway. Going onto Broadway to take a right and they come down the hill on the sidewalk on the wrong side of the street not slowing down or stopping. I came close to taking out a couple of them.

  16. Somerbreeze says:

    Scooby-Doo – Check out this posted video from last year…

    The same violations of the local ordinance still go unenforced today….

  17. Anna says:

    Great video. It’s amazing how you can see the pedestrians having to move out of the bikes’ way. Just shows their blatant disregard for any rules. It’s all about what is most convenient to them at the time, as long as they don’t need to stop, or even slow down. You know, the wheelchairs are also 2-wheeled ‘vehicles’. Maybe they should start using the bike lanes. Wonder how long that would last?

  18. KrisKringle says:

    “starting immediately,” this announcement smells like joey racing to paint-over bill’s recent column and of course, to epoxy over the fact that the city was obviously found culpable of what CAPS’ 2012 federal civil rights complaint exposed. Where and when did an “Office of Accessibility” get ponied up?

  19. Somerbreeze says:

    That video clearly demonstrates the dangerous environment for pedestrians–especially SENIORS & PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES–that exists in these squares, and the blatant disregard for pedestrian safety shown by City Hall…

    Is Somerville really a “Walkable City,” as City Hall likes to ballyhoo?

    Judge for yourselves, folks….

  20. lou lou says:

    eila, nice to hear from you again. How’s Florida?

  21. dr2chase says:

    That video’s underwhelming as evidence of a sidewalk-cycling menace. Look how often the bikes are alone on the sidewalk with no pedestrians around, and of those that are riding with pedestrians, look how often they travel at a walking speed, or work to avoid the pedestrians. One or two jerks are sort of shoving through, but that’s it, and even then they’re not going fast.

    Objectively, the largest danger to pedestrians from cyclists comes when cyclists run crosswalks *going very fast*. That’s what the statistics (from the UK, where they break it down to that level of detail) say. If you’re going to be data-driven, that’s the sort of thing you look for.

    Yes, sidewalk cycling is illegal, yes it can be annoying, no, I do not do it where it is illegal. I wouldn’t spend a heck of a lot of time worrying about it when there are actual problems to solve — cars crash into a lot more pedestrians (both on and off the sidewalk — more pedestrians on the sidewalk killed by cars in NYC alone, than the total killed by bicycles in the entire US — more data) and do a lot more damage when they do. Unmaintained brick is a menace to anyone with mobility problems, and unramped curbs are a barrier to all sorts of people.

    And if you nonetheless desperately want the bikes off the sidewalk, give them someplace else that feels safe to ride. They’re not on the sidewalk because it’s fast, they’re on the sidewalk because the street doesn’t feel safe. There’s data on that, too.

    Note, by-the-way, that people are not usually data-driven, but cities should be. If people were data-driven, most people in Somerville would already be using bikes to get around; it’s cheaper, it’s faster, parking is easier, and overall it’s expected to make you live longer, not shorter (lack of exercise is far more dangerous than car crashes). Businesses would be *even more profitable* because more customers could get close to them, and less space would be wasted on parking. Streets would be nicer, quieter, and less dusty. (Don’t even think about the usual “I can’t” excuses — I’m a fat old man with abnormally strong legs who rides year round, hauling people and groceries as necessary. The biking came first, then the legs.)

  22. ritepride says:

    Bicycles have the bikepaths to use [at great expense to the citizens]…The Free Ride on public streets for bicycles will eventually end with license plates, mandated insurance, etc., when the insurance companies push legislation through requiring same coverage as motor vehicles. It is blatant discriination to require motor vehicles to be mandated and not the same for bicycles on public streets/walks. When a bicyclist get involved with an incident involving a motor vehicle the cyclists demands to know the motor vehicles insurance carrier, yet when a cyclists hits a pedestrian the same is not required, grossly unjust and discriminatory. Our local legislators need to wake up & do their job.

  23. MarketMan says:

    I completely agree with dr2chase. Most of the examples I have seen in the video and real life of cyclists on sidewalks show the cyclist slowing down and being careful with others on the sidewalk.

  24. Somerbreeze says:

    @dr2chase –

    “Desperately want the bikes off the sidewalks…etc…”

    Apart from your myopic and patronizing attitude about violations of a local ordinance, I have to wonder what planet you live on–just how carefully did you VIEW the video footage?

    I guess you failed to see the great number of seniors and people with disabilities navigating the narrow sidewalks of Union Square, with all the blind corners that spring up, and the cyclists who travel the sidewalks AT NIGHT, without any lights–didn’t you?

    Well, I guess some folks see what they WANT to see, as opposed to what’s actually out there, eh? And I guess the numerous American cities that have banned business-district sidewalk-cycling just didn’t take into account the rights of cyclists, right?

    It’s a sad fact that so many cyclists, when confronted with actual evidence of their public safety violations, are fundamentally incapable of
    admitting they happen, and flip into trivializing mode, or–no, it’s the Bicycle-Haters putting us down again!

    Looks like pedestrian safety has a looooong way to go, what with attitudes like yours abounding–in Somerville, “America’s Walkable City.”

  25. ritepride says:

    I just hope the disabled and senior citizens write to organizations that give awards to cities, like the “All American City”, etc and point out to to those organizations how Somerville does not come to the aid of the disabled and seniors on serious issues such as this. Let these organizations find out what a farce this city is when it comes to issues such as this. Do not forget to write our representatives on “Bacon Hill” who carelessly passed all this bicycle legislation that endangers the elderly and handicapped.

  26. dr2chase says:

    I have glasses for my myopia, and yes I am patronizing, because that was a terrible video, if your goal was to show conflict between pedestrians and sidewalk cyclists. If that’s the best you can do, then there is essentially no problem. And it is the nature of data that those who have it are going to be pretty darn patronizing to those who ignore it.

    The bikes were mostly where the people aren’t — no conflict, no problem. Why couldn’t you get more shots of conflict? Perhaps most cyclists obey the spirit of the law, even if not the letter, and stay off the sidewalk around pedestrians? That’s what your video showed — bikes on the sidewalk, and pedestrians on the sidewalk, but not too often at the same time. You say this means something else, but what you claim it means, you did not show in the video. I think you are the one who saw what you wanted to see, instead of what was really there.

    And the ones that were on the sidewalk with pedestrians were mostly politely slow, even if not obeying the law. That’s really wimpy conflict. And no, they’re often not lit, but somehow your camera worked okay in the pitch-black dark — could it be that this is a well-lit urban area, where slow moving vehicles are legally supposed to be lit, but it’s not actually necessary, because they are slow, and because there’s a lot of streetlights? How is this not making a mountain out of a molehill?

    And if you’re going to talk about public safety (and DATA), can we count dead bodies? Is it too patronizing to point out that in a typical year, in the whole country, cyclists manage to kill about 1 or 2 pedestrians? There’s a whole bunch of silly-sounding risks, that if I pointed them out you would claim I was making fun and not taking you seriously, that kill more than 1 or 2 people per year.

    If you want to make a difference with the people who actually DO ride on the sidewalk, take my advice. Number one, take a stress pill, and stop ranting. Number two, stop freaking out about “the law”. People on bikes see drivers break the law in cars, all the time, and they actually kill people sometimes, and nobody acts like it’s a big deal at all, so if you talk to them about “the law”, most people on bikes will just ignore you. Number three, pitch it as a matter of politeness — not the law, not safety (because again, we know that most people give lip service to safety, because we see how they drive), but POLITENESS. It’s *rude* to pedestrians to take up their space on the sidewalk. Just as the cars on the street sometimes make people on bikes nervous, bikes on sidewalks sometimes make pedestrians nervous, especially old, disabled pedestrians. Make that point. They’ll understand that, and they won’t blow you off. Number four, work hard to make people in cars be more civilized — drive slower, drive more carefully, always yield to bikes and peds. They’re far more dangerous to pedestrians than bicycles, and they’re noisy and unpleasant.

  27. Marie says:

    The reason it didn’t show enough ‘conflict’ for your taste is because what I saw was the pedestrians constantly stepping out of the path of the bicyclist. Thereby avoiding ‘conflict’ (collision).

  28. Marie says:

    “…People on bikes see drivers break the law in cars, all the time, and they actually kill people sometimes, and nobody acts like it’s a big deal at all..” Did you really just say this?
    If you ever need an ambulance, hopefully they will arrive by bicycle, since those darn cars are so ‘noisy and unpleasant’.

  29. MarketMan says:

    Marie: The reason the pedestrians could move out of the way was because in the video many of the cyclists were moving slowly. But I also saw in the video some cyclists moving around the pedestrians.

  30. amen says:

    doesn’t matter. the point is they don’t belong on the sidewalk. pedestrian, wheelchairs, etc. shouldn’t have to cringe and hope the bikers move. it’s stressful and makes getting around difficult.

  31. Somerbreeze says:

    As Marie correctly points out, cyclists DON’T belong on the sidewalk; they are in violation of the local ordinance. But dr2chase is content to give the cyclists a pass, letting pedestrians be slalom posts, because we don’t actually see mayhem in the video footage. But can we deny there’s been encounters? Sorry, no 24-hour surveillance footage…

    I doubt that dr2chase’s kind of distorted logic was inherent in the passing of the local ordinance—either here or in any other many American cities with a similar one. Credit lawmakers for seeing urban sidewalk cycling as having the POTENTIAL to threaten public safety. (And BTW, the City has never kept statistics on bike/pedestrian encounters)…

    If dr2chase was disabled and forced to navigate the narrow sidewalks and blind corners of Union Square, I’d bet he’d be singing a different song; his myopia cleverly blots out the presence of the many seniors and disabled who must navigate these sidewalks. But dr2chase trivializes public safety. Roll a mile in THEIR chairs, Bub.

    Many citizens have requested time and again that City Hall enforce the local ordinance; the Board of Aldermen have repeatedly requested enforcement, all to no avail. Ah, but what do they know?

    Dr2chase would be a great fit as a Mayor Curtatone stooge, what with his supremely arrogant attitude and blithe dismissals.

    Finally, that isn’t my video—I found it posted on the Web. But I’m grateful for its creation, in drawing attention to this issue.

  32. dr2chase says:

    There’s a difference between “give them a pass” and “don’t go ape over the issue”. I’ve never suggested repealing the no-bikes-on-urban-sidewalks law. For most of the places shown in that video, at least at the times shown in that video, I wouldn’t expect a cop to do more than “hey buddy, I could ticket you for that, why not walk the bike or ride it in the street”. Davis Square at mid-day, I’d expect enforcement to be a little more aggressive.

    And Somerbreeze, you are mixing up public safety, and respect for the disabled, and their right to move around freely and comfortably. None, or almost none, of the bikes in the video were presenting a hazard likely to send someone to the hospital. That would be a safety issue. That stuff gets measured, and bikes aren’t exactly a menace to pedestrians. Respect for pedestrians and disabled people in particular is a separate issue, but as I recommend, if you frame it as one of respect and politeness, you’ll get a lot more traction selling it.

    Marie, people driving in cars break the law all the time. Nobody acts like it’s much of a problem, I never see anyone ticketed for blocking a crosswalk with their car, rolling through a stop, etc. I’ve seen six cars in a minute fail to come to a complete stop (some roll very slow, some roll quite quickly) at a stop sign, I’ve seen three in a row run a stop sign while I was approaching from the side on a bike. It, meaning this low level of hasty law-breaking, should be a big deal, because in fact it leads to thousands of pedestrians fatalities each year and many more injuries, but in fact it seems to be widely tolerated — we’d rather whinge about bikes on sidewalks, which in the past few years has killed about zero people in the entire country (bikes more often kill pedestrians when the biker runs a light+crosswalk going very fast). On a bike, people see this kinda-dangerous low-level law-breaking by drivers all the time — learning to expect this is part of being safe on a bike — and thus going on about the-law-law-law and safety-safety-safety sounds a whole lot like selective enforcement — it does not change minds, and it doesn’t do a lot to change behavior. Selling it as politeness is better. You might not get the same rush as you do from smiting Bad Bikers, but you might convince some of them to stay off the sidewalk in the first place.

    And I never suggested that emergency vehicles should be replaced by bicycles. However, if I did need an ambulance, I think it would be great if everyone else on the road was riding a bicycle, because cars don’t do a very good job of getting out of the way — not compared to bicycles, which can squeeze down to two feet wide if the pull over to the curb, and can easily be lifted off the road completely. It’s (ahem) a matter of public safety — if you can shave 15 seconds off every ambulance trip, that eventually results in a few lives saved. The ambulance siren wouldn’t need to be nearly so loud, either, if they didn’t have to get the attention of people in noisy cars with windows up and radio on.

  33. Simone says:


    Exercise can kill just as easily as a pedestrian being struck by a bicyclist riding in a cross-walk. Topic which never gets covered and is the root of this growing epidemic–There are far too many newcomers who are obsessed with their appearance–they are exercise addicts.

    Any doctor will tell you that too much exercise is just as deadly as none. Where are the front page headlines on those studies? Buried in the same pile as those regarding how many bicyclists cause major injury to pedestrians. What about the lawsuits which cost employers and towns when these accidents occur?

    I’m all for tagging bikes for ID and holding cyclists accountable when they fail to obey the laws of safety and cause injury. I’ve encountered cyclists in crosswalks many times as well as turning corners into crosswalks when pedestrians have the signal and came very close to be struck. I gave up my car and ride the T so I can avoid these same careless cyclists on the roads.

    I exercise moderately because it’s what doctor’s prescribe–they should know! We should not be penalized because we are not living on treadmills, bicycles and running 10 miles a day.

    If you ask any shrink, there is a pathological disorder going on here which is directly related. I’ve worked for doctors in a previous career and know some things about exercise obsession. This is the culture we live in. Some of these same people are addicted to their “endorphin rush”.

    Have you ever worked in an ER? You may want to call your local hospitals and ask for bicyclist head injury data from the past 10 years. I notice cyclists without helmets riding sidewalks and streets.

    Pedestrian’s learn to look both ways before crossing the street, has anyone bothered to teach cyclists the same simple rule? You have to pass a road test before getting a drivers license–cyclists should be forced to take their own road test. Maybe towns should put up camera’s in every intersection, force bike users to wear plates on their bikes. If they don’t have one, give them a ticket. Accountability! Just as every driver is required to have, then maybe you might see change. But as long as they keep influencing our town administrators, it will be an up-hill battle.

    Just yesterday, there was a child riding his bike on a busy sidewalk and by the way he was riding, he still needed training wheels. He nearly ran into me–would this be my fault? His father could care less, where is the responsibility of a neglectful parent who allows a 7-8 year old child to ride on a sidewalk? It’s an entitlement issue and has less to do with HEALTH.

    The reports of cyclist injuries are in and being sent to employers and towns who are getting sued for bicycle/pedestrian related accidents.

    I know of one such incident in the region involving an elderly woman who was trying to cross the street, had the ped-light to walk, and was struck by a fast moving cyclist who’s blatant disregard caused her serious injury. These expenses are duped on the taxpayers created by reckless behavior of cyclists who are not being held responsible.

    Many of these stories are not reported to the press because it has obviously become a pro-cyclist governed metropolis–it’s become a side-show circus.

    There is less concern for public safety and more concern about reaching your destination faster than the speed of light. Try walking down a escalator/staircase at the local T station. The same culture exists there as well. It’s off to the races and who gives a damn about anyone else–self-involved, entitled and arrogant. Until we change the way people think about their selfish behavior, it will just keep getting worse. Law enforcement should be allowed to step up and it’s the administration’s responsibility to allow LE to do their job so we can all be safe. They do pull over cyclists who violate the laws of the road/pedestrian safety. I’ve seen them issue tickets, but more needs to be done.

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