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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

Boston Trip-- Happy Birthday to Me!

Rachel took me to Boston on the T (that's a strange construction-- I guess technically the MBTA took us to Boston, but Rachel planned a trip). It was my last day being a thirty-year-old, and we wanted to do something nice.

I had a great time. The highlight was the Isabella Gardner Museum (courtyard above).
I wish this was a bike path, but we weren't allowed to bike here.
This awesome community garden in the Emerald Necklace was
fun to walk around in, but the roads next to it were not fun to
bike on.

Hubway: What I liked.
We used to Hubway bike-share system to get around. It was reasonably priced to get a 24-hour pass ($6/person*). I had ridden Hubway before. I found the same things fun and frustrating about it that I found the last time I rode it. 

What was fun was being able to see the city while moving around. There's a lot to be seen in Boston, and being underground makes it hard to really develop a map of the city in your head. I think that's especially important since you need The Knowledge to get around Boston's streets.


*Addendum to that: Rachel informs me this morning that Hubway took $101 for each of the bikes as a deposit ($202 total). That part's okay**, I guess, but it's going to take up to ten days to get it back (Eep!).

**Well, okay, let's be truthful. That's a stressful amount of money.


What I didn't like about Hubway.
1. The gearing is really low (the bikes have three gears, and I never came out of the high gear, because it's so low). Given that a lot of Boston's arterials are frighteningly large and fast, and its side-streets are often indirect and confusing, being on a bike that can't go above 10 mph makes you feel like a sitting duck. 

Alright, I admit it! I liked it.
2. The bikes are made to be kind of floppy and heavy and awkward. There's been a lot of yawwwwwn uninspiring things written on this, frankly. Most of the yawnifying-things-written say that having the bikes be awkward and heavy and floppy is some kind of wonderful upside that reflects the democracy of bike-share, or some victory over the MAML class. I dislike MAMLs too, and you'll never catch me in lycra, but I think this is nonsense-wrapped-in-nonsense. I think somebody went on a trip to the Netherlands, saw people riding casually on crappy bikes there, and reversed the logic that underpins that reality: they assumed floppy awkward bikes somehow lead to safe streets, whereas I would argue safe streets lead to people feeling great on floppy, awkward bikes

Even if you have safe streets, it's nice to be able to hit 15 mph. Or 20. And Boston's not too hilly, so please fix the gear ratios, Hubway.

3. It's really hard to find the docking stations. And the aforementioned low-gearing means that where I think I can get in the allotted 30 minute intervals is a lot less than where I usually can get on a bike (I would guess on my own bike-- which is not exactly a titanium racer or anything-- I can go 8-10 miles in a half-hour; I would guess no more than 2 on one of the Hubways). The combination of these factors made the half-hour intervals slightly pinched, but we got around it okay.

4. Did I mention that the streets in Boston are horrible to bike on? There are some cycletracks, but they're in random, unconnected locations (we saw a few new ones being built, and that was exciting). There are sharrows everywhere. I know, Rhode Islanders have no right to complain, because we're even worse off. But please fix this, Boston. 

4b. And think about making your cycletracks wider-- in the Netherlands they're like 3 to 4 meters-- because once you have a good set of them, they're going to get clogged by lots of new riders. :-)

The Big Dig
It's worth noting our visit to the Rose Kennedy Greenway. We enjoyed its greenery, but were cognizant of just how expensive that greenway had been (hint: it was the yuge highway underneath it that was expensive).

The Greenway is beautiful, but it's surrounded by a surface roadway that feels much like a busier version of Providence's North Main Street. The sections f the greenway are cut through by lots of stroady streets. This really interrupts the experience of the greenway. 

I personally feel like if you build the country's most expensive highway project underneath something, the bare minimum trade-off for pedestrians above should be no cars on the greenway! (Or at least no cars on one side, or something. . . ). It needs a road-diet! 

Which reminds me. . . Rhode Island DOT wants to make the 6/10 Connector into a "boulevard hybrid" that is like the Rose Kennedy Greenway, except a lot shorter. Director Peter Alviti admitted during the Providence community meeting a few months ago that the "surface boulevard" that was part of the "boulevard hybrid" was "basically a service road". Let's build a real boulevard.
RIDOT"s prototype of the 6/10 Connector has all the charm of that paint-on grass they put on top of a Mountain Top Removal in Appalachia, doesn't it?  One. Billion. Dollars. Tolls. Tolls. Tolls. (Just a reminder. . . )
Just a reminder.

The No'th End

This car nosed in on these people. Like urbanists say, the people themselves had a slightly restraining effect on the car,
but ultimately, people had to give way to this driver. This is a street that ought to be for pedestrians, bikes, and delivery vehicles/disability shuttles only.
This was Rachel's first time to the North End (and she's a Mass townie!). I've been there once before, and insisted on going to have a walk around. It's a great neighborhood-- one of Jane Jacobs' features in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It has a fair amount of reasonably-sized streets, like its main drag, Hanover Street. It also has some sorta' narrow ones, like the one above. And it even has some streets like the ones I really loved back home in Philly, where you can touch the walls of the buildings on either side of you from the center of the street. 

Hanover Street was opened to pedestrians at the end for the Feast of the Assumption (which is really tomorrow, the 15th). But the rest of the street was still open to cars. The cars behaved themselves and went slowly, but the tiny sidewalks meant that it felt like Times Square during New Years. The North End should just ban non-delivery cars. 
A lot of the streets in the North End just need to be pedestrianized. The ones that are too narrow for cars are already ped-zones, by default. I think the neighborhood should consider going one step up, and banning cars off the streets that are wide enough to squeeze a car past another parked one. At least on some of them.

Amsterdam: Before cars, during, and after. It required political choices.
Even on Hanover Street, people were spilling off the sidewalk and into the street because of the tiny sidewalks. Hundreds of people. Thousands maybe. And the streets were clogged with cars too, but there were nowhere near as many. There was some evidence of biking, but considering the layout of the neighborhood, there really wasn't as much as you'd hope for. It really would make the neighborhood even nicer if Boston closed some of those streets off to non-delivery/non-emergency vehicles.

Flood map of Boston: today's 100-year-surge could be high tide tomorrow.
Now, I know people are going to complain about losing their parking spots, so I prepared you a slogan, Boston: Protected Bike Lanes: Because after Boston floods, you won't have a parking spot anyway ©).

Vroom vroom.

The weird thing about Boston to me is that in many ways it's certainly succeeding at urban design in ways that Providence is not. But there are also so many ways in which Boston is clearly shirking its potential to be a great city. If Providence is the city that could be a B+/A- student, but is getting Ds, Boston is like the place that should be an A++ but is pulling B-/C+ grades, and just getting by.


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