The Trouble With Complete Streets

Yesterday I covered a press conference at the Beacon Park Railyard in Allston where Governor Deval Patrick announced that West Station would be built, bringing commuter rail and DMU service to Allston.

During the conference, Mayor Marty Walsh said that the City would build complete streets, where pedestrians, cyclists and motorists would be treated equally. This is a noble ideal, given the normal bias in favor of automobile users, in terms on subsidies and land use laws, but I think it fails in the execution.

All the concepts for complete streets that I’ve seen call for very wide roadways. In addition to the usual wide, multiple car lanes in each direction, there’s onstreet parking, bike lanes or cycle tracks, plus the sidewalks. They reach 60 or more feet from property line to property line. That’s too wide. It’s going to be noisy, windy and smelly for pedestrians and potentially dangerous for cyclists because the wide lanes will encourage motorists to speed and Boston drivers do not have a good track-record of staying out of bike lanes.

Instead, a complete street should be a very narrow street, only 20 feet or less across with no sidewalks, and with buildings built right up to the property line. On-street parking would also be good. This would slow cars down to a walking pace and allow traffic to be mixed. More people might even give up driving altogether.

Also, I hope to God that the $25 million train station will be designed in an attractive manner, neither a concrete rape dungeon (as we learned in my post about the anti-human designs of transit centers, 25 percent of rapes take place in the sort of dimly lit, claustrophobic parking garages they turn out to be) nor a tacky glass and plastic hack job. It might be nice if it was like the Richardsonian Romanesque old station, now Pizzeria Regina. It should interact with the street, instead of being setback or having its entrance hidden behind a bus depot and if possible, include a grocery store on the Japanese model.

And it goes almost without saying that integrated DMU, commuter rail and bus service should be capable of being paid for the same way, with a CharlieCard.

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