Thursday, February 21, 2013

The extra-ordinary snowstorm Nemo gave us a weekend out of the ordinary. Some of it was awful, and some of it was just great. So I thought about the good and the bad, and tried to sort it out. Originally published on the new blog Boston Streets.  Here are things I observed and liked:
1.     Communing with your community: So many people are outside shoveling, chatting, and generally being helpful to neighbors and passers-by. I actually live in a neighborhood! That word has meaning.

2.     Streets without cars are so wide and calm: Walking smack down the middle of Magazine Street in Cambridge had us (lots of people, young and old, with dogs and pulling sleds) admiring the trees, churches, and excellent buildings on each side.
3.     We don’t need so much on-street parking. Where did all those cars banned from the emergency routes, or alternate sides go? Could they always park there and return some of that streetscape for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and more trees?
Community Research Tip: Count the number of cars on your street that remain snow-covered each day. Seven days post storm, see how many cars are stored on your street. Do we really need to provide so much street parking?
4.     Owning cars is an incredible pain in the neck: I wish that car owners would remember the hours spent and the trouble of unburying their cars and then the losing the hard-won clean spaces when they return from the errand. On-street parking isn’t free and it is public space, so maybe more cars could live in off-street parking, even the paid variety.
5.     Slowed traffic speeds make walking nicer: On Sunday, with narrowed and slippery streets, what traffic there was traveled at respectful speeds. Drivers were courteous and thoughtful about pedestrians that often shared the road way. So nice!
6.     Some snow mounds make great people space. The giant mountain in the Trader Joe’s parking lot had 10 kids sledding on it. Another on my street had a tunnel carved out. The big icy bulb-outs at crossroads keep traffic away from the sidewalk. It makes me yearn for less asphalt. How low can we go?
7.     Driving was restricted to absolutely-need-a-car errands: Few cars were out moving, because actually using your car required uncovering it. It seemed that most people were getting things done without them.
8.     Valuing mass transit and wishing there were more of it: As we were walking around, as some point, we wanted to hop in the T, or the bus, and cover some distance. It was so disappointing to remember that the MBTA was closed and we couldn’t get there from here. And I know that during the week, as those who haven’t dug out their cars, or don’t want to face the difficult parking seek to get to work, they will wish there were more transit options where someone else does the driving and no parking is required.
9.     Seamless connections of pedestrian routes matter:  Walking through the narrow shoveled troughs along the sidewalk is fun, as long as you don’t have a stroller, rolling suitcase, or wheelchair. But it is really annoying to hit the snow-blocked intersections selfish (lazy? vacationing?) neighbors who haven’t shoveled to connect their stretch of the path to the next one. This should remind us of all the roads and routes that we never walk for lack of sidewalk or traffic light or connecting ramp.
So as we go back to our work-week routine, and experience frustration and irritation that it isn’t like normal, let’s think also about what we loved over the weekend, and let’s make more of that.