You’re causing traffic backups!

The driver’s perennial complaint about cyclists in the road. Sure, we go a little slower on some stretches of roadway, and might slow a car briefly from 35 to 15 mph until they can roar past. But why is this complaint directed specifically at bikes, when the lion’s share of room in roadways is claimed by cars?

Paul Steely White compellingly makes this point (and others) in a Tedx talk called What We Do With Our Streets Will Change Our Future. Streets comprise the majority of acreage of our public spaces – it’s a much bigger share of land than parks and other public land. Why have we ceded so much public space to cars? Two images of 42nd Street in Manhattan from White’s talk demonstrate just how much space cars take up. Compare 50 cars to 50 bikers:

50 cars on NY's 42nd St.

50 Bikes on NY's 42nd StThe visual is a nice metaphor for other senses: imagine the differences in sounds, smells, and general perception of safety. In the lower picture, it’s much easier to imagine holding conversations on the sidewalk, hailing a friend on the other side of the street & crossing to them, and living a saner, friendlier pace of life in general. In the Tedx talk, White presents research that found that neighborhood traffic in New York is inversely proportional to the number of friends people have. When confronted with traffic, people make antisocial decisions: children play in backyards, windows on the street side are closed, fewer conversations occur on the street… . Basically, cars destroy opportunities for human interaction.

Alright, this is all about New York; what about Newton?

Have you ever tried to have a conversation while walking along Centre, Beacon, or other arteries? I have, but usually I’m guilty of anti-social behavior: I just hunker down and turn up my iPod. How about Newton Centre, and the fact that its focal point is…

NewtonCentreParking

Image from: RENEWING HISTORY, SUSTAINING THE COMMUNITY:
A plan for Newton Centre’s future
MIT, Community Growth and Land Use Planning, Fall 2001: Prof. Terry Szold

I’d like to try exercising our collective imagination with a Newton version of the above photos. Let’s take a pair of pictures similar to the one above: one with Newton Centre’s lot full of cars (capacity: 119*), and another with Newton Centre’s lot with 119 bikers.

How do we empty Newton Centre’s lot? Easy! Bright and early on a sunny Sunday morning in June. Maybe there could be bagels and coffee.

Let’s make the point to Newton residents and businesses that bikes should be part of the solution.


*Number supplied by this report by an MIT class, whose 2001 recommendations for development in Newton Centre are fantastic and sadly neglected.