Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Answer: Sidewalks Should be 5 ft. Wide

You may recall back in April I had a post discussing how wide a sidewalk should be. Well, I learned yesterday from Bob Moylan that the sidewalks on our road will be increased to a width of 5 ft.

We currently have 4 ft. wide sidewalks in horrible condition and 4 ft. is just not wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side. When I found out our street and sidewalks were on the list to be repaired this year, I thought I would reach out to my City Councilor, Joff Smith, and Bob Moylan, Commissioner of Public Works & Parks and ask them if they would be willing to increase the width a few feet (we have unusually wide 9 ft. grass strips) since they were going to be replacing 90% of the sidewalk already.

Existing 4 ft. Sidewalks and 9 ft. Grass Strips
I followed up with Joff by phone a few weeks later and left a voicemail. Joff called me back almost immediately; he informed me that he had spoken with Bob about my request and that Bob was looking into the feasibility of widening the sidewalks. I heard nothing from either of them following that call with Joff, and to be honest I forgot about it until NSTAR started digging up our street a few weeks ago to install new gas lines. So I again followed up to both Joff and Bob by e-mail yesterday requesting an update on my request, and Bob replied almost immediately with the good news. Apparently DPW also looked at other streets in our neighborhood to see if their sidewalks widths could also be increased (a number of streets in our neighborhood have the 9 ft. wide grass strips), but ours was the only one "free of physical limitations to allow us to widen the walk" (or, in other words: sufficiently devastated by the ALB such that there was not one tree remaining on the grass strip).

Looking forward to that first stroll down the new, wider sidewalk soon.....

(and Harry T., Summerhill Ave. is a good guess, but incorrect....)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Movies on the Common 2011 - GREASE is Coming & Series Sponsorship Opportunities

The Hanover Insurance Group Foundation has signed on to be the series sponsor of Movies on the Common 2011!

Make your calender now and plan to come down to the Worcester Common on Thursday evening, June 30, 2011 to watch Grease outdoors under the stars!



All shows are FREE and will start at dusk. Bring your own picnic basket, blanket and chairs. Food and beverage vendors and themed entertainment will kick off at 6 pm.

To date we have received commitments totaling $8,750 on our way towards our goal of $16,000. We recently were able to reduce our budget by $1,000 thanks to a combination of belt tightening and generous in-kind donations by a number of individuals and local companies.

If you and/or your company is interested in sponsoring this exciting series designed to keep and draw people to downtown Worcester after business hours during the workweek, please contact me ASAP at eric@WorcesterFilmWorks.org to explore potential sponsorship opportunities. The follow opportunities are available:
  1. Show Sponsors - For a donation of at least $2,500, your company can be the show sponsor for either Back to the Future (July 28, 2011) and/or Spaceballs (August 25, 2011). Marketing opportunities at this level include: 1) Company name included in title of sponsored film and 2) Medium sized company logo on all marketing and donor recognition materials (includes print advertising, online, etc.)
  2. Supporters - For a donation of at least $500, we will market your company by placing a small sized logo on all marketing and donor recognition materials (includes print advertising, online, etc.)
  3. Friends - For all donations less than $500, your company name will be listed in all donor recognition materials.
ARTSWorcester is serving as our fiscal agent for the 2011 series. Checks should be made payable to "ARTSWorcester" and include "Movies on the Common 2011" in the memo line. Checks should be dropped off or mailed to:

ARTSWorcester
660 Main St.
Worcester, MA 01610

If you are interested in sponsorship at either the Show Sponsor or Supporter level, you must finalize your commitment no later than next Wednesday, June 15, 2011 to ensure that your logo will be included in the marketing and advertising materials for Grease.

I'm looking forward to seeing you on the Common on Thursday evening, June 30, 2011. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at eric@WorcesterFilmWorks.org.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reimaginig Public Transit in Worcester - Route 25??

Today we take a look at reimagining the WRTA's existing bus route Route 25 - City Hall to Auburn Industrial Park via Canterbury St. & Southbridge St.

Current Bus Route 25 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red), Visitor Trolley (Green) and other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
Current Bus Route 25 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red) and Visitor Trolley (Green). Other Proposed Bus Routes Turned Off for Clarity
The proposed route not only provides service for Route 25 but also adds (restores? - triple WOO points to the first person who can tell me what number this route was) service to Holden Center via Grove St.

The southern end of the route continues to provide service to both Auburn Industrial Park and the Seven Hills Foundation facility on Hope Ave, but in lieu of traveling along Southbridge St. to/from City Hall, the bus continues along Hope Ave. to/from Webster Square where it connects to the AIRLINE BRT system at Webster Square on the Fremont St. side.

Detail of Webster Square to Junction District Segment of Proposed Bus Route 25?? (Blue)
The route then continues along Fremont St. to Canterbury St., connecting again with the AIRLINE BRT system at the planned Clark University/South Worcester stop. The route then continues along Southbridge St. (as it does in it's present day configuration), connecting again with the AIRLINE BRT system at the Junction District station on New Salem St. The route then heads northwest along Madison and Chandler Sts., then travels north/south through downtown on its western edge along Lancaster, Linden and Irving Sts. (southbound), and Murray Ave, High, Chestnut and Harvard Sts. (northbound). Route 3 presently provides service along the northern segment of this proposed route.

Detail of Downtown Segment of Proposed Bus Route 25?? (Blue)
At Highland St., the route connects with the AIRLINE North BRT System at Lincoln Square. The route then provides local service along Salisbury St. and Park Ave. north of Salisbury St. before it again connects with the AIRLINE North BRT System at Chadwick Square. From Chadwick Square the line travels along Grove St. to Main St. in Holden, providing service to Holden Center, including the Big Y shopping center and Wachusett Regional High School.

Detail of North Worcester Segment of Proposed Bus Route 25?? (Blue)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Worcester Film Works Presents Movies on the Common 2011

What do the movies Grease, Back to the Future and Spaceballs have in common?
Worcester Film Works plans to show all three movies for FREE this summer on the Worcester Common!



Here's the dates:

June 30 - Grease
July 28 - Back to the Future
August 25 - Spaceballs

Worcester Common, Site of Movies on the Common 2011
Mark these dates in your calender now and make plans to join us on the Worcester Common on the last Thursday of each month this summer. All shows will start at dusk - food vendors, a beer and wine garden and entertainment will kick off at 6 pm.

For up to the minute information, please visit www.WorcesterFilmWorks.org.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 04

Today we take a look at reimagining the WRTA's existing bus route Route 4 - City Hall to The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley via Millbury St.
Current Bus Route 4 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red), Visitor Trolley (Green) and other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
Route 4 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red) and Visitor Trolley (Green). Other Proposed Bus Routes deleted for clarity
The proposed route is identical to the existing route on the suburban side, providing service from downtown Worcester to both the new WalMart and The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley. There is an interesting Telegram article today discussing how Worcester's public transportation "ranks 80th out of 100 [US metro areas] in its combined transit coverage area and ability to get workers to their jobs." Route 4 was specifically discussed in the article as a route designed to provide public transit options for retail workers at WalMart and The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley.

The downtown side of the route does have a few modifications.
Downtown Detail of Proposed Bus Route 04 (Blue)
Presently, Route 4 accesses downtown Worcester via Route 146 and the Canal District - Millbury and Water Sts. inbound and Harding St. outbound. After 8 hours on my feet at Marshall's at The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley I would just want to get home, and the last thing I'm looking to do is take a leisurely tour of the Canal District (see the proposed Visitor Trolley for this). After a relatively quick ride on Route 146, the slow crawl through the Canal District would be a major turnoff for me. The reimagined Route 4 enters Worcester via Route 146 and continues straight onto Quinsigamond Ave. and connects with the AIRLINE at the Junction District Station, thus avoiding the congested Canal District (riders with destinations in the Canal District can transfer to Route 0716 at Brosnihan Square). The route then continues to Union Station along McGrath Blvd. and Foster St. providing local service to the Worcester Public Library and the YWCA of Central MA and terminating at Union Station where passengers can connect to the numerous local and regional lines passing through this hub.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Downing St. Closure: Will Firefighters Be Delayed Getting to Nick Cuba's Apartment?

Nick Cuba submitted the following post analyzing the potential delay in fire response times should Downing St. be closed as requested by Clark University.
Last fall a multi-million dollar PILOT agreement was announced between Clark University and the City. PILOT funds will be spent in ways that align with Clark’s educational mission and enhance its neighborhood:  supporting the Worcester Public Library and paying for improvements to Main South’s Crystal Park. Additionally, a result of this agreement will be the closing of a stretch of Downing St. which bisects the Clark campus.
Red Line Shows Segment of Downing St. to Be Closed
The City’s press release cites public safety as the reason for the street closing. This segment of street runs between a cluster of Clark dorms and campus features such as the library, cafeteria, and gym, and is crossed by many students over the course of each day. A rising slope and low sun angles during winter seem to raise the risk of accident.

Google Streetview (Looking Southwest) of Southeast End of Proposed Street Closure
Some neighborhood residents have come out in opposition to the road closure. Anticipating a shift of traffic onto nearby streets, and longer travel times on alternate routes, these residents have justified their opposition with a public safety concern of their own. They argue that the street closing will affect Worcester Fire Department’s response times, and that Main South residents, particularly those in the Grand/Kilby/Gardner St. area, would see the response time to fires at their homes increase as a result of the road closure. As a resident of the Grand/Kilby/Gardner St. area, I’m curious if this increased risk is real, and if so what kind of a delay is to be expected.
This type of a question can be answered using ESRI’s Network Analyst software. I designated the Park Ave, Webster Square, and Southbridge St. fire stations as “origin” points, labeled all buildings within Main South as “destination” points, and then measured the distance along a road network between each building and the nearest fire station. I measured this distance once along the current road network, and then again after removing the Downing St. segment from the network. The difference between these before/after distances will predict the delay caused by a closure.

Fire Symbols Show Stations, Yellow Dots Show Destination Points, Blue Line Outlines the Main South Neighborhood and the Red Line Marks the Stretch of Downing St. to be Closed
After the first run I selected only the buildings likely to be responded to by the Park Ave. station, since this is where any delay may be expected. Among these buildings, the longest distance to the Park Ave station is 4,700 feet, or nearly a mile. The map below shows residences close to the Park Ave fire station in blue, gradually changing to orange with distance from the station. 
Building Distance to the Park Ave. Fire Station, Blue (close) to Orange (far). A Sample Route is Shown with Purple Line.
Surprisingly, after I recalculate with the Downing St. segment removed, the resulting distances between buildings and station are in every case the same as before the street closure. The sample route in the map above shows one shortest path which did not route the trucks on Downing St.
Still, such a comparison does not consider the feasibility of using side streets in the area. Presumably it’s possible for fire trucks to access these streets (how else to put out fires there?) yet they may not be desirable as through-ways for fire trucks. In order to account for this scenario I ran the analysis a third time, allowing trucks only to access Main St. and areas south by way of May St. in the north and Maywood St. in the south.
This time we do see some detours from the Park Ave station to some Main South buildings. Additional travel distances range up to 3,400 ft., or more than half a mile, and are concentrated in the Wyman St./Hancock St. area, across Main South and relatively distant from both May and Maywood Sts. Note that these areas are not the farthest from the fire station, but those most heavily affected by detours.
Increase in Travel Distance from the Park Ave. Fire Station Assuming No Use of Side Streets. Pink-Gray Indicates Little/No Increase in Travel Distance, Red Shows Greatest Increase in Travel Distance
 The average additional distance for the 367 buildings on or south of Main St. is 800 ft. The average additional distance for all buildings is 340 ft.  Assuming fire trucks would travel 30 mph on these streets, which lets us convert detours into delays, the results can be summarized:
Scenario
Avg. Delay
(all buildings)
Avg. Delay
(on/south of Main St. only)
Maximum Delay
Downing St. Closure
0
0
0
Downing St. Closure,
no use of side streets
13 sec.
30 sec.
89 sec.

The above table and map indicate that problematic delays in response time would occur only for fires in a very concentrated geographic area. Delays could be avoided altogether if fire trucks were routed over side streets in the area.
The estimated delay for my own apartment?  18 seconds.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Urban Design Considerations for St. Vincent Cancer Center at CitySquare

I was glad to hear the news last week that St. Vincent Hospital has struck a deal with a subsidiary of Hanover Insurance to purchase a CitySquare parcel at Foster and (the to be reconstructed) Front Sts. St. Vincent plans to develop a two story, 40,000 SF building at a cost of $21MM ($525 PSF) on the parcel which will house their comprehensive cancer center, most of which is presently based at the old St. Vincent campus on Vernon Hill.


Updated CitySquare Site Plan Showing Location of Proposed St. Vincent Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center (from Telegram & Gazette)

Rendering of Proposed St. Vincent Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center (from Telegram & Gazette)
This is indeed good news that we now have a second tenant for CitySquare, but the rendering above concerns me from an urban design standpoint.

Remember back in 2005 when Berkeley Investments, then owner and developer of CitySquare, set forth a vision for a vibrant mixed use urban community at CitySquare?

Berkeley Investments Ground Floor Plan (Blue is Retail) for CitySquare (from Berkeley Investments May 2005 Presentation)

Berkeley Investments Rendering of New Front St. for CitySquare (from Berkeley Investments May 2005 Presentation)
The key takeaways for me from the above vision are:
  • The plan showed that all buildings would be built out to the sidewalks (i.e., no setback).
  • The ground floor of all buildings, regardless of the use on the upper floors, would be active retail so as to contribute to a vibrant pedestrian experience in downtown Worcester.
With these ideas in mind, take a look again at the rendering for the St. Vincent Cancer Center.

Rendering of Proposed St. Vincent Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center (from Telegram & Gazette)
  • It appears that the building is planned for 100% medical use, no retail on the ground floor.
  • There does not appear to be an entrance to the center off of Foster or Front Sts. The rendering suggests that Front St. rises towards the rear of the building - is the main entrance at the 2nd floor rear?
  • The right side of the Foster St. elevation seems to indicate plans for a fenced off ambulance loading area between the building and the sidewalk.
  • The presence of a small strip of grass and a few trees between the building and the sidewalk reminds me of what we might find in a suburban office park, not a pedestrian friendly urban environment.
This building will be one of the first buildings visitors to our city will see when entering downtown from Washington Square/Union Station. Given it's prominent location and because it is one of the first new buildings to be constructed at CitySquare, it will set a precedent of what is expected of future buildings at CitySquare. As such, I would suggest the following changes to the design be considered:
  • Activate the ground floor with retail whose main entrance(s) would be along Foster and/or Front Sts. The building SF would increase to approximately 60,000 SF and the height from two stories to three. The cancer center would be located on the second and third floors of the building, keeping the main entrance to the center at the rear of the second floor, but perhaps adding access to the center from Front St. at the rear of the building. The ambulance loading area could be relocated to the rear of the ground floor of the building in the area where the new building will abut the existing garage, ambulance access to this area being through the existing garage.
  • Do not set the building back from the sidewalk. In this case it probably makes sense to line up the Foster St. facade of the new building with the existing garage facade, which would mean extending the sidewalk to the building. This would create a nice wide sidewalk, which would allow plenty of room for a clear walkway plus room for wide storefront awnings, large trees and street furniture, all elements that go into making Berkeley's renderings above so inviting.
Making pretty pictures is one thing. As Berkeley's experience with CitySquare showed us, turning that vision into a reality is another story.

First, St. Vincent's core mission is to be a hospital, not a real estate developer. St. Vincent Hospital, however, is a large institution and does have significant real estate development and operating experience in Worcester. The Medical Center contains a number of retail tenants, including restaurants, a gift shop, a hair salon and a branch of Worcester Fitness, among others. In this light, it does not seem to be too far fetched to ask them to consider incorporating retail space into their cancer center building plans.

Second, demand for retail in downtown Worcester is minimal. It's one thing to ask St. Vincent Hospital to lease retail space in their building, but it's another to ask them to subsidize this space for the foreseeable future. So this brings us to the question of whether or not this location and the proposed building would be considered desirable from a retailers point-of-view.
  • Retailers like corner locations, and this corner would have great visibility from Washington Square and lie on the main auto and pedestrian path between Union Station and City Hall/Common.
  • The property abuts a parking garage.
  • The building footprint, at about 20,000 SF, is a good size and shape for a number of retailers. In my experience, one of the problems with a lot of the available retail space in downtown Worcester is that it is too small and/or narrow for what many potential retailers are looking for in a space.
So what kind of retail tenants might St. Vincent pursue?
  • My first thought is to speak with CVS's competitors, Walgreen's and Rite Aid. These chain pharmacies seem to come in pairs, and right now all we have is a CVS downtown. They pay high rents and the risk that they are not going to pay their rent is minimal. It's a corner property, parking is available adjacent to the site (perhaps parking fees could be waved for those parking in the garage for less then 15 min. and a dozen or so convenient, 15 min. limit, head-in parking spaces could be carved out of the Foster St. sidewalk area without compromising the pedestrian experience), and the footprint of the building fits their model well. Despite all these positives, my guess is that the demographics for another chain pharmacy (and one without a drive-thru in particular) downtown are just not there today.
  • My next thought is to speak with Worcester Fitness and see if they might be interested in relocating (or perhaps expanding?) their currently hidden away fitness location on the sixth floor of the Medical Center to this new building.  This location would allow St. Vincent and Worcester Fitness to maintain their affiliation, while greatly increasing Worcester Fitness's visibility and likely resulting in a significant increase in membership numbers by area office users who are presently unaware that Worcester Fitness offers a state of the art fitness facility downtown.
  • As a third option, how about putting some of the hospital's doctor offices on the ground floor? While not an ideal ground floor use, the rents paid should be reasonable and the use will bring people downtown, generating a lot of foot traffic which will help activate the street. The use will also serve to reserve the space until such a time as a more appropriate retail use becomes viable.
I'm thrilled that St. Vincent Hospital has chosen to play an active role in the redevelopment of CitySquare. I know budgets for all are tight these days, and this puts a lot of emphasis on short term thinking. Remember, however, that this building and the UNUM tower will stand for decades to come and will also serve to set the standards for urban design at CitySquare. I urge all involved, including St. Vincent Hospital, Hanover Insurance, the City of Worcester and it's citizens to emphasize the long term, pedestrian point-of-view when making urban design decisions that will impact The Image of Worcester in general, and downtown Worcester in particular, for generations to come.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Summit (of What?)

When I moved to Worcester, a number of my neighbors told me I could do my dry cleaning, get a pizza and gear up for my next outdoor adventure at New England Backpacker at a place called "The Summit."  With street names such as East and West Mountain St., I really built up this image of a mountaintop village in my mind. Boy was I disappointed on my first trip down to The Summit (my Burncoat area residence is at elevation 705 ft., while "The Summit" tops at about 635 ft. or so).

For a long while I could not figure out how this name came about. As I traveled around the area in my car, the name made absolutely no sense. It was only when I was looking at some older maps of the city, and noticed a station labeled "Summit," that the idea that perhaps the railroads had something to do with the name crossed my mind.

According to this history of Worcester by Dr. Coombs, the "Worcester & Nashua Railroad began operations in 1848." Perhaps "The Summit" was the highest point on this new railroad?

Elevation Profile of the Worcester & Nashua Railroad from Union Station to West Boylston
Now that's a summit! I was still curious, though, as to why we had a road named Mountain St. too? Perhaps the "Summit" designation goes back to the days of the stagecoach?

According to Your Worcester St. by Ivan Sandrof, Mountain St. was part of the Sixth Massachusetts Turnpike connecting Boston to Amherst overall and Shrewsbury and Holden locally and "it was so hilly as to be famous in the days of the stage coach." So the Mountain St. names derives from the stagecoach days (the east and west designations apparently due to the fact that The Summit is approximately half way between Shrewsbury and Holden), but what about the idea of this being the "Summit" of the journey between Shrewsbury and Holden?

Elevation Profile of East and West Mountain Sts. from Holden Center to Shrewsbury Center
It tuns out that the Doyle Rd. segment in Holden is higher in elevation than the so called "Summit" by a good 165 ft! So it seems that the Mountain St. designation derives from the days of the stagecoach (the elevation profile does support the hilly nature of the road in Worcester; however, my experience and the above profile seem to support the idea that the hill near St. John's in Shrewsbury is the steepest) and The Summit designation from the days of the railroad.

The turnpike was abandoned long ago, and no passenger trains travel along the railroad today (the railroad line remains active as part of the Pan Am Railways freight network in New England). Some of us even arrive at The Summit by traveling downhill. Perhaps we should update the name to Summit Valley?

Monday, April 25, 2011

How Wide Should a Sidewalk Be?

We received a letter in the mail a week ago or so from our District Councilor, Joff Smith, letting us know that our street will be repaved this summer. That's great news, the street sorely needs it as it seems like it took an especially tough beating this winter.

I understand that this latest repaving effort is suppose to be for the complete street, including the sidewalks. Now our streets are bad, but our sidewalks are much worse.

Time has taken it's toll on our sidewalks, and the roots of the 30 or so full grown maples that formerly lined the street were not kind either. So I'm hoping we will be getting new sidewalks too, and given that it appears that 90% plus of the existing walk needs to be replaced anyway, I'm wondering if we could increase the current 4 foot width a foot or two so two people can walk comfortably side-by-side?

We have a lot of people in our Burncoat neighborhood who like to walk - when it's nice out, it's not uncommon for me to see a dozen of so people out walking along Burncoat St. and other neighborhood streets.
  • On our street alone, we have a number of families with preschool age children who like to take walks together as a family and are often walking with strollers, tricycles and other accessories. The broken up sidewalks are the biggest issue with little ones, but a little extra width would go a long way in giving parents and caregivers some space to walk beside their children to assist as they inevitably get off track or loose their balance.
  • School aged children living on our street are considered walkers for not only the local public elementary school, but also the middle and high schools. We walk our elementary school aged kids to school everyday, and everyday I am glad they are getting a little bit of exercise and I don't have to deal with the school drop-off/pick-up traffic jams. If we expect our children to walk to school, I think it is our obligation to provide them with Safe Routes to School.
  • During the day, caregivers with babies are often seen walking side-by-side with strollers, more often than not, in the street as the existing sidewalks are too narrow (and too broken up) to do so.
  • A number of Hanover Insurance employees take walks along our street during their lunch breaks, and again, most choose to walk in the street as opposed to the sidewalk.
  • On nice evenings it's not uncommon to see couples taking a casual stroll, again, usually in the street instead of on the sidewalk.
  • Finally, one benefit of a road in poor condition is that it tends to keep the average speed of the cars down. With a freshly paved road, average speeds will be up and it will be even more dangerous for pedestrians to walk in the road.
It's seems to me that in sizing a neighborhood sidewalk, the objective should be for two people to be able to walk comfortably side-by-side. Looking online, it seems like a minimum width of 5 feet is standard these days, and, indeed, the City's Standard Specifications - Streets and Sewers calls for 5 foot wide sidewalks (see details on pages 148 and 149). Several sources, including Safe Routes to School sidewalk design guidelines, state that 6 feet is desirable for comfortable side-by-side walking and to allow for two people in wheelchairs to pass each other.

Our street has unusually wide grass strips, 9 feet, so it would seem to me that adding another 2 feet would not be a problem, resulting in a 7 foot grass strip and a 6 foot sidewalk. We do have new white oak trees planted in the strip, and adding two feet would mean locating the edge of the sidewalk within 2 feet 6 inches of the center of the trunks. Assuming a mature white oak tree trunk grows to a radius of 2 feet, this would result in the tree getting as close as 6 inches to the new sidewalk, certainly inviting trouble. One option to address this concern would be to keep the 6 foot width and narrow the sidewalks near the trees to 4 feet 6 inches with a semicircular cutout around each tree (4 feet 6 inches is admittedly tight for two people walking side-by-side, but it is only this dimension at a point so I think it could work). This would result in about a minimum 2 foot buffer around each mature tree trunk and the edge of the wider sidewalk.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 0131, aka "The Loop"

Today we take a look at reimagining the WRTA's existing bus routes Route 1 - City Hall to Mt. St. Ann via Providence St. and Route 31 - City Hall to Lincoln Plaza via Grove & W. Boylston Sts.

Current Bus Routes 1 and 31 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red), Visitor Trolley (Green) and other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)

Routes 1 and 31 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red) and Visitor Trolley (Green). Other Proposed Bus Routes deleted for clarity
 The proposed combined routes 1 and 31 function as "The Loop," connecting a number of bus lines running in all directions out of downtown and serving to compliment the connecting services provided by the proposed Route 0716 - "South Loop."

The proposed route follows the same route as the current route 1 bus with the exception that it does not provide service between Union Station and City Hall. The current route 31 bus provides service from City Hall to Lincoln Plaza via Grove, West Boylston, and East Mountain Sts. The proposed route builds on the current outer loop service provided on East Mountain St. by extending the east side service southward to UMASS Memorial - University Campus and on to Rice Square via Plantation St. and shifting the current West Boylston St. service west and creating a west side loop via Assumption and Worcester State University.

On the east side of Worcester, the route diverts from the existing route at the intersection of Clark and East Mountain Sts., where the proposed route continues southeast along NE Cutoff until it intersects with Boylston St. The route then travels briefly inbound on Boylston St. (connecting service to Lincoln Plaza via Route 2633) until it intersects with Lincoln St., where it then heads outbound on Lincoln St. to Plantation St. The Route then heads south on Plantation St., providing service to UMASS Memorial - University Campus and the AIRLINE East BRT service.

Detail of NE Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0131
After crossing Belmont St./Route 9, the route continues south on Plantation St., intersecting with Hamilton St. (Route 0716), and terminating at Rice Square (Route 0205 and Route 0622).

Detail of East Side Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0131
On the west side of Worcester, the route diverts from the existing route 31 at the Summit where it then heads west onto West Mountain St. and turns left onto Pullman St., serving Price Chopper. The route then continues south on Brooks St. where it serves Showcase Cinemas Worcester North.

Detail of NW Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0131
Presently, all auto traffic and buses serving the cinemas have to turn around and exit the cinemas via Brooks St. north to West Mountain St. as Brooks St. dead ends at the cinema.

Section of City Tax Map Tile M08 Showing Abutting Brooks St. Dead Ends, the Showcase Cinemas Building is Shown in Yellow
However, it appears that Brooks St. south did at one time continue straight through to Ararat St., and it may be possible to construct a bus only connection between the abutting dead ends to allow for bus only through traffic. (I assume the dead ends were created when the cinemas were built so as to prevent auto traffic form overwhelming the more residential in nature south end of Brooks St. I agree that auto traffic should not be permitted on this segment of Brooks St., and a gate or other access control device should be installed so as to limit access to WRTA buses only).

The route then travels the I-190 access roads between Ararat St. and Shore Dr., and turns west on Shore Dr. to serve the west entrance to Norton, the Greendale YMCA and the Bancroft School.

Detail of Shore Drive Stops for Proposed Bus Route 0131
The route then turns south down Holden St. and turns west onto Nelson Place immediately before Holden St. intersects with Grove St. Nelson Place currently connects to the back of the campus of Assumption College.

Detail of Assumption College Connections for Proposed Bus Route 0131
While the connection does currently exist, it does not appear to be in use with any regularity. I believe the connection is gated and the end of Nelson Place is unimproved (private street?) and was in pretty rough shape about a year ago when I was exploring the area.

Section of City Tax Map Tile J15 Showing Unimproved Section of Nelson Place and Connection to Assumption College at Left
Like the dead ends on Brooks St., it appears that the gate exists to prevent Assumption College auto traffic from overwhelming the primarily residential street. In addition to improving Nelson Place for through bus traffic, a gate or other access control device should be installed so as to limit access to WRTA buses only.

From Assumption College, the route travels along Flagg and May Sts., serving Worcester State University and crossing a number of radial routes out of downtown including Pleasant St. (Route 0324), Chandler St. (Route 0622), June St. (Route 0716), Park Ave. (Route 2327) and Main St. (Route 2633).

Detail of West Side Connections for Proposed Bus Route 0131
 At Main St., the route continues along Hammond St. to Southbridge St., where it then heads downtown on Southbridge St., skirting the near east side of downtown along New Salem St. where it connects with the AIRLINE BRT System at the Junction District Station. The line then continues along McGrath Blvd. where it then connects to Union Station.

Detail of Downtown Segment for Proposed Bus Route 0131

Friday, April 15, 2011

Worcester via I-101 and I-84 (or, is I-290 East-West or North-South?)

I did not grow up in Worcester, but I have lived here for more than five years. You would think that by now I would not still be getting I-290 and I-190 confused and I would not have to think so hard about the whole east-west or north-south question when it came to giving directions for I-290, but both issues still confuse me on a regular basis.

Interstate Highways In and Around Worcester, MA - I-90 (MA Turnpike) in Green; I-395 in Orange; I-290 in Blue; I-190 in Yellow
There are a few misconceptions I brought with me, however, that I have come to correct during this time: The MA Pike does not run through Worcester proper at any point; I-290, although signed as an east-west highway, generally follows a north-south orientation through downtown Worcester; and if traveling to Worcester from Boston, traveling the MA Pike all the way to I-290 to get to Worcester is not the fastest way to go.

I have often wondered if there was some way we could clean up the numbering of the auxiliary (i.e., 3 digit) interstates in and around Worcester to make it less confusing and help users orient themselves better when traveling through our city. As mentioned earlier, I never knew downtown Worcester was west (and not north) of I-290 until I moved here. As someone who was generally traveling northwest on an interstate signed as east-west, I always thought I was actually traveling east through Worcester and downtown was to the north. The I-395 designation makes no sense to me either. The concept that I-395 in Auburn is an auxiliary route to I-95 some 65 miles south never made any sense to me.

If we step back a little and look at the interstate system around Worcester, you can see that the combination of the current I-395, I-290 through downtown and I-190 is really just one long continuous north-south interstate. (Those interested in reading about the history around the building of these roads, check out bostonroads.com or search the road name at Wikipedia).

Wider View of Interstate Highways In and Around Worcester, MA - I-90 (MA Turnpike) in Green; I-395 in Orange; I-290 in Blue; I-190 in Yellow
Why don't we combine these three interstates and renumber them as one primary north-south highway? For the MA segment we could name it the Worcester County Expressway (the Worcester segment of I-290 is already at least informally known as the Worcester Expressway).

Proposed Renumbering of I-395, I-290 (Downtown segment) and I-190 into One Primary North-South Interstate (Red)
The question then becomes one of what number to give to this route. Interstate numbering conventions would require a number in the 90's ending in an odd number. Unfortunately, all odd numbers in the 90's are already in use. Digging a little deeper, there seems to be two options:
  1. Interstate 97 (N) - There is precedence in the current numbering system for the same number to be used in different parts of the country. For example, there is the I-84 (E) that we are familiar with here in New England, but there is also an I-84 (W) running from northern Utah to Portland, OR. There are currently four even numbered interstate highways that have this dual designation and no odd numbered interstate highways with such a designation. Currently, I-97 is an 18 mile intrastate highway connecting the MD cities of Baltimore and Annapolis. This is the only odd numbered interstate in the 90's in the South - Interstates 91, 93 and 95 all presently serve portions of New England and therefore are not available, and I-99 is an existing interstate in PA.
  2. Interstate 101 - This is an exciting choice as it breaks the rule that a primary highway have a two digit number. Typically, three digit numbers are reserved for auxiliary interstate highways such as I-290 today. Using this convention, Interstate 101 would be an auxiliary route of Interstate 1, which does seem to currently exist or be in the works. There is also precedence here - according to the Wikipedia page on US Route 101:
According to the AASHTO's numbering scheme for U.S. Highways, three-digit route numbers are generally subsidiaries of two-digit routes. However, the principal north–south routes were assigned numbers ending in 1. Rather than lose four available north–south numbers (93, 95, 97, and 99) or assign the primary west coast highway a "lesser" number, the AASHTO made an exception to its two-digit rule. Thus, U.S. 101 is treated as a primary, two-digit route with a "first digit" of 10, rather than a spur of U.S. 1. Thus U.S. Route 101, not U.S. 99, is the westernmost north–south route in the U.S. Highway system.

I like I-101 personally, it's got a nice ring to it.

This leaves us with what to do with the segment of the present day I-290 that really does run generally east-west between Marlborough and Worcester. The roadway functions as an auxiliary interstate, and because this segment connects two interstates, its not a spur, but functions most like a segment of a circumferential highway and therefore should have an even number prefix. We could probably technically retain the I-290 designation as there does not seem to be a requirement that it connect directly to its primary interstate (I-190 does not connect directly to I-90). This designation would be a nice link to the past, but if the goal here is to clean things up and make the signage simpler I think we need to consider other options.

Another option would be to add the 2 prefix to the renumbered primary north-south highway - I-297 works nicely, I-2101 technically works but would probably be asking too much of the sign administrators in DC. Stepping back again and taking a wider view of the interstate system around Worcester, another option comes to mind.

Wider View of Interstate Highways In and Around Worcester, MA - I-90 (MA Turnpike) in Green; I-395 in Orange; I-290 in Blue; I-190 in Yellow
Another option that I like is extending I-84 from its present eastern terminus in Sturbridge to Marlborough. I-84 would share the existing I-90 roadway between Sturbridge and Auburn, then share the renumbered I-101 through Worcester, and then split off eastward towards Marlborough by itself along the present day east-west segment of I-290. This dual numbering of one roadway appears to be a common occurrence.

Proposed Extension of I-84 (Blue) from Current Terminus at Sturbridge through Worcester and Terminating at Marlborough


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Reimagining Public Transit in Worcester - Route 0716



Current Bus Routes 7 and 16 Reimagined and Overlaid (Blue) on the proposed AIRLINE BRT System (Red), Visitor Trolley (Green) and other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
The proposed combined routes 7 and 16 function as a "South Loop" connecting a number of bus lines running east, south and west of downtown and connecting Union Station to Webster Square via the Canal District and South Worcester.

The current route 7 bus follows a twisted path southwest out of City Hall and provides front door service to the Family Health Center of Worcester on Queen St. (route 6 also serves the Family Health Center at Chandler St., 2 blocks away). Route 7 then travels south down Park Ave. (the only current bus route that travels any segment of Park Ave.) to Mill St., ending at Washington Heights Apartments.

The proposed 0716 preserves the Mill St. segment and extends this line further out Mill St. to June St., where it then travels the entire length of June St. to Newton Square.
 
Detail of West Side Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0716 (Blue) and Other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
 At Park Ave., the line is rerouted through Webster Square and then travels along Cambridge St., through Brosnihan Square and then along Harding and Water Sts. to Union Station. 

Detail of Webster Square to Union Station Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0716 (Blue) and Other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)
Heading east out of Union Station, the line follows the current path of the route 16 bus up Grafton St. to Billings Square, east along Hamilton St., then north along Lake Ave. The proposed line terminates at the Lake Quinsigamond stop of the AIRLINE BRT system. The current route 16 bus continues on from here to Lincoln Plaza via Plantation St. I am working on a "North Loop" that will incorporate this segment.

Detail of East Side Segment of Proposed Bus Route 0716 (Blue) and Other Proposed Bus Routes (Purple)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Revs in Worcester: Nick Cuba Runs the Numbers

In a post last week I tried to guesstimate the 60 mi. radius populations for Worcester and Boston and invited anyone who might be able to develop a more accurate estimate to send me the data and I would do an update. Well, Nick Cuba, a grad student in geography at Clark University here in Worcester answered the call, and here's what his analysis shows. (For those interested in how Nick arrived at these numbers, see his explanation at **** below).

Above Courtesy of Nick Cuba
Turns out that at a 60 mi. radius, Worcester has a population greater than both Foxboro and Boston, by about 1 million people in each case. The populations are pretty much the same for all three markets at the 45 mi. radius. At the 30 mile radius, the Foxboro and Somerville populations are more than 2.5x greater that that of Worcester. Finally, the 15 mi. radius data shows that the Somerville population is 3x that of either Foxboro or Worcester. I made the map below showing all four circles around the Worcester market so I could see exactly what cities and towns were included in each circle.

The Worcester Market at 15, 30, 45 and 60 Mile Radii
My previous estimates led me to conclude that, assuming the market for the New England Revolution is a 60 mi. radius centered on the stadium, the Worcester market was about 1 million people less than the Boston market. Based on Nick's better estimated and updated data, it appears that the Worcester market is perhaps bigger than the Boston market by about 1 million people, further supporting the argument that a Worcester based stadium has just as large (if not larger) a population base from which to draw.

A key issue however that Nick's data points out is that the 15 and 30 mi. radius populations for Worcester are significantly below that of a Boston (and Foxboro in the case of the 30 mi. radius population) based SSS stadium location. The large 15 and 30 mi. radius numbers for a Boston based stadium are what make this location so attractive and the consensus first choice for the Revs. On the flip side, however, this density means that large parcels of available land at affordable prices are few and far between.

In his e-mail to me, Nick concluded "[t]he plausibility of a Worcester site seems almost totally tied to the question of how much of a "destination" sport (a la NFL) the MLS is." Given the above data, I too believe that success in Worcester would require the market to think of a Worcester SSS as a "destination." While the MLS (and the individual teams themselves) no doubt hold a lot of influence in developing this "destination" brand for the MLS as a whole, we cannot forget the significance that PLACE (city and stadium) contributes to this "destination" equation.

My earlier Parade to the Pitch post is one example of how Worcester in general and the Wyman-Gordon parcel specifically offers a unique PLACE for the development of a successful SSS destination for the Revolution. Future posts will further explore this idea.


**** Nick's discussion behind the numbers: "Attached is a table/chart showing population (census 2010 towns) by radius distance for Worcester, Somerville, and Foxborough sites. I got a little more interested as I started and so analyzed market size at 15, 30, 45, and 60 mile radii. Even though Boston is the hub of hwys e.g. 90, 93, 95, the difference between these results and one based on drive-time along roads may not be substantial. Worcester isn't as well connected as Boston, but it's pretty much a straight shot from Hartford and Springfield, which are the reasons why it's top end figure here is higher than the other sites.

Since there are a few cities which are outliers with respect to population (e,g, Boston, Worcester, Providence) somewhat arbitrary methodological choices may be highly consequential. FWIW I counted a city's population toward a site's market if the city's geographic center was within the radius (actually clipping towns by the circle would have taken longer; that method of extraction also rests on the assumption that population is distributed equally throughout a town, so it's unclear if it would even be any more accurate). I've attached another image (below) which should illustrate what I did."

Above Courtesy of Nick Cuba