Newton continues not to get the little things right with street reconstruction. Once again, there is an opportunity to improve pedestrian accommodations and we just put a new coat of asphalt on backward old ways, almost literally repaving the cowpath — or maybe repaving the car-path.

This is Beaconswood and Beacon Street, a block from Four Corners. Raviolis is the business in the upper-left corner of the photo. Cold Spring Park and the new Zervas are less than 1/2 a mile west (up in the picture).

You are looking at a 49-foot pedestrian crossing, which in any thoughtful design would be 20-30% shorter, which would mean 20-30% less time pedestrians have to travel in the roadway and risk being hit. The inhospitable crossing discourages walking, which is a shame given all the nearby destinations.

Here’s the intersection from above.




You can see how the 29′-wide street opens to 48′ at the crossing.




The southwest corner has what is technically a very large corner radius.

Corner radii are the measurement of how tight a corner is. The corner radius is the radius of an imaginary circle with the same arc as the corner’s. In this case, the corner radius is enormous.

For reference, corners can be quite tight, with curb radii as small as two feet. The larger the curb radius, the faster the vehicle speeds that are accommodated and the longer the crossing for pedestrians. This particular corner has an enormous corner radius in part to account for the acute angle of the right turn onto Beaconswood from Beacon. But, there are multiple designs that could allow for a safe turn at safe speeds that don’t involve enormous curb radii and don’t create such a long crossing.

The city has a Comprehensive Plan and a drawerful of policies encouraging pedestrian safety and comfort and discouraging high motor vehicle speeds, yet given the opportunity to fix obvious problems, we just rebuild the old designs. This happens time and time again. 

We voted for an override on the promise of better, safer streets. The quality of street and sidewalk surface is — finally — improving. But, outside of special projects like some village center redesigns, the street and intersection designs aren’t any safer. 

It isn’t that difficult to get this kind of thing right. It’s easy to identify problems. And, the toolkit to fix them is pretty well understood. What it takes is a commitment by the city to get the little things right.

It will be another 30 years, probably, before we get a similar opportunity to fix this intersection in the course of regularly scheduled road maintenance and construction. What a shame.


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