calm streets

^ what Boston officials now call “courtesy streets” or :calm streets” — streets that disinvite being used, sort of like chairs in a museum with “don’t sit in this chair” signs around.

—- —- —-

No later than college years one learns how to behave in social settings and how to speak. There are things one does not say. To say them invites all kinds of unpleasantness; and pleasing is the premise of a social setting. Dissimulations that we adopt in society are no cause for alarm, so long as we never forget that they are, often, not what is silently said inside our heads but instead, a highly cosmetic “photoshop” of our actual thoughts. We who are invited back all do this.

We know most of the ordinaries : “How are you ?” “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” “Can I get you anything ?” “You look beautiful !” “So glad to see you again !” In each there’s likely at least a thimble of truth, maybe an entire bottle of it, but I’m guessing that when you say these pleasantries you really don’t expect an answer. “How am I ? Today I feel sick.” “Can I get you anything ? “Thank you so much. (Actually I would love you to buy me a drink.) “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” (I really wish I were in Philadelphia.) “You look beautiful !” (Did a blind person apply your make up ?) Oh how one wants to say these ! But of course one does not.

The quasi vocabulary of as-if politeness serves us all, and almost all of us take advantage and understand the difference. Not so, when quasi language is used for public policy statements. I don’t know about you, but I quease when I hear a politician refer to a big spending bill as “investment.” When an investor invests, she is investing her own money in hopes of a profit. That is not what happens when taxpayer dollars are spent on a public policy initiative. I find the political meaning of “investment” not polite at all. It’s a borderline lie, at best an evasion. That I feel so does not mean I do not support the spending proposal. Often I encourage it. But in no case do I like being told that it’s “investment” because that is not true. Polite is fine in a social setting; matters of public policy require the truth. Have I overreached here ? Probably I have. Probably public policy requires its own version  of polite. Still, even the polite should not intentionally deceive, right ? Maybe.

And so we come to the term “traffic calming.” Until recently i had not seen this phrase in print nor heard it said. Now I see it plenty. What does it mean to “calm” traffic ? Is traffic an angry beast that rants and raves in need of calm ? As in that meme “Keep calm… and go shopping.” Or what have you. Keep calm. So here we are.

“Traffic calming” is city planners’ term for decreasing the volume of vehicle traffic — of care and trucks in particular. I can’t say that today’s traffic density doesn’t frustrate me. Boston’s main roads are clogged with overmuch traffic in the morning and again the evening. From 6.30 AM to 9 AM one cannot move on most of the major incoming arteries. From 3 pm to about 7.30 pm one can’t move on the outbounds. As these roads were built in the 1980s-1990s to handle traffic burdens figured in the 1960s and 1970s, it isn’t very surprising that 2018 traffic makes them almost unusable. Boston in the late 1960s and the 1970s was a city from which people were moving away, out to the suburbs and the by-pass roads where the malls were built and the picket fence houses were everyone’s ideal. Toady, just the opposite holds. Everybody wants to shop, trade, entertain, and live in the city. Thus the traffic. Neighborhoods of streets once quiet find themselves flooded with cars and trucks, noise and frustration. The remedy ? “Traffic calming.”

Boston City officials have decreed a “neighborhood slow streets” program. You can read all about it here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/neighborhood-slow-streets

The artwork in it has a kind of Norman Rockwell, squeaky clean, rural peace valley look to it. Haha and haha. Does anyone takes this sort of leafy eye perfume seriously ?

I’m not a fan of taking a four lane main street and decreasing it to two lanes, setting the other two aside for bicycles and feet. What planners call “traffic calming”: I call “traffic abolition.” Neighborhoods belong not only to those who live in them, but also to those who shop in them, visit people in theme, entertain in them, run businesses in them, hotel in them, tourist in them. Restricting traffic flow — and thereby shoving half of it onto the city’s other, already overcrowded roads — may make some residents rest easier, but it impedes commerce and adds to people’s commute times. Boston already has several “traffic calming” systems in place. The city’s public garages inflict a very costly use price; parking meters cost a ton and don’t allow for more than two hours stay. If you get towed, you’ll spend at least $ 200 plus the ticket’s $ 53 to $ 100 fine. All of these obstacles push thousands onto the MBTA, which also suffers from carrying 1960s-1970s traffic in year 2018. Planners definitely “calm” traffic in one place; but the more they “calm” traffic HERE, the more that it doubles down over THERE. So why don’t we, instead of “traffic calming,” cal,l it “pushing traffic from one place onto another place ?” Or, “my traffic calm is YOUR traffic tsunami” ?

Not very polite, if you ask me.

What it is, is policy bullshit.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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