Lowell Week in Review: August 24, 2014

School starts on Tuesday

This Week: Back to school; two way traffic downtown; Candidate debate for 18th Middlesex District

Back to School

This Tuesday morning the rhythm of the city will change dramatically as public school students head to classes for their first day.  Getting everywhere will take longer with school employees and chauffeuring parents rushing to comply with the new schedule and yellow school buses will linger longer on their stops as drivers and passengers become acclimated to pick up times and places.  After a quiet summer, it’s natural for the rest of us to forget how much of an impact on traffic and our own commutes so starting Tuesday, leave a little early and bring plenty of patience on your journey.

Two-Way Traffic is One Week Old

Merrimack St at Central looking towards City Hall

I’m pleasantly surprised at how well the transition to two way traffic in downtown Lowell has gone.  It seems that Merrimack St heading westbound towards City Hall is major traffic choke point since switch to 2 way. All else seems smooth.  I posted that sentiment on Facebook early in the week and got quite a few comments (and if you’re not on Facebook, you’re missing much of the conversation that’s occurring about events in the city so please sign up and participate or at least monitor it).  Here they are with the identities of the commenters removed:

Does anyone remember when and why the traffic downtown was made one-way to begin with?

Urban renewal trend of the 1960s. They thought it would be great. They were wrong and it only took 50 years to figure that out and correct it.

Probably the lights at Dutton will have to be tweaked to give Merrimack more “green” time.

One civil engineer believes trip capacity will increase if cities turn to two-way streets.

I’m not too sure urban renewal had too much to do with it, but I’m serious, I’d love to look at the old newspaper articles to read about the justification in the first place.

Anyone remember the proposal of making the roads on either side of the Merrimack from the O’Donnel bridge to the University Ave bridge one way in opposite directions … what a nightmare that would have been.

I think [tweaking the traffic lights might be] the solution, when they added lights at the end of Fletcher St at Pawtucket Street, it would take 3 cycles to get off the O’Donnel bridge and to take a left onto Pawtucket St, changes in syncing the lights have completely eliminated the problem.

I’d venture to say that the construction at The Sun Blgd to this. Also, there is no left onto Bridge Street in Kearney Sq, (That will abate as drivers acclimate)

I would assign most of this problem to be rogue bicyclists and ignorant pedestrians that saunter across the street, regardless of what the lights are doing. From Prescott St to John St, LPD should be very aggressive with pedestrians in the ROW. If they aren’t, the drivers will devolve into a “hooray for me, FU” mind set. Drivers hate it when their kindness is mistaken for weakness.

When people get accustomed to driving down market st toward city hall, Merrimack st will uncongest a bit.

I’ve seen double-parked trucks on Shattuck block that left turn off of Merrimack several times now. That could also be contributing to a backup in this direction.

The DT will need more loading zones and dedicated spaces for commercial vehicles. That’s how the big boys do it.

Well, it used to be that way before, so it may take a while for people to get used to it again.

A quick search online indicates that one way streets became the trend in the 1950s and 1960s due to suburban growth and a desire to get cars into and out of cities quickly. One-way streets would meet that goal. (One article suggests it was a cold-war concept to allow for quick evacuation in a nuclear attack). It caused a lot of harm to downtown shopping districts and is being reversed now in an effort to make cities more usable and livable. The goal of city planners is key: speed, safety, livability, or something else.

Just came from plenty of parking East bound on Merrimack and easy no traffic easterly then up Central a nice ride today excluding the jaywalkers

It’s not going to look too good when school starts up

Didn’t have driving problem the other day at this location.

Yes, that light has traffic backed up to the previous light. Also, I was stopped at the light to take a left onto Palmer today I had someone pull up beside me on my left. Over the double yellow. After several !!! signs.

So far so good…i agree that things might not be so dandy when school starts. I am more bothered about the overly wide bike lane on Father Morrisette . It is frightening when you want to take a right on Cabot ..

Everyone needs to stay calm. I grew up in NYC. The traffic patterns there literally change either daily, weekly or monthly – depending on construction (which is happening continuously). And we adjust. It will all be fine.

Nothing counts until school is back in session

I like it… but I did get caught in that Central to Merrimack log jam. Driving the “wrong” way earlier on Merrimack Street was a bit eerie.

I’ve noticed some issues with traffic backing up on Merrimack, but each time, Market and French were both free-flowing. I wonder if drivers haven’t figured out where to divert yet.

I liked it the way it was!!!

i love it

The one-way street configuration was first proposed in 1948 by City Councilor Woodbury Howard, as a solution to downtown traffic jams. However, it was not implemented until June 2, 1954 and was referred to as the downtown “rotary” system, designed to move traffic quickly through and out of downtown. It was lauded as time-saving.

Last September, Corey Sciuto wrote a thoughtful and thoroughly researched blog post that put one way streets in the context of the post World War Two car culture that enveloped America for a couple of decades.  Here’s some of what Corey wrote . . .

. . . The end result of all of this is that at some point we came to realize that our places started being made for the car, instead of the car being a tool to get around our places. These places are disjointed, inhuman, and ugly. It just isn’t always worth the slightly easier drive. . . . Highways have been shown to be bad for people and society and should be built very sparingly.

So, over the past few decades, we’ve come to value The Past in how we look at our built environment. Time-tested systems of how people interact with their environments in a happy and healthy way have regained focus over the irrational-exuberance of the car age. Perhaps it’s partially nostalgia: we are in a poor economy with an uncertain future after all. However, a lot of it is also about learning from our mistakes misusing the technology of cars.

One-way streets are often seen as one of those mistakes. They make streets feel like highways instead of places for people. They make it so people don’t see many businesses as they’re funneled into a particular set of roads going in one direction, and a different set on the way back. They’re disorienting to visitors. They’re just plain overused and should be an absolute last resort and not a preemptive miracle cure, which is what they were used for in the past.

 18th Middlesex State Representative Race

from left Paul Ratha Yem, Dave Ouellette, Rady Mom, Jim Leary, Brian Donovan and moderator Richard Howe (me). Photo courtesy of Soben Pin

With the State Primary election just two weeks from this Tuesday, voters in the 18th Middlesex District (which was formerly represented by Kevin Murphy) will begin making up their minds about which candidate to support in the Democratic primary.  There are four candidates on the ballot (Brian Donovan, Jim Leary, Rady Mom and Dave Ouellette) and one (Paul Ratha Yem) running a write-in/sticker campaign.  If yard signs are any indication, all five candidates have are competitive in this election.  (The winner in the September 9 Democratic primary will face unenrolled candidate Fred Bahou in the November election).

This past Tuesday, the KhmerPost USA, the city’s Cambodian language newspaper, hosted a debate of the five Democratic candidates.  It was televised live on Lowell Cable TV and is now available on the LTC website.  If you didn’t see the debate (which I moderated) or a replay of it, I’ve watched a replay and took notes on the candidate responses to each of the questions.  Because of the length of the notes, I’ve posted them separately HERE.  Please check them out and catch future debates and profiles of the candidates.  Since 1972 only five people have held this office so history tells us that whoever gets elected this year will hold the office for years to come.  The others who have held this office are Phil Shea (elected 1972); Tim Rourke (elected 1980); Susan Rourke (elected 1982); Steve Panagiotakos (elected 1992) and Kevin Murphy (elected 1996).

Finally, don’t forget that the location of many of the city’s polling places have changed.  Please consult the Election Office website to confirm the location of your polling place.


5 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: August 24, 2014

  1. Chris says:

    When I see the sort of rhetoric that some of the comments regarding jaywalkers use, I wonder if we could advance a “parking lot” mentality in more American downtowns. Meaning: There are no traffic signals and only a few stop signs in parking lots, but pedestrians (walking from their car to the store) and cars seem to get along relatively well.

    On the other hand, in some European cities making that very type of switch, some pedestrians report feeling more stress. And regardless, it can’t be a direct comparison, as there are far more cars per hour on, say, Merrimack than even a Market Basket parking lot. Trade-offs always exist, but I at least believe that jaywalking isn’t morally wrong, even if it should be discouraged.

  2. Brian says:

    Great point Chris. Not to mention the money Lowell could save by replacing traffic signals with stop signs.

    Just pulled this conversation off twitter…

    patrick kennedy ‏: ·
    “Philadelphia removed 462 signals it deemed unwarranted; saw a 24-percent reduction in accidents, according to their presentation.”

    Jeff Speck‏@JeffSpeckAICP :
    And severe pedestrian injury crashes were reduced by 68% (when signals were replaced by all-way stops).

  3. Brian says:

    Woodbury Howard and his contemporaries didn’t know what they were DOING in advocating for one-way streets, wider roads, highways through downtown, surface parking lots etc.

    What’s sadder is what they were UNDOING in Lowell and in downtowns across America…100+ years of dense, walkable, urban downtowns that have worked for thousands of years across the globe. The auto-centric suburban experiment of the last 50 years is unsustainable at best.

    I feel fortunate to live in Lowell, where we have the opportunity to recreate a thriving urban environment for businesses and residents alike. But the leaders of this city need to understand the tenets of New Urbanism and how it contrasts with the Belvidere lifestyle(of which I’m a resident) for Lowell to reach its potential.

  4. Marie says:

    An FYI for Brian – Atty. Woodbury Howard was a City Councillor in the 1940s… he championed the Plan-E form of government and was, I believe, the first Mayor under Plan-E.