Thank you Nemo: Nine Observations I’d Like to Retain (Guest Post)

Photo credit: Eric Ross Rosenbaum

Photo credit: Eric Ross Rosenbaum

The extra-ordinary snowstorm Nemo gave us a weekend out of the ordinary. Some of it was awful, and some of it was just great. So I thought about the good and the bad, and tried to sort it out. Here are things I observed and liked:

1.     Communing with your community: So many people are outside shoveling, chatting, and generally being helpful to neighbors and passers-by. I actually live in a neighborhood! That word has meaning.

2.     Streets without cars are so wide and calm: Walking smack down the middle of Magazine Street in Cambridge had us (lots of people, young and old, with dogs and pulling sleds) admiring the trees, churches, and excellent buildings on each side.

3.     We don’t need so much on-street parking. Where did all those cars banned from the emergency routes, or alternate sides go? Could they always park there and return some of that streetscape for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and more trees?

Community Research Tip: Count the number of cars on your street that remain snow-covered each day. Seven days post storm, see how many cars are stored on your street. Do we really need to provide so much street parking?

4.     Owning cars is an incredible pain in the neck: I wish that car owners would remember the hours spent and the trouble of unburying their cars and then the losing the hard-won clean spaces when they return from the errand. On-street parking isn’t free and it is public space, so maybe more cars could live in off-street parking, even the paid variety.

5.     Slowed traffic speeds make walking nicer: On Sunday, with narrowed and slippery streets, what traffic there was traveled at respectful speeds. Drivers were courteous and thoughtful about pedestrians that often shared the road way. So nice!

6.     Some snow mounds make great people space. The giant mountain in the Trader Joe’s parking lot had 10 kids sledding on it. Another on my street had a tunnel carved out. The big icy bulb-outs at crossroads keep traffic away from the sidewalk. It makes me yearn for less asphalt. How low can we go?

7.     Driving was restricted to absolutely-need-a-car errands: Few cars were out moving, because actually using your car required uncovering it. It seemed that most people were getting things done without them.

8.     Valuing mass transit and wishing there were more of it: As we were walking around, as some point, we wanted to hop in the T, or the bus, and cover some distance. It was so disappointing to remember that the MBTA was closed and we couldn’t get there from here. And I know that during the week, as those who haven’t dug out their cars, or don’t want to face the difficult parking seek to get to work, they will wish there were more transit options where someone else does the driving and no parking is required.

9.     Seamless connections of pedestrian routes matter:  Walking through the narrow shoveled troughs along the sidewalk is fun, as long as you don’t have a stroller, rolling suitcase, or wheelchair. But it is really annoying to hit the snow-blocked intersections selfish (lazy? vacationing?) neighbors who haven’t shoveled to connect their stretch of the path to the next one. This should remind us of all the roads and routes that we never walk for lack of sidewalk or traffic light or connecting ramp.

So as we go back to our work-week routine, and experience frustration and irritation that it isn’t like normal, let’s think also about what we loved over the weekend, and let’s make more of that.

Robin Chase is founder and former CEO of Zipcar. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

5 thoughts on “Thank you Nemo: Nine Observations I’d Like to Retain (Guest Post)

  1. Steve W
    February 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Great and apt observations. A corollary to point #9: Where the city piles the snow plowed from streets has a huge impact on pedestrian networks. I was extremely discouraged to watch street-clearing contractor build an enormous (5-feet-high) mound of cleared snow directly onto a sidewalk near where I live. This happened two winters ago, and that mound blocked the sidewalk for nearly 6 weeks. For that period, peds had a choice of walking on muddy grassy area or walking in a high-volume four-lane street. Just like Complete Streets, snow clearing ought to balance needs of all users “First, do no harm” would be a good place to start.

  2. Kate
    February 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Re parking: Those cars didn’t disappear into Narnia; all those cars that weren’t lucky enough to get to the odd-side before the snow emergency was called were parked at the high school and the (very) few other community lots that are available. I’ve been there, walking a mile in the snow from my car and back again the next day (and dig it out), and I still didn’t have a spot after the storm because half my street was covered in 7″ snowbanks.

    Your call for public transit is all well and good — unless the buses and T can’t run, in which case people without cars are housebound, or stuck walking in snowdrifts.

  3. Roy
    February 15, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    As one who enjoys shoveling I want to add #10: Shoveling really cool pathways including tunnels and big piles for kids to play on! OK, maybe you covered that in #1 and #6. My disappointment was that it was a bit too cold for good packing snow for an igloo!

  4. February 16, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Walking to a highschool lot is a pain– but I think it gives oft-time drivers a feel for what car-less people must contend with all the time: walk great distances to achieve daily needs. This might be getting to and from public transit or to the places that are just far enough so transit doesn’t make sense at all.

  5. February 18, 2013 at 8:09 am

    Good observations! I live near Mass Ave in East Cambridge and it’s been depressing to see how SLOW the T has gotten since the storm, since they are navigating much slower streets .. everyone is back in his/her car and Mass Ave is jammed, and worse than ever because of the snow banks against the curb. I don’t think too many people who trudge to a lot for their car on a snowy day understand what carless people go through … I think they’re just cursing out the weather and looking for a chair to put in their shoveled out space.

    Feels as if Boston has some of the worst public transportation for a major urban area. Until streets are redesigned with bicycle and T and pedestrians in mind, it’ll never change. For instance, Mass Ave between Arlington Heights and Harvard Square should ban on-street parking during rush hour and dedicate that lane to bicycles and buses. Cars visiting local businesses can be allowed to park on the side streets during rush hours. It now usually takes me > 35 minutes to go 3.5 miles from East Arlington to Harvard Square on a bus. It’s a 15 minute bike ride! No wonder people drive!

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