Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pedestrian refuge, Mt. Auburn St. at Brewer St.., Cambridge

Submitted by Oliver Nowalski

A median or pedestrian refuge was recently built in Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge, MA. It is specifically located next to the intersection between Mt. Auburn Street and a small one way street called Brewer St.

The purpose of a pedestrian refuge is to provide safety to the pedestrians by separating the crosswalk in two. This way, the pedestrians only need to worry about one direction of traffic at a time, making it less stressful and easier to cross the street. In the USA, pedestrian refuges are usually used when a street is very wide, while in Eastern Europe it is an obligation to have them in streets of more than three lanes. A pedestrian refuge makes a crosswalk safer and less stressful for the pedestrians because it is more likely for pedestrians to find two separate small gaps in traffic rather than one situation in which there is a gap for both directions. These refuges are also used in areas where there are many people with mobility disabilites, very old pedestrians, and very young pedestrians in need of crossing a street. In this case, a pedestrian refuge allows these people to manage crossing the street even at their slow speeds. Apart from these reasons, in general, a pedestrian refuge provides a safer and less stressful way of crossing a street for EVERYONE.
In the case of the median refuge in study, it helps everyone to cross the street. No matter if people are young, old or with mobility disabilities, this refuge provides safety and an easier way of crossing the street for everyone. This street is a two way street with one lane going in each direction. Although pedestrians that walk at a regular speed should not have trouble crossing it, the median refuge makes the crossing a lot easier. On the other hand, the refuge has been made in a way that it narrows the street as it can be seen in the picture. This makes the cars travel slower, contributing to an even safer crosswalk for the pedestrians.

Walking through Mt. Auburn Street, especifically around the area of the pedestrian refuge, on one side of the street we encounter several houses and on the other a more comercial area. The comercial area has a liquor store that seemed to have several customers the moment the pictures were taken. In the five minutes that I was present at this median refuge, I saw several pedestrians using the refuge to cross from the residential side of the street to the comercial side. While this happened, it was possible to see how the cars lowered their speeds as they saw the pedestrians crossing. Likewise,the pedestrians looked calm while crossing the street since it required a very small effort of their part to find two separate small gaps in traffic. This means that the pedestrian refugee is achieving its goal of providing an easy and safe way to cross Mt. Auburn St.

This pedestrian refuge is a success due to the design it has. As one can see in the pictures, the street narrows at the crosswalk, which makes the cars slow down. In addition, by having plants and flowers, as well as two signs that tell the cars that there is a slight swerve on the street, the cars can lower their speeds before getting to the crosswalk. Furthermore, there is a big yellow sign with a pedestrian crossing that alerts the drivers of the crosswalk and that the pedestrians have the right of way. The only "problem" that this median refuge has is that the street is very narrow, so people can cross easily at different points of the street. There is no way of correcting this since the street has only one lane in each direction. As seen in the picture, people can easily cross the street without using the refuge. Even though this could be considered as a problem, it is not. While I saw around 10 people use the pedestrian refuge in the five minutes I was present in the area, only one person crossed the street at another point. It is better to have the refugee for the vast majority of people to use, than to not have it because 1 out of 10 people decide that it is easier to cross the street without the help of the refuge. 
In general, harmony is present between the actual use, intended use and design of this pedestrian refuge.
People use this refuge to cross Mt. Auburn street without having to worry about finding a gap for both directions of traffic. People that walk slowly or need assistance are able to cross this street without any problem.Moreover, the design of this pedestrian refuge has calmed the traffic in that section of the street, providing more safety to the pedestrians. Also, it is necessary to mention that the efficiency of this pedestrian refuge proves the idea of only having this refuges in wide streets to be wrong. Pedestrian refuges work as good or even better in two lane streets as in six lane streets. In general, it improves the service to pedestrians, and provides a safer and less stressful way of crossing a street.

1 comment:

  1. While it may the case that we "usually" install median refuges on wide (multilane) streets, our "usual" way of managing streets is nothing to be proud of or continue. We routinely allow our streets to become barriers to pedestrians, in sharp contrast to northern European practice in which median refuges are required if a road has more than 3 lanes, and are common on 2-lane roads. As you observed, plenty of "regular" people were enjoying the crossing. This median refuge wasn't installed to help one or another subset of the population; it was done to help everybody.