Worst. Intersection. Ever.

Spouse and I often like to visit our friends in Boston. Even before we got rid of the car, we usually preferred to take the MBTA commuter rail instead of driving. I don’t mind driving in Boston so much, but parking can often be an issue, and driving to Boston is very unpleasant. The commuter rail takes pretty much the same amount of time as driving, it’s far less stressful, and you can do a little reading while you travel – generally inadvisable while driving. I don’t like the idea of leaving my bike at the train station for an extended period of time, due to the lack of decent bike parking.

The station is less than a 20 minute walk from our house, so we hoof it for most trips. This has allowed me to fully appreciate the lack of pedestrian consideration that went into creating the intersection of Smith St./Canal St. and Smith St./N Main St.

Here’s an overview of the last few blocks of our route:

The intersection in question is marked with the red “x” of death. Uh oh, I just realized that the red X might be infringing on the trademark of Best Made Company. Whatever, I’ll worry about it when a fixie of fakerjacks shows up at my door wielding hand-painted axes.

Let’s zoom in on that intersection.

Not bad – but let’s ENHANCE!

That’s better. So what’s the problem? Take a look at how the pedestrian crossings are arranged on the western side of the map. If one were to cross the intersection only at the crosswalks, one would need to do this:

Do you know any pedestrians who would actually do that? Each crosswalk is controlled by a traffic light. In theory, a pedestrian would wait for 4 separate walk signals in order to cover this double intersection. Instead, everyone (Spouse and I included) does this:

With this route, we are only crossing the street twice, each crossing is controlled by a traffic light. However, the second crossing has no walk signal so we have to check all of the other stop lights and kind of guess when is the best time to go.

This satellite image happened to catch a car in the middle of a right hand turn, and in the middle of my preferred path. Instead of putting a crosswalk where people would naturally want to cross the street, and giving them a signal button to stop the traffic so they can safely cross, the designers of the intersection have attempted to redirect pedestrians away from cars turning right from Smith onto Canal Street.

That is, instead of doing something simple that would make the intersection safer and more convenient for pedestrians, the designers made the “safer” route more complex, and significantly longer (double the wait for traffic lights), thus insuring that no one would follow it. This was done, no doubt, to allow cars to make right turns unimpeded by pedestrians crossing the street.

Know of a worse intersection for pedestrians in the area? Let me know in the comments.

12 responses to “Worst. Intersection. Ever.

  1. Good post on the Smith Street intersection – I’ve wondered about those crosswalks.

    I thought you would be interested in another dangerous intersection out there. I cross Memorial Blvd. at Exchange Street heading north
    every day from Kennedy Plaza. About 90% of the cars at that intersection are turning onto Memorial Blvd, and since there is an unprotected pedestrian light, many of them come very close to the hapless pedestrians trying to cross.

    google map: http://bit.ly/duKsnk

    • Yeah, that’s a bad one too. It seems like there’s more pedestrian traffic at your intersection than the Smith St. intersections since it connects the train station to the main bus hub. I cross there on occasion and I’ve seen some close calls. There’s also one block south (exchange terrace and exchange street – a confusing intersection name). It’s a 3-way stop with a lot of pedestrian traffic, so you get the usual RI problem of drivers rolling through stop signs with the added complication of pedestrians (whoa! what are they doing there?)

  2. Yes, I cross exchange terrace and exchange street as well on my way home from Kennedy Plaza. It’s the only place I’ve been tapped by a car rolling through the stop sign at the blind corner next to the post office.

  3. I actually like the smith and canal intersection. I cross it so often that I anticipate the lights properly, and am working on teaching the cars how to drive it properly.

    • Do you cross the street 4 times – always in the crosswalks? Or do you take the shortcut that I outlined?

  4. Just noticed that Westminster and Dorrance is kind of sucky pedestrian-wise – it gives the little walk man AND a right arrow and left arrow for cars so that drivers think they can turn with abandon, while walkers think they can walk. Seems hazardous.

  5. I know that intersection well. When I worked for the state we had office in the State House, on Westminster St. and on West River St.

    I’d often walk from West River to the State House. That involved walking down Charles St. which btw isn’t exactly pedestrian friendly either. For example, heading southward into the city on Charles you’re better off turning onto Ashburton on the right hand side than trying to navigate the left hand side which suffers the same issues as the intersection you point out.

    • Yeah, it’s a real mess down there. Many cities are now thinking about (or at least paying lip service to) the idea of designing roads so they can be traveled by all users – cars, pedestrians, bicycles, people in wheelchairs. After decades of designing just for cars it will take a while to unwind all of the bad decisions.

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