Somerville with Townie Tim: Getting around

Sometimes this column is just a local townie going on a curmudgeonly rant, and that is totally going to be the case this week. Just make sure you remember the following column is my mostly sarcastic way of getting some catharsis from frustrating situations. In this case, it’s not you, it’s not me, it’s the fact that this city was built almost 200 years ago.

When they started digging out the horse trenches that would become the roads of this town, city planning wasn’t really a thing. Basically, they just looked over yonder and declared that “there” might be a good place to go and then set out in a straight shot. This mentality, plus time and people, resulted in the convoluted mess of roads, paths and intersections that connect Somerville today.

Let’s start with the roads. Having a street that is actually 1.5 lanes but still has cars going in both directions is a Boston speciality. Driving down them is a game of low-stakes chicken with the opposing traffic to see who will pull into a driveway first. If you are lucky, there are some parking spots you can swoop into, but come on, that is rarely the case.

Next, we have the walking paths. The community path is a wonder of city planning, and I have absolutely no complaints about it, so it gets a big-time pass from my derision. Instead, let’s talk about every other sidewalk in this city. Some are totally legit and support the free passage of people walking in both directions. But, you don’t have to go far to get to that one bottleneck where someone thought a tree would be a good addition and went ahead and took approximately 60% of the cement off the sidewalk to plant it. This also sets up a nice game of “who gets to go” when it’s raining and that tree has just made a big puddle of mud.

Lastly, we have the places where it all comes together: intersections. It almost seems like every intersection in Somerville has some sort of catch, whether it’s a no turn on red, a crosswalk button that is just for show or a stop sign that is falsely interpreted as a soft yield.

Take for example where Highland Avenue meets Davis Square. Here you have the ultimate combination of confusing pedestrian, bicycle and car interactions that you could ask for. Basically, a one way road with a bike lane hits the Square and splits into four options. Normally, you get a green, then a red and a crossing signal. But wait, the red light is on, there is a right turn green arrow, but there are no cars in that lane. Looks safe to cross, right? One pedestrian tries to catch the opportunity even through the walk sign isn’t on. Then folks around them have no idea what’s going on, so they go too, and all of a sudden everything turns green again as we have a honking mess. I am currently pitching a no-hitter on not seeing this happen.


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