Thursday, September 25, 2014

Curb enthusiasm

At the park's western corner, the boundaries between
pedestrian, car, and rail zones are poorly defined.
For a variety of reasons, most of them familiar to Hudsonians, it is difficult to agree on the boundaries of discussion regarding the Seventh Street Park. Hopefully, a discussion of the park's literal boundaries—its curbs—will prove less controversial.

The park's western corner is a good place to start. My informal but repeated observations indicate that this is the busiest corner of the park and the entry point for the majority of park users. Unfortunately, the rail line that infamously crosses the park slices through this corner, smearing the distinctions between the pedestrian, motor vehicle, and rail realms. The sidewalk and curb dissolve into asphalt which dissolves into the rail right-of-way which dissolves into active lanes of traffic; where is one to safely stand while waiting to cross the street? There are no barriers to guarantee refuge, and the physical and psychological assault comes from more directions than can be confidently monitored. The situation is only slightly better for those approaching the corner from the other side of the street, where the awkward boundaries combine with other poor physical cues to present a picture that on good days is ambiguous, and more often is repellent.

A simple curb bumpout at this corner would solve much of the problem by providing a larger, clearer pedestrian zone. Here are two existing bumpouts:
Left: a basic curb bumpout in Hoboken, New Jersey (photo from Right: a landscaped example in Seattle,
Washington (photo from

And here are views of 7th and Warren with and without a bumpout at the corner of the park:
From there, it is worth seeing if the rest of the park's perimeter would benefit from similar attention. The easier we can make it for people to cross the street to the park, the more users the park will have. And indeed, when deployed on both sides of an intersection, curb bumpouts can reduce pedestrian crossing distance by as much as fifty percent. They have many other advantages compared to straight-curbed intersections: they allow roadway signs to be placed closer to drivers' center of vision. When used as planting beds, they reduce surface water runoff into the roadway. And they have a generally positive effect on parking: they don't steal spaces because their locations already are no-parking zones, and they make it more difficult for scofflaws to park too close to an intersection. Perhaps most importantly, curb bumpouts alter the image of vehicle-heavy streets by advertising the right of pedestrians to inhabit intersections. Their one significant shortcoming is that they can complicate snow removal. This is less of a problem today than it was twenty years ago, however, as many municipalities now invest in smaller, more agile snow removal equipment.

As I looked into all of this, the question arose as to whether any of the streets bordering the park can be narrowed in their entirety. All the streets are now two-way; and I've never been convinced this is needed on Seventh Street and Park Place, which run along the long sides of the park. Whenever I drive on one of these streets, I find myself wondering if I should be driving on the other one.

GIF animation may not work in some mobile browsers.
The diagram at right shows a suggested pattern with one way traffic on the two long sides of the park. I don't make this suggestion lightly, as I usually am averse to converting two-way urban streets into one-way streets. Twentieth century planners frequently did this to expedite vehicle flow without regard for pedestrian experience. But on the two streets in question here, there is little chance of vehicles gaining prominence. We'd be creating narrower, one-lane, one-way streets that are quite short, and we'd grant any leftover real estate to pedestrians.

You might notice that I've continued the one-way traffic on Seventh Street into the next block heading southwest (lower left in diagram). At present, this block is ridiculously, if pleasantly, complex: the street is narrow, there's a train running down one side of it, there's pull-in parking on the other side, and there's two-way traffic. There might be a reason for this last aspect that I cannot surmise, but my working assumption is that a one-way accommodation will be adequate because Sixth Street already flows in the opposite direction. Ultimately, this is a question on which to consult the traffic engineers.

Putting all this together, I've suggested below some possible changes to the curb boundaries of the park. The sidewalks are wider and the crosswalks to the park are shorter than at present. Parking has been maintained around the entire perimeter. The biggest license I took was in showing pull-in angle parking on Park Place; I'm not sure there is enough space.

If the irregular curb geometries look odd to your eye, it likely is due to the abstract nature of the drawing. In the real world, you've almost certainly encountered similar curb shapes many times without such concerns arising.

For now, I've represented the park with an expanse of green. This does not indicate a design intent but the absence of one. I'll continue my sporadic investigations into what might happen inside the park's boundaries another time.


  1. This looks like a good idea. It's always uncomfortable standing at the SW corner of the park, waiting to cross 7th St. to the 600 block, because there's no good place to wait; in the railroad tracks? Or in the crosswalk (which I don't want to do when the light is green)? And making 7th and Park one way sounds good. That would make trucks heading south on 9 drive around, instead of in front of, the park (not sure if that's good or bad). It would also mean that Park Place would no longer have two-way truck traffic, which is probably good.

  2. Looks like a (relatively) simple solution that could solve a few problems. Widen the sidewalks just a little more, and you might have a workable space for things like the holiday displays, farmer's market stands, food trucks, etc. It would save wear and tear on the green.
    What I like most, is that you keep us all thinking, no matter how probable/ impossible a particular scheme is.

  3. I do like the curb bumpouts. It would certainly curtail truck traffic on Park Place and the rerouting to Seventh Street. I also dislike the blind spots at Park/Warren and Eighth/Warren when wanting to make left turns onto Warren. I would suggest eliminating parking too close to these curbs. I would also eliminate the one parking spot at Park Place and Columbia Street. At that corner there is a stop sign that is almost invisible.