Mass. Ave. and the dubious pleasures of the “stroad”

Writing at YourArlington.com today, Doug Davidoff of East Arlington speculates that Mass. Ave. is a stroad, an awkward street-road hybrid that fulfills none of its purposes well:

Where a futon is a piece of furniture that serves both as an uncomfortable couch and an uncomfortable bed, a stroad moves cars at speeds too slow to get around efficiently but too fast to support productive private sector investment

Department of impeccable scholarship: That is Davidoff quoting Charles Marohn as quoted in a column by Tom Condon, who got it from an interview at The Atlantic Cities that quotes Marohn’s blog, Strong Towns.

Marahon is a scathing critic of what he calls “the suburban Ponzi scheme” of government subsidies creating transportation facilites “we don’t really value, won’t fully utilize, and ultimately lack the resources to maintain.”

Among his points: Stroads do not perform well economically because they sap businesses of the vitality and customers needed to succeed.

Marahon’s classic stroad is a bit more suburban-sprawl that our Mass. Ave., but it’s easy to see the parallels.

If a stroad is a failure both as a road and a street, what do can you do with it once you’ve got one? Perhaps we need another word, such as boulevard: a bustling sort of place that works better for everyone.

I don’t believe street design alone is sufficient to achieve that, but add some mixed-use development and maybe.

Davidoff says our Mass. Ave. is a stroad and includes a short video from Strong Cities. It’s, okay, a little wonky, but a great read.

Works cited:

  1. Doug Davidoff, Get Set to Fix Our ‘Stroad’, at YourArlington
  2. Tom Condon, Farmington Avenue Has Become A ‘Stroad’ at the Harford Courant
  3. Sarah Goodyear, Defining the Worst Kind of Street Design, at The Atlantic Cities
  4. Charles Marahon, The Stroad, on Strong Towns
  5. Charles Marahon, Not a Perfect Correlation, on Strong Towns
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8 comments so far

  1. Douglass Davidoff (@DougSTPR) on

    I embrace my wonkiness! Thanks for the tribute, Adam.

  2. dr2chase on

    Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington. Allegedly a 35mph speed limit. No crosswalks from well within Lexington, to about 3rd Avenue within Burlington (1.8 miles). No continuous sidewalk along the road on either side.

    The road itself is in terrible shape, is traditionally ineptly plowed, and after the snow melts, filled with sand. I don’t think they ever clean it.

    It’s far and away the worst part of my commute, and I manage to leave it at the Barnes and Noble parking lot.

    And in the interest of making the Middlesex Turnpike experience yet more awesome, there’s a crapload of development going on back in the office complex south of the Middlesex Turnpike. Keurig’s got a huge building going up, there’s a Wegmans being built, I’ve seen the glossy rah-rah for all the rest that’s coming. It’s worth noting that when I ride my bike home, I often beat cars from the Burlington line to the Arlington line across Lexington; I’m sure they’re thrilled at all the extra traffic this “progress” will dump in their roads.

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      Middlesex Turnpike works poorly for all modes of transit. I’ve never seen elsewhere as many (seemingly) uncoordinated traffic lights in such a short distance. But, hey, more property tax revenue and Ch. 90 money from the state with more development and jobs.

      Another unlivable road is Lexington Street in Waltham with its numerous strip malls and apartment complexes, often on opposite sides of the street. Not a single pedestrian footbridge on the street for safety.

      It all calls for grade separation between vehicular traffic and pedestrians/cyclists, elevation being cheaper than tunneling.

      • dr2chase on

        Very true about Lexington Street; fortunately, I never have to ride there.

  3. Adam Auster on

    @Doug, the pleasure is all ours.

    @dr2, the pressures on local governments to accept and even welcome sprawl are formidable. You can bet Burlington is happy to get those mega-retail centers.

    The many costs of bad infrastructure and planning are not reflected on municipal balance sheets, leading to huge failures of both markets and public policy.

    • dr2chase on

      Adam, they can have their sprawl, as long as they think to carve out a tiny fraction of the space for not-cars.

  4. Mark Kaepplein on

    Ponzi Scheme is apropos for how transportation gets done here. The Minuteman path got created with a project, but there is no funding for maintenance from the state or federal government. Towns along it kick in some money for plowing, but that hardly covers all the needs. Volunteers do clean-ups but don’t construct missing retaining walls to control substrate from washing out from under the asphalt (ie just east of Pond Lane overpass is a bad spot where the asphalt has finally failed).

    The next one is the Mass Ave project with $730,000 of added landscaping. The town bears the cost of lighting 40 added pedestrian scale sidewalk lights and a new traffic signal. Then there are a slew of shrubs in planters and lotsa trees all needing regular maintenance. The new benches, trash cans, bus shelters, tree protectors, and bike racks should only need paint and repairs every so often. Nonetheless, Arlington is on the hook for it.

    • Adam Auster on

      “Nonetheless, Arlington is on the hook for it.”

      Thank goodness someone is! It’s much better to pay for upkeep than to let things deteriorate over time.

      Kudos to the town for taking care of the Minuteman. We are much better stewards of our stretch than Lexington and Bedford are of theirs.


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