Downtown Framingham, Inc. (DFI) is highlighting sustainable, urban travel norms by encouraging alternate modes of travel downtown, including public transit, ride-share, walking, and cycling. As an increasing number of downtown workers arrive by commuter rail or bus, foot traffic can also be catalyzed by encouraging residents in adjacent neighborhoods to patronize downtown’s many assets through these alternate modes of travel. DFI Policy Intern Richard Sanger, an MBA-candidate at Framingham State University, chose to first focus on increasing one sustainable travel method, walking. Sanger conducted considerable research and executed tests to demonstrate the efficiency of walking downtown.
The typical mode of transportation in suburban areas is the privately owned vehicle (POV). In many cases, POVs are frequently operated as a single occupancy vehicle (SOV). Suburbs, such as Framingham, are also known for shopping complexes that contain spacious, predictable parking lots that accommodate easy, adjacent parking.
In contrast, urban areas are known for high-density, mixed-used developments where people can live and work in the same structure. Individuals can efficiently transit the area without a vehicle; urban centers are home to public transit systems to include trains, subways, and buses. In downtown Framingham, on-street parking is managed by the City government, and remote, shared parking lots are managed by either the City or a private property owner.
TRANSPORTATION NORMS – SUBURBAN vs URBAN
Urban areas nestled within a suburban area pose challenges to behavioral norms of the suburban driver. Efficient suburban travel in a SOV can be slowed considerably in urban areas by other transit systems, including large buses, trains, bike lanes, and pedestrian crossing patterns. Where the volume of drivers greatly exceeds the volume of those choosing an alternate mode of transportation, the frustrations of drivers in urban areas may sound louder than the feedback by those choosing a more sustainable mode of urban transportation.
PARKING NORMS – SUBURBAN vs URBAN
Furthermore, suburban-area residents are accustomed to parking their vehicles in the closest available parking spot to their destination. This behavioral trend is reinforced by spacious parking lots in commercial shopping centers, such as Shopper’s World. In urban areas, however, parking lots are not always immediately adjacent to the driver's destination. The lack of predictability about the availability of on-street parking may incur stress, while the perceived distance to walk from a parking lot to the final destination may increase the user’s overall travel time. Furthermore, the City can impose time limits upon on-street parking; most on-street parking in Framingham’s urban core is limited to two hours.
First, Sanger reviewed published studies to learn what walking distance and time allotment the average pedestrian found acceptable to arrive at the end destination. According to a recent report, one quarter-mile, or a five-minute walk, was reported to be the acceptable distance, or time, one is willing to walk rather than drive (Yang & Diez-Roux, 2012). Another study found that walking one-half mile is acceptable to most people ("Pedestrians and Park Planning: How Far Will People Walk?", 2011). With this data, Downtown Framingham, Inc. decided to conduct a study to determine how the local perception of walkability compares to the research.
First, Sanger identified several off-street parking areas and parking lots and then created routes from these areas to Concord Street. Using the Runtastic app, Sanger then walked from each lot to each street, measuring the time and distance of each route. A total of 13 routes were measured. Sanger recorded the results in an Excel spreadsheet to determine an average walking time and an average walking distance. Results for each route were compared to downtown’s overall average walking distance and walking time; results for each route were also compared to the distance of .25 miles and a time of five minutes.
Most of the tested walking routes were within the acceptable walking distance and walking time as indicated by research. The longest route by distance was from the former Danforth Museum to Sanger Street at .3 miles, and the shortest route was from the Arcade Lot to Frederick Street at .25 miles. The longest timed route was from the Pearl Street Garage to Waverly Street, and the shortest was from the Downtown Common to Waverly Street. Figure 1 depicts the distance and time for each measured route.
THE ACTION STEPS
Sanger’s test shows that downtown Framingham is walkable, as has also been witnessed on DFI's quarterly social strolls and Cultural Tour Series. To help overcome the differences in travel norms between suburbs and this urban area, DFI will embark upon the following initiatives:
- Continue education and social media marketing on the efficiency of using an alternate mode of transportation in downtown Framingham.
- Work with our partners at the MetroWest YMCA and MetroWest Medical Center to develop walking programs for adjacent neighborhoods and downtown employees that instills a sense of placemaking and community, along with driving increased health benefits.
- Research the placement and installation process for wayfinding signage for parking lots, historical landmarks, and popular businesses for visitors.
- Continue to host events that encourage walking by illustrating our shops, arts, culture, and entertainment venues, and historic landmarks. Promote how walking heightens storefront awareness which may increase business patronage.
Upcoming DFI Events: https://www.downtownframinghaminc.org/events
Richard Sanger and Courtney Thraen contributed to this report