Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ToddlerLand Found

I found ToddlerLand in greater Boston! It has everything a toddler needs to have a fun filled morning.

Of course we begin with a train ride.

Then we find a big field to run and romp, and the many dogs are fun too.

A brook to look at little fish and water bugs. However, toddlers probably shouldn't play in the brook since many dogs already do.

But do not fear when it is a hot day, there's a great splash pad at the top of the hill. And the playground has a sand box too.

Wooded paths, where we can play with sticks.

Trails with waterfalls.

And a pond with ducks, geese and frog statues to top it off.

Where might this be, but Beaver Brook in Belmont. It's just a hop, skip and a jump from Waverly. Which you can get to by train from North Station or by bus from Harvard Square.

The southern historic section is the most easily accessible from Waverly, and where you will find most of the fun toddler activities. Once out of the train or bus stop, walk northwest along Trapello Road. About 200yds you'll reach the playground on your right, a little further on your left up Mill Street is Duck Pond and nice wooded trails.

If you are looking for more trail walking go to further north to the Rock Meadow section that extends into Waltham. If you need still more trails to walk along, just keep walking along the Western Greenway, walk to Belmont Center, downtown Waltham, or all the way around back to Waverly. But I digress, this degree of walking is mosty for older kids.

First just take your toddler out on the wooded trails and paths. Find sticks to bang against rocks, fish & bugs to watch, and dogs to pet. That is fun enough.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Camp Boston

Summer is almost here and thus camping season has begun. I grew up thinking of camping as either hiking on trails or car camping. But since moving to Boston I've learned that there is also bike camping, ferry camping and train camping. Though I haven't made the time to go on all of the camping trips I've wanted, I have found the time to compile a list of camping destinations near Boston.

Boston Harbor Islands (DCR & NPS)

The closest and most iconic Boston camping destination, and possibly even the easiest. There are three different islands you could camp on, ranging from old forts to secluded wilderness. Peddocks Island will soon be offering tent and yurt camping too. The islands are beautiful, with unique views of Boston, and often a lot of rabbits. For being so close to the city, they are also very remote, no water or electricity, and you can only get there by ferry, water taxi or private boat.

To go, pack light or pack in a rolling device and take the T to the Aquarium stop. The ferry dock is adjacent to the Christopher Columbus Park (not next to the aquarium). The ferry goes to George's Island (no camping) where you catch a second ferry to your particular island. You will need to be able to carry all your stuff in one trip to get on and off the ferries. Of particular note due to its remote nature, campers have to bring your own water, and carry of all of their trash.

Wompatuck (DCR)

Wompatuck State Park is on the South Shore and I don't know much about it, however it is large and I understand it has many good bike trails & roads. There is also the adjacent Weir River Farm and Whitney Thayer Woods, not to mention the nearby Worlds End Reservation; all are places I've been wanting to visit and haven't. It might be a great bike camp destination by taking the ferry from the Acquarium dock to Hingham and cycling the six miles to the campground, or take the train from South Station to Nantasket Junction for a four mile ride.

Ponkapoag Camp (AMC)

The AMC is well known for their White Mountain lodges and camps, but they are based in Boston and have a camp in our own backyard Blue Hills. It is very much geared to families. Reservations are focused towards week long stays, though I believe you can reserve a weekend. They have both tent areas and cabins. And for the parent that can't take the full week off, it is close enough to the city where you could still commute. It probably isn't best to cycle there, but a combination of the red line and Bus #240, and three mile walk on trails through the Blue Hills.

Camp Acton (Town of Acton)

Off of Acton's Pope Rd across from a few farms is a dirt road that ascends to a trail leading to a dozen distantly separated campsite in a small forest of large pine trees. This is a secluded place to legally camp that few know about. It is a great destination for bike camping, it is only 20 miles from the city, much of which is on the Minuteman Bikeway and the Reformatory Branch Trail. The trail is also wide enough to easily bring your loaded bike into the campsite. It is also right on the Bay Circuit Trail and one could easily walk with a pack the four miles from the Concord train station

Harold Parker State Forest (DCR)

On the border of Andover and North Reading is this large state forest with a campground. It has mostly wooded with many lakes and walking trails. It is also 20 miles from the city, however the route is on busier streets. It is also on the Bay Circuit Trail and can be reached by foot from either the Ballardvale or Andover train stations with a 6 mile walk.

Winter Island (City of Salem)

A city beach and campground on the northeast tip of Salem. I know next to nothing about this destination, though Salem is a fun city to visit, with many museums, a nice downtown and a set of bike paths that go to the nearby quaint village and New Englang sailing mecca, Marblehead. Winter Island is also 20 miles from the city, though the roads in this direction are particularly unfriendly to cyclists (at least while the Northern Strand is not yet complete). Taking the Salem Ferry LINK or the train to the Salem station would be a good alternative with or without a bike.

Of course, there are plenty more campgrounds nearby, and further a field on the Cape, in Maine, and further, including Salisbury Beach, shown above. The following map collects many, and hopefully more as I learn them.

View Bike Camping Nearby in a larger map


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wayfinding Signage for Cyclists

Lately I've been working with the Somerville Bicycle Advisory Committee (SBC) to develop a few signed bike routes throughout the city. Ordinarily a City our size shouldn't need signed bike routes. Boston on the other hand is large enough to justify them, and is working on them.

Most of our direct routes require riding on rather busy streets. Often, these routes have lower traffic alternatives, often with better bicycling infrastructure. Except these alternative routes can be more complicated, thus signage would be helpful.

What I'm trying to figure out is what type of signage would work best in Somerville. Here are a few of the goals and constraints that we have:

  • Limited street space for large signs or kiosks, more space can sometimes be found at key landmarks, destinations and parks, but not always.
  • Limited funding available for signage, so every element of the system must count, and the ability to use existing sign posts and structures would be helpful.
  • A multi-lingual society, so the use of symbols is preferred where possible.
  • Dual use of signage for pedestrians is a preference if possible.

There are a few methods of developing a route that will impact how the signage functions and appears. We haven't made this decision, so it is important to consider these three different methods.

Method A Route Signage:

Though bike routes often have names, the signage for the route is almost always numbered. The signs are similar to what is used for highways. An examples of bicycle route signage is the Claire Saltonstall Bikeway from Boston to Provincetown, which is Bicycle Route 1 in Massachusetts. Incidentally it is the only numbered bicycle route in Massachusetts. The standard US bicycle route sign is shown below. These signs can be confusing, as they do not include route identification or destination information. Of course our highway signs do not include this information either, however highway maps are ubiquitous and are generally understood by all Americans (even those that do not drive).

Another example is the Dutch LF Routes managed by the ANWB (the Dutch multi-modal equivalent of the AAA). Similar to the Claire Saltonstall Bikeway, LF routes are long distance bike routes. The signs are similar to the US sign, except they provide additional information, as shown below and described further here. Often these signs include the organization managing the route, typically the ANWB in Holland.

Method B Destination Signage:

Destination signage highlight the destination instead of the route. For motorists, they are typically found accompanying highway route signs, particularly at junctions. Destination signage for bicyclists are most commonly used in urban areas. Most cyclists in urban areas are going somewhere in particular, not traversing a specified route, thus destination signs are more useful. There are of course exceptions, such as the East Coast Greenway. NACTO has a great site describing various bicycle signage systems, primarily focussing on destination signage, but also some route signage. A Berkeley example of a destination sign:

The primary difficulty with destination signage is their size and expense. To accomodate the name of the destination in a legible size, the sign must be large, and thus more expensive than other bicycle wayfinding sign types. In an urban area where destinations are more important, maps less common, and visitors more common, destination signs will always be important. Though it would be nice if they could be limited to junctions and not required at every turn. A secondary concern is that they require both literacy and some understanding of a particular language, which all cyclists are not guaranteed to have.

Another type of destination sign that resolves some of the above concerns is the Czech system of mute blazes. Instead of using the names of the destinations the signs use symbols that represent the destinations. The size of these signs could be significantly smaller than destination name signs, thus easier to fit along the route. Of course, destination name signs would still be necessary at junctions and to help define the meaning of the symbols. In addition it is usually easier & quicker to interpret a pictoral symbol than it is to read a name. It may be easier for cyclists to recognize the symbolic signs while moving.

Method C Nodal Signage:

The third signage method is with nodes. This system originated in rural Belgium to aid bicycle navigation on the many country roads and paths. This system includes a dense network of designated bicycle routes, too many to number and name. Instead they number the intersections or nodes. Each stretch of bicycle route connects two nodes, and the signs direct the cyclist to the next node ahead.

It provides for a very flexible system that can accomodate point to point, loop, short and long rides. This system does require a map to navigate, yet maps are located at most nodes throughout the network.

This system allows for small numerical signs along the routes to provide direction. Yet the routes do not need to be point to point, which the standard route signage requires. It is more difficult to learn since it is not common here, though similar system are often used at cross-country ski and hiking areas.

The most likely candidate for wayfinding signs in Somerville is Destination Signage, if we can develop a more cost effective system that can fit along smaller streets. Maybe an innovative combination with Route or Nodal Signage may work. I welcome your thoughts and ideas.