Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The fall ResiStats are here

We hope you can join us this fall at one of the upcoming ResiStat meetings.
What is ResiStat? It's a community meeting designed to connect residents with the data, statistics, news, and updates they need to be civically engaged in Somerville. We've already held meetings in Ward 5 and 3 and now have the full fall schedule for you. Hope to see you there!

  • Ward 6 (greater Davis Square neighborhood): Thursday, Nov. 20, Somerville Community Baptist Church, 31 College Ave.
  • Ward 7 (West Somerville, Teele Square): Monday, Dec. 1, West Somerville Neighborhood School, 177 Powder House Blvd.
  • Ward 2 (south Union Square, Perry Park and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, Beacon Street area): Tuesday, Dec. 2, Argenziano School, 290 Washington St.
  • Ward 1 (East Somerville, Assembly Square): Monday, Dec. 8, East Somerville Community School auditorium, 50 Cross St.
  • Ward 4 (Winter Hill, Ten Hills): Monday, Dec. 15, Healey School cafetorium, 5 Meacham St.

Figure out what ward you live in by using our address lookup tool. Meetings run from 6:30 to 8 p.m., with refreshments served at 6 p.m.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fall 2013 Cycling and Pedestrian Count: A Look at Walking and Jogging

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 12.03.44 PM.pngWe’ve gone over the numbers for cycling. Now let’s go into more detail on walking and jogging. After a two-year plateau, the number of pedestrians counted last fall was the highest since we started recording this data back in 2010, jumping 18% from 2012.

This year’s trends

Not surprisingly, we counted the largest number of pedestrians around T stops. This was especially true of Davis Square, but we also saw large numbers of pedestrians in the parts of Somerville near Porter Square and in East Somerville near Sullivan Square.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 12.04.43 PM.pngThe trend of high pedestrian activity on Elm Street between Teele and Davis Squares continued, and while cyclists may find the Community Path too slow, pedestrians love it. We also found the Beacon Street corridor to be nearly as popular for pedestrians as it is for cyclists.

Interestingly, we counted more pedestrians in the evening than we did in the morning. This could be because people are both returning from work and heading out for after-work activities. It could also be that people take other forms of transportation to work, but prefer to walk home in the evenings, when there isn’t as much pressure to be on time.

Our volunteers track the movement of cyclists and pedestrians through intersections as well. Again, not surprisingly, we see people moving from residential areas toward commercial squares and transit stops in the morning, and then back again in the evening.
Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 2.28.02 PM.png

The number of joggers saw a moderate increase in last fall’s count, but like cycling and walking, it too reached an all-time high. As with previous years, joggers were mostly concentrated in the triangle between the Community Path and Davis and Porter Squares.

Promoting walking and pedestrian safety

Our goal is to make Somerville the most walkable city in the country, and the City has undertaken a number of efforts both to promote walking as a sustainable, healthy mode of transportation and to reduce the number of accidents involving pedestrians.

Earlier this month, the Board of Aldermen passed the first “Complete Streets” ordinance in Massachusetts, establishing a formalized vision for planning, designing, and building roadways that are safe for all users and that support and encourage non-motorized transportation.

Just a couple months ago, Shape Up Somerville partnered with the Brown School to pilot a “Safe Routes to School” program. The program creates an alternate drop-off zone for parents so that they can walk their kids the last few blocks to school, helping to instill healthy habits early in life.

Last year, we revisited our Safe-START program, first launched in 2006, which uses data and analytics to identify priorities for improvements to intersections citywide. In the 2013 report, we analyzed pedestrian accident data and 311 requests to come up with a list of intersections for short-, mid-, and long-term improvements. Over the coming years, we’ll be monitoring our progress against the priorities laid out in the report.

Of course, one of the best ways to promote walking is through fun outdoor community events, and Somerville has no shortage of those. On June 1, the City kicked off its 2014 SomerStreets program with Carnaval on East Broadway. During SomerStreets, city streets are closed to motor vehicles and opened up to walkers, runners, and cyclists.

Looking ahead

We look forward to doing another count in September to see which trends continue and which new ones emerge. The data from these reports is critically important in planning investments that meet the demand for active transportation in Somerville and help us achieve the goal laid out in Somervision of 50% of new trips via walking, cycling, and public transit by 2050.

We appreciate the many resident volunteers who have helped us collect this data over the last several years. We wouldn’t be able to draw such a complete and informative picture without you. Thanks for helping to make Somerville a better place to walk or ride a bike.

There are lots of great events to attend in the coming months, so strap on your shoes and/or helmet, get outside, and enjoy the warmer weather!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Trash data? Yeah, we want that.

Normally we use the ResiStat blog to share data and information with you, but today we'd like to ask you for some data.

Recently, the City started rolling out uniform trash barrels. (If yours didn't come yet, hold on, the roll out is going on throughout the month of June.) Since this is a new program, we want to gather data on how it's going and use that data to make any adjustments that make sense. To get that data, we're asking you to stop by regularly and let us know about how full your cart is each week. Not only do we appreciate getting this data, but it will also help make trash collection better for all residents.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Fall 2013 Cycling and Pedestrian Count: A Look at Cycling

If you were out during the Memorial Day parade or Porchfest, you may have noticed a traffic jam here or there as people made their way around the city checking out the events. You may have also noticed some people unaffected by the congestion because they had chosen to cycle or walk to their destination rather than take a car.

In addition to keeping cars off the road, walking and cycling improve health, protect the environment, and promote economic vitality, since bikers and pedestrians are more likely to drop in on local businesses. They also build a stronger community by enabling people to interact face-to-face, rather than from behind a car window.

Every fall since 2010, we’ve collected data on the number of cyclists and pedestrians in the city. This allows us to measure progress toward our goals for multi-modality. It also helps our planners understand where traffic is highest, keep track of shifts and trends, and identify areas with the biggest opportunities for improvement. Volunteers record this data across 36 locations, counting for an hour in the morning or evening on a weekday within a certain counting period of two weeks.  

We’re proud to report that our numbers for last fall across all three categories - cycling, walking, and jogging - are the highest we’ve ever recorded. We’ll use this post to share details from the report about cycling, but stay tuned for a future post on walking and jogging.

The numbers

A graph showing a steady increase in cycling in Somerville.We saw another massive jump in cycling in last fall’s count. The number of cyclists was 16% higher than in the previous year and more than 80% higher than in 2010, when we first started tracking this data.
Once again, we counted the highest number of cyclists along the Beacon Street corridor, a popular commuting route that connects Somerville with Cambridge and Boston. Volunteers along this route recorded counts exceeding 450 cyclists per hour.

While numbers were up dramatically overall, we did notice decreases in a couple places, most notably around Tufts and Union Square in the morning and on Broadway and Powder House Boulevard in the evening. More data is needed to explain these drops, but theories include different daily schedules for Tufts students and people picking alternate routes as the city’s cycling infrastructure evolves (we saw increases in many other parts of the city).

For the second year in a row, we saw a lower number of cyclists along the Community Path, which seems to indicate that people prefer faster routes that aren’t shared with pedestrians.

Cycling network and future improvements

A map showing the most used bicycling routes in Somerville, including Beacon Street.Guided by the Somervision Comprehensive Plan, the City is working hard to make Somerville as bike and pedestrian friendly as possible. Last month, the MBTA announced that it will fund the extension of the Community Path from Lechmere to the future Green Line station at Lowell Street, completing a continuous two-mile bike and pedestrian way through Somerville.

In addition, street improvement projects for Central Broadway and Davis and Union Squares, now in their planning stages, will calm traffic and improve safety for cyclists, and construction is already underway to do the same along the Beacon Street corridor, which will soon have its own brand new cycle track.
A map showing where around Somerville cycling infrastructure improvements have been made.

We expect these improvements, as well as the extension of the Green Line through Somerville, to lead to further increases in the number of cyclists.

Safety for everyone on the road

As more people travel by bike, it’s important that we all share the road safely. The improvements mentioned above will help with this. For example, the new cycle track on Beacon Street will provide a dedicated path for cyclists that is separated from the roadway.

Infrastructure improvements aren’t the only solution, though. We also need people to be aware when walking, biking, or driving and to always obey the rules of the road. The Somerville Police Department has been stepping up enforcement on cyclists, and the City has been carrying out a public awareness campaign to educate people on safe practices.

You can give yourself a refresher by reading up on key rules or by consulting MassBike’s “Same Roads, Same Rules” website.

Tell us what you think

We’ll continue to track this data to help inform the decisions we make. As always, though, we’d like to hear from you. If you’re a cyclist, how do you choose your route? Is it shortest, most pleasant, or something else? Have you changed your route after improvements in the city’s cycling infrastructure? Where do you see the best behaved cyclists?  The most infractions? How do you think the city could better reach out to everyone about bike safety?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Diverting Waste Through Uniform Disposal

We've been talking a lot of trash about rats lately, specifically how new uniform trash barrels will help in the war on them. Along with keeping trash out of rats' mouths, the new barrels will likely have another positive effect: cutting down on solid waste.

Somerville is committed to sustainability and the environment, and we’ve set a citywide goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Reducing our solid waste and increasing our recycling are critical to meeting this goal.

Disposing of solid waste means burying it in a landfill or burning it in an incinerator. This requires energy, and the more waste a city produces, the more energy is required to get rid of it. Likewise, manufacturing a product from virgin materials requires energy to source the material (mine the tin or cut down the tree), transport it to a factory, and refine it. Manufacturing the same product from recycled material requires significantly less energy - in some cases, up to 95% less. When less energy is used, less carbon is pumped into the atmosphere, which reduces the negative effects of climate change.
a graph showing the increase in recycling from 2007-2013

The success of Zero-Sort

In September of 2011, we implemented Zero-Sort recycling to reduce our carbon footprint and conserve resources. The big blue barrels we now know and love make it easier for people to recycle everything from newspapers to coffee cans to cereal boxes, all in one place. Since the program began, we’ve seen a significant decrease in solid waste tonnage coupled with a significant increase in recycling. The data we’ve collected show that when you make it easy for people to recycle, they’re more likely to do it.

New uniform trash carts

Building off the success of Zero-Sort, we’ll soon start distributing uniform trash carts for items that can’t be recycled. We’re asking people to set a personal goal of producing no more trash than fits in their one City-issued cart. The cart’s 64-gallon capacity will be about the same as two of the trash barrels you would find at your local hardware store, so it should provide plenty of space for most people.

Time will tell, but examples elsewhere suggest that providing a uniform cart with a reasonable, but limited capacity improves the diversion rate, or the rate at which waste is diverted from landfills and incinerators and instead recycled, reused, or composted. Our recycling rate, a component of the diversion rate, has increased with Zero-Sort, as you can see to the left.

We hope for another increase once people have gotten used to their new carts. We’ll be monitoring how people use them over the coming months and may make changes to the program based on additional data and community feedback.

In addition to hopefully reducing people’s waste output, the new carts will provide other benefits:

  • Their sturdy construction and secure-fitting lids will keep out rodents and result in fewer blown over barrels, keeping our streets clean and attractive on trash days
  • Their standard design will allow them to be picked up more easily, improving worker safety and making collection quicker and more efficient
  • Handles and wheels will make the barrels easier to roll to the curb, even when full (just like the Zero-Sort bins)

Other ways to reduce our solid waste

Of course, we can reduce our solid waste tonnage further by turning yard waste into compost, and by disposing of hazardous waste and e-waste in a responsible manner. We’ve posted tips for what to do with these types of waste in our 2014 Environmental Service Guide.

We’re also taking steps towards making citywide curbside composting a reality. The city of Somerville produces about 5,200 tons of food waste each year (or 130 pounds per resident). The majority of this goes in the trash, making up close to 25% of the city’s total solid waste tonnage. Over the coming months, a recently appointed resident task force will research best practices and make recommendations for a program that will allow us to turn this waste into compost, which requires little energy to produce and can be used for gardening and farming.

We’re excited to see how programs such as uniform trash bins and curbside composting affect our 
solid waste tonnage and diversion rate. Stay tuned for more information on how reducing our solid waste impacts our city’s net greenhouse gas emissions.

Friday, May 16, 2014

2014 spring ResiStat schedule

Join us this spring for some fun, informative ResiStat community meetings. Not only will you get a chance to talk with City officials, elected officials, and your neighbors about all the latest happenings in Somerville, but you also can enjoy some free pizza. The scheduled meetings are listed below (don't worry, Ward 3, yours is coming soon). And, don't forget to take our quick survey to help set the agenda for your meeting.

Ward 6: May 12, Greater Davis Square, SW Ball Square

  • Meeting: 7-8:30 p.m., Monday, May 12, Community Baptist Church, 31 College Ave.
  • Meet and Greet, refreshments: 6:30 p.m.
Ward 1: May 19, East Somerville, Assembly Square, Inner Belt
  • Meeting 7-8:30 p.m., Monday, May 19, East Somerville Community School auditorium, 50 Cross St. 
  • Meet and Greet, refreshments: 6:30 p.m.
Ward 7: May 21, West Somerville, Teele Square
  • Meeting: 7-8:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 21, West Somerville Neighborhood School, 177 Powderhouse Blvd.
  • Meet and Greet, refreshments: 6:30 p.m.
Ward 4: May 27, Winter Hill, Ten Hills, Mystic River, Mystic View
  • Meeting: 7-8:30 p.m. at Healey School cafeteria, 5 Meacham St.
  • Meet and Greet, refreshments: 6:30 p.m.
Ward 2: June 3, Union Square South, Somerville Ave. & Beacon St. areas, and the Lincoln Park and Perry park areas

  • Meeting: 7-8:30 p.m. at Argenziano School cafeteria, 290 Washington St.
  • Meet and Greet, refreshments: 6:30 p.m.
Ward 5: June 4, Magoun Square, NE Ball Square, Cedar & Lowell St. areas, NW Porter Square
  • Meeting: 7-8:30 p.m. at John F. Kennedy Elementary School cafeteria, 5 Cherry St.
  • Meet and Greet, refreshments: 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

2014 Hubway Season Begins: A Look Back on 2013

Hubway launch event with dignitaries on bikes.
Mayor Curtatone takes part in the ceremonial first docking.
Spring is finally upon us, and that means Hubway season has begun. Mayor Curtatone officially kicked things off a few weeks ago at the Hubway Grand Reopening Party, and you may have noticed stations popping up around town, including four new ones added last fall at Teele Square, Packard Ave. at Powderhouse Blvd., Somerville Hospital, and Summer at Cutter. In honor of warmer temperatures (and lots of good biking days) ahead, here's a recap on last season’s Hubway usage here in Somerville.

Hubway collects and analyzes oodles of data from the system to track its progress from year to year, month to month, and even day to day. This data includes things like number of trips per day, number of new memberships, number and type of repairs, amount of time a station is in or out of service, and distribution of bikes around the system.

A graph showing an increase in Hubway ridership in Somerville from August 2012 to November 2013.Ridership is Up
While we had a sense anecdotally that a lot more people were using Hubway last year than in 2012, the first year of its operation, it was good to have that confirmed by the numbers. Hubway usage in Somerville was up dramatically in 2013, with even the slowest month (April) surpassing the previous year’s busiest one (October).

People in Somerville took over 35,000 rides last season. September -- when the weather was still warm, students and tourists were in town, and there was a host of great events to bike to -- was the busiest month for Hubway yet, with Somerville users logging over 6,000 rides.

A graph showing an increasing number of rides to and from Somerville Hubway station.

The numbers for total trips to and from Somerville Hubway stations tell a similar story, and memberships for Somerville residents increased sharply in 2013, after rising steadily the previous year and plateauing over the winter months.

A graph showing a sharp increase of Hubway members in Somerville.

Calories Burned, Carbon Reduced & More Fun Facts

Hubway also tracks calories burned and carbon offset. In just one month last year, Somerville residents burned 177,000 calories using Hubway and prevented 2,758 pounds of carbon from being pumped into the atmosphere by cars or other forms of transportation.

Here’s some more interesting system-wide data, also taken from the same month last year:

  • Hubway saw fairly consistent ridership throughout the week, but Monday and Friday were the busiest days, while Sunday was the slowest
  • The average trip duration for members was ten minutes, while the average trip duration for non-members was about 20 minutes
  • The average trip distance for members was just over a mile, while the average trip distance for non-members was closer to 1.3 miles (given the above, those members biked fast!)

Finally, Hubway riders have traveled a total of over 1.7 million miles since the system opened, which is the equivalent of 68 trips around the Earth’s equator or seven trips to the moon.

You’ll find interesting representations of this and other data from the Hubway Data Visualization Challenge, and of course, if there are other Somerville-specific data you’d like to see, let us know. You can also check on real-time bike availability at stations throughout Hubway’s network using the Hubway Tracker.

Stay tuned for more updates on Hubway and biking in Somerville generally, including the results of our 2013 bike and pedestrian count (you can read about the 2012 results here and here). Enjoy the warmer weather, and bike safely!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Revisiting the residential exemption

If you live in the property you own in Somerville, you may already be eligible for one of the highest residential exemptions in the state and a new proposal by Mayor Curtatone could give Somerville the highest residential exemption in Massachusetts. (See below for eligibility requirements.)

When people talk about residential exemptions, they often talk about a percentage off your tax bill, but that’s only half the story. The residential exemption is actually a percentage off the average residential value. How does that work? This year, the average residential property value in Somerville was $502,248, so that’s the number you take 30% from to find the residential exemption. If you take 30% of $502,248, that’s $150,674, so if you qualify for the residential exemption you get taxed as if your property was worth about $150,000 less than it actually is.

Mayor Curtatone’s proposal would raise the exemption rate to 35%. If that rate was in effect this year the residential exemption amount would be $175,787, or about $25,000 more than the current exemption. The residential tax rate this year is $12.66 per $1,000 of value, so being taxed on a value that is more than $25,000 lower would mean additional savings for homeowners.  

How much savings? Tax bills are complicated, so the savings would be different for each property, but here’s a chart that shows how the tax bill changed for the average value, owner-occupied property of each property type from this year (fiscal year 2014) versus last year (fiscal year 2013) if the owner took the 30% residential exemption. It also shows how those bills would have changed had a 35% exemption been in place. So, for example, the average two-family, owner-occupied that took the 30% exemption home saw an increase of $39 on their tax bills this year (this is just the average! Individual bills can vary depending on the property value). Had they been able to take the 35% exemption instead of the 30% exemption, their bill would have decreased $118 for the year. That’s a $157 savings for the year.

Property Type
Average FY14 Value
Tax Change From FY13 at 30%
Tax Change From FY13 at 35%
Savings With Increase
Single Family
Two Family
Three Family
4-8 Family

So, how does the residential exemption get changed? First, a proposal needs to be made to change the rate. That already happened last week when Mayor Curtatone asked to the Board of Aldermen to change the residential exemption to 35%. The Board of Aldermen would then need to approve submitting a home rule petition** to the State Legislature for approval. If approved at the state level, the new residential exemption would become 35%.

In the meantime, you can still file for the 30% residential exemption (and possibly others, if you qualify) for FY14. The deadline to apply for exemptions is April 1, 2014 by 4:30 p.m.

* To qualify for the residential exemption you must own and occupy the property
on January 1, 2013. Massachusetts laws stipulate that property owners have to pay a tax of at least 10% of the full tax bill. For low-value properties that might mean the residential exemption would be limited.
** Cities and towns can submit home rule petitions to existing laws to be granted certain powers not generally under municipal control.

*** Fiscal years run from July 1 – June 30. Fiscal Year 2015 begins July 1, 2014.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Community Budgeting: Round 2

It should come as no surprise that when you ask Somerville residents for creative ideas they’ll give you plenty. And, once again, you’ve come through with over 200 ideas sent in as part of Community Budgeting
Mayor Curtatone talking with
Community Budgeting participants.

After taking out some repeats and ideas we’re already working on (for example, banning Styrofoam) we were left with a list full of great ideas. The problem? How do we prioritize them? That’s where we need your help again.

Using IdeaScale, we’ve put together a voting campaign that will let you vote ideas up or down. (Please note, to vote you need to either create an IdeaScale account or login with one of the other options provided.) Give points to the ideas you’d like to see in Somerville and, if you’re not a fan of an idea, you can vote it down.

We’re looking forward to seeing how the ranking goes.