Zen and the art of traffic engineering

To contemplate the interconnectedness of all

things, one might turn to Eastern religion.

Then again, one might also turn to traffic


We were reminded as much this week, as the city’s Department of Public Works announced an open house on proposed non-motorized improvements along Wyatt Way. Slated to run 7-8:30 p.m. March 7 at the Commons in Waterfront Park, the presentation ostensibly will address such options as bike lanes and sidewalks on Wyatt between Madison Avenue and Grow Avenue. But the discussion may well be dominated by the future of the intersection at the east end of that corridor – Wyatt and Madison. By current

projections, the four-way stop there will fail – i.e., be overwhelmed by traffic to the point of incessant backups and associated mayhem – in five to eight years.

One solution that’s already on the table: a roundabout. That should make for a lively evening, even if we only consider the intersection in a vacuum. Which of course we can’t, because all things are, indeed, interconnected.

Step back a second and recall that the need for a functional and diverse street grid in Winslow has been a recurring – and generally ignored – theme in our local planning efforts since the Comprehensive Plan was adopted more than a decade ago. The point was made again last month, when Patrick Condon presented his “Seven Principles for Sustainable Community Design.” Principle No. 5: “Provide an interconnected street network, in a grid or modified grid pattern, to ensure a variety of itineraries and to disperse traffic congestion...”

To understand why this applies to Wyatt/Madison, count the north-south corridors leading to and from downtown: you’ve got the highway, Ericksen, Madison and Grow. Now, with highway planning being largely the purview of the state, there’s not much to discuss there. Grow’s importance in the grid can be debated all day, but it is currently the subject of traffic-calming efforts that have at least the implicit intent of steering some motorists to other streets. Ericksen could take motorists up to High School Road, were it connected to Hildebrand – but that’s the electrified third-rail of local politics that the City Council refuses to touch.

That leaves Madison as the conduit for most local traffic coming and going from downtown. And that is why its

intersection with Wyatt is likely to fail in five to eight years.

Downtown traffic mitigation relies largely on addition by subtraction, that is to say, the more interconnected the grid, the better traffic is dispersed among many streets rather than bunching up on just a few. Which is why, when discussing the fate of the Wyatt/Madison intersection, talk may lead to the question of joining Ericksen and Hildebrand. Again.

Which brings us back to Eastern philosophy, which as we read it, posits that clinging to the present – “trying to force things to stand still and make us happy,” as one writer put it – is the main source of personal anxiety. All things are constantly

changing; free yourself from attachment to the “now,” and you’ll be a lot happier in the long run.

Something to contemplate as we plan our road connections, and our downtown.

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