The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities


Sometimes a phrase, image, or idea is so responsive to a situation or mood facing some portion of the population that it just goes viral, spreading seemingly by magic.  But, in addition, there is always a hidden engine of someone’s energy (or some other investment of resources) turning the cultural gears.  The “Dutch Reach” – a.k.a. “Far Reach”, “Far Hand Reach”, “Right Hand Reach”, “Reach Across”, and “Safety Exit”, among others – is a case in point.  It is also an excellent example of how individual initiative still makes a difference even in today’s digital world. Even though the mirror sticker says “watch for bikes” most of us forget to do it as we grab the door handle and push out.  Dutch Reach is the simple idea that car drivers should open their door by reaching over with their right hand (passengers with their left hand), thereby turning their body and head so that they have a clear view of their outside mirror (and, if their bodies are young and flexible, perhaps the road behind them), making it much more likely that they’ll notice if a bicyclist is approaching.  Waiting a few seconds before opening their door prevents them from accidently hitting the cyclist, knocking her into the street where she could – and tragically often does – get hit by a passing car or truck.  “Dooring” is one of the most common causes of injury and even death for urban bike riders; nearly every cyclist has regular N.D.E.s – near door experiences.  Dooring is a lot less likely to happen with the Dutch Reach. Continue reading


It is always wonderful to watch a local advocacy campaign that does almost everything right. Especially when you both agree with their goals and like the people involved. Continue reading


Commuter rail has been in the headlines.  But it’s not really the most important part of our region’s mass transit system.  About 130,300 people take a train trip each day; nearly 795,800 take a bus, trackless trolley, or the Green Line.  Unfortunately, despite the lower media profile, buses and trolleys are performing even more poorly than rail. Continue reading


During the early years of automobile ascendancy, New York’s Robert Moses perfected the strategy of using the public desire for parks as a wedge for the creation of “parkways” that were actually an early version of a regional highway system.  In Massachusetts, the Olmsted-derived Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) -- previously solely focused on preserving water-shed forests, beaches, and parks -- saw this as an opportunity to turn the narrow corridors between its “reservations” into a similar network of higher-capacity roads in the metropolitan region. At stake was the enormous power that came from giving out the huge construction project contracts. Continue reading

DIGITAL WORLD REQUIRES DIFFERENT ROAD DESIGNS: From Car-Centric Functions to Neighborhood Characteristics

Today’s digital technologies are rapidly changing how the public right of way – our car-travel corridors – are used. The Federal Highway Administration’s traditional functional distinctions – highway, arterial, feeder, collector, etc. -- are getting fuzzier. Waze is sending traffic through back streets instead of down clogged arterials, a congestion-spreading tactic that will happen regularly as new development adds tens of thousands of additional daily car trips to the metro area.  Platformed-based car sharing (aka Transportation Network Companies or TNCs) are enticing urbanites to leave their own vehicle at home but double parking everywhere for pick-ups and drop-offs (often blocking bicycle lanes), and increasing congestion partly because “much of the time, they are driving around empty, waiting for a fare.”  Amazon and the other on-line stores are promising faster and cheaper home delivery, potentially sending growing numbers of vehicles to previously low-traffic neighborhoods. And the faster-than-anyone-anticipated roll-out of driverless cars, delivery vans, and trucks – starting with the driver-assisting technologies already appearing in high end vehicles – threatens to totally swamp the roads with endlessly moving (fossil fuel-consuming and air/water/noise polluting) private machines. Continue reading

REVISITING SULLIVAN SQUARE: When Updating a Plan is a Step Backward

Situations change and the plans we’ve made to deal with it have to change, too.  But the new plans should be at least as good, at least as effective for dealing with the situation, as the originals.  Which is the unsettling aspect of Boston’s current revisiting of past decisions about what to do with Sullivan Square, at the Somerville end of Charlestown’s Rutherford Avenue.    Continue reading

A VISION FOR COMMUTER-REGIONAL RAIL: Purpose, Technology, and Strategy

Until the 100-inches-of-snow winter of 2014-15 brought the entire 100-year-old system to its knees, and with it most of the regional economy, years of discussion about our state’s dependency on the misnamed Commuter Rail system had not broken through the public and politician’s unwillingness to raise the large amounts of revenue needed to fix things.  Suddenly, we had to pay attention. Unfortunately, we’re paying attention to the wrong things – the stoppages, the contract with Keolis, the budget shortfalls.  The real problem is not the malfunctioning locomotives or the Fiscal Management Board’s short-sighted proposal to stop weekend service.  The real problem is that the entire system is based on dysfunctional premises.  Like being stuck in quicksand, the more we flail around the deeper we descend.  Keeping the Titanic from sinking isn’t good enough if you’re living in the airplane era.  What is needed is a new vision of both purpose and technology – and a new strategy for using what we already have as the foundation for a phased advance from today’s mess to that desired future.    Continue reading

PROTEST, PUSHING, PARTNERSHIP: The Three Phases of Advocacy

Advocacy generally goes through at least three phases: Protesting against what you don’t want, Pushing for what you do want, and Partnering with the implementing agency to make sure it’s done right and kept going.    If we ran the world we wouldn’t need to advocate for anything.  We’d just do it, or order it done.  Advocates are sometimes prestigious or influential; their requests are listened to, carry weight, and often followed by decision-makers.  But, by definition, the need to advocate for something implies an outsider status, a less than all-powerful position – often a position of relative weakness or even marginality.  Perhaps even a degree of invisibility.  If power is the ability to directly make change, Advocacy is about influence – the ability to get those with power to make the desired change.   Continue reading

ROADS AND ROSES: The Functional and Cultural Importance of Design and Beauty

In 1912 nearly 23,000 immigrant mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, led by a multi-ethnic coalition of the city’s women, walked off their jobs to protest yet another pay cut.  With the help of the revolutionary Industrial Workers of the World (IWW – the “Wobblies”), they fought not only for better wages and working conditions but for respect and a better life – for beauty in the ways most meaningful to them.  As the famous song phrases it: “Give us bread, but give us roses too.” We need to have the same demands of our transportation systems – not just the vehicles (cars, trains, buses) that are our immediate focus of attention and use but also the corridors and buildings.  While some of our transportation infrastructure is privately owned -- and the current Republican-run federal government seems eager to expand that percentage – most of it is public land, owned collectively by ourselves as a “public right of way” to preserve our ability to move and assemble without restriction. Continue reading

E-BIKES ARE COMING: Improving Our Dangerously Incoherent Policies

Look down the street.  It’s not just cars, trucks, buses, bikes, and pedestrians.  There is a whole spectrum of new two and three wheeled things on the roll – stand-up scooters, in-line skates, skate boards both manual and motorized, Segways, “personal assistant mobility devices”, electric-assist pedal bikes, motorized cargo bikes and pedicabs, mopeds, mini-motorcycles, “smart wheels” that fit onto regular bikes, exploding hoverboards, and other things joining the motor scooters and motorcycles already there.  And next year there will be even more as several industry sectors – bicycle, moped, and scooter manufacturers in particular – gear up to serve the growing market of bike-interested but less-physically fit adults and aging boomers. Continue reading