The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION CREATES HEALTHY COMMUNITIES: How To Use Your Roads To Lower Your Doctor (and Insurance) Bills

The environmental movement has taught us that it’s a lot less harmful, difficult, and expensive to prevent toxins from entering the environment than to treat the problems poison creates once it is in our bodies and our world.    Even our medical system, which is essentially about treating sickness after it occurs, is beginning to put more emphasis on “preventive medicine” – the early detection and management of disease. Continue reading

BUS SYSTEM IMPROVEMENT IS KEY TO TRANSIT: Local, Improved, Express, and Bus Rapid Transit

Potentially as fast and as scheduled as rail and subways, but costing a fraction as much to construct, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is one of the hot topics in transportation planning these days.  Even MassDOT is looking into it.   Continue reading

TRANSPORTATION AND HEALTH PROPOSALS: Legislation Endorsed by the Mass Public Health Association

Bills submitted by the Governor, by Legislative Leadership, or in response to a media-enflamed crises can go from idea to law very quickly.  The many thousands of other proposals have to wind their way through a very complicated and multi-stage process.  Almost every proposal has to go through several different committees and at least one public hearing.  Committee chairs have to decide which of the submissions to prioritize, balancing demands from leadership, other committee members, and their own constituency.  Opponents have to be negotiated with and compromises reached.  The vast majority of bills are either “sent to study” or simply never reported out of Committee and therefore never receive an up/down vote by the full House or Senate membership.   Even for those bills that pass the crucial “get out of committee with a positive recommendation” milestone, very little gets settled until a deadline hits or until the two-year session comes to an end, at which point a proposal either is voted up or down or has to start all over again from the very beginning in the next two-year Legislative session. It’s slow, seldom fully transparent, and often quixotic. Continue reading

ALLSTON-BRIGHTON ON THE MOVE: Boston’s Most Transportation Changing Neighborhood

While the Seaport gets all the headlines, of Boston’s traditional neighborhoods it is Allston that is about to undergo the most dramatic change physically, economically, and demographically.  As a result, it is an important case study and indicator of how the city will be implementing its commitment to Complete Streets, walkability, traffic calming, and the Mayor’s core statement that “the car is no longer king.”  The good news is that there is no doubt that transit, pedestrian, and bicycling facilities will be included in future plans.  The question is whether they will be treated as secondary, or as equals, or even (can we hope?) be given priority over Single Occupancy Vehicles – meaning cars. Continue reading

GOVERNOR PATRICK’S FY2014 BUDGET PROPOSAL: A Promising Start To Future Improvement

Politics is the art of the possible and getting things pass requires placating a broad variety of often competing interests.  All of which makes it hard to be bold or to even fully address complicated issues.  Small, incremental steps are the usual, and often appropriate, approach.  So it is rather remarkable when an elected executive comes out with a visionary, risky, and courageous proposal that could actually solve several long-standing problems while setting the stage for greater prosperity and increased equity.  Maybe the Governor’s decision to return to the more lucrative private sector has emboldened him, or maybe there is a real turning of the political tide, but even though there are many ways the FY2014 budget proposal and its revenue measures could be improved,  it’s overall thrust – including its focus on education, health, and transportation – is truly praiseworthy. Continue reading

ADVOCACY 102: Advice For Job Seekers and Volunteers

We advocate for something because we believe it is good, needed, an improvement.  We think of ourselves as the good guys eloquently convincing decision-makers to adopt our desired option or, if that fails, mobilizing a righteous grass-roots movement to demand action.   It’s an attractive role, placing you in the middle of a supportive community of interesting people, whether as a job or on a volunteer basis. So it’s not surprising that people frequently ask me and others how to get more involved.  (The short answer – volunteer, make connections, learn about the issues, and strengthen your communication skills!) But people often have a distorted view of what Advocacy actually entails. Yes, it requires idealism, long hours, and a willingness to forgo salary increases.   But there is a lot more to it than public speaking, rabble rousing, or even community organizing.   Continue reading

NON-MOTORIZED HIGHWAYS: A Regional Green Routes System To Connect Municipal Bike Networks, Sidewalks, and Parks

Transportation is responsible for 36% of Massachusetts’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In order to meet the reductions required by our state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, MassDOT has committed itself to significantly improving its internal operational energy efficiency (GreenDOT) and  tripling the share of travel done using transit, bicycle, and foot over the next 18 years.  Mandating higher mile-per-gallon vehicles and less polluting fuels will also help achieve the GHG reduction goals.  However, assuming a reasonable rate of population and economic growth between now and 2030, there will be a corresponding increase in transportation activity.  To reach the Mode Shift goals, MassDOT will have to find ways to channel almost all of it into the target modes rather than Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOV).   Continue reading

GUNS, TAXES, TRANSPORTATION, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE: Why Government Is A Precondition for Livability

Is caring about each other, going out of our way to help each other, a tactic or strategy or core mission of human life?  For example:  One of the amazing realities of our streets is that despite the frequent design inadequacy and congested confusion of busy intersections, we almost always find a way to safely and semi-efficiently make room for each other as we wind our own way forward. What’s amazing is not that there are so many accidents, but that there are so few. Continue reading


The implementation of Boston’s Complete Streets Policy and the Bike Network Plan will radically improve the safety and comfort of walking and cycling in the city.  But full implementation will require many different kinds of changes to many roads all around the city.  The best way to lower the inevitable anxiety about change is to have lots of examples already in place, demonstrating (as the passage of same-sex marriage did in its own sphere) that it won’t precipitate the end of the world or even disrupt our everyday lives. Continue reading

MODE SHIFT AMPLIFIERS: The Importance of the Out-of-Vehicle Experience

In response to the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, which sets deadlines for reducing Green House Gas emissions, MassDOT has recently announced plans to triple the share of travel done using transit, bicycle, and foot by 2030 — 18 years from now.  (The Act was also the impetus for MassDOT’s exemplary GreenDOT program.) Since both our population and economy are likely to grow over that time, in order to reach that mode share goal almost none of the inevitable increase in transportation activity can happen in Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOVs).  The entire rise in travel will have to use train, trolley, bus, multi-person cars, bikes, or feet.   Continue reading