The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

MEDIA vs REALITY: The “Bike Lane Backlash” & Big Dig Disasters

Is the media’s job to reflect unpolished reality back to us?  Or to help us interpret the reality hidden in the chaos of daily events?  Or to convince us of its own version of reality?  Usually, no matter how sincere a media producer’s claims of journalist objectivity, it’s a combination of all three. (Actually, as my publisher once told me, back when I was a magazine editor, our ultimate job was to attract desirable eyeballs so that he could then rent them out to advertisers.  If I could get the desired audience through quality material, so much the better for our reputations and the world.  But if it took something else, from a business perspective, that was ok, too.) Continue reading

DESIGNING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS: Mobilizing Constituencies, Developing Expertise, Sustaining Action

The worlds of Program Directors and Advocates often intertwine, as the later are often hired to serve as the former.  Even though Advocates typically want programs to be expansive, open ended, and systemically transformative while Program Directors can only survive by limiting their span of accountability, both groups have an interest in program success. Continue reading

CONCRETE STEPS: More Ideas For Immediate Action

This post continues the list of specific suggestions for improving the bikability and walkability of our streets.  Some are quick and easy, others more complicated but with more long-term impact.  A few are focused on Metro-region municipalities but most require action by MassDOT or DCR.  They include suggestions about: Including Bicycles on the Rose Kennedy Greenway Safeguard Pedestrian Crossings on Congress St. Create Better Connections Between the JFK/UMass Red Line station and Mt. Vernon Street Create a Metro Greenway Network Set Modal Share, Pollution Level, Transit Use, and Single Occupancy Reduction Goals Increase the Standard Size of Bike Lanes Set Aside the Full 10% Allowance of Highway Funds For Transportation Enhancement (TE) Projects Require that any Municipality Receiving Chapter 90 Road Funds Must Have a Volunteer Bike/Ped (or a Bike and a Ped) Citizen Advisory Committee Expand the T-station Catchment Areas Install Bus Priority Technologies Improve the Southwest Corridor Intersections Pass a “Safe Zones for Vulnerable Populations” Enabling Act Allow Municipalities to Install Red Light Control Cameras This is my list – please suggest others! Continue reading

CONCRETE STEPS: Some Ideas For Immediate Action

Grand visions and long-range analysis have enormous power to frame issues and create an actionable context.  But they don’t lead to anything unless operationalized by specific, preferably simple, do-able steps forward.  When I’m consulting with organizations on strategic planning I say that they need at least 2 solid action ideas in each of these three categories: Symbolic – things that may not make a big difference but send key messages. Quick– technically easy, low cost, very visible, preferably non-controversial and begin to actually change things. Fundamental – the more complicated and challenging, long-term, but foundational changes that make a significant difference and create a new context for future actions. So, in an effort to follow my own advice, here is the first of two posts, this week and next, describing concrete actions listed along with the city or state agency most capable of implementing them.  This is my list – please suggest others! Continue reading


It usually takes me about two or three weeks to develop a post – writing out my first impressions, researching missing facts, checking with knowledgeable people, writing a second draft, then tinkering with it over a couple days as I remember things I left out or think of better ways to express my thoughts.  But this very long post on the Transportation Enhancement program has taken over two months.  It’s a labyrinth of complexity. (See the Transportation Enhancement Overview at the end of this post.)  Despite all I’ve learned – particularly from Craig Della Penna whose years of involvement in rail-trail and path development has made him an encyclopedia of knowledge, I’m sure I’ve still missed key points.  So please, if you know something I’ve gotten wrong or left out, leave a comment! Continue reading

WINTER CYCLING: Snow and Safety

It’s New England.  It’s February.  We’ve had multiple snow storms and the enchantment of the white landscape is getting swamped by the aggravation of shoveling.  It’s time to think about safe cycling in winter. This post contains my thoughts, but it is also an invitation for all of you to add your own insights.  We need to begin aggregating what we’ve learned about winter cycling because so many of us are still out there, day after day, even in the worst conditions.  What a change from even the recent past!  Without studded tires, I tend to avoid bicycling during or immediately after a snow storm, or when it’s raining on still-frozen pavement.  Snow makes the world enormously beautiful, but I feel better looking around at it all when I’m on foot.  Still, no matter how bad the conditions, I see people bicycling by! Continue reading

SAFE CYCLING – Actual, Subjective, Social; Solo or Group

How do we make cycling safer?  It will never be perfectly safe – nothing is.  And despite all the cultural anxiety about the riskiness of bicycling, there is a lot of evidence that it’s much less dangerous than people think.  In any case, the overall health (and environmental) benefits of bicycling so totally outweigh the likely problems that it should be a no brainer choice.  Still, safety is always job one.   We need to do what we can to make bicycling as safe as reasonably possible.  But it turns out that deciding what to do depends on knowing what we want to accomplish – and it turns out that there are several different kinds of safety.  The first part of this post explores the different kinds of safety and the types of actions needed to address them.  The second explores the open question of the relative safety of riding alone or in a group. Continue reading

TODAY’S NEWS: MassDOT Administrator Resigns; BU Bridge Complaint

One of LivableStreets Alliance’s first campaigns, soon after the group was founded five years ago, was to push a then-resistant Boston Traffic Department to include improved bike facilities on a redesigned Commonwealth Avenue in the area around the BU Bridge.  It was a last-minute effort, and would have gotten nowhere except for the willingness of newly appointed Highway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky’s willingness to stick her neck out and require everyone involved to get into the same room and talk things through.  The result wasn’t all that we wanted, but it was a lot better than what would have happened otherwise. Now, as MassDOT Highway Division Administrator Paiewonsky leaves the state agency, the BU Bridge area is again in the news.  The two parts of this post start with headlines from this week’s Boston Globe: “State Highway Commissioner Paiewonsky resigns” (Boston Globe; 1/14/11) and “BU bridge lane configuration is temporary” (Boston Globe, 1/17/11) Continue reading

Picking Transportation Spending Priorities

There is never enough money or time to do everything.  So decision-makers always have to prioritize where to spend and what to spend on.  Other than using some random selection method, this requires having criteria (the more explicit the better) and a transparent process of applying those criteria – both understandable and visible from evaluation through decision-making. For transportation, in addition to the standard economic development rationale, even as modified by other economic policy goals such as regional fairness and Smart Growth, the 2009 Transportation Reform Act required MassDOT to work towards a more energy-efficient, environmentally protective, and health-supporting system. Continue reading

Staying Together: Group Ride Etiquette, Conspicuous Bicycle Consumption, Institutional Memory of Small Groups

here may be snow on the ground, and the roads may still be narrow due to the plow-push along the sides, but there are still lots of people on bicycles commuting to work, doing errands, enjoying the sunshine even on days when the temperature is below freezing. Times are truly changing.  And here are three short posts – the first two about bicycle culture and the last about the need for small groups to find ways to remember their own history so that they can build on past efforts. Group Ride Etiquette Conspicuous Bicycling Consumption Institutional Memory of Small Groups Enjoy! Continue reading