The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

What To Do About the Longfellow Bridge

On behalf of LivableStreets Alliance, I have been participating in a 45-person Task Force representing a wide range of interests assembled by MassDOT to make suggestions on the design for the Longfellow deck surface.  MassDOT will submit these ideas, along with its own analysis of which should be the “priority alternative,” to the Federal Highway Administration for review.  Unfortunately, the bridge is not wide enough to include the entire list of facilities desired by pedestrian, bicyclist, car, and transit advocates – so the challenge is how to best divide up the burden of limited space among the various modes.  The following is based on comments I made at the public meeting held near the end of the Task Force process. Continue reading


Regular cycling keeps a person fit.  Those of us who regularly commute or do errands zip along city streets feeling strong and healthy – even a bit smarter than the stuck-in-traffic drivers we pass – and safe so long as we pay careful attention to what’s going on around us. But even though we may have the skills to avoid accidents in heavy traffic, there are circumstances where cycling may be dangerous to our health.  We may not break our arms or necks, but we may damage our lungs, hearts, and even our brains. Continue reading

SHORT TAKES: FROM DESIGN ABSTRACTION TO DAILY FACTS: Bridges Aren’t Highways; Who Are We Designing For; The Impact of Surfaces; Why “Bike Sharrows” Aren’t Enough.

A few quick thoughts….Even in the city, some bridges contain long stretches of uninterrupted pavement; does that mean that they are a kind of “highway?”  Or are they better seen as part of the urban network, just another city street?  But even then, a bridge is not “just” a city street, especially if its over a river it is also a special place in itself – a place that people, if given the chance, would love to walk over, sit down on, and look out from. In a parallel vein, its time that the American cycling community stopped using the wanna-be racer as the “model user” for bike design.  Speed and sleekness are not what every bicyclist is looking for – sturdiness, ease of use, the ability to carry packages or children are top priorities for an increasing percentage of the market. Continue reading

Short Takes: Beyond “Fix It First”; Why Traffic Doesn’t Stop When Roads Get Worse; Safer Intersections for Bicyclists; Ear Phones and Sanity

Four quick posts about the need to move beyond past reforms, about the daily adjustments travelers make in response to changing road conditions, why cyclists should be treated more like pedestrians at intersections, and the problem of getting people to pay more attention to where they are going. MOVING BEYOND “FIX IT FIRST” – When a past advance becomes a current barrier. IF YOU TAKE IT AWAY, THEY GO AWAY:  New Metaphors for Understanding Traffic Restrictions   LETTING CYCLISTS ACROSS WITH PEDESTRIANS: The Value of LPI   EARPHONES AND DISTRACTION:  How to Cut the Noise   MOVING BEYOND “FIX IT FIRST” – When a past advance becomes a current barrier. Continue reading

The Complex Ingredients of Livable Cities: Complete Streets to Interior Design, Transit to City Planning, Art to Education

Why do people live somewhere?  Why do they pick a place to raise their children?  Probably the top criteria are job availability, the second is housing affordability, and the third is school quality.  But contributing to each of these, and to some extent standing on its own as controlling criteria, is an elusive thing called quality of life. Does the place feel safe?  Does its culture reflect a person’s lifestyle in terms of access to the arts, religious institutions, sports facilities, shopping and eating establishments, and street-life?  Is it aesthetically pleasing in terms of building design, green and recreational spaces, noise and pollution levels? Continue reading

What Transportation And Public Health Can Learn From Each Other About Changing Public Behaviors

Which of the following is more likely to get you to drive slower down a street?  Or to get the majority of car drivers on that street to slow down? ·   A talk with a friend about the dangers of speeding to yourself and others. ·   A newly posted sign announcing a lower speed limit. ·   A stop sign placed in the middle of the block. ·   A series of speed bumps along the road. Each of these might have an impact.  But changing the structure of the road is likely to have the greatest impact on the largest number of people over the longest period of time.  And the opposite is also true:  a long, smooth, straight-away down a wide road with few intersections or visual distraction invites speed – and most of us instinctively respond no matter what the posted limit.  Similarly, the lack of safe sidewalks or bike paths makes us much more likely to use our cars for even short trips.  Travel behavior is largely shaped by the transportation environment we inhabit. Continue reading

Transportation funding Decision-Making: Four Ways To Fix The MPO Process

Probably no one fully understands all the intricacies of transportation funding decision-making.  Federal law, regulations, and funding levels set the context – although those are all interactively influenced by the desires of and power relationships among key interest groups, as well as by the electoral pressures felt by elected officials.  The same dynamic exists at the state level, with the political sphere extending from the state house  both upward to federal allies and down to municipal leaders. Continue reading

Creating Change Requires Muscle: Levers for Transforming Transportation

Creating change requires awareness and good intentions.  It also requires muscle. Massachusetts now has a long list of laws and regulations requiring the transformation of our transportation system from car-centric to multi-modal, from speedways to pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly “complete streets”, from polluting to clean, from energy-wasting to sustainable, from green-house-gas emitting to climate-friendly, from disease and obesity facilitating to active and healthy. But it’s not clear how much muscle all the new laws and regulations provide for those who seek to create the 21st century transportation system our political leaders have promised, either in mass transit or in road design (which is the focus on this post).   Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan seems committed to change and MassDOT has begun a major civic input effort.  But little has yet been done to change the existing transportation decision-making process to give increased leverage to groups with a stake in moving away from our car-centric status quo. Continue reading

The Three Legs of Transportation Reform: And Why MassDOT Has To Start Standing On At Least Two Of Them

The debates leading up to the passage of the 2009 Transportation Restructuring Act had three themes: Organizational & Operational Reform: Creating a unified transportation authority that took a systemic approach and ended the infantile (and wasteful) feuding among the Turnpike, Highway Department, MBTA, Regional Transit Authorities, Mystic Bridge, and other transportation agencies. Systemic Transformation: Begin transforming our car-centric, imported fossil-fuel dependent, polluting, obesity-enabling, and increasingly dysfunctional transportation system into something better able to help Massachusetts meet the challenges of the current century. Financial Stability: Ending the funding shortfalls that have left every part of our transportation system unable to maintain current infrastructure, provide appropriate customer service, or meet growing demand. Continue reading

Five Steps To Make GreenDOT Real: From Promise to Impact on Transportation and Climate

With GreenDot, Massachusetts has placed itself among the national leaders on climate-protecting, sustainable, healthy transportation.  And the challenges MassDOT has to deal with as it moves from general policies to effective action under fiscal constraint will create a path that other state’s will need to follow. Continue reading