The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

Short Takes II: Improving Intersection Safety; Defining Lanes; Bus Prioritization

Some more thoughts about how to make it safer for cyclists to get through intersections, how we walk/ride on paths, and how to speed bus traffic through congested streets. IMPROVING INTERSECTION SAFETY — Let Bikes Go When an Early Walk Signal Flashes GETTING PEOPLE OFF CENTER — Paint Center Lines in Multi-use Paths THE VEHICLES OF CHOICE – Why Buses and Bikes Are the Only Modes That Will Solve Urban Transportation Problems. SPEEDING UP THE BUS:  Prioritization Continue reading

Short Takes: Baby Strollers & Bikes on the T; Helmets & Impact; Walk Signals; Car Lights

BABY STROLLERS and BIKES on the T The MBTA has come a long way in allowing bikes on the subway, commuter trains, and busses.  But there are still limits, especially during rush hour.  Which is why, when I got on the T the other day during commuting time, my attention was caught by the presence of several baby strollers. These are no longer the compact, umbrella strollers they were when I was pushing infants around.  Today, they are more like mini-SUVs with enough space to carry an entire closet worth of paraphernalia on top of wheels about as big as the one on my wheelbarrow.  Some of them hold two or even three kids, often way past the toddler stage.  In other words, they’re big.  And there were three of them on the train.  No one complained, in fact, people happily moved out of the way and did the typical smile-at-the-baby routine as they moved.  I was particularly happy to see that it was mostly fathers who had picked up the kids at daycare and were taking them home. But I couldn’t help wondering.  What is the difference between one of these strollers and a bike with an attached child seat?  And if it’s ok to bring these 5-foot-long-by-3-foot-wide devices on to the T without restrictions, why not bicycles?   And would it make a difference if some of the cyclists were willing to say “goo, goo?” Continue reading

Fixing the Bridges Won’t Solve Traffic Congestion

One of the core insights of political strategic is the need to set expectations.  Right now, the state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the Charles River bridges from falling into the river and (after being pressured by advocates) to re-align the surface layout to provide greater access and safety for pedestrians and cyclists.  Traffic on all the bridges has been congested for years, from long before the repair work began.  Actually, the problem is mostly caused by the crazy intersections and rotaries at the entrances and exits to the bridges, rather than on the bridge span itself – although we tend not to think of it in this way. Continue reading

You Can’t Plan A Route Unless You Know Where You Are Going: Comments on MassDOT’s 2010-2015 Capital Investment Plan

One of the hidden gems in the 2009 reform law creating Massachusetts new Department of Transportation is the requirement for a five year Capital Investment Plan (CIP).  The state spends billions of dollars a year on our transportation system;  creating a plan that maps out what is needed to meet our mobility, prioritizes spending, and reveals remaining funding and project gaps is a no-brainer.  In fact, MassDOT is required to create “a comprehensive state transportation plan… [to] ensure a safe, sound, and efficient public highway, road, and bridge system, to relieve congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the quality of life in the Commonwealth by promoting economic development and employment…[and] cost-effectively meet the transportation needs of all residents.” Continue reading

Is Bicycling the Healthiest Move

We all know that being physically activity is good for you — good for your weight, good for your overall health, good for your mood, and good as a way to get around.  But recent research suggests that bicycling is particularly good — even better than other forms of physical activity.  This is important because, other than public transportation — whose routes are limited and expansion is very expensive — cycling is the only real large-scale alternative to cars for short, every-day trips and commutes. It is also important because it means that we need to be prioritizing bike facilities in every transportation plan and road design. Continue reading

Is State Violating Bridge Repair Law?

How Can We Avoid Ending Up With Bridges That Are Structurally Sound But Functionally Obsolete? State Highway Division officials say that the Accelerated Bridge Program legislation requires that they focus on fixing structural deficiencies.  Their mantra is “no scope creep, no schedule creep, on time and within budget” meaning that roadways around the bridges are not to be dealt with and bicycle or pedestrian facilities only added if extra funds allow.  Advocates say that the ABP legislation has significant flexibility and that subsequent passage of the state’s transportation restructuring act totally changes the context for bridge and road work – making improved mobility for all the core value and therefore requiring that bicycling and walking be given equal consideration as car traffic from conceptual design to construction. Who is right?  Give the speed at which the bridge work is supposed to occur, the decision will have to come from the new MassDOT Board or from Secretary Mullan.  But the Board tends to see itself as a fiscal watchdog rather than a policy-making body – so the ball is in the Secretary’s court!  Continue reading

Warm Weather Bicycling: On The Open Road Again

I love it.  As the air warms I emerge from my cold-weather focus on commuting as quickly as possible, and start stretching out for glorious long rides through the countryside.  I am repeatedly amazed at the beauty of the forests and fields I pass through.  And I think about life but also about the interaction of cycling with the world – particularly cars.  How Should Car Drivers Let Bicyclists Know They’re Coming Up From Behind? I know I’m supposed to be listening for the motor, but often you simply can’t hear things over the wind and noise.  The ones that drive me crazy are the people who wait until they’re right behind me and then honk loudly.  I nearly jump off my seat or off the road.  Of course, I instantly assume it’s a hostile attack by some idiot – until I steady myself enough to look around and realize it’s just some nervous old lady who thinks she’s being helpful (unless, of course, it actually is some hostile idiot). Continue reading

Improving MassDOT’s Bike/Ped Advisory Process

It’s good that road designers are professionally conservative – you don’t want bridges falling down because someone just thought it would be fun to try an off-beat idea.  But the world is changing, even though some traffic engineers aren’t always comfortable letting go of the car-centric, suburbs-oriented, Interstate-model of transportation they were trained to create. Massachusetts’ Secretary of Transportation, Jeff Mullan, has said that he wants to create a new MassDOT that fully implements the Healthy Transportation Compact aspects of the act creating the unified agency.  The restructuring act requires MassDOT to “…encourage the construction of complete streets, designed and operated to enable safe access for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders of all ages to safely move along and across roadways in urban and suburban areas…[and to] increase bicycle and pedestrian travel…” Continue reading

Will Our River Crossings Be Bridges or Barriers?

The Charles River is one of the defining features of our region.  From the time humans first arrived, we have used it for sustenance, pleasure, and travel.  While the basin feels like a refuge of nature in the midst of our urban lives, nearly every inch of the river – from the shore to the deepest channel – has been shaped by human activity.  The river and the structures around it need to be managed to preserve their value to the life cycle while maximizing their human functionality. In particular, the bridges over the river can help connect our communities, provide access to the riverbank, and be an aesthetic asset.  Or they can make travel difficult, even dangerous, block us off from the river, and serve as walls preventing movement on or beside the water.  As the state begins a once-in-a-lifetime process of repairing and improving almost every bridge along the Charles, we need to make sure that it’s done right. Continue reading

When Budgets Shrink, Mission’s Must Converge

Or…How to Improve Our Quality of Life and Get Maximum Leverage from Limited Public Resources by Integrating Complementary Aspects of Policy & Programs in Transportation, Health, Development, Environment, Energy – and everything else! I was once one of those people who joined in the American chorus of contempt about the inefficiency and incompetence of public programs.  Until I began working in the private sector.  I quickly learned that the dearth of really good managers, the culture of petty bickering and buck-passing, the incredible lack of inter-departmental coordination and inter-subsidiary synergy was just as common in business as it was in government – if not worse because it was hidden from public view behind the narrow window of bottom line results.  So long as the ink was black, internal corporate operations could get away with utterly amazing amounts of wastefulness, nastiness, short-sightedness, and bungling – often because the competition was doing the same! Continue reading