The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

THE ART OF TRANSPORTATION (AND URBAN) PLANNING: Going Beyond the Technical Specs

It is through our built environment that we shape ourselves and the world.  Living, working, and moving around in dysfunctional, cramped, unsafe, polluted, or just ugly places not only affects our mood and health but also our relations with those around us and the natural environment.   The need to maximize the positive impact of our buildings, transportation systems, and even our usually hidden infrastructures will continue to grow as the weather gets weirder, resources get more expensive, and cities get more crowded. Continue reading

CYCLING ACROSS MASSACHUSETTS: Connecting With Nature, and Why We Need Urban Greenways

I love cities.  They are the engines of our nation’s energy, diversity, cultural opportunities, social interaction, and entrepreneurial vibrancy.  Cities are where most of our population lives and where most of our economic growth originates.   Cities are the base from which we’ll create the future. Continue reading

IF VEHICLE MILES TRAVELED IS DECLINING, WHY DOES TRAFFIC KEEP GETTING WORSE

Our roads feel more congested than ever.  It takes forever to get down Mass Avenue across Boston or Cambridge.  Memorial Drive, near where I live, is now backed up starting at about 4pm and continuing until nearly 7!  Route 93 out of Boston is perpetually stop and go, every day, at nearly every hour.  Sure, we all like to complain, but this is more than personal whining:  according to a new study, “even after $24 billion in Big Dig construction, Boston’s legendary traffic woes are still making the top 10 nationally for rush-hour tie-ups.  Boston is also leading the nation in year-to-year congestion level increases.”  Globe columnist Derrick Jackson points out that, “The Boston metro area is the nation’s ninth largest, but experienced the third highest rise in traffic delays since 1982, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. With the announcements in recent months of several new office, residential, and hotel skyscrapers, and with outgoing Mayor Menino wanting 30,000 new housing units by 2020, things will get much worse…”   Continue reading

SNOW REMOVAL ON BIKE LANES; SEAPORT TRAFFIC JAMS

PREPARING FOR SNOW:  WHEN SHOULD BIKE LANES GET PRIORITY?  Most municipalities and most state agencies have carefully negotiated lists of which streets get plowed clear of snow in what priority order.  First priority usually goes to busy highways and arterials, hospitals and schools, fire stations and emergency services. Continue reading

THE FUTURE OF RAILROADS: Why Rail-To-Trail Conversion Is The Key To Both Eventual Rail Restoration and Current Off-Road Networks

The CapeFlyer Railroad service has been a huge success.  Well over 10,000 people have bought tickets so far this summer, generating more than enough revenue to cover the relatively puny $165,000 annual cost of running the train.  The high cost of gasoline, the desire to avoid multi-hour Cape-traffic traffic jams, the new bus service from RR stations to all 15 Cape Cod towns, the availability of rental cars and bicycles – all these have contributed to the high demand.  And it also turns out to be fun! Continue reading

THE ADVOCATES DILEMA: When The Need for Action is Immediate But the Pace of Change is Slow

There are situations where the danger is so great, the potential damage so devastating, the outrage to decency so powerful that you feel that immediate, radical change becomes an emotional and moral imperative.   And you do everything you can to advocate, to make the world take notice, to make people in power take action.  Right now. But, with few exceptions, change happens slowly. Creating change requires getting decision-makers to act, attracting the support of powerful interests, or mobilizing important enough segments of the media and/or the public – none of which usually happens quickly.  And then implementing significant change requires transforming systems, which almost always have enormous inertial drag towards the status quo.  And having an impact requires the changed processes and outcomes to replace current conditions, which can be incremental and uncertain. Continue reading

CAMERAS, TERRORISM, AND TRUST: Fears and Memories Across the Generational Divide

The revelation during the hunt for the Marathon Bombers of how totally we are all tracked by the rapidly expanding web of electronic systems, and Edward Snowden’s disclosure of how easily it is for government’s security agencies to tap into those data streams, should change the nature of the comparatively trivial debate about installing red-light violation cameras at dangerous intersections.  But it has also revealed a generation fault line in people’s perceptions about the trade-offs involved.   Continue reading

THE NEXT MAYOR’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Creating Prosperity by Lifting the Basement Instead of Raising the Roof

When bank-robber Willie Sutton was asked why he held up banks, he supposedly quipped, “Because that’s where the money is.”  Cities, like every level of government, also have to go where the money is.   In this country, government’s aren’t usually able to set up state-owned firms able feed revenue back into the general budget.  So paying for social services and the huge variety of regulatory tasks needed to keep a complex society smoothly functioning requires our governments to collect taxes.  And healthy tax collection requires a healthy economy, which requires successful private businesses. Continue reading

OPEN STREETS: How Public Space Creates Civic Culture – and Democracy

The importance of the two Circle The City events this summer – July 14 on Huntington Ave. (“Avenue of the Arts”) and September 29 on Blue Hill Ave – go beyond the ability to walk, bike, roll, dance, play, eat, and hang out on car-free streets.   It’s more than the zumba, street games, yoga classes, vendors, music and participatory arts activities, and multiple miles of safe space for family-friendly cycling, strolling, and hanging out. Continue reading

INTERGRATING VISION INTO OPERATIONS: Balancing Front-Line Empowerment With Organizational Priorities at MassDOT

All too little attention and praise has been given to MassDOT’s recent announcements of state funding for the Neponset River Greenway, the inclusion of Community Path design as part of the Green Line extension, and funding for a major expansion of the Bruce Freeman Trail.  These are impressive steps – both symbolic and concrete – towards the re-orientation of the department from a highway to a multi-modal transportation agency.   Continue reading