The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

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

CIRCLING THE BLOCK: Saving Money, Time, and Aggravation Through Parking Reform

We’ve all done it; cruising around the block looking for an open parking space.  In fact, we all do it so much that studies suggest between 8% and an incredible 75% of the traffic in high demand areas have already reached their destination and are wasting time (and gas) looking for a place to pull over.  Studies in 10 cities found that it took between 3.5 and 13.9 minutes to find an on-street parking spot.  In Harvard Square, nearly a third of the drivers were cruising at peak time, with an average search taking 11.5 minutes.   (It’s even worse overseas: the global average of cruising time is 20 minutes, and in Nairobi it’s not unheard of to spend an hour searching for a spot!) Continue reading


Paradigm shift.  A fundamental change in one’s core understanding of a situation.  It’s hard to do.  It takes abandoning everything you’ve been taught and believed and that made sense, then adopting something totally new and perhaps both untried and unsettling.  It takes going from a belief that the sun goes around the earth to understanding that it’s exactly the opposite.  And, as Galileo found out, there is often a powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – an Inquisition – ready to attack you for questioning orthodoxy. Continue reading

BICYCLING SAFETY: Preventing Injury Requires Multiple Strategies

In recent years, bicycling has increased nationwide.  However, the growing numbers are most visible in urban areas where car congestion and mixed-use density make cycling particularly useful, which also gives bicyclists the political clout to push for improved safety facilities.   Continue reading

ANOTHER GENIE OUT OF THE BOTTLE: Be Careful What You Wish For; You Might Get It.

Genie’s are, by mythological definition, very powerful.  They can open cave walls, turn dirt into gold, and make carpets fly.  They are also devious, granting wishes in ways that turn benefits into burdens – an autonomous force from whom, in exchange for letting them out of the lamp, we can demand short-term assistance but whose ultimate actions and effect are beyond our control. Continue reading

PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS: The Priority Must Be Enhancing Public Value

Enthusiastic support for Public-Private Partnerships (P3) seems to extend across the entire political spectrum. The P3 label is a huge umbrella, providing space for small-government conservatives who think business can do things better, pragmatic liberals who want to harness the resources and energy of the private sector during a time of government fiscal constraint, and innovation progressives looking for strategies to extend the public sector’s positive influence. Continue reading

FIX IT NOW: Postponing the Necessary is Dangerous Policy and Misguided Politics

“It’s not the vehicles,” points out MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly Scott, “it’s the people and places.”  She’s right – transportation is not ultimately about moving things from one place to another, not about the roads or rails, but about the world that grows up around the travel routes.  The value of transportation comes from the ways it improves the health, prosperity, and well-being of the lives around it.  That is why LivableStreets Alliance chose its name. And that is why it is so inexplicable that the Massachusetts’ Legislature has once again “kicked the can down the road” by drastically underfunding our transportation needs. Continue reading

WIDENING MELNEA CASS BOULEVARD: When an Old Vision Blocks Future Progress

If you build it, they will come.  Given the starting assumptions, Boston planners have come up with an excellent design for the reconstruction of Melnea Cass Boulevard in lower Roxbury.  It is a layout worthy of the Urban Ring vision that inspired it. Continue reading

MAKING COMM. AVE. SAFER: City Proposals Are A Good Start; TurnPike Overpass Is Next Issue

Motor vehicles hit more bicyclists and pedestrians on Commonwealth Avenue in front of Boston University than anywhere else in the city.  Last year, five bicyclists were killed in the metro-Boston area, in almost every case by getting hit then run over by a truck (which, in almost every case, made the fact that they were wearing a helmet irrelevant).  One of those happened on Comm. Ave.  It’s partly that a growing number of BU students ride bikes, and not all of them are as careful as they should be.  It’s partly that drivers aren’t as careful as they should be, especially truck drivers making right turns which, because of the size of their vehicle, they have to do illegally from the left lane, compounding the danger caused by their mirrors’ large blind spot.  It’s partly that, as Boston Traffic Department (BTD) Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin has pointed out, “It’s the one spot in the city that truly has all modes of transportation” – cars, trucks, trolleys, cyclists, pedestrians, skate boarders, and more.  But mostly it’s that the street layout is simply unsafe. Continue reading