Some bicycle advocacy groups promote the slogan “Same Roads, Same Laws” to support cyclists’ right to use the roadway along with car traffic. I think it’s a bad slogan; at best incomplete, at worst self-defeating. Bikes and cars are radically different types of vehicles, exposing cyclists and drivers to radically different conditions. In addition to the laws that all vehicles should obey, we need special laws and road designs to protect the safety and promote the use of bicycles.Read more
We’ve begun hearing rumors of a potential follow-up stimulus bill that will inject additional billions into infrastructure spending. But if state officials use the same narrow definition of “shovel ready” to select projects for funding for the new bill that they did for the old one, we’ll be stuck with another set of old car-centric highway plans that don’t incorporate today’s “complete streets” approach.
To its credit, Massachusetts was one of only six states to spend more than 10% of their federal stimulus funds on non-car projects. But the reality is that stimulus funds are intended to provide a quick stimulus – to be spent quickly and have an immediate impact. On the other hand, road projects take a very long time to plan, design, and get approved.Read more
When a law whose purpose is to promote safety has the opposite effect, maybe its time to change the law. Maybe there is something to learn from the fact that so few cyclists stop at red lights when there is no cross traffic.
Anyone who races through an intersection without looking — in any vehicle — is stupid and a danger to both themselves and others. I have no patience for hot-shot cyclists who ignore red lights as if neither the law nor common sense applies to them. But neither do I have any sympathy for car drivers who race into yellow lights or pedestrians who walk out from between parked cars.
However, it seems to be the bad behavior of bicyclists that catches the public’s attention. The Globe recently ran a story about cyclist law-breaking. And I can’t count the number of times that a friend has complained to me about the outrageous way bicylists go flying through red lights. In fact, when I’m driving my car (yes, I own one) I sometimes feel the same way. It’s clear that not only is blindly racing into cross traffic dangerous, it enrages motorists, making it harder to get their support for bike-friendly policies.Read more
If you build it…it will fill up — a truism for both roads and bikeways. But if it isn’t there, or even if it was once there and you take it away, the traffic seems to go away as well…which may be the most important fact about traffic planning that you will never hear from the highway lobby.
I spent two hours during a recent afternoon trying to get out of Boston through the Big Dig tunnel. Traffic wasn’t being bottled up by an accident; it just always seems congested in the late afternoon. Funny thing is that I don’t remember traffic being so bad during those endless years when Big Dig construction was being so corruptly mismanaged and lanes were always being shut down. Somehow, people found other ways (or times) to get where they needed to go.Read more
“Getting there should be half the fun!” I love this slogan: it acknowledges that travel involves the full spectrum of human life rather than the simple relocation of objects. Even more, it implies that the other half of the fun happens “there” – a place – with the suggestion that transportation is as much about enhancing the quality of locations as about motion between them.Read more
Almost everyone wishes the world were different in one way or another. But creating that difference requires effective action, which comes in different forms. For example, advocacy, the type of work done by LivableStreets Alliance, differs from both protest and lobbying.
Protest – either done personally or through mass mobilization, whether a single event of a sustained campaign – attempts to create a bump in the on-going flow of the status quo in order to prompt the reversal of some decision made by those with more direct power over the situation. Protest is a reactive move, a response to a situation. It is usually an outsiders’ strategy, an attempt by the less powerful to exercise their only real veto power over elite control by disrupting “business as usual” in some major or minor way.Read more
Conservatives complain that spending public money on non-automobile facilities ignores the public’s overwhelming choice of cars as their preferred method of transportation; that prioritizing walking or cycling or even public transportation is an unwarranted distortion of the free market – another example of elite culture’s social engineering trying to manipulate ordinary people.
It is true that most people drive. And it is not entirely fair to say that our land-use patterns and transportation system has been deliberately structured over the past half century to give them no other option – although that is largely true. The post-WWII GI bill’s mortgage subsidies and Interstate Highway system created a landscape of decentralized, auto-dependent sprawl that gives people little choice but to buy a car and drive to nearly everything. The deliberate destruction of urban trolley systems and the underfunding of the nation’s railroad networks pushed things in the same direction.Read more
What is the single largest physical asset owned by most cities and towns, and therefore by the public? Your first guess isn’t likely to be correct. The answer is the public way – the street.
Now think of the word: “Street.” Quick – what image comes to mind?
Cars? More cars!
There are other possible images: On the Fourth of July we gather in huge crowds to watch parades go down the street. Kids play basketball, baseball, and hockey in the street. Hand-written posters announce block parties that bring neighbors together to socialize in the street. Festivals bring music or local foods or theater into the streets. In some neighborhoods, families still hang out on the stoop and socialize in the street. Some lucky commercial areas have reclaimed the entire street – the vehicular roadway, the car-parking spaces, and the pedestrian sidewalk – as shared space: full of places to sit and talk and eat and buy things and attracting additional customers to local stores. Occasionally, farmers’ markets take over parking lots. Trolleys and buses can take up part of a street, as can bike lanes and pedestrian crossings. Bus stops, benches, median strips, planted green areas, and even small gardens can be part of the street.Read more
So long as our society treats cyclist as a high-risk activity, we should not be surprised if most bicyclists are risk-takers. If we want bicyclists to act like “normal people” maybe we should create a cycling infrastructure that makes normal people feel comfortable on a bike.
The questions begin right after someone learns that I’m an active cyclist. First, they test my commitment: “Do you commute by bike all winter?” (Yes – once the streets are plowed using the proper clothes keeps me dry and warm.) Then they admire my courage: “Aren’t you afraid of all those crazy drivers?” (No –I’ve learned its best to boldly “take the lane” when the street is too narrow to safely ride on the side; I use back-road alternatives to certain streets; and I push to the front of cars at intersection in order to get a car-free head start when the light changes.)Read more
Transportation policy is not changing because traffic engineers (or city planners) have seen the light, or because our society has finally internalized the reality that we can’t build our way out of congestion – every new road will eventually get overused. Even the growing green cultural awareness is not enough, by itself, to cause a shift. I’d like to take credit. But none of us advocates are really to blame — although we have helped push the rotting tree as it falls.Read more