CLOSING THE GAP BETWEEN TRANSPORTATION POLICY AND ENGINEERING PRACTICE: We Won’t “Bend The Trend” Until Professional Culture Changes
Thirty-seven percent of Bostonian households (37%!) don’t own a car. But that still leaves most of us, especially suburban and rural dwellers, car dependent – forced because of the individually-varying distances between our homes and workplaces and shopping/socializing destinations to use individual vehicles to get around. Our transportation system has to acknowledge and service that reality.
While ignoring the current need for cars is both functionally and politically self-destructive, ignoring the need to “bend the curve” of future demand would be even worse. While Massachusetts policy regarding transportation infrastructure has begun recognizing these realities, and actual road design has significantly improved, the gap between vision and reality is still enormous. And a key reason is the lag between new ideas and their incorporation into the transportation profession’s culture. We need to change some of the metrics and defaults that shape road engineer’s decisions to nudge them towards more creative and complete incorporation of the new vision and values into their work.
The cliché is true: every trip begins and ends on foot. The basics of what makes for a good walking experience are pretty straightforward: smooth, wide, unobstructed and well-lit surfaces; stress-free street crossings; pleasing aesthetics; busy but not overcrowded; hassle-free and crime-free areas; opportunities for social or commercial activity; and a way to get to where you want to go. In fact, policies about pedestrian facilities are generally decent – it’s the implementation that gets controversial.
Although the increasing numbers of people who step into a street with their eyes lost in a screen and their ears blocked with music are asking for trouble, the starting point for road safety must be that as the most vulnerable of road users, pedestrians (on foot or wheelchair) deserve the most protection and should be yielded to by everyone. However, because every situation has its own particularities, most policies and standards appropriately provide enormous lee-way for on-the-spot judgement by the individual designer or traffic signal controller. And the devil is always in the details of what gets decided, particularly in the (deliberate or implicit) weighting given to car traffic versus pedestrian (and bicycle) movement. Here are some ideas about how things should go.Read more
My father told me that “fixing a mistake is usually a lot more difficult and expensive than doing it right the first time.” He was right. And the Seaport District’s multiple shortcomings are a case in point – in terms of transportation and nearly every other dimension of sustainable livability. The area is self-destructively dependent on car-based mobility for both in/out commuting and internal circulation. The roads do not embody the city and state’s commitment to Complete Streets. Transit options are woefully missing and, even worse, the available transit facilities are embarrassingly inefficient. But more generally, the place is a steel and glass desert, excludingly expensive; a daytime-only enclave lacking most of what could have been done to make it a real neighborhood. It is, unfortunately, a classic example of what happens when government doesn’t plan for the public good – when it becomes so desperate to attract business that it ceases to shape the market and allows individual firms to develop space in ways that go no further than their own immediate, profit-driven needs.Read more