WILL MassDOT USE “GROUNDING MCGRATH” TO CONSOLIDATE ITS NEW DIRECTIONS, OR JUST REPEAT OLD CAR-CENTRIC BIASES: A “hidden cost” of the MBTA Funding Crisis
It’s totally understandable that Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey has been focusing on the MBTA fiscal crises. Public transit – train, subway, trolley, bus, and ferry – is the backbone that supports the entire regional transportation system, and the region’s economic well-being.
But we can only hope that the MBTA crisis will not totally pull Secretary Davey away from the highway division. A crucial test of his agency’s commitment to the GreenDOT, WeMove, Healthy Transportation Compact, and Mode Shift policies is now happening around the McGrath/O’Brien Highway Corridor – which MassDOT has designated as a key pilot project that will explore ways to embody these programs and values into transportation planning, including MassDOT’s first use of a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) process maximize the project’s positive impact on public health.Read more
I wear a bike helmet. Always. Every time I get on a bike. I don’t think that the helmet will keep me from having an accident, just that it will reduce the odds of serious head injury in particular types of situations. Small odds but a big benefit.
It’s likely that people who cycle like I do – regular commuters with enough experience and confidence to ride within busy traffic – suffer the most severe injuries. I don’t want to be one of those statistics. As my daughter (the doctor!) says about helmetless speedsters, “I hope they’re carrying an organ donor card.”
But avoiding injury– staying safe — is not my main motivation for cycling. In addition to being cheaper and often faster than any other mode of urban commuting (as well as less polluting and more energy efficient), it helps me control my weight, stay fit, sleep better at night, have more energy the rest of the day, almost always puts me in a better mood – and is simply fun to do. It keeps me healthy – body and soul. I think it would be good for society if more of us biked instead of drove for at least the 25% of daily trips that are less than a mile long, if not for the 40% that are less than two miles and the 50% of daily commutes of less than five miles.Read more
“Health In Everything” is an important slogan, pointing out that personal and social well-being is impacted by every public policy and every aspect of our built and cultural environments. Partly based on this insight, there is increasing interest in creating Health Impact Assessments (HIA) as part of the preparation for all kinds of policies and projects that don’t traditionally fall within the purview of public health – from transportation to commercial development, from agriculture to public safety.
For example, the 2009 enabling law creating the new Massachusetts Department of Transportation states that MassDOT “shall…institute and establish methods to implement the use of health impact assessments to determine the effect of transportation projects on public health and vulnerable populations for use by planners, transportation administrators, public health administrators and developers…”Read more
The state has, once again, announced a multi-year delay in completing the Green Line Extension, from 2014 to 2018 or 2020 or even later. Somerville is already mobilizing to fight. But they should not be fighting alone. All of us, around this entire region, have a deep stake in the outcome. As national transportation policy gets warped by the Tea Party’s opposition to anything besides unregulated automobiles, and national transportation funding remains hostage to the right-wing goal of dismantling government, letting the Green Line Extension get “kicked down the road” will weaken our ability to push dozens of other pending transit projects to completion, whether they be rail road, subway/trolley, bus, and even off-road shared-up paths. It will make our entire regional economy weaker, our environment dirtier, our options fewer.
We’re all in this together. We need to unite to demand no more delays. In fact, given that both construction and borrowing are cheaper now than they’ve been (or probably will be) for decades, it makes sense to speed up implementation and push all the way to Route 16 near Medford Square. Putting construction off until only makes it more expensive – even the state estimates that a half-decade postponement will increase the estimated $1billion bill by at least 20% — about $200 million!Read more
There is little or no zoning in many parts of the United States. It is condemned as the intrusion of government rules on what you want to do with your own property. Live free or die!
But, historically, it was precisely the unregulated freedom of property owners to do whatever they wanted that was the cause of death. Zoning was a way to separate deadly land uses from residential areas.
Unfortunately, over the years, in many communities zoning has become a mind-bogglingly complicated bureaucratic mess, totally opaque and highly vulnerable to back-room dealings as well as political-business collusion. In many cases, it has become so ossified that zoning categories neither address market realities nor capture sufficient value for the public good.Read more
Several times each day, most of us move from one place to another using one of the many options available – walk or drive, take the stairs or the elevator, bike or bus, taxi or limousine. Most of the time, most of us don’t really think about it; we just do what we’ve usually done, what everyone else usually does, fall into the default behavior: we drive, take the elevator, call a cab.
What creates the default? What nudges so many of us in the same direction? Not an act of nature or of god. Behavioral defaults are not inevitable or inescapable. They are created by the surrounding context – the structure of our buildings, the nature of the transportation system, the attributes of high social status, the cultural assumptions that make some things feel normal and others unthinkable. One way to understand the decision-making context is to examine the “Four Cs” of Convenience, Cost, Comfort, and Coolness. Which method of movement is easiest to access? Which feels like a good value? Which requires the least effort to use? Which is the most appropriate for people of our (self-imagined) social standing and style?Read more
Culture is us. It surrounds us, shapes our perceptions and beliefs. And it is also our collective creation. Its impact comes from our core biology as much as our psychological make up. It is part of the tide that shapes policies and carries us through history. And yet we are not just passive responders. We have a role and therefore a responsibility. As another new year begins, perhaps one of our resolutions should focus on how we contribute to the bottom-up processes that culminate in culture. Culture is political! As two commentators recently said:
“[Culture] is where people make sense of the world, where ideas are introduced, values are inculcated, and emotions are attached to concrete change. Or to put it another way, political change is the final manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occurred. Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Major League Baseball debut preceded Brown v. Board of Education by seven years. Ellen DeGeneres’ coming-out on her TV sitcom preceded the first favorable court ruling on same-sex marriage by eight years.” (“Culture Before Politics,” by Jeff Chang & Brian Komar, The American Prospect, Jan/Feb. 2011)Read more
I must be counting on the seasonal spirit of goodwill; but this week’s postings take on two of the more controversial issues in the bicycling community: the impact of bike lanes and cycle tracks (near-road but physically separated or buffered bikeways) and the value of requiring that all cyclists wear helmets.
The first item (see below) is titled “Bike Lanes, Cycle Tracks, and Being On the Road”, the second, “Helmet Laws – Safety, Freedom, and Public Health”
I will say that while I’m pretty confident of my opinions on the first issue, I’m still working my way through the maze of evidence about the second. So while I will not enter into a rant- or insult-exchange with people who want to vilify me for my positions, I’m eager to hear what other people think.
Happy Holidays!Read more
The Three Legs of a Healthy Built Environment: Smart Growth, Active Transportation, Human-Scale Architecture
Our goal is livable communities – healthy, safe, sustainable, friendly, affordable, diverse, beautiful. The vision is not just about a facilitating built environment but what it accomplishes – encouraging people to supportively relate to each other and feel positively about themselves.
Public health teaches us that it is expensive, slow, and very difficult to try to convince each person, one at a time, to change their behavior. It is much more cost effective, with a much broader impact, to change the context for decision-making so that making a “healthy choice” is the easy, low cost, and default thing to do.Read more
Regular cycling keeps a person fit. Those of us who regularly commute or do errands zip along city streets feeling strong and healthy – even a bit smarter than the stuck-in-traffic drivers we pass – and safe so long as we pay careful attention to what’s going on around us.
But even though we may have the skills to avoid accidents in heavy traffic, there are circumstances where cycling may be dangerous to our health. We may not break our arms or necks, but we may damage our lungs, hearts, and even our brains.Read more