If the Legislature and Administration gives the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) the staffing and funds for implementation, the agency’s current Parkway Design Study could be a game-changer. The new Urban Parkways and Path Advisory Committee (UPPC) has been providing the recently consolidated Planning & Engineer Departments with lists of particularly dangerous locations and has offered to help them prioritize future road projects. (Readers – are there more places you’d add - see below?) While supporting efforts to increase DCR’s drastically inadequate levels of funding and staffing, Advocates are also pushing the agency to better coordinate with local (and state) Vision Zero efforts and begin making immediate, low-cost, visible changes in Parkway conditions to make them safer and more inviting for walkers, cyclists, bus riders, and neighbors.Read more
GO WHEN IT’S CLEAR, STOP WHEN IT’S DANGEROUS: Why Bikes Should Treat Red Lights and Stop Signs as Yields
San Francisco is contemplating an “Idaho Stop” rule allowing bicyclists to treat red lights like stop signs and stop signs as if they were yields. Should Boston do it too?Read more
Having a vision of the kind of city you want is an essential foundation for purposeful and effective governance. Some cities do a coherent overall process, such as Somerville’s SomerVision or Boston’s forthcoming Imagine Boston 2030. Cambridge has constructed its vision piecemeal, through policies around a variety of quantitative and qualitative issues. No matter the process, these days the resulting vision statements almost all aim for a combination of livability, stainability, prosperity, and diversity with the specifics addressing things like schools, housing, services, open space, and mobility. For example, in terms of mobility, SomerVision (slogan: “An Exceptional Place to Live, Work, Play, and Raise a Family”) sets a goal of having “50% of New Trips via Transit, Bike, or Walking.”
The most powerful, but hardest to really accept, aspect of creating a vision involves making choices – a public a statement that the city’s residents prefers one type of future over another, one direction over the multitude of other possibilities. Like growing up, having a vision implies accepting that you can’t have it all – that achieving your top priorities means you can’t do something else, and most importantly that equalizing things means that whatever was previously getting more than its fair share will have to get a little less.Read more
Every street should be safe for walking and bicycling. This is an essential component of the Complete Streets design philosophy that has emerged in recent years as the “new normal” for roads – although the gap between policy and practice often remains wide. Because the core issue is mobility, Advocates compliment this “everywhere for everyone” approach with concerted efforts to create seamless networks of sidewalks and low-traffic-stress routes (paths and protected bike lanes or cycle tracks) along major “desire lines” connecting most residential areas with most schools, parks, recreational, shopping, and work areas. Or at least a set of “key routes” across town. Many Advocacy groups put considerable effort into sketching out these networks and routes – trying to combine directness with safety, beauty with speed, ubiquity with practicality. To paraphrase a slogan from the Greenway Links Initiative I’ve been working on in the Metro Area: Big enough to be inspiring, simple enough to be understandable.Read more
Stretching from the Public Garden out to Weston, Commonwealth Avenue meanders past sculptured medians, historic parks, heartbreaking hills, ponds and rivers, and an enormous number of residences and businesses. Although various crossings are frustratingly congested, in general the number of cars has been steadily dropping while the number of trolley passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and runners has been steadily increasing. The busiest sections are the least fancy: the Mass Ave. crossing, Kenmore Square and the BU corridor, Packards corner to around Warren Street. The BU bridge area is the thickest of all with huge numbers of rushing students, growing cohorts of cyclists, and frustrated car drivers trying to squeeze through the spaghetti mess from Longwood Medical Area to Storrow or (via Cambridge) the Mass Pike. Much of the rest of Comm Ave has relatively light (and therefore, because of the invitingly wide lanes, fast) car traffic.Read more
Mayor Marty Walsh visibly cares about helping underserved communities. And he is aggressively promoting the continuing building boom and accompanying (construction) jobs, as expressed in his statement to the Chamber of Commerce that “we hit the ground running…in development, education, housing, public health, and infrastructure.” Unfortunately, it appears that the Mayor currently includes transportation as just a part of “infrastructure”, rather than a distinct critical element of city policy –streets and transportation are treated simply as extensions of the more important “building blocks” listed in his speech.Read more
Everyone officially puts “safety first.” Everyone wants to prevent accidents. Car crashes are treated as lead stories on TV news – the images are horrific and we all fear our vulnerability. But, in fact, our roads are safer than ever. In 1956, when Interstate construction began, the national fatality rate was 6.05 per 100 million Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). By 2011, the fatality rate had dropped to 0.8 per 100 million VMT on the Interstate and 1.1 (the lowest ever recorded) nationwide, even though about 85% of people including those in metro areas, still get to work by car. (Massachusetts has the nation’s lowest fatality rate, 0.62!)
Studies have shown, and the Traffic Engineering Profession has internalized, that highway accidents go down when there are wide lanes, gentle curves, no sight-line obstructing hills, limited entering/exiting locations with long ramps, no visual distractions other than large and uniform directional signage, and the absence of slower or more vulnerable traffic. The Interstate is safest when it is “error tolerant” and forgiving of driver distraction. (Other contributors along the same lines: slide-resistant pavement, break-away sign and light poles, and better guardrails.
But the reality is that safety lapses aren’t the biggest transportation-related source of injury. In fact, putting too much emphasis on preventing car crashes can make non-highway streets more dangerous – not only for pedestrians and cyclists but also for car occupants! Car accidents cause half as many deaths and several multiples fewer health problems than transportation-caused air, water, and noise pollution. The amount of paved land in our cities makes us more vulnerable to climate change, rising temperatures, and floods while housing sprawl makes us less resilient in terms of agriculture and disaster-recovery. Most subtly, life in and around automobiles changes the way we relate to our neighbors and friends, reducing our collective social capital and our individual life style satisfaction.Read more
Trucks are only 4% of vehicles in the United States but cause about 7% of pedestrian fatalities and 11% of cyclist fatalities. The disparity is even higher in urban areas – a London analysis found that the 4% of vehicles that were trucks were involved in nearly 53% of cyclist fatalities. In Boston, 7 out of 9 cyclist fatalities in 2012-13 involved trucks or buses. Many of those deaths were preventable.
For a while it was feeling like stodgy Boston was jumping back into the elite group of city’s whose actions around transportation (and its joined-at-the-hip land-use twin) set the pace for the rest of the country. Our environmentally-based Smart Growth policies were state-of-the-art, which became even more valuable as climate-change storms and rising sea levels revealed our coastal vulnerability. After years of letting the state take the lead around transit and roads, Boston leaped ahead on mobility. City Hall, working with advocates, used the political opening created by the Hub On Wheels festival to set up the Boston Bike Program with its rapid rollout of bike lanes, its Roll-It-Forward outreach to low-income families, a visionary Bike Network Plan, and the wonderful Hubway system that is increasingly understood as the “last mile” of our transit system as well as a relief valve for both over-capacity trolleys and car-congested roads. And all this culminated in the cutting-edge Complete Streets Guide that integrated Green, Smart, and Multimodal by both dealing with the safety needs of cars, buses, walkers, and cyclists as well as treating streets as a powerful leverage for improved neighborhood cohesion, safety, and economic development.
Congratulations on your election. As you know, that was the easy part! Here’s something waiting for you: our transportation system is in crisis. We can’t seem to generate the political will needed to raise the money required to upgrade our decayed rails, roads, bridges, and sidewalks to meet the needs of today – much less to lay a foundation for the future. Anti-government forces have been able to shape the public perception of transportation spending as a tax rather than an investment, a cost rather than an asset. As a result, things are falling apart.