The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

EMERALD NETWORK: From Vision To Greenways

The core idea is really simple. The eastern Massachusetts urban metro area is blessed with over 110 miles of long, tree-lined paths along its rivers and harbor, as well as through its parks and water-shed highlands – greenways -- many designed a century ago by Frederick Law Olmsted and his associates. The Charles River’s Dr. Paul Dudley White Bicycle Path. The fabulous Emerald Necklace. The Mystic River paths. The Neponset Trail. The HarborWalk. And more. But, although each piece is much used and loved, it’s all cut up into separate, stand-alone blips. Wouldn’t it be great if they were connected into a network, and extended into as many neighborhoods and areas as possible! We’d have a series of linked greenway corridors crisscrossing and connecting the entire region – improving mobility and access to jobs, reducing congestion and pollution, increasing green and family-friendly play space, and more. That was, and is, the goal of the four-year-old Emerald Network initiative, a project of LivableStreets. Full disclosure – I’m one of the project founders and am still on the Steering Committee. And, because of that, I’m happy to be able to say that the effort seems to be paying off – over 50 additional miles have been constructed or are in process. Of the eight projects our Greenway Partners have proposed, five have been taken up by the local municipality, moving from community dream to city plans. Of course, we rely on a huge ad hoc alliance of local activists, planning firm volunteers and community experts, government agencies, funders, student project teams, and politicians. But the real pleasure comes from the details. Continue reading

PUBLIC MONEY FOR PRIVATE FACILITIES: Northern Avenue Bridge and Seaport Ferry

The surprising bottom line about the current debate over what to do with the non-functional Northern Avenue bridge is that, except for historical preservation, there is simply no reason to replace it at all. It might make sense to create an attractive space on top of the old bridge’s mid-channel foundation for push-cart vendors and hanging out. And it would make sense to connect that space to the shore with small (and relatively cheap) walking and bicycling paths -- as desired by the majority of the surrounding community (and the tourist industry). But a real transportation bridge -- whether just for buses, or adding corporate shuttles, Lyft/Uber and multi-passenger vehicles (called HOV3+), or even the throw-back demand to allow single-occupancy cars -- will cost between $80 and $100 million and (as shown by the city’s own data) do nothing to reduce the traffic congestion now clogging the Seaport's entry spots. These "full rebuild" proposals also contradict the city's Go Boston 2030 transportation plan. Continue reading

SAFETY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL: Improving Road Safety Enforcement for Pedestrians and Cyclists

Between 2008 and 2017, US drivers killed 49,340 pedestrians – 13 people per day, about one person every 1 hour and 46 minutes. While the amount of walking and driving hasn’t significantly increased over that time period, and while driving has actually gotten safer, the pedestrian body count has increased by 35 percent. Massachusetts isn’t much better. Two-hundred thirty-four pedestrians and bicyclists have been killed on Massachusetts’ roads over the three past years. Because of poor record-keeping we have no idea how many more have been injured. Bicyclists suffer repeated close calls – doorings, right hooks and left turns across the cyclists’ paths, and harassment by horn-blasts at close range. And yet, most of the time, no charges were brought against the responsible driver – including the nine bicycle cases in which the death came at the wheels of a truck driven by a professional driver with a Commercial License who, one would have thought, would be held to a higher standard. Continue reading

Back to the Future: Using Olmsted as Inspiration

For over a century, Beacon Street in Brookline has been a gorgeous boulevard. But changing times bring new usage patterns. Beacon Street has previously gone through one re-creation. Is it now time for a second? Beacon Street, from Audubon Circle to Cleveland Circle, was designed in the late 1800s by Frederick Law Olmsted as a wide, tree-lined boulevard with separate “lanes” for trolleys, carriages, pedestrians, and a bridle path for horse-back riders. Unfortunately, the triumph of motorcars led to a 1930s remake that enormously widened the already-large carriage lanes and replaced the median bridle path with angle-parking spaces and a maneuvering lane. The predictable result was faster traffic and more dangerous pedestrian crossings. Perhaps now is the time for another refinement – to bring back the original Olmsted design’s better support of diverse ways for people to travel from place to place? Continue reading

WHERE PROGRESSIVE REFORM DIES: Dealing with the State House of Representatives

For those of us in Massachusetts involved in pushing for progressive legislation around a variety of issues, the past Legislative session was a disappointment. Some good things did get through, perhaps most significantly the criminal justice reform bill. But even on that issue, and on issue after other issue, after spending months negotiating compromises to get progressive proposals approved in the State Senate, the bill would get watered down or buried in the mud of the House of Representatives. The list of issues is long: transportation safety and climate protection, civil rights and penal reform, education funding and public health, immigrant protection and tax reform, housing and zoning, and more. If progressives hope to win victories in Massachusetts, we need a better understanding of why the House is such quicksand and better strategies for dealing with it. Continue reading

Northern Avenue Bridge: Ignoring the Obvious

The Seaport’s problems were created during Mayor Menino’s administration. But solving those problems falls to the Walsh Administration. And, despite many positive steps the city’s transportation leaders have taken in a variety of other areas, they seem to be falling into the same hole as their predecessors. Ironically, it is not because of the absence of planning, which the Walsh Administration has admirably done around several issues. Rather, it seems to come from their ignoring of their own plans and research, from prioritizing private interests over public benefits, and from bending to political pressure rather than holding to their own vision. Case in point: The Northern Avenue Bridge. (Want to have a say? Come to the Public Meeting – 11/28, 6pm, 75 Northern Ave.) Continue reading

WINTER BICYCLING (and WALKING): Safety, Comfort, and Public Priorities

Winter is coming.  Even in the midst of escalating ocean warming and climate volatility, that means tough weather conditions for New Englanders.  Night falls long before we head home from work.  The snow gets pushed to the side of the road, narrowing lanes, with the daily melt-freeze cycle turning the remaining slush into an invisible black-ice slickness.  Depressingly frequent MBTA breakdowns push people into rise share cars and on to our already over-crowded roads. Wet shoes numb our toes; cold wind hurts our ears.  Driving is hard; walking and bicycling even harder.  Even year-round cyclists take days off – I simply won’t bike when the temperature goes below 20.  Now, before the climate-changed storms arrive, is the time to prepare.  We need to prepare ourselves and our bikes.  But we also need to demand that the public agencies in charge of our sidewalks, roads, and paths prepare as well – upgrading both infrastructure and operations to ensure safety and mobility through the winter. Here are some of my thoughts on winter comfort and safety.  I’m sure I’ve missed some good ideas – what would you add? Continue reading

TOWARDS A PROGRESSIVE TRAFFIC ENGINEERING MANIFESTO: Values and Priorities To Guide 21st Century Road Work

The “spirit” of a law or policy is really just as important as its “letter”.  The frame of mind – the professional culture – of those implementing a policy, their underlying values and assumptions, will shape their decisions and actions just as much as the words. Nearly a decade ago, one of my first LivableStreets blogs, Traffic Engineering Myths Revealed, explored what seemed to be the car-focused, Interstate-derived consensus among road-design professionals.  Today, while transportation policies have radically changed, too often much of the old designs still infest road projects.  It’s time to promote an explicit and short description of a more progressive vision. Here is a rough outline of what I think should be in a short summary of the framework for 21st century traffic engineering.  As you can tell, much of this is drawn from past blogs.  This is just a start: what do you think should be added?   Continue reading

IDEAS: Parking, Walk Signals, Wider Sidewalks, Painted Lanes, Contra-Flow, Park-and-Pedal

This, my last blog post before taking the summer off to work on my Advocacy book, includes a series of quick, mostly one-paragraph thoughts.  (Who would have thought I could write something short!) -- The need to rethink our use of urban curb space to deal with the rise of shared cars, rapid home package delivery, bicycles, and an aging population.  How to increase pedestrian walk time without changing nearly anything else.  A suggestion about where to put parking meters on streets with “parking protected bike lanes.”  Praise for Everette’s creative use of painted lanes for placing transit, parking, and bicycles in their appropriate spots.  A plea for language clarity in descriptions of different bike lane configurations.  Urging greater use of “contra-flow” bike lanes.  Pleasure at the simple but wonderful idea of “Park and Pedal” locations.  I hope you all have a great summer! Continue reading

ADVOCATING FROM WITHIN: Ally, Champion, Leader

Working from within provides experience, expertise, and legitimacy.  People whose career moved in professional or managerial paths have a vital role in advocacy.  This includes people with a variety of roles: appointed or elected leaders, professional staff, even consultants, advisors, or “special commission” members. There are many ways in which an inside-outside Advocacy partnership is the strategic route to success.  The initial protest stages of an Advocacy campaign is almost always started by outsiders critical of what a public agency or private corporation is doing.  Similarly, building the political will to force an organization to change its policy and mission often must be via an end-run around a particularly resistant agency’s staff or political leadership.  Even at these times, however, internal friends can help open doors by insisting that “they’ve got a point; maybe we can lower the temperature by talking.” It is also enormously helpful, even in those early stages, to have inside allies who can feed information or sometimes even make public statements validating the protestor’s claims.  And once the campaign moves into pushing -- negotiating for specific policy, programmatic, or operational changes -- having an internal champion can make the process much more productive.  Outside pressure can raise the visibility and priority of changes that inside reformers would, themselves, like to implement.  Should the campaign succeed in triggering actual implementation, inside leadership is a necessity. But there is also a role for internal activists even during quiet periods of business-as-usual.  At a minimum, people on the inside can help their organizations do better by serving as a bridge to outside perspectives.   At a maximum, they can push for improvements even in the absence of outside pressure.     Continue reading