The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS: The Priority Must Be Enhancing Public Value

Enthusiastic support for Public-Private Partnerships (P3) seems to extend across the entire political spectrum. The P3 label is a huge umbrella, providing space for small-government conservatives who think business can do things better, pragmatic liberals who want to harness the resources and energy of the private sector during a time of government fiscal constraint, and innovation progressives looking for strategies to extend the public sector’s positive influence. Continue reading

FIX IT NOW: Postponing the Necessary is Dangerous Policy and Misguided Politics

“It’s not the vehicles,” points out MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly Scott, “it’s the people and places.”  She’s right – transportation is not ultimately about moving things from one place to another, not about the roads or rails, but about the world that grows up around the travel routes.  The value of transportation comes from the ways it improves the health, prosperity, and well-being of the lives around it.  That is why LivableStreets Alliance chose its name. And that is why it is so inexplicable that the Massachusetts’ Legislature has once again “kicked the can down the road” by drastically underfunding our transportation needs. Continue reading

WIDENING MELNEA CASS BOULEVARD: When an Old Vision Blocks Future Progress

If you build it, they will come.  Given the starting assumptions, Boston planners have come up with an excellent design for the reconstruction of Melnea Cass Boulevard in lower Roxbury.  It is a layout worthy of the Urban Ring vision that inspired it. Continue reading

MAKING COMM. AVE. SAFER: City Proposals Are A Good Start; TurnPike Overpass Is Next Issue

Motor vehicles hit more bicyclists and pedestrians on Commonwealth Avenue in front of Boston University than anywhere else in the city.  Last year, five bicyclists were killed in the metro-Boston area, in almost every case by getting hit then run over by a truck (which, in almost every case, made the fact that they were wearing a helmet irrelevant).  One of those happened on Comm. Ave.  It’s partly that a growing number of BU students ride bikes, and not all of them are as careful as they should be.  It’s partly that drivers aren’t as careful as they should be, especially truck drivers making right turns which, because of the size of their vehicle, they have to do illegally from the left lane, compounding the danger caused by their mirrors’ large blind spot.  It’s partly that, as Boston Traffic Department (BTD) Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin has pointed out, “It’s the one spot in the city that truly has all modes of transportation” – cars, trucks, trolleys, cyclists, pedestrians, skate boarders, and more.  But mostly it’s that the street layout is simply unsafe. Continue reading

ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION CREATES HEALTHY COMMUNITIES: How To Use Your Roads To Lower Your Doctor (and Insurance) Bills

The environmental movement has taught us that it’s a lot less harmful, difficult, and expensive to prevent toxins from entering the environment than to treat the problems poison creates once it is in our bodies and our world.    Even our medical system, which is essentially about treating sickness after it occurs, is beginning to put more emphasis on “preventive medicine” – the early detection and management of disease. Continue reading

BUS SYSTEM IMPROVEMENT IS KEY TO TRANSIT: Local, Improved, Express, and Bus Rapid Transit

Potentially as fast and as scheduled as rail and subways, but costing a fraction as much to construct, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is one of the hot topics in transportation planning these days.  Even MassDOT is looking into it.   Continue reading

TRANSPORTATION AND HEALTH PROPOSALS: Legislation Endorsed by the Mass Public Health Association

Bills submitted by the Governor, by Legislative Leadership, or in response to a media-enflamed crises can go from idea to law very quickly.  The many thousands of other proposals have to wind their way through a very complicated and multi-stage process.  Almost every proposal has to go through several different committees and at least one public hearing.  Committee chairs have to decide which of the submissions to prioritize, balancing demands from leadership, other committee members, and their own constituency.  Opponents have to be negotiated with and compromises reached.  The vast majority of bills are either “sent to study” or simply never reported out of Committee and therefore never receive an up/down vote by the full House or Senate membership.   Even for those bills that pass the crucial “get out of committee with a positive recommendation” milestone, very little gets settled until a deadline hits or until the two-year session comes to an end, at which point a proposal either is voted up or down or has to start all over again from the very beginning in the next two-year Legislative session. It’s slow, seldom fully transparent, and often quixotic. Continue reading

ALLSTON-BRIGHTON ON THE MOVE: Boston’s Most Transportation Changing Neighborhood

While the Seaport gets all the headlines, of Boston’s traditional neighborhoods it is Allston that is about to undergo the most dramatic change physically, economically, and demographically.  As a result, it is an important case study and indicator of how the city will be implementing its commitment to Complete Streets, walkability, traffic calming, and the Mayor’s core statement that “the car is no longer king.”  The good news is that there is no doubt that transit, pedestrian, and bicycling facilities will be included in future plans.  The question is whether they will be treated as secondary, or as equals, or even (can we hope?) be given priority over Single Occupancy Vehicles – meaning cars. Continue reading

GOVERNOR PATRICK’S FY2014 BUDGET PROPOSAL: A Promising Start To Future Improvement

Politics is the art of the possible and getting things pass requires placating a broad variety of often competing interests.  All of which makes it hard to be bold or to even fully address complicated issues.  Small, incremental steps are the usual, and often appropriate, approach.  So it is rather remarkable when an elected executive comes out with a visionary, risky, and courageous proposal that could actually solve several long-standing problems while setting the stage for greater prosperity and increased equity.  Maybe the Governor’s decision to return to the more lucrative private sector has emboldened him, or maybe there is a real turning of the political tide, but even though there are many ways the FY2014 budget proposal and its revenue measures could be improved,  it’s overall thrust – including its focus on education, health, and transportation – is truly praiseworthy. Continue reading

ADVOCACY 102: Advice For Job Seekers and Volunteers

We advocate for something because we believe it is good, needed, an improvement.  We think of ourselves as the good guys eloquently convincing decision-makers to adopt our desired option or, if that fails, mobilizing a righteous grass-roots movement to demand action.   It’s an attractive role, placing you in the middle of a supportive community of interesting people, whether as a job or on a volunteer basis. So it’s not surprising that people frequently ask me and others how to get more involved.  (The short answer – volunteer, make connections, learn about the issues, and strengthen your communication skills!) But people often have a distorted view of what Advocacy actually entails. Yes, it requires idealism, long hours, and a willingness to forgo salary increases.   But there is a lot more to it than public speaking, rabble rousing, or even community organizing.   Continue reading