The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

NON-MOTORIZED HIGHWAYS: A Regional Green Routes System To Connect Municipal Bike Networks, Sidewalks, and Parks

Transportation is responsible for 36% of Massachusetts’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In order to meet the reductions required by our state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, MassDOT has committed itself to significantly improving its internal operational energy efficiency (GreenDOT) and  tripling the share of travel done using transit, bicycle, and foot over the next 18 years.  Mandating higher mile-per-gallon vehicles and less polluting fuels will also help achieve the GHG reduction goals.  However, assuming a reasonable rate of population and economic growth between now and 2030, there will be a corresponding increase in transportation activity.  To reach the Mode Shift goals, MassDOT will have to find ways to channel almost all of it into the target modes rather than Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOV).   Continue reading

GUNS, TAXES, TRANSPORTATION, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE: Why Government Is A Precondition for Livability

Is caring about each other, going out of our way to help each other, a tactic or strategy or core mission of human life?  For example:  One of the amazing realities of our streets is that despite the frequent design inadequacy and congested confusion of busy intersections, we almost always find a way to safely and semi-efficiently make room for each other as we wind our own way forward. What’s amazing is not that there are so many accidents, but that there are so few. Continue reading


The implementation of Boston’s Complete Streets Policy and the Bike Network Plan will radically improve the safety and comfort of walking and cycling in the city.  But full implementation will require many different kinds of changes to many roads all around the city.  The best way to lower the inevitable anxiety about change is to have lots of examples already in place, demonstrating (as the passage of same-sex marriage did in its own sphere) that it won’t precipitate the end of the world or even disrupt our everyday lives. Continue reading

MODE SHIFT AMPLIFIERS: The Importance of the Out-of-Vehicle Experience

In response to the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, which sets deadlines for reducing Green House Gas emissions, MassDOT has recently announced plans to triple the share of travel done using transit, bicycle, and foot by 2030 — 18 years from now.  (The Act was also the impetus for MassDOT’s exemplary GreenDOT program.) Since both our population and economy are likely to grow over that time, in order to reach that mode share goal almost none of the inevitable increase in transportation activity can happen in Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOVs).  The entire rise in travel will have to use train, trolley, bus, multi-person cars, bikes, or feet.   Continue reading

ENOUGH KILLING: How to Make Bike-Car Collisions Less Deadly

It’s important to know that the huge increase in bicycling in Boston has been accompanied by a much small increase in bike-car collisions, meaning that the accident rate has gone down.  It’s yet another validation of the “Safety In Numbers” principle.  It’s not that the new cyclists are more skilled than the previous ones, or that a higher percentage of them are wearing helmets. It’s simply that the more people on bikes the more that drivers become aware and accepting of their presence, leading to a lower rate of collisions and injuries. But that doesn’t make it any less upsetting to learn that yet another bicyclist has been killed by a motor vehicle. The fifth this year. Yet another ghost haunting our streets. The police haven’t issued a final report on this latest tragedy, so the following is based on what has been available in the newspapers and on-line.  But here is my best guess of what happened, and some suggestions about how to make it less likely to happen again. Continue reading


MassDOT has announced a goal of tripling the mode share of transit, walking, and bicycling over the next 18 years while also making the roads safer and more efficient for car travel.  No matter how it is eventually measured (trips, vehicle or person miles traveled, or some combination), the Mode Shift policy is visionary and ambitious.  If implemented, it will transform both the state’s transportation system and the Transportation Department.   It will make Massachusetts a national leader in environmental and climate protection, in primary prevention and public health, in “main street” business revival and sustainable economic development, and much more.  The real issue is not if a more sustainable transportation system is needed, the one we have is increasingly dysfunctional as well as unaffordable, but if such a transformative goal will be fully adopted and implemented. One part of the problem is that cyclists are a visible and prominent part of the coalitions fighting for a better, safer, healthier transportation system.  In fact, many car drivers see the entire new agenda as primarily about serving the needs of the 1% or 2% of the population who bikes.  And that’s a not good:  bicycling, and walking, are not how the majority of people get around.  State leaders need to support and integrate bicyclists demands for better facilities, in both urban and suburban-town-center areas as well as along the regional Rail-Trail networks.  But expanding bicycle facilities can’t be presented as the core reason for the new programs. As with so many other proposals to create a stronger foundation for future growth – dealing with public health, environmental protection, and the built environment, among others – advocates and state leaders needs to find ways to frame the discussion so that a majority of citizens see how the costs and potential short-term disruption will relatively quickly lead to benefits for themselves and their communities Continue reading

IMPROVING LIVABILITY, CONTROLING DISPLACEMENT: Can You Upgrade a Neighborhood Without Destroying it’s Community?

A new effort has begun to bring improved transit and bicycle facilities to Roxbury, the base of Boston’s African-American community. (Full disclosure: On behalf of LivableStreets Alliance, I’m involved.) While most local people welcome the idea of more efficient bus routes, more comfortable bus stops, and protected bike lanes there has also been some opposition based on the fear that this invites gentrification.  It is similar to concerns about the larger impact of any improvement in a low-income area, from better parks to better food in local stores to better schools. It feels like a no-win situation.  Public sector, taxpayer-funded investment is an essential foundation for livability in every neighborhood.  As much as anyone else, low-income people deserve good parks, lighting, schools, transit, roads, sidewalks, bicycle accommodations, and other public amenities.  But any significant improvements in a low-income neighborhood’s facilities, or investment in Smart Growth initiatives and Transit Oriented Design development, make the place more attractive to higher-income “pioneers” and then even higher-income “settlers.”  Rents and home prices increase.  The retail mix gets hipper and moves up-scale.  Even before any facility upgrading, the process may start with an influx of “transitional populations” – students, artists, gays – but it’s the public investment that preps the area for sale.  And then gentrification pushes out long-time families: think Jamaica Plain, Davis Square, Cambridge’s Area IV. Continue reading


As a regular back-packer, my original perception of cross country Mountain Bikers was of arrogant punks who wrecked both the silence and the trail.  And the Down Hill bikers were even crazier – they get driven to the top and then fly down cliffs wearing bizarre armor.  To me, they were in the same category as the hot-dog skiers who jump off cliffs — who strike me as slightly insane no matter how amazing the photography. Yes, I’m a bicycling advocate and an avid cyclist.  I restarted bicycling about 15 years ago as a form of exercise after my back and knees made running too problematic.  And then I discovered the usefulness of bike commuting and the joy of multi-day touring. But it was all about the roads – and thin tires. Continue reading

ELECTION EMOTIONS: Pride, Hope, Relief and the Need For More

I am old enough to remember the “Whites Only” signs on the water fountains and bathrooms in the American South, the place from which South Africa learned about Apartheid.  I remember the anguish my brother went through when he came out, and the contempt of Ronald Reagan and so many others about the ravages of AIDS to which my brother eventually succumbed.  I remember the fear that we felt when friends had to suffer through dangerously illegal abortions, and the shock of later learning that so many women in several generations of my extended family had gone through that horrible experience to protect their families or themselves. So, for the second time I have ended election night in tears, amazed and thrilled that the segregated, gay-bashing, female-stereotyping, culturally repressive society I grew up in had put an African-American man into the Presidency who openly called for the end of those patterns; a BLACK man and family in the White House! Continue reading


It’s the season for debates.  Right now it’s the candidates.  But soon enough the topics will include all the issues that elected leaders will have to deal with, from transportation to health care.  Debates can be great reality TV:  live, dramatic, with mythic overtones.  And we seem to have a special reverence for debate.  We believe that the clash of opposing sides raises the likelihood of finding truth.  Our entire judicial system is based on this principle. Of course, it’s not always true:  as our grandmother’s correctly pointed out years ago, we are most influenced by the opinions of the people around us – our friends and co-workers.  Psychologists now say that most people are committed to their own framework of values and assumptions and actually become more entrenched in their positions when confronted with countering facts. Even beyond all that, as every High School debate team and lawyer and political media consultant knows, presentation is often even more important than content; the side that dominates the interaction wins the argument. This depressing truth has been powerfully displayed in this year’s political campaigns.  Elections have always been full of distortions and insults. However, as political strategists increasingly incorporate lessons from advertising and media, their messaging becomes ever more sophisticatedly and powerfully manipulative.  Our only defense, other than strict controls over campaign financing and hate speech, is to know the ways we are being tricked.  Being angry is not enough – we need to find ways to fight back. Continue reading