The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

WHEN SHOUTING “FIRE” IS UNHEALTHY: Balancing Emergency Access, Travel Safety, and Public Health

Arriving late is every emergency worker’s nightmare. EMTs and firefighters know that new construction materials – plastics and composites – burn fast and release unpredictable clouds of toxic fumes.  It is estimated that people have about 3 minutes to escape the heat and smoke once a fire starts, down from nearly 17 minutes forty years ago.  Response speed spells life or death not only for the residents but also for the fire fighters, whose ever-larger ladder trucks and pumpers need to fight through traffic congestion and tight intersections.   In fact, given our increasing awareness of the potential need for mass evacuations under catastrophic conditions, creating a transportation system that allows emergency movement is a matter of both public safety and national security. So it’s not surprising that fire chiefs in many communities have fought for wide traffic lanes and intersections – a concern often shared by bus drivers and snow-plow agencies.  But this has repeatedly brought them into conflict with the growing public demand to slow traffic and create more livable streets whether under the label of “Complete Streets”, “New Urbanism”, “Traffic Calming and Road Diets”, or “Creating Better Balance Between Car, Bike, and Pedestrian Facilities”. Continue reading

SMALL STEPS FORWARD: Improvements To Applaud, Improvements To Make

While we’re waiting for the big transformations needed to deal with climate change, resource depletion, dietary distortions, inequality, and the other despair-evoking problems we face, it’s good to remember that incremental improvements are still possible – and may be all we can gain at this particular moment in history.  The first five items in this post applauds small but significant steps forward while pointing out some additional actions that are still needed. The fifth item picks up a previous post’s theme – the need for bicyclists to discipline their own community about dangerous and anti-social behavior. (See “Time To Stop Behaving Badly On Bikes“)   As our streets are redesigned for pedestrian and cyclist safety, we will have to confront an inevitable backlash as car owners protest the loss of their once-privileged status and businesses worry (mostly inaccurately) about decreased access for truck deliveries, parking-dependent customers, and car-commuting employees.  The last thing we need at this time are stupid cyclists (or jay-walkers) providing good reasons to oppose continued change. Continue reading

REFRAMING ISSUES TO UNITE US: A Transportation Platform for Local Use

Transportation for America (T4) is a huge national coalition (including LivableStreets Alliance) focused on getting improvements in the next federal transportation authorization bill – which is already overdue and now mired in Republican demands to reduce government activity and spending no matter the consequences.  T4A conducted a lengthy national process of collecting ideas and creating a really good consensus platform. But the T4A platform is focused on national issues.  Those of us who mostly work at the city and state levels need a set of issues and positions that more directly speak to people’s everyday experiences, fears, and hopes – and can serve as a platform for building the broad coalitions needed to successfully push for change. Continue reading


Because I’m out so many evenings and weekends, I try to reserve a couple of mid-week hours to bike with the Wednesday Wheelers.  This week the weather was fabulous and a small group of us did a great 40 mile ride through the beauty of the approaching spring.  Afterwards, I sat with Stan Sabin and his wife Susan at lunch. Stan Sabin was a former Pulmonologist, a sweet and careful man who probably never ran a red light or jumped in front of traffic in any of his 74 years. When we finished eating and chatting, Stan smiled, kissed Susan, waved to everyone, then left ahead of the rest of us to get home in time for the free health clinic that he ran in Framingham. Continue reading

MEDIA vs REALITY: The “Bike Lane Backlash” & Big Dig Disasters

Is the media’s job to reflect unpolished reality back to us?  Or to help us interpret the reality hidden in the chaos of daily events?  Or to convince us of its own version of reality?  Usually, no matter how sincere a media producer’s claims of journalist objectivity, it’s a combination of all three. (Actually, as my publisher once told me, back when I was a magazine editor, our ultimate job was to attract desirable eyeballs so that he could then rent them out to advertisers.  If I could get the desired audience through quality material, so much the better for our reputations and the world.  But if it took something else, from a business perspective, that was ok, too.) Continue reading

DESIGNING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS: Mobilizing Constituencies, Developing Expertise, Sustaining Action

The worlds of Program Directors and Advocates often intertwine, as the later are often hired to serve as the former.  Even though Advocates typically want programs to be expansive, open ended, and systemically transformative while Program Directors can only survive by limiting their span of accountability, both groups have an interest in program success. Continue reading

CONCRETE STEPS: More Ideas For Immediate Action

This post continues the list of specific suggestions for improving the bikability and walkability of our streets.  Some are quick and easy, others more complicated but with more long-term impact.  A few are focused on Metro-region municipalities but most require action by MassDOT or DCR.  They include suggestions about: Including Bicycles on the Rose Kennedy Greenway Safeguard Pedestrian Crossings on Congress St. Create Better Connections Between the JFK/UMass Red Line station and Mt. Vernon Street Create a Metro Greenway Network Set Modal Share, Pollution Level, Transit Use, and Single Occupancy Reduction Goals Increase the Standard Size of Bike Lanes Set Aside the Full 10% Allowance of Highway Funds For Transportation Enhancement (TE) Projects Require that any Municipality Receiving Chapter 90 Road Funds Must Have a Volunteer Bike/Ped (or a Bike and a Ped) Citizen Advisory Committee Expand the T-station Catchment Areas Install Bus Priority Technologies Improve the Southwest Corridor Intersections Pass a “Safe Zones for Vulnerable Populations” Enabling Act Allow Municipalities to Install Red Light Control Cameras This is my list – please suggest others! Continue reading

CONCRETE STEPS: Some Ideas For Immediate Action

Grand visions and long-range analysis have enormous power to frame issues and create an actionable context.  But they don’t lead to anything unless operationalized by specific, preferably simple, do-able steps forward.  When I’m consulting with organizations on strategic planning I say that they need at least 2 solid action ideas in each of these three categories: Symbolic – things that may not make a big difference but send key messages. Quick– technically easy, low cost, very visible, preferably non-controversial and begin to actually change things. Fundamental – the more complicated and challenging, long-term, but foundational changes that make a significant difference and create a new context for future actions. So, in an effort to follow my own advice, here is the first of two posts, this week and next, describing concrete actions listed along with the city or state agency most capable of implementing them.  This is my list – please suggest others! Continue reading


It usually takes me about two or three weeks to develop a post – writing out my first impressions, researching missing facts, checking with knowledgeable people, writing a second draft, then tinkering with it over a couple days as I remember things I left out or think of better ways to express my thoughts.  But this very long post on the Transportation Enhancement program has taken over two months.  It’s a labyrinth of complexity. (See the Transportation Enhancement Overview at the end of this post.)  Despite all I’ve learned – particularly from Craig Della Penna whose years of involvement in rail-trail and path development has made him an encyclopedia of knowledge, I’m sure I’ve still missed key points.  So please, if you know something I’ve gotten wrong or left out, leave a comment! Continue reading

WINTER CYCLING: Snow and Safety

It’s New England.  It’s February.  We’ve had multiple snow storms and the enchantment of the white landscape is getting swamped by the aggravation of shoveling.  It’s time to think about safe cycling in winter. This post contains my thoughts, but it is also an invitation for all of you to add your own insights.  We need to begin aggregating what we’ve learned about winter cycling because so many of us are still out there, day after day, even in the worst conditions.  What a change from even the recent past!  Without studded tires, I tend to avoid bicycling during or immediately after a snow storm, or when it’s raining on still-frozen pavement.  Snow makes the world enormously beautiful, but I feel better looking around at it all when I’m on foot.  Still, no matter how bad the conditions, I see people bicycling by! Continue reading