The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

SAFE CYCLING – Actual, Subjective, Social; Solo or Group

How do we make cycling safer?  It will never be perfectly safe – nothing is.  And despite all the cultural anxiety about the riskiness of bicycling, there is a lot of evidence that it’s much less dangerous than people think.  In any case, the overall health (and environmental) benefits of bicycling so totally outweigh the likely problems that it should be a no brainer choice.  Still, safety is always job one.   We need to do what we can to make bicycling as safe as reasonably possible.  But it turns out that deciding what to do depends on knowing what we want to accomplish – and it turns out that there are several different kinds of safety.  The first part of this post explores the different kinds of safety and the types of actions needed to address them.  The second explores the open question of the relative safety of riding alone or in a group. Continue reading

TODAY’S NEWS: MassDOT Administrator Resigns; BU Bridge Complaint

One of LivableStreets Alliance’s first campaigns, soon after the group was founded five years ago, was to push a then-resistant Boston Traffic Department to include improved bike facilities on a redesigned Commonwealth Avenue in the area around the BU Bridge.  It was a last-minute effort, and would have gotten nowhere except for the willingness of newly appointed Highway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky’s willingness to stick her neck out and require everyone involved to get into the same room and talk things through.  The result wasn’t all that we wanted, but it was a lot better than what would have happened otherwise. Now, as MassDOT Highway Division Administrator Paiewonsky leaves the state agency, the BU Bridge area is again in the news.  The two parts of this post start with headlines from this week’s Boston Globe: “State Highway Commissioner Paiewonsky resigns” (Boston Globe; 1/14/11) and “BU bridge lane configuration is temporary” (Boston Globe, 1/17/11) Continue reading

Picking Transportation Spending Priorities

There is never enough money or time to do everything.  So decision-makers always have to prioritize where to spend and what to spend on.  Other than using some random selection method, this requires having criteria (the more explicit the better) and a transparent process of applying those criteria – both understandable and visible from evaluation through decision-making. For transportation, in addition to the standard economic development rationale, even as modified by other economic policy goals such as regional fairness and Smart Growth, the 2009 Transportation Reform Act required MassDOT to work towards a more energy-efficient, environmentally protective, and health-supporting system. Continue reading

Staying Together: Group Ride Etiquette, Conspicuous Bicycle Consumption, Institutional Memory of Small Groups

here may be snow on the ground, and the roads may still be narrow due to the plow-push along the sides, but there are still lots of people on bicycles commuting to work, doing errands, enjoying the sunshine even on days when the temperature is below freezing. Times are truly changing.  And here are three short posts – the first two about bicycle culture and the last about the need for small groups to find ways to remember their own history so that they can build on past efforts. Group Ride Etiquette Conspicuous Bicycling Consumption Institutional Memory of Small Groups Enjoy! Continue reading

Art, Culture, and Progressive Change

Culture is us.  It surrounds us, shapes our perceptions and beliefs.  And it is also our collective creation.  Its impact comes from our core biology as much as our psychological make up.  It is part of the tide that shapes policies and carries us through history.  And yet we are not just passive responders.  We have a role and therefore a responsibility.  As another new year begins, perhaps one of our resolutions should focus on how we contribute to the bottom-up processes that culminate in culture.  Culture is political!  As two commentators recently said: “[Culture] is where people make sense of the world, where ideas are introduced, values are inculcated, and emotions are attached to concrete change.  Or to put it another way, political change is the final manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occurred.  Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Major League Baseball debut preceded Brown v. Board of Education by seven years.  Ellen DeGeneres’ coming-out on her TV sitcom preceded the first favorable court ruling on same-sex marriage by eight years.”   (“Culture Before Politics,” by Jeff Chang & Brian Komar, The American Prospect, Jan/Feb. 2011) Continue reading

Dear Readers…

Posting a (mostly) weekly blog is bit like putting messages in a bottle and throwing them into the sea. My goal was to share information about the connections between transportation, health, environmental sustainability, the built environment, economic growth, and societal well-being – as well as the implications of those connections for policy choices in my region and nation.  I’ve been organizing and working on these issues for nearly fifty years, but it’s a bit of a presumptuous stretch to think that other people might be interested in what I had to say. Continue reading

What Should Bicycle Advocacy Be Fighting For?

I must be counting on the seasonal spirit of goodwill; but this week’s postings take on two of the more controversial issues in the bicycling community:  the impact of bike lanes and cycle tracks (near-road but physically separated or buffered bikeways) and the value of requiring that all cyclists wear helmets. The first item (see below) is titled “Bike Lanes, Cycle Tracks, and Being On the Road”, the second, “Helmet Laws – Safety, Freedom, and Public Health” I will say that while I’m pretty confident of my opinions on the first issue, I’m still working my way through the maze of evidence about the second.  So while I will not enter into a rant- or insult-exchange with people who want to vilify me for my positions, I’m eager to hear what other people think. Happy Holidays! Continue reading

Car-Free Sunday Streets; Night Light Follies; Priority Bus Lanes

Three short items in this week’s post: 1) Transforming Boston into Mayor Menino’s goal of a “World Class Bicycling City’ requires a multifaceted strategy. One action area: creating the kind of car-free safety zone that lets “ordinary” people feel it is safe to cycle.  In addition to the creation of “cycle tracks” – bike lanes that are physically separated from moving traffic in some way, it is also possible to build on the example of Hub On Wheels and temporarily ban cars from some section of a street, or to create a off-road (perhaps “multi-use”) greenway paths. 2) In this dark well-bottom of the year, only lunatics don’t use lights on their bicycle.  Of course, it’s what the law requires – but more importantly, it’s what survival requires.  In fact, any cyclist riding the roads later than 4:30 that doesn’t wear bright (preferably yellow) outerwear covered with reflective tape should have their live insurance cancelled and their motives examined.  But this begs the real controversy, worthy of several rounds of beer at your favorite spot – should bike lights blink or be steady? 3) Finally, as a former techie, I’m always interested in the latest ways to make our systems “smarter.”  But even more, I’m impressed by the presence (or depressed by the absence) of a smartly-designed infrastructure beneath the electronic sensors….like priority bus lanes. Continue reading

Efficiency And Equity In Transportation Planning

In economics, “efficiency” only refers to the allocation of capital.  Unregulated markets that allow investors to seek the highest profit lead to the largest overall amount of capital growth, exclusive of any other societal effects. It implies that capital growth is its own reward and perhaps the most important goal. Most of us have a broader and more humane definition of “efficiency” – not only accomplishing more with less but doing so in a way that is beneficial to both the system and those it affects  – long-term sustainability, both individual and social well-being.  And this conception of efficiency blends into an even more powerful concept: equity.  Not that every one is or has exactly the same but that the disparities are minimized – that we accept that we are a community that rises or falls together.  This type of equity requires acknowledging a collective responsible for maintaining a balance between providing freedom for individual creativity and security for everyone, for being accountable to contribute our proportional share of resources for the common good in exchange for having our needs taken into account. Continue reading

Thanksgiving and the Nature of Power

Without a struggle, there can be no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. — Frederick Douglas Power is the ability to define phenomena and make it act in a desired manner. – Huey Newton Thanksgiving can be just what its name describes:  a moment to gather with loved ones to express thanks for the good in our lives.  We may feel that our circumstances depend on our own efforts, or on our ability to stand on the shoulders of those who preceded us, or on the influence of whatever form of chance or higher power we may choose to believe in.  Regardless, it is an opportunity to appreciate how much we have, whatever that is. Continue reading