The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

Transportation funding Decision-Making: Four Ways To Fix The MPO Process

Probably no one fully understands all the intricacies of transportation funding decision-making.  Federal law, regulations, and funding levels set the context – although those are all interactively influenced by the desires of and power relationships among key interest groups, as well as by the electoral pressures felt by elected officials.  The same dynamic exists at the state level, with the political sphere extending from the state house  both upward to federal allies and down to municipal leaders. Continue reading

Creating Change Requires Muscle: Levers for Transforming Transportation

Creating change requires awareness and good intentions.  It also requires muscle. Massachusetts now has a long list of laws and regulations requiring the transformation of our transportation system from car-centric to multi-modal, from speedways to pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly “complete streets”, from polluting to clean, from energy-wasting to sustainable, from green-house-gas emitting to climate-friendly, from disease and obesity facilitating to active and healthy. But it’s not clear how much muscle all the new laws and regulations provide for those who seek to create the 21st century transportation system our political leaders have promised, either in mass transit or in road design (which is the focus on this post).   Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan seems committed to change and MassDOT has begun a major civic input effort.  But little has yet been done to change the existing transportation decision-making process to give increased leverage to groups with a stake in moving away from our car-centric status quo. Continue reading

The Three Legs of Transportation Reform: And Why MassDOT Has To Start Standing On At Least Two Of Them

The debates leading up to the passage of the 2009 Transportation Restructuring Act had three themes: Organizational & Operational Reform: Creating a unified transportation authority that took a systemic approach and ended the infantile (and wasteful) feuding among the Turnpike, Highway Department, MBTA, Regional Transit Authorities, Mystic Bridge, and other transportation agencies. Systemic Transformation: Begin transforming our car-centric, imported fossil-fuel dependent, polluting, obesity-enabling, and increasingly dysfunctional transportation system into something better able to help Massachusetts meet the challenges of the current century. Financial Stability: Ending the funding shortfalls that have left every part of our transportation system unable to maintain current infrastructure, provide appropriate customer service, or meet growing demand. Continue reading

Five Steps To Make GreenDOT Real: From Promise to Impact on Transportation and Climate

With GreenDot, Massachusetts has placed itself among the national leaders on climate-protecting, sustainable, healthy transportation.  And the challenges MassDOT has to deal with as it moves from general policies to effective action under fiscal constraint will create a path that other state’s will need to follow. Continue reading

Short Takes II: Improving Intersection Safety; Defining Lanes; Bus Prioritization

Some more thoughts about how to make it safer for cyclists to get through intersections, how we walk/ride on paths, and how to speed bus traffic through congested streets. IMPROVING INTERSECTION SAFETY — Let Bikes Go When an Early Walk Signal Flashes GETTING PEOPLE OFF CENTER — Paint Center Lines in Multi-use Paths THE VEHICLES OF CHOICE – Why Buses and Bikes Are the Only Modes That Will Solve Urban Transportation Problems. SPEEDING UP THE BUS:  Prioritization Continue reading

Short Takes: Baby Strollers & Bikes on the T; Helmets & Impact; Walk Signals; Car Lights

BABY STROLLERS and BIKES on the T The MBTA has come a long way in allowing bikes on the subway, commuter trains, and busses.  But there are still limits, especially during rush hour.  Which is why, when I got on the T the other day during commuting time, my attention was caught by the presence of several baby strollers. These are no longer the compact, umbrella strollers they were when I was pushing infants around.  Today, they are more like mini-SUVs with enough space to carry an entire closet worth of paraphernalia on top of wheels about as big as the one on my wheelbarrow.  Some of them hold two or even three kids, often way past the toddler stage.  In other words, they’re big.  And there were three of them on the train.  No one complained, in fact, people happily moved out of the way and did the typical smile-at-the-baby routine as they moved.  I was particularly happy to see that it was mostly fathers who had picked up the kids at daycare and were taking them home. But I couldn’t help wondering.  What is the difference between one of these strollers and a bike with an attached child seat?  And if it’s ok to bring these 5-foot-long-by-3-foot-wide devices on to the T without restrictions, why not bicycles?   And would it make a difference if some of the cyclists were willing to say “goo, goo?” Continue reading

Fixing the Bridges Won’t Solve Traffic Congestion

One of the core insights of political strategic is the need to set expectations.  Right now, the state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the Charles River bridges from falling into the river and (after being pressured by advocates) to re-align the surface layout to provide greater access and safety for pedestrians and cyclists.  Traffic on all the bridges has been congested for years, from long before the repair work began.  Actually, the problem is mostly caused by the crazy intersections and rotaries at the entrances and exits to the bridges, rather than on the bridge span itself – although we tend not to think of it in this way. Continue reading

You Can’t Plan A Route Unless You Know Where You Are Going: Comments on MassDOT’s 2010-2015 Capital Investment Plan

One of the hidden gems in the 2009 reform law creating Massachusetts new Department of Transportation is the requirement for a five year Capital Investment Plan (CIP).  The state spends billions of dollars a year on our transportation system;  creating a plan that maps out what is needed to meet our mobility, prioritizes spending, and reveals remaining funding and project gaps is a no-brainer.  In fact, MassDOT is required to create “a comprehensive state transportation plan… [to] ensure a safe, sound, and efficient public highway, road, and bridge system, to relieve congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the quality of life in the Commonwealth by promoting economic development and employment…[and] cost-effectively meet the transportation needs of all residents.” Continue reading

Is Bicycling the Healthiest Move

We all know that being physically activity is good for you — good for your weight, good for your overall health, good for your mood, and good as a way to get around.  But recent research suggests that bicycling is particularly good — even better than other forms of physical activity.  This is important because, other than public transportation — whose routes are limited and expansion is very expensive — cycling is the only real large-scale alternative to cars for short, every-day trips and commutes. It is also important because it means that we need to be prioritizing bike facilities in every transportation plan and road design. Continue reading

Is State Violating Bridge Repair Law?

How Can We Avoid Ending Up With Bridges That Are Structurally Sound But Functionally Obsolete? State Highway Division officials say that the Accelerated Bridge Program legislation requires that they focus on fixing structural deficiencies.  Their mantra is “no scope creep, no schedule creep, on time and within budget” meaning that roadways around the bridges are not to be dealt with and bicycle or pedestrian facilities only added if extra funds allow.  Advocates say that the ABP legislation has significant flexibility and that subsequent passage of the state’s transportation restructuring act totally changes the context for bridge and road work – making improved mobility for all the core value and therefore requiring that bicycling and walking be given equal consideration as car traffic from conceptual design to construction. Who is right?  Give the speed at which the bridge work is supposed to occur, the decision will have to come from the new MassDOT Board or from Secretary Mullan.  But the Board tends to see itself as a fiscal watchdog rather than a policy-making body – so the ball is in the Secretary’s court!  Continue reading