The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

The “Don’t Replace The Market: Respect Choice” Duplicity

Conservatives complain that spending public money on non-automobile facilities ignores the public’s overwhelming choice of cars as their preferred method of transportation; that prioritizing walking or cycling or even public transportation is an unwarranted distortion of the free market – another example of elite culture’s social engineering trying to manipulate ordinary people.   It is true that most people drive.  And it is not entirely fair to say that our land-use patterns and transportation system has been deliberately structured over the past half century to give them no other option – although that is largely true.  The post-WWII GI bill’s mortgage subsidies and Interstate Highway system created a landscape of decentralized, auto-dependent sprawl that gives people little choice but to buy a car and drive to nearly everything.  The deliberate destruction of urban trolley systems and the underfunding of the nation’s railroad networks pushed things in the same direction. Continue reading

Transportation & Public Health Fact Sheet

Transportation  & Health • Only 46% of U.S. adults engage in recommended levels of physical activity associated with health benefits — 30 minutes of “moderate intensity” 5 times a week or 20 minutes of vigorous effort 3 times a week[1]; over 1/2 of the leisure time of the avg. American is spent watching TV; every hour spent daily in a car increases body fat 6%; heart attack risk triples for people who’ve spent the past hour in their car.    66% of adults are overweight or obese[3]. • Almost 33% of high-school-age teenagers do not meet recommended levels of physical activity[2].   16% of children and adolescents are overweight and 34% are at risk of overweight[4]. • Change in diet without increased physical activity is unlikely to result in lasting weight loss. • Diseases Linked to Lack of Physical Activity or Overweight:  30-50% increase in coronary heart disease, 30% increase in hypertension, 20-50% increase in strokes, 30-40% increase in colon cancer, 20-30% increase in breast cancer, significantly higher risk of type 2 diabetes, possible increased risk of onset of Alzheimer’s and symptoms of Parkinson’s, probably risk in men of erectile dysfunction. • Half to 2/3rds of US children live in areas that violate EPA air quality standards for car-pollution-caused ozone Continue reading

Streets Are Public Property: Revitalized Streets are a Lever to Revitalize Public Life

What is the single largest physical asset owned by most cities and towns, and therefore by the public?    Your first guess isn’t likely to be correct.  The answer is the public way – the street. Now think of the word:  “Street.”  Quick – what image comes to mind? Cars?  More cars! There are other possible images:  On the Fourth of July we gather in huge crowds to watch parades go down the street.  Kids play basketball, baseball, and hockey in the street.  Hand-written posters announce block parties that bring neighbors together to socialize in the street.  Festivals bring music or local foods or theater into the streets.  In some neighborhoods, families still hang out on the stoop and socialize in the street.  Some lucky commercial areas have reclaimed the entire street – the vehicular roadway, the car-parking spaces, and the pedestrian sidewalk – as shared space: full of places to sit and talk and eat and buy things and attracting additional customers to local stores.  Occasionally, farmers’ markets take over parking lots.  Trolleys and buses can take up part of a street, as can bike lanes and pedestrian crossings.  Bus stops, benches, median strips, planted green areas, and even small gardens can be part of the street. Continue reading

In Praise of Just Enjoying The Ride

A couple of years ago I watched the Tour and got totally excited by the Postal team’s victory.  I read the articles about the overweight guy who whipped himself into shape and rode a 24-hour endurance solo, and about the people who raced across the entire United States in record time.  They are incredible.  They acknowledged the pain and just keep going.  They’re obviously driven – maybe by a higher power, maybe by an incredible competitive drive, maybe by some inner demons. But they’re not me; nor are they like most of the ordinary people who ride bikes.  We don’t do heroics.  We’re not pro’s; not even semi-pro.   Calling us serious amateurs is a compliment.  The pro’s train every day, maintaining speeds over 35 mph for over 100 miles.  Lance averaged 15 mph climbing up the 8% grade of L’Alpe d’Huez.  I’m proud of myself when I average 15 mph over 20 miles of flat roads when the weather is good.  The books all say that you should try for a cadence of 90 to 100 rpm.  My legs simply die if I do 80 for more than a few minutes.  Because I have trouble bending over, my road bike has hybrid handlebars which means wind resistance gets pretty tough above 22 or 23 mph, even if I’m going down hill. Continue reading

Aggressive Bike Riders: Getting What We Ask For

So long as our society treats cyclist as a high-risk activity, we should not be surprised if most bicyclists are risk-takers.  If we want bicyclists to act like “normal people” maybe we should create a cycling infrastructure that  makes normal people feel comfortable on a bike.  ——————————————- The questions begin right after someone learns that I’m an active cyclist.  First, they test my commitment:  “Do you commute by bike all winter?”  (Yes – once the streets are plowed using the proper clothes keeps me dry and warm.)  Then they admire my courage:  “Aren’t you afraid of all those crazy drivers?”  (No –I’ve learned its best to boldly “take the lane” when the street is too narrow to safely ride on the side; I use back-road alternatives to certain streets; and I push to the front of cars at intersection in order to get a car-free head start when the light changes.) Continue reading

The “Healthy Transportation Compact” in MA’s New Transportation Reform Act

While much of the state’s new Transportation Reform Act simply feels like a rearrangement of the deck chairs on a financially sinking ship, it does contain some ground-breaking components that – if aggressively utilized – could significantly change the rules of transportation planning for the better. Continue reading

Traffic Engineering Myths Revealed

We are finally emerging from the InterState era.  This was the long period where the vision of the ideal road was the limited access freeway – a road designed specifically to move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible, with wide lanes and soft curves, while eliminating potential distractions such as stores or traffic lights or any other method of travel by foot or bike.  The InterState was about moving vehicles.  People were only important as the occupants of those vehicles. The InterState era was also a time when what every self-respecting traffic engineer really wanted to do was create highways or at least car-centric designs.  Quiet residential roads or people-focused plaza were boring – the money and glory was in becoming another Robert Moses: the man who transformed New York with his highways and bridges, a master builder. Continue reading

Why Transportation Policy Is Finally Changing

Transportation policy is not changing because traffic engineers (or city planners) have seen the light, or because our society has finally internalized the reality that we can’t build our way out of congestion – every new road will eventually get overused.  Even the growing green cultural awareness is not enough, by itself, to cause a shift.  I’d like to take credit.  But none of us advocates are really to blame — although we have helped push the rotting tree as it falls. Continue reading

Quick Quotes — health & environment

“The health experts are just recognizing what devoted transportation cyclists have always known, which is if you’re on a quick ride to the store to pick up a carton of milk, you’re not really paying attention to the exercise part.  You’re focused on the traffic, the sights, the (hopefully) fresh air, and the sheet job of movement.  It’s kind of like the same trick your mind plays when you hike to the far end of the shopping mall and back in pursuit of the perfect gift for mom.  You are thinking of the hunting and gathering, not the half-mile or so you’ve walked. Pedaling Revolution, by Jeff Mapes Continue reading

Reforming Health Care Reform – The Transportation Connection

The original health care proposals put forth by the Obama Administration mainly focused on insurance and coverage issues, but also addressed prevention.  Encouragingly, these proposals went beyond preventive medicine (the early detection and therefore less-intense treatment of disease) to also include health protection – shaping the environment to encourage behaviors that reduce the risk of getting sick in the first place. The Obama proposal recognized that long-lasting chronic diseases – cancer, diabetes, hypertension, asthma – now cause 7 out of 10 deaths and are overtaking acute diseases like heart attacks and injuries as the long-term drivers of rising health costs.  And researchers estimate that between 50 and 75% of chronic diseases are preventable through environmental and lifestyle changes. Continue reading