The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

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


We are as we move. We make personal choices, but those choices are shaped by our surroundings. And our surroundings are shaped by a web of inter-connected systems including transportation, energy, technologies, economics, and more. These systems make some choices easy and others extremely difficult — even to the point of shaping our assumptions about what is possible versus what we don’t even bother thinking about. Transportation, like the others, has a huge impact on where we live and work, the kinds of work we do, the types of food and shelter we consume, how we play and relate to others, our health, our environment, and everything else. As Winston Churchill said about architecture – “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” – so, too, about transportation. Continue reading