The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

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


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