The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

MassDOT’S HEALTHY TRANSPORTATION POLICY DIRECTIVE: Framing Economic Needs as Public Health Measures Strengthens Both

MassDOT’s recently issued Healthy Transportation Policy Directive could actualize the most profound transformation in the state’s transportation system since the anti-highway movement convinced Governor Frank Sargent to cancel the massive Inner Belt project (the first time any state had done this) and his Transportation Secretary, Alan Altshuler, got the state’s Congressional delegation to pass legislation allowing Highway Fund money to be used for mass transit.   If carried through, it will push Massachusetts to the front of national efforts to modernize our transportation infrastructure. Continue reading

OPENING STREETS, CHANGING POLICIES: Creating Space for Neighborhood Revival and Transportation Reform

Movement building requires organizing activities and programs that have inherent value and meet people’s immediate needs while also raising their awareness of the importance of larger reforms and putting pressure on relevant officials and power brokers to implement those changes.   It’s a tricky combination to achieve.  Providing free breakfast to low-income kids, for example, makes access to good nutrition more affordably available but doesn’t necessarily force the commercial food system to change. In recent years, enthusiasm for Open Streets programs has spread among progressive transportation, community renewal, and other advocates wanting to change the way cities use their largest physical asset, the space normally devoted to car traffic and parking.  The excitement has its roots in the CicloVia program started nearly 40 years ago in Bogota, Columbia, where over two million people, nearly a third of the city population, come out for a few hours every weekend to play, exercise, do yoga, dance, walk, run, bicycle, enjoy endless vendor offerings, and simply hang out with each other along nearly 76 miles of car-free roads. (The roads aren’t “closed to cars”, they are “open for people”!)   Open Streets are now held around the globe including at least 90 US cities. Continue reading

LEGACY TIME: Styles and Strategies for the Political Administration End Game

Tom Menino’s tenure is now measured in weeks.  Deval Patrick is entering the monthly count-down period.  But neither of them has left yet.  And until they do, advocates (and everyone else) seeking to advance their issues will have to deal with how these elected executives and their administrations function during their lame duck days — which is directly related to what kind of legacy they hope to leave behind. Continue reading


You might have the impression, as once did I, that the passage of a bill by the Legislature and it’s signing by the chief executive makes it a law.  But trial lawyers know better.  A law is just a bunch of words waiting for judicial interpretation. Continue reading


It is through our built environment that we shape ourselves and the world.  Living, working, and moving around in dysfunctional, cramped, unsafe, polluted, or just ugly places not only affects our mood and health but also our relations with those around us and the natural environment.   The need to maximize the positive impact of our buildings, transportation systems, and even our usually hidden infrastructures will continue to grow as the weather gets weirder, resources get more expensive, and cities get more crowded. Continue reading

CYCLING ACROSS MASSACHUSETTS: Connecting With Nature, and Why We Need Urban Greenways

I love cities.  They are the engines of our nation’s energy, diversity, cultural opportunities, social interaction, and entrepreneurial vibrancy.  Cities are where most of our population lives and where most of our economic growth originates.   Cities are the base from which we’ll create the future. Continue reading


Our roads feel more congested than ever.  It takes forever to get down Mass Avenue across Boston or Cambridge.  Memorial Drive, near where I live, is now backed up starting at about 4pm and continuing until nearly 7!  Route 93 out of Boston is perpetually stop and go, every day, at nearly every hour.  Sure, we all like to complain, but this is more than personal whining:  according to a new study, “even after $24 billion in Big Dig construction, Boston’s legendary traffic woes are still making the top 10 nationally for rush-hour tie-ups.  Boston is also leading the nation in year-to-year congestion level increases.”  Globe columnist Derrick Jackson points out that, “The Boston metro area is the nation’s ninth largest, but experienced the third highest rise in traffic delays since 1982, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. With the announcements in recent months of several new office, residential, and hotel skyscrapers, and with outgoing Mayor Menino wanting 30,000 new housing units by 2020, things will get much worse…”   Continue reading


PREPARING FOR SNOW:  WHEN SHOULD BIKE LANES GET PRIORITY?  Most municipalities and most state agencies have carefully negotiated lists of which streets get plowed clear of snow in what priority order.  First priority usually goes to busy highways and arterials, hospitals and schools, fire stations and emergency services. Continue reading

THE FUTURE OF RAILROADS: Why Rail-To-Trail Conversion Is The Key To Both Eventual Rail Restoration and Current Off-Road Networks

The CapeFlyer Railroad service has been a huge success.  Well over 10,000 people have bought tickets so far this summer, generating more than enough revenue to cover the relatively puny $165,000 annual cost of running the train.  The high cost of gasoline, the desire to avoid multi-hour Cape-traffic traffic jams, the new bus service from RR stations to all 15 Cape Cod towns, the availability of rental cars and bicycles – all these have contributed to the high demand.  And it also turns out to be fun! Continue reading

THE ADVOCATES DILEMA: When The Need for Action is Immediate But the Pace of Change is Slow

There are situations where the danger is so great, the potential damage so devastating, the outrage to decency so powerful that you feel that immediate, radical change becomes an emotional and moral imperative.   And you do everything you can to advocate, to make the world take notice, to make people in power take action.  Right now. But, with few exceptions, change happens slowly. Creating change requires getting decision-makers to act, attracting the support of powerful interests, or mobilizing important enough segments of the media and/or the public – none of which usually happens quickly.  And then implementing significant change requires transforming systems, which almost always have enormous inertial drag towards the status quo.  And having an impact requires the changed processes and outcomes to replace current conditions, which can be incremental and uncertain. Continue reading