The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

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

CAMERAS, TERRORISM, AND TRUST: Fears and Memories Across the Generational Divide

The revelation during the hunt for the Marathon Bombers of how totally we are all tracked by the rapidly expanding web of electronic systems, and Edward Snowden’s disclosure of how easily it is for government’s security agencies to tap into those data streams, should change the nature of the comparatively trivial debate about installing red-light violation cameras at dangerous intersections.  But it has also revealed a generation fault line in people’s perceptions about the trade-offs involved.   Continue reading

THE NEXT MAYOR’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Creating Prosperity by Lifting the Basement Instead of Raising the Roof

When bank-robber Willie Sutton was asked why he held up banks, he supposedly quipped, “Because that’s where the money is.”  Cities, like every level of government, also have to go where the money is.   In this country, government’s aren’t usually able to set up state-owned firms able feed revenue back into the general budget.  So paying for social services and the huge variety of regulatory tasks needed to keep a complex society smoothly functioning requires our governments to collect taxes.  And healthy tax collection requires a healthy economy, which requires successful private businesses. Continue reading

OPEN STREETS: How Public Space Creates Civic Culture – and Democracy

The importance of the two Circle The City events this summer – July 14 on Huntington Ave. (“Avenue of the Arts”) and September 29 on Blue Hill Ave – go beyond the ability to walk, bike, roll, dance, play, eat, and hang out on car-free streets.   It’s more than the zumba, street games, yoga classes, vendors, music and participatory arts activities, and multiple miles of safe space for family-friendly cycling, strolling, and hanging out. Continue reading

INTERGRATING VISION INTO OPERATIONS: Balancing Front-Line Empowerment With Organizational Priorities at MassDOT

All too little attention and praise has been given to MassDOT’s recent announcements of state funding for the Neponset River Greenway, the inclusion of Community Path design as part of the Green Line extension, and funding for a major expansion of the Bruce Freeman Trail.  These are impressive steps – both symbolic and concrete – towards the re-orientation of the department from a highway to a multi-modal transportation agency.   Continue reading

CIRCLING THE BLOCK: Saving Money, Time, and Aggravation Through Parking Reform

We’ve all done it; cruising around the block looking for an open parking space.  In fact, we all do it so much that studies suggest between 8% and an incredible 75% of the traffic in high demand areas have already reached their destination and are wasting time (and gas) looking for a place to pull over.  Studies in 10 cities found that it took between 3.5 and 13.9 minutes to find an on-street parking spot.  In Harvard Square, nearly a third of the drivers were cruising at peak time, with an average search taking 11.5 minutes.   (It’s even worse overseas: the global average of cruising time is 20 minutes, and in Nairobi it’s not unheard of to spend an hour searching for a spot!) Continue reading


Paradigm shift.  A fundamental change in one’s core understanding of a situation.  It’s hard to do.  It takes abandoning everything you’ve been taught and believed and that made sense, then adopting something totally new and perhaps both untried and unsettling.  It takes going from a belief that the sun goes around the earth to understanding that it’s exactly the opposite.  And, as Galileo found out, there is often a powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – an Inquisition – ready to attack you for questioning orthodoxy. Continue reading

BICYCLING SAFETY: Preventing Injury Requires Multiple Strategies

In recent years, bicycling has increased nationwide.  However, the growing numbers are most visible in urban areas where car congestion and mixed-use density make cycling particularly useful, which also gives bicyclists the political clout to push for improved safety facilities.   Continue reading

ANOTHER GENIE OUT OF THE BOTTLE: Be Careful What You Wish For; You Might Get It.

Genie’s are, by mythological definition, very powerful.  They can open cave walls, turn dirt into gold, and make carpets fly.  They are also devious, granting wishes in ways that turn benefits into burdens – an autonomous force from whom, in exchange for letting them out of the lamp, we can demand short-term assistance but whose ultimate actions and effect are beyond our control. Continue reading