CONCRETE STEPS: More Ideas For Immediate Action

This post continues the list of specific suggestions for improving the bikability and walkability of our streets.  Some are quick and easy, others more complicated but with more long-term impact.  A few are focused on Metro-region municipalities but most require action by MassDOT or DCR.  They include suggestions about:

  • Including Bicycles on the Rose Kennedy Greenway
  • Safeguard Pedestrian Crossings on Congress St.
  • Create Better Connections Between the JFK/UMass Red Line station and Mt. Vernon Street
  • Create a Metro Greenway Network
  • Set Modal Share, Pollution Level, Transit Use, and Single Occupancy Reduction Goals
  • Increase the Standard Size of Bike Lanes
  • Set Aside the Full 10% Allowance of Highway Funds For Transportation Enhancement (TE) Projects
  • Require that any Municipality Receiving Chapter 90 Road Funds Must Have a Volunteer Bike/Ped (or a Bike and a Ped) Citizen Advisory Committee
  • Expand the T-station Catchment Areas
  • Install Bus Priority Technologies
  • Improve the Southwest Corridor Intersections
  • Pass a “Safe Zones for Vulnerable Populations” Enabling Act
  • Allow Municipalities to Install Red Light Control Cameras

This is my list – please suggest others!

City of Boston:

  • Rose Kennedy Greenway:  Correct the embarrassing omission of bike facilities from the Greenway design by painting buffered bike lanes along the Surface Artery; and then follow up by creating true, physically-separated-from-car-traffic cycle tracks that will attract families and the general public to this hidden gem.
  • Safeguard Pedestrian Crossings:  The intersection at Court and Congress Streets is heavily used, but the zebra stripes need repainting and the walk signal needs to provide more time for people to get across.  Similar improvements would make a big difference at the intersection of the Surface Artery with both Lincoln and Essex streets.
  • Create Better Connections Between the JFK/UMass Red Line station and Mt. Vernon Street: This is a complicated situation, and finding a solution won’t be easy, but both city and state planners need to coordinate efforts to find a short-term and long-term fixes.


State & Metro-Area Municipalities: 

  • Jointly Create a Metro Greenway Network: Car congestion keeps getting worse.  Our waist-lines keep getting wider.  The only solution is to encourage people to make more use of both transit and bicycles.  We need to create a regional network of off-road, multi-use paths that are family safe for recreation and connected enough for commuters.  We can use the existing Emerald Necklace, river-side path system, Harbor Walk, and other parks as the base, connecting them with road-side cycle-tracks or buffered bike lanes.  This is a vision big enough to motivate several decades of planning and growth!


State – MassDOT Central Planning Group:

  • Set Modal Share, Pollution Level, Transit Use, and Single Occupancy Reduction Goals: It’s hard to know if you are moving in the right direction if you have no idea where you want to end up.   And it is hard to prioritize or evaluate spending and projects without knowing whether they are moving towards or away from your goals.  Neither the state’s Capital Spending Plan nor its State Transportation Improvement Plan – the list of projects approved for funding in coming years – include any analysis of their impact on any goal other than increasing the level of service provided to cars.  It’s the job of the Central Planning Group to guide MassDOT towards its new goals – and its time for them to start doing so.


State – MassDOT Highway Division:

  • Increase the Standard Size of Bike Lanes: Whether in a car, on foot, or on a bike, we enjoy being with friends.  But the current standard size of a bike lane – 5 feet if it runs along parked cars and 4 feet if it’s against a curb – only allows single-file travel.  A new state law does allow cycling in pairs under certain conditions, and some towns will occasionally design wider bike lanes on an exceptional basis.  But the standard bike lane width hasn’t changed.  In contrast, Copenhagen’s standard width is a bit over 7 feet (2.2 meters), explicitly to allow side-by-side conversation.  (Copenhagen is now planning to increase the standard width to between 8 and 9 feet to allow three-abreast travel!)  Maybe our standard needs to expand as well – starting with the default designs for all the numbered, non-limited-access routes  such as Routes 28, 16, 30, 20, 9, etc.  (Cities and towns could act on this idea even without state leadership.)
  • Set Aside the Full 10% Allowance of Highway Funds For Transportation Enhancement (TE) Projects: TE is the major source of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects.  Massachusetts uses the lowest-in-the-nation percentage of possible TE funds for these purposes, diverting the rest to road projects.  While MassDOT has made some good steps, that are not likely to solve the problem.  MassDOT needs to require that all funding-decision groups, including the 10 regional MPOs, use no less than 10% of their funds for bike/ped infrastructure.
  • Require that any Municipality Receiving Chapter 90 Road Funds Must Have a Volunteer Bike/Ped (or a Bike and a Ped) Citizen Advisory Committee: Providing a structure that attracts and gives official recognition to local advocates will create a state-wide constituency able to change the tone of the public dialogue about transportation priorities.

State — MBTA

  • Expand the Catchment Areas: We need a “Safe Routes to the T” program that connects commuter rail, trolley, and bus stops with their surrounding neighborhoods, with special emphasis on senior residences, shopping and social service centers, health care providers, parks, playgrounds, and schools.  Walking to the T is good; expanding ridership through a larger the catchment area by encouraging bicyclists is even better.  (This would require coordination between the state and local municipalities.)
  • Bus priority: It would be best if we could expand our light rail network.  But expanding the bus system is cheaper and more likely to occur in the short run.  The trick is making bus routes as much like train schedules as possible.  Creating a full Bus Rapid Transit system is complicated, but as one first step the T should work with Boston and other cities to allow key buses, and the Green Line trolleys, to have priority at intersections.  Doing this right requires installing sensors that monitor traffic loads before and after the bus or trolley passes and adjusts the traffic lights accordingly.  But neither the math nor the technology are difficult….and we need to at least begin experimenting so that we can make transit the easy and efficient choice as well as the most economical.  (This would require coordination between the state and local municipalities.)

State – DCR

  • Improve the Southwest Corridor Intersections: The presence in the Southwest Corridor of two paths, one for slow movers (mostly walkers and joggers, but also kids on bikes) and one for faster movers (mostly cyclists, but also in-line skaters), is an exemplary design.  However, not only does the surface of both paths need upgrading, the road intersections need improvement.  Each one should have clear zebra markings and a user-activated cross walk signal as well as smooth curb ramps wide enough for both baby carriages and passing bikes.  (This would require coordination between the state and local municipalities.)


  • Pass a “Safe Zones for Vulnerable Populations” Enabling Act: Speed kills:  we know that people hit by a car going 40 mph (a typical speed even in residential areas) have an 80% chance of being killed.  If the car is going 20 mph the odds reverse – there is a 95% chance of survival.  Expanding the School Zone idea, municipalities should have the right to establish 20 mph (or even 15 mph) traffic zones around locations frequented by vulnerable populations – children, elders, the sick, the disabled, people pushing carriages.  These sites, picked by local authorities might include schools and day care centers, elderly housing, senior centers, health clinics and hospitals, playgrounds and swimming pools, bus stops and train stations, etc.  In addition, any municipality invoking this law would be required to do a safety study and create an action plan for other steps that could be taken to make the area safer for walkers, cyclists, people entering or exiting and those unable to move quickly or with full attention to their surroundings.  Any car driver moving through such a zone would be assumed to have the primary responsibility for avoiding hitting any more vulnerable person in the zone, including (as European law in several countries already requires) being ready to handle any unexpected or even unsafe activity done by an unthinking child or other person.
  • Allow Municipalities to Install Red Light Control Cameras: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) just published a study reporting intersection fatal crash rates in the 14 largest U.S. cities using safety cameras dropped by 24 percent and 159 lives were saved from 2004-2008 compared to 1992-1996 when the cameras were not in use in those cities.  IIHS also found 815 lives could have been saved if cameras were deployed in every major U.S. city with a population of 200,000 or more from 2004-2008.  What are we waiting for?

(The Traffic Safety Coalition has produced a video called “Facts Don’t Lie” using actual red light running crash footage to refute arguments by camera opponents.  See

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