Why haven’t Massachusetts cities installed traffic light violation cameras, like New York and many other cities, that capture the license plate number of a vehicle running a red light and automatically send a traffic ticket? Traffic-light violation cameras significantly reduce intersection violations and pedestrian injuries. Critics cite possible privacy violations and the possibility that the vehicle owner may not be the driver breaking the law. But neither argument has merit. Just as a landlord can be held responsible for the public nuisance created by his tenants, a car owner is responsible for the behavior of anyone to whom she willingly lends her vehicle. And breaking the law automatically cancels a person’s privacy rights.
When it comes to privacy, we’ve got it backwards. Perhaps the intangible nature of digital information has misled our instincts and reversed our judgment, so that in matters concerning privacy we denounce things that are harmless while allowing things that can cause real harm. Traffic-light violation cameras are not an invasion of privacy; giving business firms access to our registry database information is.Read more
American medicine is only peripherally about health; it is primarily about treating disease. It is a sickness treatment system. Even so-called preventive medicine is really about screening and early treatment. What we need is pre-disease prevention: ways to create a lived environment that directly and through its impact on behavior significantly increases wellbeing and reduces the risk of getting sick in the first place. This is where Transportation comes in.
Public Health has traditionally focused on wellness, championing societal measures that that improve living conditions for large populations, or make it easier for individuals to make healthy choices within their everyday life. Clean water, effective sewerage, tobacco taxes and anti-smoking campaigns, eliminating trans fats and other food toxins, requiring seat belts, reducing neighborhood and domestic violence, gun control, vaccination campaigns – these can all be considered public health measures that work by improving the environment, providing services, or shaping the market.Read more
The foundation for a healthy transportation system is a great public transit network. But public transportation is expensive, so might buses do the job?
What makes for a good Rapid Transit system? The basic characteristics are pretty straightforward:
- A dedicated travel corridor reserved for the transit vehicles, with minimal stops (except at designated passenger pick up/drop off locations), and engineered for a smooth and safe ride at relatively good speeds.
- The ability to provide limited stop express service as well as local service.
- Prepayment and vehicle door-level boarding at transit stations so passengers can quickly move on and off the vehicles.
- Capacity to move large numbers of people.
- Extended hours of operation across a wide area.
And the best systems also incorporate:
- Advanced technology to keep passengers informed of wait times or problems, to keep the vehicles moving closely but not dangerously behind each other, and to allow for tight alignment of vehicle doorways with boarding areas.
- Hybrid or electric engines to minimize pollution.
- Regular maintenance to sustain reliability and keep fares low.
The problem is that fixed rail systems – trains, trolleys, subways, and light rail – are incredibly expensive to build, and once constructed they are forever frozen in one location.Read more
Some bicycle advocacy groups promote the slogan “Same Roads, Same Laws” to support cyclists’ right to use the roadway along with car traffic. I think it’s a bad slogan; at best incomplete, at worst self-defeating. Bikes and cars are radically different types of vehicles, exposing cyclists and drivers to radically different conditions. In addition to the laws that all vehicles should obey, we need special laws and road designs to protect the safety and promote the use of bicycles.Read more
We’ve begun hearing rumors of a potential follow-up stimulus bill that will inject additional billions into infrastructure spending. But if state officials use the same narrow definition of “shovel ready” to select projects for funding for the new bill that they did for the old one, we’ll be stuck with another set of old car-centric highway plans that don’t incorporate today’s “complete streets” approach.
To its credit, Massachusetts was one of only six states to spend more than 10% of their federal stimulus funds on non-car projects. But the reality is that stimulus funds are intended to provide a quick stimulus – to be spent quickly and have an immediate impact. On the other hand, road projects take a very long time to plan, design, and get approved.Read more
When a law whose purpose is to promote safety has the opposite effect, maybe its time to change the law. Maybe there is something to learn from the fact that so few cyclists stop at red lights when there is no cross traffic.
Anyone who races through an intersection without looking — in any vehicle — is stupid and a danger to both themselves and others. I have no patience for hot-shot cyclists who ignore red lights as if neither the law nor common sense applies to them. But neither do I have any sympathy for car drivers who race into yellow lights or pedestrians who walk out from between parked cars.
However, it seems to be the bad behavior of bicyclists that catches the public’s attention. The Globe recently ran a story about cyclist law-breaking. And I can’t count the number of times that a friend has complained to me about the outrageous way bicylists go flying through red lights. In fact, when I’m driving my car (yes, I own one) I sometimes feel the same way. It’s clear that not only is blindly racing into cross traffic dangerous, it enrages motorists, making it harder to get their support for bike-friendly policies.Read more
If you build it…it will fill up — a truism for both roads and bikeways. But if it isn’t there, or even if it was once there and you take it away, the traffic seems to go away as well…which may be the most important fact about traffic planning that you will never hear from the highway lobby.
I spent two hours during a recent afternoon trying to get out of Boston through the Big Dig tunnel. Traffic wasn’t being bottled up by an accident; it just always seems congested in the late afternoon. Funny thing is that I don’t remember traffic being so bad during those endless years when Big Dig construction was being so corruptly mismanaged and lanes were always being shut down. Somehow, people found other ways (or times) to get where they needed to go.Read more
“Getting there should be half the fun!” I love this slogan: it acknowledges that travel involves the full spectrum of human life rather than the simple relocation of objects. Even more, it implies that the other half of the fun happens “there” – a place – with the suggestion that transportation is as much about enhancing the quality of locations as about motion between them.Read more
Almost everyone wishes the world were different in one way or another. But creating that difference requires effective action, which comes in different forms. For example, advocacy, the type of work done by LivableStreets Alliance, differs from both protest and lobbying.
Protest – either done personally or through mass mobilization, whether a single event of a sustained campaign – attempts to create a bump in the on-going flow of the status quo in order to prompt the reversal of some decision made by those with more direct power over the situation. Protest is a reactive move, a response to a situation. It is usually an outsiders’ strategy, an attempt by the less powerful to exercise their only real veto power over elite control by disrupting “business as usual” in some major or minor way.Read more
Conservatives complain that spending public money on non-automobile facilities ignores the public’s overwhelming choice of cars as their preferred method of transportation; that prioritizing walking or cycling or even public transportation is an unwarranted distortion of the free market – another example of elite culture’s social engineering trying to manipulate ordinary people.
It is true that most people drive. And it is not entirely fair to say that our land-use patterns and transportation system has been deliberately structured over the past half century to give them no other option – although that is largely true. The post-WWII GI bill’s mortgage subsidies and Interstate Highway system created a landscape of decentralized, auto-dependent sprawl that gives people little choice but to buy a car and drive to nearly everything. The deliberate destruction of urban trolley systems and the underfunding of the nation’s railroad networks pushed things in the same direction.Read more