It’s important to know that the huge increase in bicycling in Boston has been accompanied by a much small increase in bike-car collisions, meaning that the accident rate has gone down. It’s yet another validation of the “Safety In Numbers” principle. It’s not that the new cyclists are more skilled than the previous ones, or that a higher percentage of them are wearing helmets. It’s simply that the more people on bikes the more that drivers become aware and accepting of their presence, leading to a lower rate of collisions and injuries. But that doesn’t make it any less upsetting to learn that yet another bicyclist has been killed by a motor vehicle. The fifth this year. Yet another ghost haunting our streets. The police haven’t issued a final report on this latest tragedy, so the following is based on what has been available in the newspapers and on-line. But here is my best guess of what happened, and some suggestions about how to make it less likely to happen again.Read more
IMPROVING LIVABILITY, CONTROLING DISPLACEMENT: Can You Upgrade a Neighborhood Without Destroying it’s Community?
A new effort has begun to bring improved transit and bicycle facilities to Roxbury, the base of Boston’s African-American community. (Full disclosure: On behalf of LivableStreets Alliance, I’m involved.) While most local people welcome the idea of more efficient bus routes, more comfortable bus stops, and protected bike lanes there has also been some opposition based on the fear that this invites gentrification. It is similar to concerns about the larger impact of any improvement in a low-income area, from better parks to better food in local stores to better schools.
It feels like a no-win situation. Public sector, taxpayer-funded investment is an essential foundation for livability in every neighborhood. As much as anyone else, low-income people deserve good parks, lighting, schools, transit, roads, sidewalks, bicycle accommodations, and other public amenities. But any significant improvements in a low-income neighborhood’s facilities, or investment in Smart Growth initiatives and Transit Oriented Design development, make the place more attractive to higher-income “pioneers” and then even higher-income “settlers.” Rents and home prices increase. The retail mix gets hipper and moves up-scale. Even before any facility upgrading, the process may start with an influx of “transitional populations” – students, artists, gays – but it’s the public investment that preps the area for sale. And then gentrification pushes out long-time families: think Jamaica Plain, Davis Square, Cambridge’s Area IV.Read more
I am old enough to remember the “Whites Only” signs on the water fountains and bathrooms in the American South, the place from which South Africa learned about Apartheid. I remember the anguish my brother went through when he came out, and the contempt of Ronald Reagan and so many others about the ravages of AIDS to which my brother eventually succumbed. I remember the fear that we felt when friends had to suffer through dangerously illegal abortions, and the shock of later learning that so many women in several generations of my extended family had gone through that horrible experience to protect their families or themselves.
So, for the second time I have ended election night in tears, amazed and thrilled that the segregated, gay-bashing, female-stereotyping, culturally repressive society I grew up in had put an African-American man into the Presidency who openly called for the end of those patterns; a BLACK man and family in the White House!Read more
It’s the season for debates. Right now it’s the candidates. But soon enough the topics will include all the issues that elected leaders will have to deal with, from transportation to health care. Debates can be great reality TV: live, dramatic, with mythic overtones. And we seem to have a special reverence for debate. We believe that the clash of opposing sides raises the likelihood of finding truth. Our entire judicial system is based on this principle.
Of course, it’s not always true: as our grandmother’s correctly pointed out years ago, we are most influenced by the opinions of the people around us – our friends and co-workers. Psychologists now say that most people are committed to their own framework of values and assumptions and actually become more entrenched in their positions when confronted with countering facts. Even beyond all that, as every High School debate team and lawyer and political media consultant knows, presentation is often even more important than content; the side that dominates the interaction wins the argument.
This depressing truth has been powerfully displayed in this year’s political campaigns. Elections have always been full of distortions and insults. However, as political strategists increasingly incorporate lessons from advertising and media, their messaging becomes ever more sophisticatedly and powerfully manipulative. Our only defense, other than strict controls over campaign financing and hate speech, is to know the ways we are being tricked. Being angry is not enough – we need to find ways to fight back.Read more
VULNERABLE ROAD USERS (VRU) PROTECTION LAWS: “Whoever Can Do The Most Damage Has To Be The Most Careful”
In transportation, requiring potential damage-causers to be careful translates into policies that, at least in several European countries, assume that the operator of any vehicle that hits or dangerously crowds a “vulnerable road user” is by default primarily responsible for the incident and any negative effects. While this “strict liability” formulation would probably run afoul of the USA’s constitutional right of being innocent until proven guilty, Oregon has created “enhanced penalties for careless drivers who hurt vulnerable users.” And other activists are pushing to establish a “rebuttable assumption” of vehicle-operator responsibility in similar situations.
Of course, no matter what the law or who has what rights, defensive driving in both cars and on bikes is the ultimate defense against harm on the road. As the slogan correctly puts it, “You may be dead right; but you will still be dead.” Still, adoption of Vulnerable Road User laws can clarify the criminal burden of responsibility for street incidents and simplify some insurance claims. It is possible that they will also change the context for cyclist behavior and even begin to address the inequality of road conditions in low-income versus better-off areas
Vulnerable Road User laws won’t solve every safety problem. But they will certainly move us in the right direction.
In recent weeks, three Boston-areas bicyclists have been killed by cars or trucks, and the number of cyclist injuries has slightly increased from previous years. As a recent Boston Globe editorial pointed out, increasing bicyclist safety is a pressing issue – although it is probably just as pressing for other road users as well: people walking, in cars, using wheelchairs, getting on or off buses.
It’s not just acute physical safety that is at stake. The overall health benefits of bicycling are so strong that even under today’s less-than-ideal conditions studies show that the positives heavily outweigh the negatives, statistically adding about an extra year of life to those who regular get on their two-wheelers.
The editorial is a welcome contribution to the city’s discussion of how to make our evolving transportation system safe for all users, no matter how they are moving. Although bicycles may seem like a newcomer to the street scene, they have a long history (especially in Boston, which was the nation’s original cycling center) and there is much we can learn from research done in other cities across the US and abroad where bicycling has already taken off.Read more
Put more money into bicycling and pedestrian and railroad infrastructure, or less. Move forward from the current small steps towards sustainability (energy development, resource-focused, climate protective, land-use, and economic), or not. Build on the current stutter-steps towards rationalizing our wasteful healthcare system and providing universal access, or not. Increase controls over speculative financial markets, or not. Move cautiously on foreign interventions, or the opposite.
The coming elections provide as stark a choice as any in recent memory.Read more
Contribute money for an Advocacy group while enjoying the pleasures of a bike ride and picnic: Why not? The Talmudic Rabbis taught that while we are not required to solve the problems of human life, neither are we allowed to ignore them. Advocacy steps beyond charity to systemic change – improving the public policies and institutional practices that shape life possibilities for the benefit of all, ourselves as well as those most in need. Contribute! Come! Learn! Join!
Bike4Life Boston: an annual, fun, family-friendly ride that benefits LivableStreets Alliance. Sunday, Sept.30, 9am-2:00pm, Auburndale Park, 201 West Pine Street, Newton, MA 20 & 40 mile rides, 4-mile kids’ ride, with post BBQ celebration 1. Register and fundraise to help reach $50,000 goal – www.bike4lifeboston.org/register 2. Sponsor a rider or the ride– www.bike4lifeboston.org/sponsor-a-rider 3. Volunteer to help with the ride by emailing email@example.com For more information: www.bike4lifeboston.orgRead more
Speeding, distraction, drinking, poorly designed intersections – a lot of things cause road accidents, injuries, and fatalities. But some of them have nothing to do with driving. Like guns. In a recent NY Times Opinionator piece, Mark Bittman drew on his old community organizing background and wrote, “Back in the administration of W., we looked for the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the wrong place; they’re here at home.” And on our streets, where incidents of gun-involved road rage are on the rise.
The recent murders of Sikhs in Wisconsin and of “liberals” in Arizona have sparked another round of discussion about the danger of unregulated access to weapons. Given the current Supreme Court, it is unlikely that any limits will be imposed. But the way that groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have changed cultural attitudes about buzzing around with a few under your belt suggests that we may be able to de-escalate road rage through similar methods. We need to make it as unacceptable to have a loaded gun in a car as it is to have an open bottle of alcohol.Read more
Causeway Street sits on top of the colonial era Mill Pond Dam, which harnessed tidal flows to generate power — which is why it’s called a “causeway.” For its time and location, the Dam was an audacious and creative effort. Unfortunately, the current plans to restructure today’s Causeway Street into a truly multi-modal and multi-functional space exhibits neither.
Causeway Street and the adjoining misshapen intersections from Lowell Square to Keany Square is a complicated place. It’s got North Station generating commuter crowds twice every day, and Boston Garden releasing post-event human flash floods nearly every third day. It’s the passageway between the Kennedy Greenway and the Charles River parklands as well as between downtown and Charlestown’s expressway on-ramps and the new Rutherford Ave cycle tracks. It’s got family residences (including a huge future development on the Boston Garden property) and businesses. It’s got social service agencies and state offices. Meeting every need of every one of those constituencies is probably impossible.Read more