“You can’t always get what you want,” sang the Rolling Stones, “but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” One of the signs of maturity is recognizing that you’ve got to give in order to get, that the real discussion should be about the nature of the trade-off rather than the need to compromise. Recent developments are forcing us to decide how to balance the benefits and costs of increased parking in downtown Boston. At stake are not just the parking spaces but the future nature of Boston life – its physical shape and feel, its residential friendliness, its commercial prosperity, the quality of its environment and its population’s health.
Parks and people are good. Cities thrive when there are lots of both.
More car traffic coming into Boston is bad. It increases pollution (air, water, and noise), makes our streets less safe and inviting no matter how you are getting around, forces government to continue shaping the built environment around the needs of cars rather than people, and makes it hard to get public support for creating less destructive modes of movement. When the car is king, people get run over.Read more
After years of effort, instead of holes in the sidewalk and pavement through which you could see the river below, the BU Bridge now has solid surfaces and (drum roll….) bike lanes! It is a major victory for the Better Bridges campaign.
True: the bridge isn’t any wider than it was before, so the sidewalk is still too narrow. There still isn’t a way to get from the Boston-side steps, over Storrow Drive, to the Charles River embankment. On the Cambridge side, there still isn’t a way to safely walk under the bridge along the river bank rather than having to add to the confusion of the crazy Memorial Drive traffic circle. The sudden incline on the curving entrance to the bridge from the stop-line on the Cambridge side is still dangerous for cyclists; and it would have been better if there were flexible bollards on the span separating the car and bike lanes. Traffic congestion on the bridge isn’t significantly lower than before, but it’s clearly no worse despite there being only three car lanes instead of four – there is now one lane entering the bridge from either side, two lanes exiting on the other end. (Advocates have been saying, for years, that the problem is in the intersections leading to the bridge, not the bridge itself – turns out we were right.)Read more
Q: Why do people live in cities?
A: Because that’s where all the other people are.
It’s really wonderful that Mayor Menino has a special group of “urban mechanics” finding ways to put new information technologies to work for the city. Technology is very cool. And fun. And useful. And has a huge impact. I spent part of my life in high tech and even wrote a book ‘way back in 1996 called Civilizing Cyberspace: Policy, Power, and the Information Superhighway about how the emerging digital networks could be used to enhance or stifle democracy
But when it comes to the most important qualities of urban life, the future is behind us. I don’t mean that we should return to the disease-ridden, economically brutal cities of the past. Despite the Tea Party’s desire to dismantle our public safety nets and return to the competitive jungle of the pre-Progressive era, our world is much better because of the intervention of governments to provide clean water, require sewer systems, and to reduce the massacre of human wellbeing caused by unregulated markets. But there are important aspects of past urban life that are worth preserving or recreating that emerge from the presence of both cohesive neighborhoods and unstructured diversity.Read more
“Health In Everything” is an important slogan, pointing out that personal and social well-being is impacted by every public policy and every aspect of our built and cultural environments. Partly based on this insight, there is increasing interest in creating Health Impact Assessments (HIA) as part of the preparation for all kinds of policies and projects that don’t traditionally fall within the purview of public health – from transportation to commercial development, from agriculture to public safety.
For example, the 2009 enabling law creating the new Massachusetts Department of Transportation states that MassDOT “shall…institute and establish methods to implement the use of health impact assessments to determine the effect of transportation projects on public health and vulnerable populations for use by planners, transportation administrators, public health administrators and developers…”Read more
The state has, once again, announced a multi-year delay in completing the Green Line Extension, from 2014 to 2018 or 2020 or even later. Somerville is already mobilizing to fight. But they should not be fighting alone. All of us, around this entire region, have a deep stake in the outcome. As national transportation policy gets warped by the Tea Party’s opposition to anything besides unregulated automobiles, and national transportation funding remains hostage to the right-wing goal of dismantling government, letting the Green Line Extension get “kicked down the road” will weaken our ability to push dozens of other pending transit projects to completion, whether they be rail road, subway/trolley, bus, and even off-road shared-up paths. It will make our entire regional economy weaker, our environment dirtier, our options fewer.
We’re all in this together. We need to unite to demand no more delays. In fact, given that both construction and borrowing are cheaper now than they’ve been (or probably will be) for decades, it makes sense to speed up implementation and push all the way to Route 16 near Medford Square. Putting construction off until only makes it more expensive – even the state estimates that a half-decade postponement will increase the estimated $1billion bill by at least 20% — about $200 million!Read more
It’s been fascinating and infuriating watching the Boston Herald try to conjure up anti-bicyclist hysteria. Day after day, they throw out feelers, venomous outbursts testing the appeal of one angle after another: government waste, arrogant elites riding roughshod over ordinary people, preferential treatment of a minority group, discriminatory ticketing of car drivers while letting law-breaking cyclists get away with warnings, out-of-control youth treating the elderly with contempt….I’m sure that there is more to come.
Pandering to resentment is the Herald’s stock in trade. Of course, it’s not them alone. The modern model of nastiness was created by AM radio’s talk hate shows and spread to other media (and other countries) by Rupert’s Fox-media conglomerates. They’re all anti-government, and jumping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon. If this was any place beside Massachusetts we’d also be getting heavy doses of gay-bashing – but here the legalization of same-sex marriage has made it a non-issue. (Has your marriage been having any extra trouble lately? Has anyone you know suddenly woken up attracted to a different gender?)Read more
Parks have many functions. Urban parks were originally seen as oases, cool and green antidotes to the noise and density of the city; a place for quiet walks, meditation, and observation of nature’s wonderfulness. Over the years, a growing working population with limited opportunity to escape the city demanded that parks also be used for family fun and active recreation: picnics, kids’ games, adult sports and exercise. More recently, we’ve learned that green areas are the lungs and sponges of our environment, cleaning the air, absorbing water run-offs, lowering the temperature, and providing a vital tool for dealing with the globe’s escalating climatic disruptions.
But what if parks were also treated as building blocks for a regional healthy transportation network? What if they were nodes in a web of connected greenways with multi-use paths designed for non-motorized use for both families at play and weekday commuters? What if the vision was to improve access to local parks by neighbors as well as to facilitate movement between and through the parklands by everyone?Read more
It’s New England. It’s February. We’ve had multiple snow storms and the enchantment of the white landscape is getting swamped by the aggravation of shoveling. It’s time to think about safe cycling in winter.
This post contains my thoughts, but it is also an invitation for all of you to add your own insights. We need to begin aggregating what we’ve learned about winter cycling because so many of us are still out there, day after day, even in the worst conditions. What a change from even the recent past! Without studded tires, I tend to avoid bicycling during or immediately after a snow storm, or when it’s raining on still-frozen pavement. Snow makes the world enormously beautiful, but I feel better looking around at it all when I’m on foot. Still, no matter how bad the conditions, I see people bicycling by!Read more
I must be counting on the seasonal spirit of goodwill; but this week’s postings take on two of the more controversial issues in the bicycling community: the impact of bike lanes and cycle tracks (near-road but physically separated or buffered bikeways) and the value of requiring that all cyclists wear helmets.
The first item (see below) is titled “Bike Lanes, Cycle Tracks, and Being On the Road”, the second, “Helmet Laws – Safety, Freedom, and Public Health”
I will say that while I’m pretty confident of my opinions on the first issue, I’m still working my way through the maze of evidence about the second. So while I will not enter into a rant- or insult-exchange with people who want to vilify me for my positions, I’m eager to hear what other people think.
Happy Holidays!Read more
The Three Legs of a Healthy Built Environment: Smart Growth, Active Transportation, Human-Scale Architecture
Our goal is livable communities – healthy, safe, sustainable, friendly, affordable, diverse, beautiful. The vision is not just about a facilitating built environment but what it accomplishes – encouraging people to supportively relate to each other and feel positively about themselves.
Public health teaches us that it is expensive, slow, and very difficult to try to convince each person, one at a time, to change their behavior. It is much more cost effective, with a much broader impact, to change the context for decision-making so that making a “healthy choice” is the easy, low cost, and default thing to do.Read more