Former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan recently gave a talk at the Harvard Book Store to promote her inspiring new book, Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. While Sadik-Khan was clear that the campaigns were a group effort involving her entire staff and several other departments as well, it’s clear that her leadership made a difference. Despite the gentrifying implications of the Bloomberg Administration’s efforts to revitalize much of the city, transportation reform had city-wide effects that made things better for nearly everyone. Some of the lessons she described: the power of positive and inclusion framing of program innovations, the importance of turning top-down innovations into bottom-up requests, the need to move quickly and cheaply when opportunities arise, and the way that the collection of new types of data can reshape the public debate.Read more
The headlines this winter are all about the Establishment’s loss of control over our political process. But there’s another form of chaos lurking outside. As rising seas jeopardize coastal areas, drought forces rural families to migrate, and severe storms threaten regional destruction, we need to get serious about preventing what we can by reducing emissions and increasing our resiliency for what are already inescapable conditions. It will take both market-wide changes that internalize the cost of greenhouse gas emissions by putting an increasing price on carbon pollution and transportation-specific policies that directly lower vehicular discharge. These are only marginally technical problems. The real struggle is political and unless there is a “bottom-up” movement to demand equitable as well as effective action the price of both the inevitably coming damage and the (hopefully) implemented preventative and mitigatory solutions will fall primarily on those outside the ranks of the rich and powerful.Read more
Instead of internally creating a capital spending plan and then asking for public reaction, Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack held a series of public discussions, in-person and on-line, to ask what was on the public’s to-do list. Her invitation has sparked some thoughts about themes that might shape future transportation system spending including:
- Making Safety, not Eliminating Congestion, the Only Rationale for Construction;
- Getting More Value and Better Leverage from Maintenance Work;
- Empowering MassDOT’s District Offices to be Accountable for Complete Street Standards;
- Changing What People Get Rewarded For;
- Bringing In New Ideas and Skills.
There can be no question about the transformative power of today’s metropolitan economy. Major cities around the country hope to ride the wave of the growing financial, research-based, and digital business sectors. City leaders are doing what they can to make the place attractive to exploding numbers of higher-income young professionals these firms employ as well as the upper-income suburban baby boomers now seeking the convenience and vitality of urban life. Working within market trends requires skill but has the advantage of moving with the economic current. In contrast, urban leaders who wish to expand the benefits of economic growth to the entire population have a more limited and challenging set of options.Read more
It’s now semi-official – everyone agrees that the MBTA needs both reform and revenue. No one says (publicly) that the current T and Commuter Rail budget is too big for its mission. And that’s where the agreement ends – with the question of what is the MBTA’s mission, vision, and values: what exactly are we trying to achieve?Read more
It’s a pleasure to be able to praise a government agency: civil servants who try to live up to their public service mission are over-worked and underpaid relative to private sector peers – and always under appreciated! It’s particularly a pleasure to praise the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR), a woefully underfunded agency whose roadway department has been exasperatingly difficult to work with in the past. Which is why we have to hope that newly inaugurated Governor Baker’s announcement of a freeze on hiring and contracting will not derail DCR’s historic commitment to create an updated Master conceptual Plan for how their metro-region parkways can reclaim their Olmstedian heritage and be once again made more park-like and more bike-and-pedestrian-friendly — as well as estimates of what it would cost to properly operate such a system.Read more
It wasn’t long ago, when regional rail-trail conversions were the leading strategy for creating multi-use non-motorized travel corridors, that the biggest opposition came from suburbanites fearing that the bike paths would bring intruders (meaning poor or Black people) into their backyards and lower their property values. Today, as the action has shifted to our reviving cities, there is opposition from low-income residents worried that the neighborhood improvements they’ve demanded for decades – better transit, bike facilities, parks, street lights, new construction – will attract upscale newcomers, raise property values, and cause displacement. The fears of the suburbanites were always groundless. But, unfortunately, the fears of inner city people – especially in reviving cities such as Boston, NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco – have a strong basis in fact, especially around transportation facilities – a recent study found that rents go up about $43/month for each 100 meters closer to a station. The working class Davis Square where I once hung out disappeared with the new T stop. Planning for the Green Line extension to Somerville’s Union Square has unleashed property speculation and driven up rents. Smart investors are already gobbling up property along Dorchester’s future Fairmont Line.Read more
The following was submitted to the state Project Selection Advisory Council at their 7/29/14 public hearing in Boston.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this incredibly important topic. And thank you for all the work that you have already done on this incredibly complicated issue. My name is Steven E. Miller; I’m a senior staff at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the state’s Healthy Transportation Compact Advisory Committee. I’m also a founding Board member of LivableStreets Alliance which, as I’m sure you know, is a member of the Transportation for Massachusetts coalition. My testimony reflects all those identities.
My testimony will address three issues. First, the framing within which we need to address the entire topic of Project Selection Criteria. Second, the specific issue of Regional Equity, which I know has been a vexing theme in your deliberations, along with a quick comment about what projects should be subject to the evaluation process you are beginning to shape. And finally, some thoughts about how to make the criteria categories you are currently using more effective and powerful.Read more
MOVING BEYOND CAR LEVEL OF SERVICE (LOS): Measurable and Meaningful Criteria for Transportation Investments, Project Designs, and Development Mitigation (revised)
Scaled from A to F like an elementary school report card, automobile Level of Service (LOS) metrics are easy to measure and easy to understand. LOS is, essentially, the average amount of delay compared to a “free-flowing” road where everyone is moving at full design-speed – congestion! It is a powerful indicator: it has a direct relationship to the quality of the user experience (the amount of congestion and “lost time”), the environmental impact (longer passage time equals more emissions), and the road infrastructure’s adequacy (the relationship of traffic volume to road capacity) – with the car-industry-pleasing implication that the key to improving LOS is increasing capacity.
Congratulations on your election. As you know, that was the easy part! Here’s something waiting for you: our transportation system is in crisis. We can’t seem to generate the political will needed to raise the money required to upgrade our decayed rails, roads, bridges, and sidewalks to meet the needs of today – much less to lay a foundation for the future. Anti-government forces have been able to shape the public perception of transportation spending as a tax rather than an investment, a cost rather than an asset. As a result, things are falling apart.