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.
CHARLES RIVER BRIDGES FALL OFF THE SCHEDULE: State Needs To Find Funds Without Skimping on Surrounding Improvements
While work on the Longfellow and Anderson bridges is moving forward, plans for repairing and upgrading the in-between River Street and Western Avenue bridges and the messed-up intersections leading to them on both sides of the Charles River have suddenly disappeared from MassDOT’s Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) agenda. The bridge’s structural deficiencies are still there as are the approach roads’ deficiencies (have you ever tried crossing as a pedestrian in any direction from the DoubleTree?). MassDOT, DCR, consultants, advocates (including the efforts of LivableStreets Alliance’s “Better Bridges” campaign), legislators, and community members have spent years worth of time negotiating, adjusting, and finally agreeing on a plan that would be a huge improvement to both safety and functionality, including physically separated bicycle lanes (“cycle tracks”) and much improved pedestrian crossings especially on the Boston side. Designs are complete, permits are obtained, and contracts are ready to go. But another funding source has not yet been identified. And MassDOT has indicated that, because other projects in the area will cause traffic problems, construction would not be able to begin until after 2019 in any case. Still, despite this worrisome setback, this may be an opportunity to make the plans even better.Read more
MassDOT is legitimately proud of its progressive policies about creating a sustainable, multi-modal transportation system. But the transfer from policy to facts on the ground has been very uneven and incomplete. This isn’t surprising: as with many other endeavors, road construction is a complex and multi-player process with gridlock and human life at stake. It’s not easy to turn a ship as big and disjointed as MassDOT with its highway-trained staff and its enormous web of highway-derived vendors.Read more
In real life there are no magic wands whose waving causes all problems to disappear, no magic pill that makes everything better. But sometimes there are Master Keys that open a series of blockages and create new routes forward. Even in transportation. One possible Master Key is finding ways to install new on/off ramps on the Mass Pike Extension from Allston to Mass Ave.
Right now, MassDOT planners are struggling with how to design the quarter-billion-dollar Mass Pike Re-alignment project at the Allston exit while maintaining (or expanding) the MBTA and Commuter Rail usage, with the final redesign of Cambridge Street from Harvard Ave to the Charles River, with the best way to fix the messed-up traffic on the Boston side of the BU bridge, with the appropriate design for Commonwealth Ave from the BU bridge to (and past) Packards Corner, and with what to do about the collapsing Fenway-to-Storrow Bowker Overpass (in addition to the path, initially proposed by the Solomon Foundation, from Beacon Street to the Mass Ave bridge)Read more
EFFECTIVE AND DEMOCRATIC CITY (AND TRANSPORTATION) PLANNING: Neither Top-Down nor Bottom-Up Is Enough
The Human Scale is a wonderful movie based on the powerful insights and work of progressive urban planner, Jan Gehl; it’s now available in CD format. Everyone who loves cities should see it. In potently visual scenes, the film lays out his critique of today’s automobile-focused high-rise urban design, the dangers of top-down authoritarian planning and “mega projects,” the value of allowing “ordinary” citizens to shape development goals, and the dynamism unleashed by embracing unplanned and open-ended grass-roots creativity. It’s an important message from a brilliant person who carries forward the best of the Jane Jacobs and William Whyte tradition of human-centered city life.Read more
We’ve all seen the graph: a person hit by a car going 40 miles per hour (mph) has an 85% chance of being killed. Reducing the speed to 30 mph cuts the odds of death in half; reducing speed to 20 mph drops the fatality rate by an astounding 94%. Even more dramatically, at 5 mph cars (and very cautious trucks), bikes, and pedestrians can all safely share the same street space. According to the US Department of Transportation, about 33% of vehicle-related deaths are speeding-related. Of those, around 40% occur in urban areas.
MassDOT’S HEALTHY TRANSPORTATION POLICY DIRECTIVE: Framing Economic Needs as Public Health Measures Strengthens Both
MassDOT’s recently issued Healthy Transportation Policy Directive could actualize the most profound transformation in the state’s transportation system since the anti-highway movement convinced Governor Frank Sargent to cancel the massive Inner Belt project (the first time any state had done this) and his Transportation Secretary, Alan Altshuler, got the state’s Congressional delegation to pass legislation allowing Highway Fund money to be used for mass transit. If carried through, it will push Massachusetts to the front of national efforts to modernize our transportation infrastructure.Read more
Our roads feel more congested than ever. It takes forever to get down Mass Avenue across Boston or Cambridge. Memorial Drive, near where I live, is now backed up starting at about 4pm and continuing until nearly 7! Route 93 out of Boston is perpetually stop and go, every day, at nearly every hour. Sure, we all like to complain, but this is more than personal whining: according to a new study, “even after $24 billion in Big Dig construction, Boston’s legendary traffic woes are still making the top 10 nationally for rush-hour tie-ups. Boston is also leading the nation in year-to-year congestion level increases.” Globe columnist Derrick Jackson points out that, “The Boston metro area is the nation’s ninth largest, but experienced the third highest rise in traffic delays since 1982, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. With the announcements in recent months of several new office, residential, and hotel skyscrapers, and with outgoing Mayor Menino wanting 30,000 new housing units by 2020, things will get much worse…”
There are situations where the danger is so great, the potential damage so devastating, the outrage to decency so powerful that you feel that immediate, radical change becomes an emotional and moral imperative. And you do everything you can to advocate, to make the world take notice, to make people in power take action. Right now.
But, with few exceptions, change happens slowly. Creating change requires getting decision-makers to act, attracting the support of powerful interests, or mobilizing important enough segments of the media and/or the public – none of which usually happens quickly. And then implementing significant change requires transforming systems, which almost always have enormous inertial drag towards the status quo. And having an impact requires the changed processes and outcomes to replace current conditions, which can be incremental and uncertain.Read more
Paradigm shift. A fundamental change in one’s core understanding of a situation. It’s hard to do. It takes abandoning everything you’ve been taught and believed and that made sense, then adopting something totally new and perhaps both untried and unsettling. It takes going from a belief that the sun goes around the earth to understanding that it’s exactly the opposite. And, as Galileo found out, there is often a powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – an Inquisition – ready to attack you for questioning orthodoxy.Read more