THE THREE SISTERS – CASEY OVERPASS, McGRATH HIGHWAY, RUTHERFORD AVE: MassDOT’s Credibility Crisis and the Need to Work Together
This post was meant to be about three of the old highways now falling down and the increasingly bitter policy disagreements within nearby communities over what to do about it. But as I thought more about these debates, it became clear that a significant secondary theme is that so few people trust the traffic engineers or their organizations – starting with total lack of belief in the validity of the traffic prediction models being used by MassDOT. The models feel like such opaque black boxes of unknown facts and hidden formulas that they simply feel like fantasy projections of agency desires – and there is little trust of those desires either. Applauding the projections that support one’s position and denouncing the rest is neither useful, logical, nor fair. The problem is that without analysis it’s all guesswork and power plays, which is not likely to end up creating optimal outcomes either.Read more
BRIDGES, ROADS & HISTORIC PRESERVATION: Combining Respect for the Past with Preparation for the Future in Transportation
We create ourselves and our society with what we’ve inherited from the past – from genes to hierarchies, from culture to social status. Most important are the stories, the myths, we’ve been given that help give meaning to the physical world and prepare us for an unknowable future. As those stories float between generations, among their anchors are the historic artifacts surrounding us in the built environment which embody our collective heritage and trigger our personal memories.
But obsessively preserving the past can be a barrier to dealing with today’s realities or preparing for tomorrow’s challenges. While architects and preservationists seem to have come to some mutual understanding, it seems that the same is not true in the transportation sector. As we begin dealing with the physical collapse of the infrastructure built for the passing automobile age, we face potentially damaging, and stupid, fights over what to do with its still-in-use artifacts. To what extent can we change historic bridges and roadways so they can safely and efficiently serve pedestrians, bicyclists, and buses as well as the cars they were designed for? To what extent can we acknowledge that the environment surrounding an old bridge has changed since it was constructed so that retaining walls that once served to hide polluted rivers can be changed to allow passers-by to see the now-beautiful water?Read more
SAVING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Safe Routes To The “T”
Massachusetts’ public mass transportation system is about to go broke. It is being dragged down by over $8.6 billion of debt (including an inappropriately huge chunk of the Big Dig costs), decreasing federal aid, and the unwillingness of state government to raise revenue. The MBTA’s capital spending plan lists $3.7 billion worth of projects needed for safety or reliability, while the agency only gets to spend between $200 and $300 million a year.
Like transit systems around the country, the MBTA is caught in a downward spiral. Cultural changes and hard times have increased demand, which is growing at a faster rate than highway vehicle travel. But decreasing revenue means less service and higher fares. According to the American Public Transportation Association, more than 80 percent of the nation’s transit systems are considering or have recently enacted fare increases or service cuts, including reductions in rush-hour service, off-peak service and geographic coverage. Locally, T riders are facing potential increases of 25 cents for each bus/subway ride, about $120 a year. But these cutbacks drive away riders and reduce revenue while also setting the stage for public criticism and reduced public support, which further undermines efforts to get political support for the desperately needed investment. The result is an increasingly unreliable and unsafe system, with anti-government right wingers crowing that “the government can’t do anything” or attacking the very idea of non-car transportation.Read more
HOW ROADS SHAPE ECONOMIES: Why What Happens to the McGrath/O’Brien Highway, Sullivan Station, and Rutherford Ave. Will Make – or Break – Local Job Opportunities and Community Well-Being
Will Boston’s inner ring of old suburbs – Somerville, Charlestown, Roslindale, even Dorchester — be able to build on residential upgrading to become economic growth nodes as well? Or will they continue to be left out, with growth focused either in downtown Boston or the still-expanding outer rings of suburban towns around Routes 128/95 and 495?
The answer partly depends on the types of transportation system that gets built over the next twenty years – not only what happens to mass transit but also what is done with the older highways that run through the area. McGrath/O’Brien, Rutherford Ave., Casey (Rte 203) – these were once vital arterials bulldozed through the inner ring to connect the outer suburbs with downtown. Building them required the destruction of working class neighborhoods. But they kept the wheels of commerce rolling as the tide of growth moved outward.Read more
UPDATE on TRANSPORTATION ENHANCEMENTS in MASSACHUSETTS: From Hope for Better to Concern for Worse….?
Winning isn’t everything; but being last should be embarrassing. The Transportation Enhancement (TE) component of the federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) is the major source of federal funding for pedestrian/bicycle facilities and rail-trail conversations. A recent post pointed out Massachusetts’ worst-in-the-nation status in percent of potential-to-actual money spent on TE projects.
The post applauded the (slightly) simplified application process MassDOT was instituting for TE projects as well as the creation of financial incentives for the state’s 13 regional transportation planning groups (MPOs) to approve TE projects. It also approvingly noted the criteria that MassDOT was considering using to evaluate TE project spending, giving priority to projects that would connect high-population areas or close gaps in existing bike routes.Read more
CONTROLLING SEGWAYS, DESIGNING BRIDGE CROSSINGS, FACILITATING BIKE LIGHTS – Keeping Everyone Safely In Their Place
There actually is a common theme running through all three of this week’s seemingly unconnected items: how to deal with the changes in transportation choices that people will make as gas prices continue to rise, urban population expands, and congestion gets worse. Or, as my carpenter brother says about his tools, “the trick is keeping everything in its own place.”
SEGWAY IN THE WAY – Reclaiming Sidewalks for People
CHARLES RIVER BRIDGES – Part of the Path or the Road?
BIKE LIGHTS AT NIGHT – “Fix It” Enforcement
The first one applauds Boston’s effort to plan ahead for the influx of electric and low-powered vehicles – such as scooters, mopeds, electric bikes, and Segways – that people will increasingly use. If you agree, contact your favorite Boston City Councilor and urge a quick, positive vote for the proposal.Read more
SMALL STEPS FORWARD: Improvements To Applaud, Improvements To Make
While we’re waiting for the big transformations needed to deal with climate change, resource depletion, dietary distortions, inequality, and the other despair-evoking problems we face, it’s good to remember that incremental improvements are still possible – and may be all we can gain at this particular moment in history. The first five items in this post applauds small but significant steps forward while pointing out some additional actions that are still needed.
The fifth item picks up a previous post’s theme – the need for bicyclists to discipline their own community about dangerous and anti-social behavior. (See “Time To Stop Behaving Badly On Bikes“) As our streets are redesigned for pedestrian and cyclist safety, we will have to confront an inevitable backlash as car owners protest the loss of their once-privileged status and businesses worry (mostly inaccurately) about decreased access for truck deliveries, parking-dependent customers, and car-commuting employees. The last thing we need at this time are stupid cyclists (or jay-walkers) providing good reasons to oppose continued change.Read more
FROM SLOGANS TO STREET DESIGN: MassDOT Needs To Move
Because I’m out so many evenings and weekends, I try to reserve a couple of mid-week hours to bike with the Wednesday Wheelers. This week the weather was fabulous and a small group of us did a great 40 mile ride through the beauty of the approaching spring. Afterwards, I sat with Stan Sabin and his wife Susan at lunch. Stan Sabin was a former Pulmonologist, a sweet and careful man who probably never ran a red light or jumped in front of traffic in any of his 74 years.
When we finished eating and chatting, Stan smiled, kissed Susan, waved to everyone, then left ahead of the rest of us to get home in time for the free health clinic that he ran in Framingham.Read more
MEDIA vs REALITY: The “Bike Lane Backlash” & Big Dig Disasters
Is the media’s job to reflect unpolished reality back to us? Or to help us interpret the reality hidden in the chaos of daily events? Or to convince us of its own version of reality? Usually, no matter how sincere a media producer’s claims of journalist objectivity, it’s a combination of all three.
(Actually, as my publisher once told me, back when I was a magazine editor, our ultimate job was to attract desirable eyeballs so that he could then rent them out to advertisers. If I could get the desired audience through quality material, so much the better for our reputations and the world. But if it took something else, from a business perspective, that was ok, too.)Read more
TRANSPORTATION ENHANCEMENT IN MASSACHUSETTS – Better, But Not Fixed
It usually takes me about two or three weeks to develop a post – writing out my first impressions, researching missing facts, checking with knowledgeable people, writing a second draft, then tinkering with it over a couple days as I remember things I left out or think of better ways to express my thoughts. But this very long post on the Transportation Enhancement program has taken over two months. It’s a labyrinth of complexity. (See the Transportation Enhancement Overview at the end of this post.) Despite all I’ve learned – particularly from Craig Della Penna whose years of involvement in rail-trail and path development has made him an encyclopedia of knowledge, I’m sure I’ve still missed key points. So please, if you know something I’ve gotten wrong or left out, leave a comment!Read more