One of LivableStreets Alliance’s first campaigns, soon after the group was founded five years ago, was to push a then-resistant Boston Traffic Department to include improved bike facilities on a redesigned Commonwealth Avenue in the area around the BU Bridge. It was a last-minute effort, and would have gotten nowhere except for the willingness of newly appointed Highway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky’s willingness to stick her neck out and require everyone involved to get into the same room and talk things through. The result wasn’t all that we wanted, but it was a lot better than what would have happened otherwise.
Now, as MassDOT Highway Division Administrator Paiewonsky leaves the state agency, the BU Bridge area is again in the news. The two parts of this post start with headlines from this week’s Boston Globe:
“State Highway Commissioner Paiewonsky resigns” (Boston Globe; 1/14/11)
“BU bridge lane configuration is temporary” (Boston Globe, 1/17/11)Read more
On behalf of LivableStreets Alliance, I have been participating in a 45-person Task Force representing a wide range of interests assembled by MassDOT to make suggestions on the design for the Longfellow deck surface. MassDOT will submit these ideas, along with its own analysis of which should be the “priority alternative,” to the Federal Highway Administration for review. Unfortunately, the bridge is not wide enough to include the entire list of facilities desired by pedestrian, bicyclist, car, and transit advocates – so the challenge is how to best divide up the burden of limited space among the various modes. The following is based on comments I made at the public meeting held near the end of the Task Force process.Read more
Which of the following is more likely to get you to drive slower down a street? Or to get the majority of car drivers on that street to slow down?
· A talk with a friend about the dangers of speeding to yourself and others.
· A newly posted sign announcing a lower speed limit.
· A stop sign placed in the middle of the block.
· A series of speed bumps along the road.
Each of these might have an impact. But changing the structure of the road is likely to have the greatest impact on the largest number of people over the longest period of time. And the opposite is also true: a long, smooth, straight-away down a wide road with few intersections or visual distraction invites speed – and most of us instinctively respond no matter what the posted limit. Similarly, the lack of safe sidewalks or bike paths makes us much more likely to use our cars for even short trips. Travel behavior is largely shaped by the transportation environment we inhabit.Read more
Probably no one fully understands all the intricacies of transportation funding decision-making. Federal law, regulations, and funding levels set the context – although those are all interactively influenced by the desires of and power relationships among key interest groups, as well as by the electoral pressures felt by elected officials. The same dynamic exists at the state level, with the political sphere extending from the state house both upward to federal allies and down to municipal leaders.Read more
Creating change requires awareness and good intentions. It also requires muscle.
Massachusetts now has a long list of laws and regulations requiring the transformation of our transportation system from car-centric to multi-modal, from speedways to pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly “complete streets”, from polluting to clean, from energy-wasting to sustainable, from green-house-gas emitting to climate-friendly, from disease and obesity facilitating to active and healthy.
But it’s not clear how much muscle all the new laws and regulations provide for those who seek to create the 21st century transportation system our political leaders have promised, either in mass transit or in road design (which is the focus on this post). Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan seems committed to change and MassDOT has begun a major civic input effort. But little has yet been done to change the existing transportation decision-making process to give increased leverage to groups with a stake in moving away from our car-centric status quo.Read more
The Three Legs of Transportation Reform: And Why MassDOT Has To Start Standing On At Least Two Of Them
The debates leading up to the passage of the 2009 Transportation Restructuring Act had three themes:
- Organizational & Operational Reform:
- Creating a unified transportation authority that took a systemic approach and ended the infantile (and wasteful) feuding among the Turnpike, Highway Department, MBTA, Regional Transit Authorities, Mystic Bridge, and other transportation agencies.
- Systemic Transformation:
- Begin transforming our car-centric, imported fossil-fuel dependent, polluting, obesity-enabling, and increasingly dysfunctional transportation system into something better able to help Massachusetts meet the challenges of the current century.
- Financial Stability:
- Ending the funding shortfalls that have left every part of our transportation system unable to maintain current infrastructure, provide appropriate customer service, or meet growing demand.
With GreenDot, Massachusetts has placed itself among the national leaders on climate-protecting, sustainable, healthy transportation. And the challenges MassDOT has to deal with as it moves from general policies to effective action under fiscal constraint will create a path that other state’s will need to follow.Read more
You Can’t Plan A Route Unless You Know Where You Are Going: Comments on MassDOT’s 2010-2015 Capital Investment Plan
One of the hidden gems in the 2009 reform law creating Massachusetts new Department of Transportation is the requirement for a five year Capital Investment Plan (CIP). The state spends billions of dollars a year on our transportation system; creating a plan that maps out what is needed to meet our mobility, prioritizes spending, and reveals remaining funding and project gaps is a no-brainer. In fact, MassDOT is required to create “a comprehensive state transportation plan… [to] ensure a safe, sound, and efficient public highway, road, and bridge system, to relieve congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the quality of life in the Commonwealth by promoting economic development and employment…[and] cost-effectively meet the transportation needs of all residents.”Read more
How Can We Avoid Ending Up With Bridges That Are Structurally Sound But Functionally Obsolete?
State Highway Division officials say that the Accelerated Bridge Program legislation requires that they focus on fixing structural deficiencies. Their mantra is “no scope creep, no schedule creep, on time and within budget” meaning that roadways around the bridges are not to be dealt with and bicycle or pedestrian facilities only added if extra funds allow. Advocates say that the ABP legislation has significant flexibility and that subsequent passage of the state’s transportation restructuring act totally changes the context for bridge and road work – making improved mobility for all the core value and therefore requiring that bicycling and walking be given equal consideration as car traffic from conceptual design to construction.
Who is right? Give the speed at which the bridge work is supposed to occur, the decision will have to come from the new MassDOT Board or from Secretary Mullan. But the Board tends to see itself as a fiscal watchdog rather than a policy-making body – so the ball is in the Secretary’s court!Read more
It’s good that road designers are professionally conservative – you don’t want bridges falling down because someone just thought it would be fun to try an off-beat idea. But the world is changing, even though some traffic engineers aren’t always comfortable letting go of the car-centric, suburbs-oriented, Interstate-model of transportation they were trained to create.
Massachusetts’ Secretary of Transportation, Jeff Mullan, has said that he wants to create a new MassDOT that fully implements the Healthy Transportation Compact aspects of the act creating the unified agency. The restructuring act requires MassDOT to “…encourage the construction of complete streets, designed and operated to enable safe access for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and bus riders of all ages to safely move along and across roadways in urban and suburban areas…[and to] increase bicycle and pedestrian travel…”Read more