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
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
It’s winter in Boston – cold, windy, occasional snow. And yet every time I go out I see people bicycling. They weren’t here ten years ago; or even five – certainly not in the winter! It suddenly feels like we’ve reach an inflection point: there are enough people who use cycling as a major form of transportation that it’s become a year-round presence.
The US Census Bureau agrees. Their 2008 American Community Survey found that the share of bicycle commuters nationally increased 43 percent since 2000. In supportive environments it grew even more: the 27 large cities recognized as Bike Friendly by the League of American Bicyclists had increases nearly 60 percent larger than the national average. (http://www.bikeleague.org/resource/reports)
There are lots of reasons for this upsurge but in these fiscally tight times it’s illuminating to particularly analyze the dollars and sense aspects. It turns out that bicycling is a good deal for both the cyclist and the city.Read more
For the past half century, Congress creates a new national transportation funding bill every six years or so. Originally, the primary role of the Highway Trust Fund was to send federal gas tax money to the states to subsidize construction of the Interstate Highway System and other roads. Over time, as national priorities have changed, the bill has authorized the Fund to cautiously include other modes (railroads, transit, bikeways, and walking paths) and a broader perspective (reducing traffic-related air pollution and safety). The most recent six year cycle ended in 2009, and the next Transportation Funding Bill – now being debated – will not only shape how we travel but also the nature of our communities, the cleanliness of our environment, our level of daily physical activity, and much more. All of us have a stake in the outcome.Read more
Almost everyone wishes the world were different in one way or another. But creating that difference requires effective action, which comes in different forms. For example, advocacy, the type of work done by LivableStreets Alliance, differs from both protest and lobbying.
Protest – either done personally or through mass mobilization, whether a single event of a sustained campaign – attempts to create a bump in the on-going flow of the status quo in order to prompt the reversal of some decision made by those with more direct power over the situation. Protest is a reactive move, a response to a situation. It is usually an outsiders’ strategy, an attempt by the less powerful to exercise their only real veto power over elite control by disrupting “business as usual” in some major or minor way.Read more
Conservatives complain that spending public money on non-automobile facilities ignores the public’s overwhelming choice of cars as their preferred method of transportation; that prioritizing walking or cycling or even public transportation is an unwarranted distortion of the free market – another example of elite culture’s social engineering trying to manipulate ordinary people.
It is true that most people drive. And it is not entirely fair to say that our land-use patterns and transportation system has been deliberately structured over the past half century to give them no other option – although that is largely true. The post-WWII GI bill’s mortgage subsidies and Interstate Highway system created a landscape of decentralized, auto-dependent sprawl that gives people little choice but to buy a car and drive to nearly everything. The deliberate destruction of urban trolley systems and the underfunding of the nation’s railroad networks pushed things in the same direction.Read more
We are finally emerging from the InterState era. This was the long period where the vision of the ideal road was the limited access freeway – a road designed specifically to move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible, with wide lanes and soft curves, while eliminating potential distractions such as stores or traffic lights or any other method of travel by foot or bike. The InterState was about moving vehicles. People were only important as the occupants of those vehicles.
The InterState era was also a time when what every self-respecting traffic engineer really wanted to do was create highways or at least car-centric designs. Quiet residential roads or people-focused plaza were boring – the money and glory was in becoming another Robert Moses: the man who transformed New York with his highways and bridges, a master builder.Read more
Transportation policy is not changing because traffic engineers (or city planners) have seen the light, or because our society has finally internalized the reality that we can’t build our way out of congestion – every new road will eventually get overused. Even the growing green cultural awareness is not enough, by itself, to cause a shift. I’d like to take credit. But none of us advocates are really to blame — although we have helped push the rotting tree as it falls.Read more
The original health care proposals put forth by the Obama Administration mainly focused on insurance and coverage issues, but also addressed prevention. Encouragingly, these proposals went beyond preventive medicine (the early detection and therefore less-intense treatment of disease) to also include health protection – shaping the environment to encourage behaviors that reduce the risk of getting sick in the first place.
The Obama proposal recognized that long-lasting chronic diseases – cancer, diabetes, hypertension, asthma – now cause 7 out of 10 deaths and are overtaking acute diseases like heart attacks and injuries as the long-term drivers of rising health costs. And researchers estimate that between 50 and 75% of chronic diseases are preventable through environmental and lifestyle changes.Read more