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.
MassDOT deserves enormous credit for trying to connect its investment decisions with the desired outcomes. It’s a challenging and complicated undertaking, constrained in many ways by federal reporting requirements, limited data, and unverified impact-calculating methodologies. The fact that their first attempt, the very impressive WeMove Massachusetts: Planning for Performance tool, is deeply flawed (for example, defining mobility solely as car travel) is much less important than the Agency’s public willingness to admit those flaws and commit itself to an iterative improvement process. This is something that every public— and private – organization needs to take on, not merely to better serve its stakeholders but also to be better in control of its own fate.Read more
It is through our built environment that we shape ourselves and the world. Living, working, and moving around in dysfunctional, cramped, unsafe, polluted, or just ugly places not only affects our mood and health but also our relations with those around us and the natural environment. The need to maximize the positive impact of our buildings, transportation systems, and even our usually hidden infrastructures will continue to grow as the weather gets weirder, resources get more expensive, and cities get more crowded.Read more
Enthusiastic support for Public-Private Partnerships (P3) seems to extend across the entire political spectrum. The P3 label is a huge umbrella, providing space for small-government conservatives who think business can do things better, pragmatic liberals who want to harness the resources and energy of the private sector during a time of government fiscal constraint, and innovation progressives looking for strategies to extend the public sector’s positive influence.Read more
Because government is the arena where so many of society’s conflicting interests fight for influence, and because nearly every decision and action can end up in court, the public sector is more rule-bound than most organizations. The biggest political sin for administrators is making a visible mistake. So public agencies typically evolve very incrementally, and if something isn’t noticeably broken there is seldom any political advantage in fixing it – or even in improving its internal operations. Which is what gives extra credence to the cliché that the Chinese character for “crisis” also means “opportunity.”
Fortunately, and unfortunately, Massachusetts’ Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is in the middle of an accelerating crisis. The most visible aspect is the MBTA’s growing revenue shortfall, a “fiscal cliff” that the state managed to avoid last year by using up most of the one-time fixes. But it’s not just the MBTA budget that’s falling apart. The fiscal health of the entire road system is dependent on a diminishing, inflation-unadjusted gas tax. As both transportation needs and maintenance costs increase, the state has been forced to pay for an increasing amount of operational expenses – planning, maintenance, and even administrative work – using bond-financed capital funds. It’s a time-bomb – taxpayers will end up paying for both the project and the interest for decades to come, making future revenues unavailable for future projects and putting the transportation system even deeper into the pothole.Read more
QUICK, VISIBLE, REMOVABLE: Improving City Life By Unleashing Citizen Creativity Through Government Initiative
In addition to opposing the destructive imposition of highways and other mega projects serving regional needs into urban neighborhoods, Jane Jacobs also advocated for urban revitalization through small-scale citizen initiatives such as the housing program she helped start in New York’s Greenwich Village. But it’s always easier to say “no” than to find a better solution; her program had only limited success.
Still, there is a lot of creative energy floating around in citizenland. Unleashing that volunteer labor could lead to important, even if usually small, improvements not only in our built environment but also in our social connections. Action creates its own tailwind – neighbors emerge from the caves of their private lives when given the opportunity to work together on something of self-evident local value.Read more
WILL MassDOT USE “GROUNDING MCGRATH” TO CONSOLIDATE ITS NEW DIRECTIONS, OR JUST REPEAT OLD CAR-CENTRIC BIASES: A “hidden cost” of the MBTA Funding Crisis
It’s totally understandable that Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey has been focusing on the MBTA fiscal crises. Public transit – train, subway, trolley, bus, and ferry – is the backbone that supports the entire regional transportation system, and the region’s economic well-being.
But we can only hope that the MBTA crisis will not totally pull Secretary Davey away from the highway division. A crucial test of his agency’s commitment to the GreenDOT, WeMove, Healthy Transportation Compact, and Mode Shift policies is now happening around the McGrath/O’Brien Highway Corridor – which MassDOT has designated as a key pilot project that will explore ways to embody these programs and values into transportation planning, including MassDOT’s first use of a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) process maximize the project’s positive impact on public health.Read more
LEVERAGING PUBLIC SPENDING FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT: Do Multiple Goals Make Projects Better — or Unmanageable?
Keep It Simple. Focus. You can’t walk and tie your shoes at the same time. Projects are much easier to manage, and it is easier to hold project managers accountable, if there is a single and explicit goal. Transparency is vital to maintain public trust in government, and it is best accomplished when the line from spending to result is clear and straightforward.
On the other hand, life is complicated, everything is connected, and the need for improvement is enormous. Every project impacts its audience, and the world, in complex and multiple ways. Given the scarcity of funds and the magnitude of the problems facing us, doesn’t it make sense to leverage every opportunity to create as much positive change as possible – and to increase the odds of overall success by being explicit about each of the top priority goals even if they relate to different issues?Read more