Arriving late is every emergency worker’s nightmare. EMTs and firefighters know that new construction materials – plastics and composites – burn fast and release unpredictable clouds of toxic fumes. It is estimated that people have about 3 minutes to escape the heat and smoke once a fire starts, down from nearly 17 minutes forty years ago. Response speed spells life or death not only for the residents but also for the fire fighters, whose ever-larger ladder trucks and pumpers need to fight through traffic congestion and tight intersections. In fact, given our increasing awareness of the potential need for mass evacuations under catastrophic conditions, creating a transportation system that allows emergency movement is a matter of both public safety and national security.
So it’s not surprising that fire chiefs in many communities have fought for wide traffic lanes and intersections – a concern often shared by bus drivers and snow-plow agencies. But this has repeatedly brought them into conflict with the growing public demand to slow traffic and create more livable streets whether under the label of “Complete Streets”, “New Urbanism”, “Traffic Calming and Road Diets”, or “Creating Better Balance Between Car, Bike, and Pedestrian Facilities”.Read more
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
Transportation for America (T4) is a huge national coalition (including LivableStreets Alliance) focused on getting improvements in the next federal transportation authorization bill – which is already overdue and now mired in Republican demands to reduce government activity and spending no matter the consequences. T4A conducted a lengthy national process of collecting ideas and creating a really good consensus platform.
But the T4A platform is focused on national issues. Those of us who mostly work at the city and state levels need a set of issues and positions that more directly speak to people’s everyday experiences, fears, and hopes – and can serve as a platform for building the broad coalitions needed to successfully push for change.Read more
Grand visions and long-range analysis have enormous power to frame issues and create an actionable context. But they don’t lead to anything unless operationalized by specific, preferably simple, do-able steps forward. When I’m consulting with organizations on strategic planning I say that they need at least 2 solid action ideas in each of these three categories:
Symbolic – things that may not make a big difference but send key messages.
Quick– technically easy, low cost, very visible, preferably non-controversial and begin to actually change things.
Fundamental – the more complicated and challenging, long-term, but foundational changes that make a significant difference and create a new context for future actions.
So, in an effort to follow my own advice, here is the first of two posts, this week and next, describing concrete actions listed along with the city or state agency most capable of implementing them. This is my list – please suggest others!Read more
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
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
There is never enough money or time to do everything. So decision-makers always have to prioritize where to spend and what to spend on. Other than using some random selection method, this requires having criteria (the more explicit the better) and a transparent process of applying those criteria – both understandable and visible from evaluation through decision-making.
For transportation, in addition to the standard economic development rationale, even as modified by other economic policy goals such as regional fairness and Smart Growth, the 2009 Transportation Reform Act required MassDOT to work towards a more energy-efficient, environmentally protective, and health-supporting system.Read more
Three short items in this week’s post:
1) Transforming Boston into Mayor Menino’s goal of a “World Class Bicycling City’ requires a multifaceted strategy. One action area: creating the kind of car-free safety zone that lets “ordinary” people feel it is safe to cycle. In addition to the creation of “cycle tracks” – bike lanes that are physically separated from moving traffic in some way, it is also possible to build on the example of Hub On Wheels and temporarily ban cars from some section of a street, or to create a off-road (perhaps “multi-use”) greenway paths.
2) In this dark well-bottom of the year, only lunatics don’t use lights on their bicycle. Of course, it’s what the law requires – but more importantly, it’s what survival requires. In fact, any cyclist riding the roads later than 4:30 that doesn’t wear bright (preferably yellow) outerwear covered with reflective tape should have their live insurance cancelled and their motives examined. But this begs the real controversy, worthy of several rounds of beer at your favorite spot – should bike lights blink or be steady?
3) Finally, as a former techie, I’m always interested in the latest ways to make our systems “smarter.” But even more, I’m impressed by the presence (or depressed by the absence) of a smartly-designed infrastructure beneath the electronic sensors….like priority bus lanes.Read more
In economics, “efficiency” only refers to the allocation of capital. Unregulated markets that allow investors to seek the highest profit lead to the largest overall amount of capital growth, exclusive of any other societal effects. It implies that capital growth is its own reward and perhaps the most important goal.
Most of us have a broader and more humane definition of “efficiency” – not only accomplishing more with less but doing so in a way that is beneficial to both the system and those it affects – long-term sustainability, both individual and social well-being. And this conception of efficiency blends into an even more powerful concept: equity. Not that every one is or has exactly the same but that the disparities are minimized – that we accept that we are a community that rises or falls together. This type of equity requires acknowledging a collective responsible for maintaining a balance between providing freedom for individual creativity and security for everyone, for being accountable to contribute our proportional share of resources for the common good in exchange for having our needs taken into account.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