In recent years, bicycling has increased nationwide. However, the growing numbers are most visible in urban areas where car congestion and mixed-use density make cycling particularly useful, which also gives bicyclists the political clout to push for improved safety facilities.
While the Seaport gets all the headlines, of Boston’s traditional neighborhoods it is Allston that is about to undergo the most dramatic change physically, economically, and demographically. As a result, it is an important case study and indicator of how the city will be implementing its commitment to Complete Streets, walkability, traffic calming, and the Mayor’s core statement that “the car is no longer king.” The good news is that there is no doubt that transit, pedestrian, and bicycling facilities will be included in future plans. The question is whether they will be treated as secondary, or as equals, or even (can we hope?) be given priority over Single Occupancy Vehicles – meaning cars.Read more
NON-MOTORIZED HIGHWAYS: A Regional Green Routes System To Connect Municipal Bike Networks, Sidewalks, and Parks
Transportation is responsible for 36% of Massachusetts’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In order to meet the reductions required by our state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, MassDOT has committed itself to significantly improving its internal operational energy efficiency (GreenDOT) and tripling the share of travel done using transit, bicycle, and foot over the next 18 years. Mandating higher mile-per-gallon vehicles and less polluting fuels will also help achieve the GHG reduction goals. However, assuming a reasonable rate of population and economic growth between now and 2030, there will be a corresponding increase in transportation activity. To reach the Mode Shift goals, MassDOT will have to find ways to channel almost all of it into the target modes rather than Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOV).
The implementation of Boston’s Complete Streets Policy and the Bike Network Plan will radically improve the safety and comfort of walking and cycling in the city. But full implementation will require many different kinds of changes to many roads all around the city. The best way to lower the inevitable anxiety about change is to have lots of examples already in place, demonstrating (as the passage of same-sex marriage did in its own sphere) that it won’t precipitate the end of the world or even disrupt our everyday lives.Read more
In response to the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, which sets deadlines for reducing Green House Gas emissions, MassDOT has recently announced plans to triple the share of travel done using transit, bicycle, and foot by 2030 — 18 years from now. (The Act was also the impetus for MassDOT’s exemplary GreenDOT program.) Since both our population and economy are likely to grow over that time, in order to reach that mode share goal almost none of the inevitable increase in transportation activity can happen in Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOVs). The entire rise in travel will have to use train, trolley, bus, multi-person cars, bikes, or feet.
It’s important to know that the huge increase in bicycling in Boston has been accompanied by a much small increase in bike-car collisions, meaning that the accident rate has gone down. It’s yet another validation of the “Safety In Numbers” principle. It’s not that the new cyclists are more skilled than the previous ones, or that a higher percentage of them are wearing helmets. It’s simply that the more people on bikes the more that drivers become aware and accepting of their presence, leading to a lower rate of collisions and injuries. But that doesn’t make it any less upsetting to learn that yet another bicyclist has been killed by a motor vehicle. The fifth this year. Yet another ghost haunting our streets. The police haven’t issued a final report on this latest tragedy, so the following is based on what has been available in the newspapers and on-line. But here is my best guess of what happened, and some suggestions about how to make it less likely to happen again.Read more
MassDOT has announced a goal of tripling the mode share of transit, walking, and bicycling over the next 18 years while also making the roads safer and more efficient for car travel. No matter how it is eventually measured (trips, vehicle or person miles traveled, or some combination), the Mode Shift policy is visionary and ambitious. If implemented, it will transform both the state’s transportation system and the Transportation Department. It will make Massachusetts a national leader in environmental and climate protection, in primary prevention and public health, in “main street” business revival and sustainable economic development, and much more. The real issue is not if a more sustainable transportation system is needed, the one we have is increasingly dysfunctional as well as unaffordable, but if such a transformative goal will be fully adopted and implemented.
One part of the problem is that cyclists are a visible and prominent part of the coalitions fighting for a better, safer, healthier transportation system. In fact, many car drivers see the entire new agenda as primarily about serving the needs of the 1% or 2% of the population who bikes. And that’s a not good: bicycling, and walking, are not how the majority of people get around. State leaders need to support and integrate bicyclists demands for better facilities, in both urban and suburban-town-center areas as well as along the regional Rail-Trail networks. But expanding bicycle facilities can’t be presented as the core reason for the new programs.
As with so many other proposals to create a stronger foundation for future growth – dealing with public health, environmental protection, and the built environment, among others – advocates and state leaders needs to find ways to frame the discussion so that a majority of citizens see how the costs and potential short-term disruption will relatively quickly lead to benefits for themselves and their communitiesRead more
IMPROVING LIVABILITY, CONTROLING DISPLACEMENT: Can You Upgrade a Neighborhood Without Destroying it’s Community?
A new effort has begun to bring improved transit and bicycle facilities to Roxbury, the base of Boston’s African-American community. (Full disclosure: On behalf of LivableStreets Alliance, I’m involved.) While most local people welcome the idea of more efficient bus routes, more comfortable bus stops, and protected bike lanes there has also been some opposition based on the fear that this invites gentrification. It is similar to concerns about the larger impact of any improvement in a low-income area, from better parks to better food in local stores to better schools.
It feels like a no-win situation. Public sector, taxpayer-funded investment is an essential foundation for livability in every neighborhood. As much as anyone else, low-income people deserve good parks, lighting, schools, transit, roads, sidewalks, bicycle accommodations, and other public amenities. But any significant improvements in a low-income neighborhood’s facilities, or investment in Smart Growth initiatives and Transit Oriented Design development, make the place more attractive to higher-income “pioneers” and then even higher-income “settlers.” Rents and home prices increase. The retail mix gets hipper and moves up-scale. Even before any facility upgrading, the process may start with an influx of “transitional populations” – students, artists, gays – but it’s the public investment that preps the area for sale. And then gentrification pushes out long-time families: think Jamaica Plain, Davis Square, Cambridge’s Area IV.Read more
VULNERABLE ROAD USERS (VRU) PROTECTION LAWS: “Whoever Can Do The Most Damage Has To Be The Most Careful”
In transportation, requiring potential damage-causers to be careful translates into policies that, at least in several European countries, assume that the operator of any vehicle that hits or dangerously crowds a “vulnerable road user” is by default primarily responsible for the incident and any negative effects. While this “strict liability” formulation would probably run afoul of the USA’s constitutional right of being innocent until proven guilty, Oregon has created “enhanced penalties for careless drivers who hurt vulnerable users.” And other activists are pushing to establish a “rebuttable assumption” of vehicle-operator responsibility in similar situations.
Of course, no matter what the law or who has what rights, defensive driving in both cars and on bikes is the ultimate defense against harm on the road. As the slogan correctly puts it, “You may be dead right; but you will still be dead.” Still, adoption of Vulnerable Road User laws can clarify the criminal burden of responsibility for street incidents and simplify some insurance claims. It is possible that they will also change the context for cyclist behavior and even begin to address the inequality of road conditions in low-income versus better-off areas
Vulnerable Road User laws won’t solve every safety problem. But they will certainly move us in the right direction.
In recent weeks, three Boston-areas bicyclists have been killed by cars or trucks, and the number of cyclist injuries has slightly increased from previous years. As a recent Boston Globe editorial pointed out, increasing bicyclist safety is a pressing issue – although it is probably just as pressing for other road users as well: people walking, in cars, using wheelchairs, getting on or off buses.
It’s not just acute physical safety that is at stake. The overall health benefits of bicycling are so strong that even under today’s less-than-ideal conditions studies show that the positives heavily outweigh the negatives, statistically adding about an extra year of life to those who regular get on their two-wheelers.
The editorial is a welcome contribution to the city’s discussion of how to make our evolving transportation system safe for all users, no matter how they are moving. Although bicycles may seem like a newcomer to the street scene, they have a long history (especially in Boston, which was the nation’s original cycling center) and there is much we can learn from research done in other cities across the US and abroad where bicycling has already taken off.Read more