I wear a bike helmet. Always. Every time I get on a bike. I don’t think that the helmet will keep me from having an accident, just that it will reduce the odds of serious head injury in particular types of situations. Small odds but a big benefit.
It’s likely that people who cycle like I do – regular commuters with enough experience and confidence to ride within busy traffic – suffer the most severe injuries. I don’t want to be one of those statistics. As my daughter (the doctor!) says about helmetless speedsters, “I hope they’re carrying an organ donor card.”
But avoiding injury– staying safe — is not my main motivation for cycling. In addition to being cheaper and often faster than any other mode of urban commuting (as well as less polluting and more energy efficient), it helps me control my weight, stay fit, sleep better at night, have more energy the rest of the day, almost always puts me in a better mood – and is simply fun to do. It keeps me healthy – body and soul. I think it would be good for society if more of us biked instead of drove for at least the 25% of daily trips that are less than a mile long, if not for the 40% that are less than two miles and the 50% of daily commutes of less than five miles.Read more
It’s both a cliché and a powerful insight to remember that the solution you come up with depends on which problem you are trying to solve. A road builder sees problems in terms of the need for movement – usually meaning car capacity – and comes up the road expansion solutions. A transportation planner – as well as a livable communities developer – sees problems in terms of using the built environment as a way to improve peoples’ quality of life and comes up with solutions that stress human interaction.
The elevated section of the McGrath/O’Brien Highway from the Cambridge border to Somerville’s Highland Avenue is old and deteriorating. Working with people from the more than 20 land development and road planning efforts already happening along the corridor, LivableStreets Alliance coordinated discussionsthat endorsed five core value/vision statements for what should happen in this area:
- Reunite neighborhoods cut apart by the highway.
- Humanize the space by lowering traffic speeds, reducing noise and pollution, narrowing lane width, and reducing the current six (or more) lanes to four.
- Make traveling across and along the corridor safer and more inviting for pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus riders.
- Add more trees, grass, storm-water drainage, and other green features.
- Encourage local retail and job-creating businesses; including crafts-based and green-economy enterprises.
BRIDGES, ROADS & HISTORIC PRESERVATION: Combining Respect for the Past with Preparation for the Future in Transportation
We create ourselves and our society with what we’ve inherited from the past – from genes to hierarchies, from culture to social status. Most important are the stories, the myths, we’ve been given that help give meaning to the physical world and prepare us for an unknowable future. As those stories float between generations, among their anchors are the historic artifacts surrounding us in the built environment which embody our collective heritage and trigger our personal memories.
But obsessively preserving the past can be a barrier to dealing with today’s realities or preparing for tomorrow’s challenges. While architects and preservationists seem to have come to some mutual understanding, it seems that the same is not true in the transportation sector. As we begin dealing with the physical collapse of the infrastructure built for the passing automobile age, we face potentially damaging, and stupid, fights over what to do with its still-in-use artifacts. To what extent can we change historic bridges and roadways so they can safely and efficiently serve pedestrians, bicyclists, and buses as well as the cars they were designed for? To what extent can we acknowledge that the environment surrounding an old bridge has changed since it was constructed so that retaining walls that once served to hide polluted rivers can be changed to allow passers-by to see the now-beautiful water?Read more
There is little or no zoning in many parts of the United States. It is condemned as the intrusion of government rules on what you want to do with your own property. Live free or die!
But, historically, it was precisely the unregulated freedom of property owners to do whatever they wanted that was the cause of death. Zoning was a way to separate deadly land uses from residential areas.
Unfortunately, over the years, in many communities zoning has become a mind-bogglingly complicated bureaucratic mess, totally opaque and highly vulnerable to back-room dealings as well as political-business collusion. In many cases, it has become so ossified that zoning categories neither address market realities nor capture sufficient value for the public good.Read more
HOW ROADS SHAPE ECONOMIES: Why What Happens to the McGrath/O’Brien Highway, Sullivan Station, and Rutherford Ave. Will Make – or Break – Local Job Opportunities and Community Well-Being
Will Boston’s inner ring of old suburbs – Somerville, Charlestown, Roslindale, even Dorchester — be able to build on residential upgrading to become economic growth nodes as well? Or will they continue to be left out, with growth focused either in downtown Boston or the still-expanding outer rings of suburban towns around Routes 128/95 and 495?
The answer partly depends on the types of transportation system that gets built over the next twenty years – not only what happens to mass transit but also what is done with the older highways that run through the area. McGrath/O’Brien, Rutherford Ave., Casey (Rte 203) – these were once vital arterials bulldozed through the inner ring to connect the outer suburbs with downtown. Building them required the destruction of working class neighborhoods. But they kept the wheels of commerce rolling as the tide of growth moved outward.Read more
Propose to add bike lanes or narrow traffic lanes or even to install corner bulb-outs in either a suburb or an inner-city neighborhood, and you’re likely to run into the rejection chorus from long-time residents: “You’ll just make congestion worse.” “Cars will short-cut through our neighborhoods.” “This discriminates against the car driving majority.”
The issue isn’t the technical details – the size of the bulb-outs, the width of the bike lanes, the height of the speed bumps. Neither does it usually seem to be about the need to make it safer to walk, bike, or take transit. Everyone agrees that the roads aren’t as safe as we’d like. And often it isn’t really about bicycling, or buses, or whatever else has triggered the opposition – many people will tell you that “I’m all in favor of …; but this is just not the right place for this kind of project.”Read more
Several times each day, most of us move from one place to another using one of the many options available – walk or drive, take the stairs or the elevator, bike or bus, taxi or limousine. Most of the time, most of us don’t really think about it; we just do what we’ve usually done, what everyone else usually does, fall into the default behavior: we drive, take the elevator, call a cab.
What creates the default? What nudges so many of us in the same direction? Not an act of nature or of god. Behavioral defaults are not inevitable or inescapable. They are created by the surrounding context – the structure of our buildings, the nature of the transportation system, the attributes of high social status, the cultural assumptions that make some things feel normal and others unthinkable. One way to understand the decision-making context is to examine the “Four Cs” of Convenience, Cost, Comfort, and Coolness. Which method of movement is easiest to access? Which feels like a good value? Which requires the least effort to use? Which is the most appropriate for people of our (self-imagined) social standing and style?Read more
CONTROLLING SEGWAYS, DESIGNING BRIDGE CROSSINGS, FACILITATING BIKE LIGHTS – Keeping Everyone Safely In Their Place
There actually is a common theme running through all three of this week’s seemingly unconnected items: how to deal with the changes in transportation choices that people will make as gas prices continue to rise, urban population expands, and congestion gets worse. Or, as my carpenter brother says about his tools, “the trick is keeping everything in its own place.”
SEGWAY IN THE WAY – Reclaiming Sidewalks for People
CHARLES RIVER BRIDGES – Part of the Path or the Road?
BIKE LIGHTS AT NIGHT – “Fix It” Enforcement
The first one applauds Boston’s effort to plan ahead for the influx of electric and low-powered vehicles – such as scooters, mopeds, electric bikes, and Segways – that people will increasingly use. If you agree, contact your favorite Boston City Councilor and urge a quick, positive vote for the proposal.Read more
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
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