Many years ago, I was hitch-hiking east from San Francisco. (It was 1967, the summer of love – but that’s another story.) Somewhere in Wyoming, at around 2 am, with no houses or streetlights for hundreds of miles, the car started making funny noises which, given our collective state of mind, sounded ominous. We pulled over, got out, and there it was – the biggest sky I, a city dweller, had ever seen. It was both darker and brighter than I would have thought possible. Stars. And more stars. Bursting out from a background that was beyond black. It was so amazing, so surprising, so beautiful that it almost felt spiritual. I ignored the car and just stared.
I’ve never seen anything like that again. Even worse, according to the International Dark Sky Association, unless something changes it’s unlikely that I ever will. Nationally, over-illumination is growing at more than a compounding 2.2% a year; actually, even higher because sensors don’t seem to register the short-wavelength blue light that is an increasing component of brighter LED and other sources. Some Massachusetts communities are brightening at ten times that rate! The skyglow of artificial light causes the sky to be 5–10 times brighter in urban areas than a naturally dark sky. We are losing sight of between 25 and 80 stars every day, between 1 and 3 per hour. About 80% of Americans, and at least a third of the world’s people, can no longer see the Milky Way. It’s a kind of blindness that we shouldn’t let ourselves suffer.Read more
Diversity – of people, buildings, land use, business, and transportation options – vary greatly between urban, suburban, exurban, and rural areas. Addressing our transportation system’s negative effects – congestion, cost, climate, health, safety, isolation, waste, and more – requires multiple strategies and multiple road designs appropriate for different types of areas. The toolkit of mobility strategies and road designs need adjustments and the mix needs to be tailored for the density and other characteristics of each type of place. Rail, bus, shuttle, shared vehicle, and – most powerfully – land-use planning strategies will continue to be part of the package, only they will need to be packaged differently outside of cities. This has even been recognized by the Federal Highway Administration, who recently published the Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks guide that provides some options for accommodating walking and cycling in small and rural communities. In that same spirit, here are some thoughts about walking and bicycling facilities for non-urban areas.Read more
Eliminating Killer Trucks: Leveraging the Procurement Power of Government, Non-Profits, and Private Business
Truck drivers, like most of us, try very hard to avoid hurting anyone. But the deadly repetition of death continues -- trucks are only 4% of vehicles in the United States but cause about 7% of pedestrian fatalities and 11% of cyclist fatalities. The disparity is even higher in urban areas – a London analysis found that the 4% of vehicles that were trucks were involved in nearly 53% of cyclist fatalities. In New York City truck were involved in 32% of cyclist fatalities. In Boston, 7 out of 9 cyclist fatalities in 2012-13 involved trucks or buses and the numbers keep rising.
The combination of huge blind spots in the driver’s vision (especially from the cabs of the biggest and tallest trucks), the pressure drivers are under from their companies to increase their loads and cut their time, and the lack of city-specific commercial driver training in the US – all add up to nearly inevitable tragedy.
There are some defensive tactics that pedestrians and bicyclists can use. Unfortunately, these are not fool-proof and not enough to prevent tragedy. What is also needed are systemic changes in both truck drivers’ ability to see what’s around them, and the availability of training resources to help truck drivers operate more safely in urban areas.
Accomplishing these two changes requires changes in public policy. Public policy changes slowly and with great difficulty – it is constitutionally designed to have multiple steps and, because our political system is so dependent on business support, it is repeatedly subject to vested-interest push-backs. However, progress is happening. This summer, D.C. became the first state to pass a side guard and mirror law for all large trucks. A truck side-guard and blind-spot mirror bill is advancing in New York State, with New York City as a major sponsor. A similar bill was introduced in last year’s session of the Massachusetts Legislature – it will hopefully get more traction when it’s re-introduced this year.Read more
Except for the boldest and most confident people, even experienced cyclists feel more comfortable – and more people are likely to use their bikes – when they are separated from fast moving or heavy traffic. So it’s not surprising that the spread of standard bike lanes – a painted corridor sometimes against the curb but usually between parked cars and moving traffic – has been a powerful catalyst for the growth of cycling in recent years. Since safety comes from numbers, these facilities have significantly lowered the risk and improved the environment for bicycling. Research shows that standard lanes increase the distance between cyclists and both moving and parked cars compared to unmarked streets -- nudging parked cars closer to the curb and bicycle riders further away. But experience has also taught us that the next-to-the-driver-door location has significant flaws and that it’s possible to do better. A lot of great design ideas have been developed. However, outside the advocacy community, many people still haven’t heard about them. Here is an introduction to a few of them.Read more