The statistics show that each of us is driving less. So why do our roads feel more jammed up? Why does it take longer to get anywhere? And what can we do about it? Some politicians have begun blaming Traffic Calming and bicycle lanes for the backups; saying that Complete Streets and pedestrian bulb-outs are making roads less safe because less accessible for emergency vehicles. Is there any truth to this? More fundamentally, is car congestion a problem to be solved or a solution to a problem?Read more
Active Transportation is Primary Prevention: The Evolution of Public Health From Quarantines to Mass In Motion
Public Health has its origins in catastrophe, the realization that if an out-of-the-ordinary pestilence is suddenly sickening large numbers of people there must be a general cause rather than individual failures. In contrast to Medicine, which traditionally is about treating an individual’s existing disease, Public Health seeks to keep large groups from getting sick. In contrast even to Preventive Medicine, which tends to focus on increasing compliance with medical prescriptions, Public Health is about wellness and well-being – a holistic concern with an entire population’s overall quality of life. And in Massachusetts, a national leader across a wide range of Public Health issues, one of the most innovative and powerful strategies to improve population health has been the Mass In Motion program.Read more
Having a vision of the kind of city you want is an essential foundation for purposeful and effective governance. Some cities do a coherent overall process, such as Somerville’s SomerVision or Boston’s forthcoming Imagine Boston 2030. Cambridge has constructed its vision piecemeal, through policies around a variety of quantitative and qualitative issues. No matter the process, these days the resulting vision statements almost all aim for a combination of livability, stainability, prosperity, and diversity with the specifics addressing things like schools, housing, services, open space, and mobility. For example, in terms of mobility, SomerVision (slogan: “An Exceptional Place to Live, Work, Play, and Raise a Family”) sets a goal of having “50% of New Trips via Transit, Bike, or Walking.”
The most powerful, but hardest to really accept, aspect of creating a vision involves making choices – a public a statement that the city’s residents prefers one type of future over another, one direction over the multitude of other possibilities. Like growing up, having a vision implies accepting that you can’t have it all – that achieving your top priorities means you can’t do something else, and most importantly that equalizing things means that whatever was previously getting more than its fair share will have to get a little less.Read more
It wasn’t that long ago that Boston’s walking, bicycling, and transit advocacy groups saw each other as part of the problem. Faced with the hostile fragmentation, government policy-makers moved slowly or not at all. Boston wasn’t unusual. To the extent that cities had active transportation advocacy groups, the discordance was common.
Today, urban areas (and some states) have two general types of much-more coordinated active-transportation activism. In many cities the dominant group is an all-inclusive alliance of non-motorized movers such as New York-based Transportation Alternatives that combines walkers, joggers, runners, and cyclists. In other cities, mode-specific groups lead the way although they tend to work in partnership with each other. Boston has both: LivableStreets Alliance has, from its inception 10 years ago, seen itself as representing both foot and wheels; the other major advocacy groups – Boston Cyclists Union, MassBike, WalkBoston – maintain their single-mode foci.
Because there have been few walking-oriented advocacy groups around the nation (America Walks, the national coalition, is less than 10 years old), much of the national trend towards inclusivity seems to come from former bicycle-only groups expanding their scope, an evolution that makes enormous political sense since bicyclists are a small but well organized minority while walkers comprise a majority but are generally unorganized. Together they have many times the clout against their common enemy – our society’s car-centric infrastructure, policies, and cultural tendencies. However, whether internalized in one group or as a coalition among several, the emerging multi-modal alliance is not as deep or as tight as it needs to be in order to survive the coming challenges raised by more conservative political leadership at several levels of government. We need, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, to move together or we shall all go nowhere.Read more
For a while it was feeling like stodgy Boston was jumping back into the elite group of city’s whose actions around transportation (and its joined-at-the-hip land-use twin) set the pace for the rest of the country. Our environmentally-based Smart Growth policies were state-of-the-art, which became even more valuable as climate-change storms and rising sea levels revealed our coastal vulnerability. After years of letting the state take the lead around transit and roads, Boston leaped ahead on mobility. City Hall, working with advocates, used the political opening created by the Hub On Wheels festival to set up the Boston Bike Program with its rapid rollout of bike lanes, its Roll-It-Forward outreach to low-income families, a visionary Bike Network Plan, and the wonderful Hubway system that is increasingly understood as the “last mile” of our transit system as well as a relief valve for both over-capacity trolleys and car-congested roads. And all this culminated in the cutting-edge Complete Streets Guide that integrated Green, Smart, and Multimodal by both dealing with the safety needs of cars, buses, walkers, and cyclists as well as treating streets as a powerful leverage for improved neighborhood cohesion, safety, and economic development.
My tolerance may have been low because of the bicyclist who had been run over that afternoon, the 8th Boston-area death in the past two years – five by right-turning trucks, two by buses, one by a drunk driver – and I was thinking that it could have been me. But there it was, the rant that everyone who bikes regularly (and every city’s bike coordinator) hears from people outside their normal social circles: “I’ve got nothing against bicycles. But the bicyclists out there are crazy. They’re a menace. It’s not safe; they run red lights; they don’t wear helmets; they almost hit me; they’re blocking the road. You’ve got to do something!”Read more
OPENING STREETS, CHANGING POLICIES: Creating Space for Neighborhood Revival and Transportation Reform
Movement building requires organizing activities and programs that have inherent value and meet people’s immediate needs while also raising their awareness of the importance of larger reforms and putting pressure on relevant officials and power brokers to implement those changes. It’s a tricky combination to achieve. Providing free breakfast to low-income kids, for example, makes access to good nutrition more affordably available but doesn’t necessarily force the commercial food system to change.
In recent years, enthusiasm for Open Streets programs has spread among progressive transportation, community renewal, and other advocates wanting to change the way cities use their largest physical asset, the space normally devoted to car traffic and parking. The excitement has its roots in the CicloVia program started nearly 40 years ago in Bogota, Columbia, where over two million people, nearly a third of the city population, come out for a few hours every weekend to play, exercise, do yoga, dance, walk, run, bicycle, enjoy endless vendor offerings, and simply hang out with each other along nearly 76 miles of car-free roads. (The roads aren’t “closed to cars”, they are “open for people”!) Open Streets are now held around the globe including at least 90 US cities.Read more
I love cities. They are the engines of our nation’s energy, diversity, cultural opportunities, social interaction, and entrepreneurial vibrancy. Cities are where most of our population lives and where most of our economic growth originates. Cities are the base from which we’ll create the future.Read more
We’ve all done it; cruising around the block looking for an open parking space. In fact, we all do it so much that studies suggest between 8% and an incredible 75% of the traffic in high demand areas have already reached their destination and are wasting time (and gas) looking for a place to pull over. Studies in 10 cities found that it took between 3.5 and 13.9 minutes to find an on-street parking spot. In Harvard Square, nearly a third of the drivers were cruising at peak time, with an average search taking 11.5 minutes. (It’s even worse overseas: the global average of cruising time is 20 minutes, and in Nairobi it’s not unheard of to spend an hour searching for a spot!)Read more
GREEN ROUTES TO THE FUTURE: Combining Regional Vision and Local Initiative to Revitalize Urban Transportation and Well-Being
Walking and bicycling are part of the solution to problems from traffic congestion to public health, from pollution to economic development. Creating a seamless network of safe, family-friendly, aesthetically inviting walking and bicycling facilities is key to convincing a meaningful proportion of the population that they don’t need a car to get to work, run errands, visit friends, or have fun. To have this impact, the network needs to be composed of overlapping “lines and loops” within and between neighborhoods and cities, suitable for both functional travel and recreational pleasure. It needs to feel comfortable for all users: slow walkers and fast cyclists, slow baby-carriage pushers and fast runners. And it should foster the expansion of our green spaces – parks, greenways, river banks, gardens, open space, and tree-lined boulevards.
Eastern Massachusetts needs this as much as anyplace. Creating a Green Routes system requires connecting two currently separate strategies: Adding better sidewalks and bike facilities to our streets and turning old railroad beds into off-road rail-trails. To be successful, the two approaches need to be united within an “Emerald Network” vision of off-road paths, tree-lined streets, and clearly signed connections – a re-invigoration of the historic Olmsted-Eliot vision of regional parks and innovative parkways along our rivers and between our hills.Read more