Wednesday, March 8, 2017

It's the transportation, stupid!

Big news recently was the ranking of U.S. States, and the first place for Massachusetts - apparently, the best state in America! We might be #1 in education and #2 in health care but our infrastructure was rated much, much lower (#19).

No matter. Our president gave a speech a few days ago emphasizing that rebuilding infrastructure is going to be the key issue during his term, which means that America will get up from its knees and be great again. Soon. Ugh... maybe.
It's important that while rebuilding those crumbling roads and bridges he should remember about cyclists. Not that I have particularly high hopes it's going to happen. People are still given a lower priority than cars in American cities even though we should admit that "the car century was a mistake and it's time to move on". Something tells me it's just wishful thinking, given this government focus on fossil fuels and actions such as this one, when automakers petitioned the EPA to lower emission standards. Not pretty.

That dependence on cars is going to kill us (Or was it the smartphones?). And it's not getting any better. In fact, an average commute in America keeps getting longer. You would think it doesn't make sense - surely, people would not prefer to waste time in traffic everyday, instead of spending it with family. Apparently, not so, because:
"People don't want a longer commute, but faced with a choice people will choose that lawn."
So there you go - it's not that Americans love to spend hours in a car. They just want to live close to the city (where land is expensive) and have a large house with a backyard - eat a cake and have it too. Obviously, if everyone drives to work two issues immediately pop up - road capacity and parking space. Since space for new roads is limited in the city, we have to give up something (like driving, duh). In Seattle they decided it's time to ditch the bike lanes. Apparently, they are the culprit of all morning traffic.

Here in Boston, we are focused on the second issue and are planning a new, subsidized parking lot with 2,100 spaces. You would think a free (or discounted) parking in the downtown is something we already tried decades ago and it didn't go well - there is just never enough of it. Seems like it's still 1980's in Boston.

Don't despair though - things are supposed to change soon. The City of Boston has prepared a comprehensive transportation plan for future called "Go Boston 2030". It includes lots of nice, bold words and plenty of "aspirational goals" but something tells me it lacks enough political vision and power to make these changes happen. Maybe they should've called it "Crawl Boston 2060" just to be safe?

No matter what they do, you can be sure they will keep the car traffic flowing. Unless, of course, they will blow all the money on those new fancy parking garages and have no dough left to even fix the potholes. In such case, it's back to gravel surface - like they did in Omaha. Let's keep those gravel bikes ready!


  1. Boston seems to be really good at saying the right things but then upholding the status quo in many ways.

    (1) An extensive public process resulted in the choice of a surface option for Rutherford Ave in Sullivan Square and at Austin St. There has been a vision of Sullivan Square as a people-oriented place with lots of opportunity for TOD. But now the City is reconsidering underpasses for cars because of the Wynn Casino.

    (2) GoBoston 2030 talks about extending and adding HOV lanes throughout the region. Yet, as part of the Lower Mystic Regional Working Group, which the City of Boston is participating in, they're talking about opening up the I-93 SB HOV lane north of the city up to general non-HOV traffic, with the excuse that it is "underutilized."

    (3) The Boston Complete Streets Guidelines and now GoBoston 2030 emphasize the importance of adjusting walk signal timing to maximize crossing time for pedestrians and minimizing delay, along with making walk signals automatic. Yet across the City, BTD continues to modify signal timing in a way that reduces the amount of time pedestrians can cross, even when the concurrent green signals are much longer, and are in general not making walk signals automatic because it could negatively impact car traffic.

    We need to hold the City to their commitments with GoBoston 2030. If the past and present is any guide, without outside pressure, they're going to keep falling back on their car-oriented ways.

  2. Thank you for the comment. Agree, it's much easier to come up with a beautifully laid out plan than later execute it. Boston is supposed to be one of more walkable large cities in America but I think it holds this title mainly because of its historical and geographical conditions (old city layout, natural barriers, etc.), not because of a well-planned development.