Author Archives: Happy Commutes

About Happy Commutes

Posts about the rise of sustainable and micro mobility across the globe.

From Vox: eScooters Forcing Cities to Re-think Street Design

I enjoyed reading this in-depth piece from Vox about the rapid rise of dockless escooter companies and their current and potential impact on city mobility and street infrastructure. It covers how they work, how cities are responding and suggests that they are challenging cities to re-think urban street design.

“Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of scooters will be that they will force a larger discussion of whom or what we prioritize when we design cities. “I’m hoping that all of this disruption will help us think more systematically about these things,” said UCLA’s Brian Taylor, a professor of urban planning at the University of California Los Angeles.

The article shows that the majority of vehicle trips in the U.S. are less than 6 miles (59.4%) and dockless escooters have the potential to displace some of these short trips while also giving those without a car access to a low-cost, low-friction means of getting to a transit station or, directly, to work, school etc.

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When thinking about Boston, dockless escooters (and bikes) could help the “more than half of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan residents who rely on public transportation but don’t have convenient access to rapid transit” (see The Roxbury-Dorechester-Mattapan Transit Needs Study). This all sounds like a no brainer except for the lack of safe street infrastructure for escooting and biking in these parts of the city. Many residents of Mattapan will tell you they don’t feel safe biking in the street, and bike lanes there are still scarce.

Towards the article’s end, author Umar Irfan points out that while cities are putting a cap on the number of shared escooters allowed, there continues to be no limit on the number of cars. No restrictions on the number of cars in spite of the large cost to society from automobiles in the form of vast quantities of parking spaces (taking away space for housing, parks etc.), lost lives, pollution, congestion etc. The cost to society from escooters and other similar micro mobility options will be significantly less. This calculation should lead cities to engage in massive reductions of car infrastructure in favor of wider bike lanes and sidewalks.

The article indicates that New York City seems ready to deploy scooters to help those without many transit options. Let’s hope more cities move passed their hurt feelings over brash start-up behavior and start truly taking advantage of these new micro mobility solutions to bring transportation relief to those who need it and, more generally, to improve city living.

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Barcelona’s High-Class Bike Lanes

I recently returned from a visit to Paris and Barcelona. Both cities are ranked in the top 20 most bike-friendly cities on the planet by Copenhagen Design Co. As a first time visitor to Barcelona, I was incredibly impressed with its cycling infrastructure. As a recurring visitor to Paris, I noticed more bike lanes than on my last visit a couple of years ago. Paris declared 2017 the year of the bike (see Reuters article) and will be adding bike lanes and pedestrian zones on its most popular streets, including along the Louvre and in the Marais district. I suspect I will see more drastic changes on my next visit. In this post, I will dwell on Barcelona’s impressive protected bike lanes.

By 2018, Barcelona will have 300KM or 191 miles of bike lanes for 1.6 million people. This metric alone is not that impressive. Boston has a similar-sized network when adjusted for population (about 165 KM of “bike lanes” for 650 thousand people). Paris boasts 400KM for 2.2 million people. But a bike lane in Boston and a bike lane in Barcelona are two different animals. What makes these Barcelona lanes stand-out is the level of protection they offer two-wheelers. Most of these paths are protected. By contrast, in Boston, according to the Go Boston 2030 study (page 50), only 6 of 105 miles of bike lanes are physically separated from traffic.

Here are some pictures of Barcelona’s protected bike lanes. I saw a lot of oblong low bumps (a per the picture above) and delineator posts (see this resource about the different ways to protect a bike lane from traffic). The one I found most unique is the protected round-about bike lane which I believe is being considered for Somerville’s Union Square (see below).

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Now we are back in Boston, back to unprotected bike lanes. See the picture below of my family and I riding the day before our Euro tour in June (Somerville Ave I think?).

Sommerville Bike Lane

After seeing the high-class bike lanes of Barcelona, I now feel even less safe riding on Boston’s streets. Until we get to 100 miles of protected bike lanes, we’d better gear up. That’s a subject for another post, or a full website dedicated to protective cycling gear. As a start, here is a list of Vision Zero safety equipment from Hobbr. 

 

Commuter Rewards Programs: Why Cambridge-based Green Streets Rocks

Is your workplace looking for an employee rewards program that encourages healthy/sustainable commuting? I’ve looked into different rewards programs in search of a partner and Green Streets Initiative’s (GSI) Walk/Ride Day Workplace Challenge is, by far, my favorite. Before I share why I think they’re superior to comparable programs, know that GSI runs a seven month Workplace Challenge whereby employees “check-in”, or record, their commute (modes and duration) on the last Friday of the month, between April and October. Participants are rewarded online, monthly, through raffles, discounts, and incentives offered by some participating employers.

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Commuting in Boston Should Get Happier in 2017

A change in Boston’s default speed limit and increases in parking meter rates should improve commuting conditions for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers who need parking.

On January 9th, the default speed limit drops to 25 mph from 30mph. This change should have a meaningful impact on pedestrian and biker safety. Based on WalkBoston, pedestrians have a 40% chance of getting killed when hit by a vehicle driving at 30 mph. That probability decreases to under 10% at 20mph. The Transportation Department will also be looking at areas due for a 10mph drop to 20mph.

Boston’s goal is to achieve zero fatalities on its city streets from traffic crashes. This initiative, only first announced by Boston Mayor Walsh in 2015, will be modeled off a program born in Sweden in the late 90s known as  Vision Zero. In 2016 the number of fatalities due to traffic crashes, including pedestrians, bikers and drivers, is at the same level as it was in 2014 (at about 17 according to a Boston Globe article). Slowing down cars and improving biking and walking pedestrian infrastructure should help.

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Cape Cod Vs. The Hamptons

As a Boston resident, I’ve frequently visited the Falmouth area of Cape Cod. As a New York native, I am in the Hamptons every summer for a week or two. In both cases, we visit family and don’t have a place of our own. We don’t want the hassle of owning a second home, but, occasionally, I might day dream about the type of location I would pick for a “country home”. I would start to think about the activities I would want to fill my leisure time with. Hiking, biking, or skiing would lead me to the mountains or the forests. Sun bathing, sailing and swimming would require water and a beach or shore. Another critical choice that is not well considered is how to commute to those leisurely activities. Researchers have shown that people underestimate the cost of long commutes to their well-being when selecting a house (See this Science Blog article). I would guess that individuals who make second home decisions spend little time thinking about how they will get around, unless their main sport is biking.

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Boston’s Parking Congestion Problem: There’s an App for That

Boston’s population growth has brought congestion and parking problems. But, where are the cars coming from? Suburbanites commuting to work, or city folk who prefer driving to alternatives? A transportation study is coming out in late fall that should shed some light. But, local representatives aren’t waiting for the results to start talking about policy solutions to address parking congestion. Two weeks ago, Councilor Frank Baker called a hearing to discuss parking. At the hearing, Councilor Bill Linehan decried that transportation and parking availability “is one of the central issues facing Boston”. The discussion was heated as some officials want better parking enforcement to address issues such as the abuse of handicapped parking signs while others want to do away with parking in some areas to make room for bike and bus lanes. More details about the hearing are covered in the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe.

 
One proposal that does seem to generate consensus is increasing parking meter rates. Boston Chief of Streets, Chris Osgood, spoke of this proposal at the hearing and indicated it would include reinvesting parking revenue in the neighborhood where it was collected. Hopefully the revenue will be used for street and sidewalk improvements. Increasing meter rates is one solution. There are others to consider. Controlling and pricing residential parking permits is one. Providing drivers with real-time information about parking spot availability is a related and very important solution. With access to parking spot availability data and pricing, drivers will spend less time searching for parking, or may not bother to drive in the first place (if parking is expensive and hard to find at certain hours). According to MIT’s Senseable City Lab, the average American spends about 50 hours per year just looking for parking, wasting fuel while increasing air pollution and traffic congestion.

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Self-Driving Cars Will Change More Than How We Drive

Last week I attended a fascinating conference on the future of transportation organized by Transportation for Massachusetts or T4MA. The organizers assembled an impressive list of speakers, including Robin Chase, CEO of ZipCar, Jackie DeWolf, Director of Sustainable Mobility at MassDOT, and Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts. Robin shared her thoughts on autonomous vehicles or AVs (they’ll be tested in Boston at year end!) and how cities can ensure they don’t deliver hell, or more congestion and more pollution. Her opinions and predictions were particularly intriguing, and they are nicely summarized in this Back Channel post and in her cool You Tube video. I also share her most important comments here:

  • The arrival of AVs will have a profound social, economic and environmental impact. Regulators need to make drastic changes to current regulation across a broad range of policy areas to ensure AVs benefit people and don’t lead to more congestion, pollution and unemployment.
    • “If we allow the introduction of autonomous vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution)”
  • Robin believes the solution to our woes lies in AVs that are electric and shareable, including the rides. The economics of a trip on a ride sharing AV will be too attractive for people to pass up (cheaper than a bus ticket) and car ownership will decline rapidly in cities.
    • Side note: I don’t see why we even need AVs to be cars. Why not introduce self-driving electric buses for even less congestion.
  • With fewer cars on the road, there will be less need for parking and cities can convert ugly parking lots into parks or affordable housing units
  • Shareable AVs will address congestion, pollution, safety and beautify the urban landscape, but what about taxes and jobs?
  • We need a revamp of how we collect tax revenues from the transportation sector. The gas tax must disappear and be replaced by road user fees based on fuel type, distance traveled and time of travel with the introduction of peak hour pricing. Cars that are roaming the block in search of parking or to wait for a passenger would get taxed more (the technical term is “zombie cars”)
  • This shift also requires a massive change in our employment system. Automation will lead to unemployment. Robin advocates for a minimum income, and the portability of benefits.
  • Furthermore, to ensure the arrival of AVs don’t lead to an increase in car ownership by wealthy individuals who can afford a third car, Robin believes governments should be requiring a moratorium on personal AV car ownership for five years. This will give shareable AVs a head start on being used and known as a shareable and green mode of transportation.

Wow! Implementing these massive changes over the course of the next five years will require policy makers to ignore a lot of other important issues and to work like investment bankers. What are the chances of that? These proposals are bold but necessary to build a cleaner, quieter and more just city.