Category Archives: Boston

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. 

 

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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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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.

Get Rewarded for Your Green Commutes for #MACleanAir Week

Its Clean Air week in Massachusetts, a week during which we should think harder about our personal transportation choices and try out environmentally friendly modes. Among my circle of friends and acquaintances, no one seems to know much about this special week. There are personal benefits to obtain from participating in the Clean Air challenge: check out http://www.commute.com/CleanAir for more info. If you log your green rides through the site www.NuRide.com, you are eligible to earn a $100 Amazon gift card each day, through September 27. NuRide is also an easy and fun way to get discounts from retailers, restaurants, museums, and theaters year-round. For bikers, there is also another cool rewards program called Bicycle Benefits that gets you discounts when you bike to participating retail stores using a simple “sticker on the helmet” system.

So what efforts have I made so far to travel green this week? Aside from my usual four-block walk to take my kids to school, I chose green modes for two relatively long, 15-mile, round-trip jaunts this week. For my first trip I went from Back Bay to Alewife (Bus 1 to Central Square, then the Red line to Alewife). My second trip was more adventurous and fun as I rode my kick/electric scooter (the eMicro) from Back Bay to Newton, following the Charles River bike paths. Check out the picture I took below of an area of the Charles River Parkway that is completely hidden by trees; a pleasant escape from the sections adjacent to Storrow drive. For these commutes I get points from NuRide that I will be redeeming soon. For example, I plan to get tickets to an ImprovBoston show.

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While these commutes can be done by car in 30% to 40% of  the time I took using transit/walking/scootering,  I enjoyed these trips more than a car trip; I got some exercise, I did some reading on the train, I got some points in NuRide, I made a donation to a non-profit after chatting with a representative on Mass. Ave (I am still trying to decide how I feel about that detour).  But, are all of these benefits enough to change behavior? For most people, a 20-minute commute will almost always win out over a 50 minute one. Until public transportation gets faster in Boston, convincing many to leave their cars at home will be a challenge. Because of this reality, the Clean Air challenge is also open to drivers as long as they carpool. As an interesting side note, MassRides is looking for a ride matching service provider to partner with.

Did you get a chance to participate in the Clean Air challenge this week? Please share your thoughts about any changes you made to your transportation choices lately and what motivated you to make them.

MassBike and New Balance Bring Happier Commutes to Red Sox Games

Commuting to the Fenway area during baseball season can be daunting when the Sox are in town. On-street parking is banned on Brookline Avenue and surrounding streets as early as four hours before a game, while garage parking nearby is at least $40. The Green line train stops nearby, but is packed cheek-to-cheek with fans (and commuters) at gametime: not a pleasant experience in 90+ degree weather. Though the tough commute doesn’t deter Red Sox fans – it may even be part of the experience for some – a smoother version would be welcomed.

Well now there is a nicer way to get to the game. Thanks to a partnership between MassBike (The Massachusetts Biking Coalition), New Balance and the Boston Red Sox, you can now bike to Fenway Park and leave your bike with MassBike’s bike valet service for free.

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According to the website, “The bike valet is located across from Gate D on the corner of Van Ness Street and Yawkey Way, opening 1.5 hours prior to game time and closing a half an hour post-game.” Note that they will also accept kick scooters. Yay for happier commuting to Fenway games! Other crowded city venues and event organizers should take note and hire MassBike to provide bike valet services.

 

Dissecting Boston Commuter Unhappiness

I ran a survey through Facebook ads to take a pulse of Boston-area commuter happiness. As of now, I have 25 responses: not a sufficient sample size for a scientific study of the topic, but enough to start writing about on this blog. The survey will remain open for those in the Boston-area who still want to contribute. Not surprisingly, about half of my survey participants are unhappy with their commutes.

Happiness with Commute

Source: Happycommutes.com survey conducted through Facebook, May-June 2016

Most of them take some form of public transportation. I had no bikers, one walker and four drivers, so a pretty transit-reliant population. About one-third (or 8 out of 25) consider themselves to be mixed mode commuters and combine public transportation with walking or driving.

How do you commute

 

 

 

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