Category Archives: Policy initiatives / research

Chariots

A look at how San Francisco is adjusting to tougher commutes: private corporate buses and new mobile tech-enabled crowdsourced bus companies (Chariot, Leap).

Granola Shotgun

In the 1950’s and 60’s plans were drawn up to build an extensive rail network that would create a ring around San Francisco Bay connecting all the towns and cities in the region. It was an ambitious plan fitting an optimistic era of large projects.9countybartJake Coolidge

Below is a rendering of what that system would have looked like if it had actually been built.

RegionalRapidTransit_Dec2013revisionJake Coolidge

But this was also the height of white flight to the suburbs. Cities were in decline. The middle class was keen to escape anything that even hinted at the urban crime, pollution, and racial strife of the day. Local opposition successfully stopped BART from being built in most of the proposed suburbs. Instead, funding was limited and public money flowed to a highway network that looks almost exactly like the old rail plan. BART was limited to a bare bones system that connects San…

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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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Biking for Milkshakes

We receive a good number of gift cards to restaurants and retail establishments throughout the year. Planning when to use them can be tricky amidst our busy two-child family schedule. For this reason, a perfectly good $100 gift card to a great restaurant sat in our nightstand drawer for over two years. We finally dug it out in search of something unique to do during our atypically quiet July 4th weekend. The most unique part of our dining experience was not the dining, however – though the food was very good – it was how we got there.

The Not Your Average Joe’s restaurant closest to us is in Watertown, just a short block from the same Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path that passes close to where we live in Back Bay. Biking there seemed to me to be the most fun and logical option. Unfortunately, my 7 year old son did not agree. To be fair, his longest bike ride was hardly 20 minutes, and that was about a year ago. This trip is almost 7 miles one-way if you take the scenic route, along the Charles River. Realizing that we were asking a lot from our kids, my husband and I reset our expectations and agreed that plan B probably involved returning home hungry with an unused gift card.

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MIT Media Lab Developing Cycling App 

This week I was a research participant in an MIT Media Lab project with the Persuasive Urban Mobility team of the The Changing Places Group. A key goal of the research is driving adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors in cities through persuasive environmental and social factors as well as through technologies that make adopting these behaviors easier. One of the key researchers on the team, Agnis Stibe, describes the concept of persuasive cities in depth in his recent TEDx Beacon Street talk. One example of environmental and social persuasion that he uses in his talk involves posting stats about bicycle commuters crossing the Harvard bridge. If you knew that 2,500 bikers crossed the bridge today (instead of staring at the 5 bikers out your window), that might persuade more car commuters to give biking a try. Commuting by bike would then be viewed as a more normal activity and not something that a weird minority engages in.

The project I participated in was about testing a mobile app protype that hopes to turn skittish / reticent cyclists into more confident urban cyclists through a voice-based coaching app. Eager to improve my own cycling and to mix up my kickscooter routine with some bigger wheels, I signed up to test out the prototype. Project team member Matthias Wunsch greeted me outside the Media Lab and handed me a smartphone and some basic Apple headphones. At first, the coach told me to practice rapid braking. Once I had mastered this move, I was ready to start my urban ride on the busy streets of Kendall Square.

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TSP and Transit Priority: Not Sexy like Hyperloop but Effective Today

The term “transit signal priority” (TSP) doesn’t sound too exciting; It’s a rather forgettable phrase. Easier to get excited about bike lanes, car share and Hyperloop as new transportation ideas than TSP. But, after a few months of becoming familiar with the idea, I now see why TSP and dedicated transit lanes are key to improving urban mobility today. When I talk about efficiency, I am referring to people’s time, pocket books, and energy use. According to TransitWiki: “TSP are operational improvements in the public transportation infrastructure that reduce dwell time at traffic lights for transit vehicles by holding green lights longer or shortening red lights.” In other words, Buses and trains get their own lights, with their own timing.

From what I’ve gathered, TSP exists in Boston in two parts of town: along several intersections of the Silver Line Bus route and at four intersections of the Bus 57 route. But the impact of TSP on bus service in these areas is minimal as the lights only speed up bus service when they are behind schedule (according to an Urban Liberty article). This adds predictability to my commute but does not help reduce the current wide gap that exists between car and bus commutes in the city.

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Review of the eMicro Electric Scooter

I finally got my hands on the eMicro from Micro Scooters a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been having a blast riding it around Boston.  I also took it to Long Island, New York over Memorial Day Weekend. As I wrote about in an earlier post, It’s the lightest electric scooter on the market at 16.5 pounds. With this new vehicle in my arsenal, I can now travel much farther with less effort. The picture below of the scooter’s box cover provides its key stats:

eMicro Box

Light does not mean flimsy. On the contrary, it is made of high quality, robust parts and it is incredibly high-tech. The scooter is motion-controlled which means that the motor engages based on the rider’s movements. To make sure the rider is ready for the motor to kick in, she/he has to be going at 3mph before the motor engages. The back of the deck is packed with sensors and when you perform a scooter kick, the scooter will continue to accelerate until it reaches a maximum speed of 15 mph. This “kick assist” technology makes riding more fun when compared to riding a standard electric scooter that is either “on” or “off”.

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Transportation and health: living near highways is a health risk

There have been several articles recently about the impact of modes of transportation on  health; for example, car drivers have higher BMIs, on average, than bikers and public transit riders (see WBUR’s recent series on traffic).  But, there has been less focus on the impact of vehicle pollution on the health of city dwellers. I just learned of a study in this area at a Mass DOT planning meeting today. One of the speakers, a Tufts researcher who was advocating for an extension of the Green Line train to Medford, discussed the results of a  Tufts / Boston University study on the higher health risks present in populations living close to highways.

The Boston Globe wrote about this research in April of this year: “New Evidence of the Dangers of Living near Highways”. The study looked at the blood chemistry of individuals living close to I-93 and the Mass Turnpike to those living half a mile away from these highways. Results show that individuals living within 500 feet of a highway have higher levels of three chemicals that are associated with heart disease, lung cancer and asthma. The areas studied were:Chinatown, Dorchester, Sommerville and Medford. One of the immediate actions being taken following this study is the migration of a park in Chinatown. Real estate developers and architects who are learning about these issues are talking about improving air filtration systems.

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