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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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”.
Boston is a highly walkable city (ranks third for walkability) but a study by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies shows that Boston’s public transit system doesn’t rank as highly, particularly when measuring jobs accessibility via public transit; Boston ranks third in the nation for employment, but sixth in the nation for job accessibility (based on the number of jobs accessible within a 30-minute commute). Apparently car-loving LA has better accessibility via public transit.
This issue of access to reliable transportation is being addressed through Go Boston 2030, Boston’s first transportation plan in 50 years. Access is one of three key goals for Go Boston 2030 (the other two are safety and reliability). The city’s goal for access is for every household to be “within a 10-minute walk of a rail station or key bus route, Hubway station [Boston’s bike sharing system], and car-share.” As a side note, it is interesting that car-sharing is considered an alternative to public transportation when a key goal for Boston 2030 is to reduce single-driver commutes by half in 2030 (from 40% of commutes to 20% of commutes). However, I do admire the Boston Transportation Department for putting out a very measurable goal that will give Boston households an alternative to owning a car.
Access to public transit is not equal across Boston neighborhoods, so I learned last week during Go Boston’s 2030 scenario workshops. Not surprisingly, lower-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with a high representation of non-white households tend to have poor public transit service; buses and commuter rails are too far to walk to and they are less reliable than public transit in more affluent neighborhoods. And walking often feels unsafe due to speeding drivers. As a result, individuals in these neighborhoods are more likely to be car dependent. Under 15% of Bostonians live in car dependent places, but this rises to over 30% for those in the lower income bracket (see Go Boston 2030’s Vision report).
These discrepancies in transit service mean that lower-income neighborhoods should see a larger share of transit investments over the next decade compared to more affluent neighborhoods. It appears that a key focus will be improving and/or adding transit options to the Longwood Medical Center, a key job center for lower-income neighborhoods. Addressing the transportation issues of these lower-income neighborhoods will not only address Go Boston 2030’s access goals but should accelerate progress towards an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
As a Boston citizen, I am paying attention to the city’s bold transportation plans started by the late Mayor Menino in 2014. Called GoBoston2030, the city’s transportation initiative should be a model for other cities to follow when tackling big policy issues:
It takes a citizen-centric view of transportation; it’s about how people get around and not public transit, biking or walking
Program goals are holistic; changes should lead to equity, economic and environmental improvements
The program engages citizens in building the future. The City just spent the last 18 months gathering feedback from citizens through multiple street and web-based initiatives such as an “Ideas on the Street” pop-up (bike-trailer) that visited 31 neighborhoods over a period of a month.
The GoBoston2030 initiative generated 5,000 questions about transportation and 3,700 project and policy ideas. Next week, GoBoson2030 gives citizens the opportunity take part in scenario building workshops with policy leaders, planners and engineers where this feedback will turn into possible projects. I intend to be there and will report back.