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Memo From Massachusetts: 25 MPH Speed Limit Would Save Lives

If it dropped the speed limit on local roads from 30 to 25 mph, Massachusetts would save 18 lives per year, according to an analysis performed last year. Image: MAPC

If Massachusetts dropped the speed limit on local roads from 30 to 25 mph, it would save 18 lives and prevent 1,200 injuries per year, according to an analysis performed last year. Image: MAPC

Researchers in Massachusetts have concluded that lowering the default speed limit on local roads from 30 to 25 mph would save lives and yield big public health benefits. Even without additional traffic calming measures, a lower speed limit on its own would prevent 2,200 crashes, 1,200 injuries, and 18 fatalities in the state of 6.6 million, according to an analysis of a 25 mph bill considered by the Massachusetts legislature last year. These numbers should be on the minds of New York legislators, who have the potential to save lives with a 25 mph bill of their own.

By lowering speed limits on local roads to prevent deaths and injuries, Massachusetts workers and employers would save $210 million annually by avoiding the costs of medical payments and missed work, according to a first-of-its-kind health impact assessment from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Traffic analysts found that lower speed limits would add $148 million in annual costs, based mainly on the assumption that drivers would seek out longer routes that may not be as direct but would yield higher speed limits. Even with the added driving, the extra pollution would not result in any deaths, and the reduction in injuries and fatalities outweighed the additional costs.

If anything, the study undercounted the potential benefits of lower speed limits. “The health cost savings are done very, very conservatively,” said MAPC public health manager Barry Keppard. For example, the study did not measure the impact of calmer streets on property values, or whether lower speeds would encourage more people to walk or bike.

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Boston Doctors Now Prescribing Bike-Share Memberships

The newest tool for doctors in the fight against obesity? That’s right: Bike-share.

Doctors in Boston are now prescribing Hubway memberships. Photo: Hubway

Doctors in Boston are now prescribing Hubway memberships. Photo: Hubway

This week in Boston, doctors introduced a program called Prescribe-a-Bike, offering low-income residents struggling with obesity an annual Hubway bike sharing membership for the low price of $5. The program is being administered by Boston Medical Center in partnership with the city of Boston. Qualifying patients will have access to Hubway’s 1,100 bikes at 130 locations. Participants will also receive a free helmet.

“There is no other program like this in the country,” Mayor Marty Walsh told Boston Magazine. “Prescribe-a-Bike makes the link between health and transportation, and ensures that more residents can access the Hubway bike-share system.”

Local officials hope the program will result in about 1,000 additional memberships, according to the Boston Globe.

In the medical community this type of recommendation is known as an exercise prescription, and it is a growing practice. More doctors are prescribing exercise, the CDC says, as “lifestyle diseases” like obesity, heart disease and diabetes have become some of the leading killers in the United States. In addition, police measures like the Affordable Care Act are providing incentives for the healthcare industry shift focus from treatment of disease to the promotion of wellness.

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Massachusetts Official: Boston’s Winter Cyclists “Living in the Wrong City”

Bostonians making polite requests for a clear path on one of the city’s key bike routes were met with disdain from the state agency responsible for maintaining the paths.

Social media campaigns by Boston cyclists seized on some unfortunate remakrs by state officials to dramatize the plight of the city's winter cyclists. Image: Boston Cyclists Union

With a rapid-response social media campaign, Boston residents put a face on the purported “.05%” of cyclists who bike through the winter. Photo: Boston Cyclists Union

Here’s how one unnamed official from the Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation responded in an internal email thread to a message from a Boston resident asking for better snow removal on the Southwest Corridor, an important off-street bike path. The leaked email was published on the Boston site Universal Hub (emphasis ours):

Frankly, I am tired of our dedicated team wasting valuable time addressing the less than .05% of all cyclists who choose to bike after a snow/ice event… We should not spend time debating cyclists with poor judgement [sic] and unrealistic expectations, and stick with [the staffer]‘s recommendation that they find other transportation. If someone is completely depending on a bike for year-round transportation, they are living in the wrong city.

Bikes advocates in the Boston region didn’t take those remarks lying down. The Boston Cyclists Union, working with Allston-Brighton Bikes and Southie Bikes, asked local cyclists to share photos of themselves on social media with the slogan “I am the .05%” to demonstrate their numbers and their normalcy. Local cyclists also took to tweeting under the hastag #winterbiker to explain why biking in cold weather months is their best option.

Those efforts appear to have found their target. The Boston Cyclists Union is reporting today that DCR has agreed to meet with local cyclists to discuss their concerns regarding snow and ice clearance on bike paths.

And, for the record, cold weather cities that put real effort into making it safe to bike see little drop-off in cycling during the winter. Copenhagen, for instance, retains 80 percent of its peak-season bike traffic in the cold months.

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More Mayoral Results: Minneapolis, Houston, Boston

This week’s mayoral elections yielded good news for transit and safe streets in both Houston and Minneapolis. In Boston, meanwhile, the results are less straightforward.

Annise Parker, right, won her third term as Houston's mayor this week. She has been a proponent of safer streets. Image: Houston Tomorrow via Culture Map Houston

Transportation reformers in Minneapolis are generally pleased about the election of City Council member Betsy Hodges (runoff votes are still being counted, but the second-place contender has conceded). Hodges is a strong smart growth proponent and a supporter of the city’s streetcar plans. Some transit advocates are concerned her strong support for rail will mean less investment in buses. But she definitely speaks the livable streets language.

“In my vision of Minneapolis,” she told Streets.mn this fall, “our streets are for all residents of Minneapolis regardless of the mode of travel they choose. Our neighborhood commercial corridors should not be [our] raceways out of town, but vital destinations — in and of themselves.”

In addition, Minneapolis City Council candidates with strong transit bona fides also knocked off a few incumbents. Sam Newberg wrote today in Streets.mn that “now is the time to make some very real and meaningful changes to the development of our city.”

Meanwhile, Houston incumbent Mayor Annise Parker fought off two relatively conservative challengers to win her third term in the nation’s fourth-largest city. Parker, one of the country’s first openly gay mayors, recently instituted a complete streets policy in Houston by executive order. She has also helped move forward the city’s light rail system, building a diverse coalition around transit. Parker has been ranked as one of the country’s top 10 “green mayors.” She has promised to help make cycling safer in the city and joined in on some group rides.

In Boston, labor leader and state lawmaker Martin Walsh scored a surprise upset over City Councilor John Connolly in the race for mayor. Advocates in Beantown report that Connolly was clearly the more progressive choice on transportation. Connolly’s campaign featured bike rides around the city to highlight his complete streets plans; Walsh’s campaign focused more on bread-and-butter economic issues. Only three of the 12 mayoral candidates skipped a forum on transportation held by the nonprofit group Livable Streets in the run-up to the election, according to Boston Streets. Walsh was one of them.

While he’s not expected to be a visionary leader on transportation issues, there’s reason to think he’ll move the city in the right direction. He has stood for lower speed limits in urban areas. In his transportation plan, Walsh said his priorities include dedicated bus lanes in underserved areas and making neighborhoods more livable by improving conditions for walking and biking.

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Will Vehicular Cyclists and the “Right to Park” Trump Safer Streets in Boston?

Beacon Street in Somerville, just outside Boston, is perhaps the most biked route in the state of Massachusetts. It also has a terrible safety record. There have been 154 collisions involving cyclists on the corridor between 2002 and 2010, according to the state Department of Transportation [PDF].

Vehicular cyclists are undermining a proposal for a protected bike lane on Beacon Street, just outside Boston, that has attracted opposition because parking spots will be eliminated. Image: Somerville Patch

“There are more bikes going down Beacon Street in a sort of subpar bike path than anywhere else in the city,” said Pete Stidman, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union. Having a safe and protected space to bike “would increase cycling numbers exponentially.”

Working with officials from the city of Somerville, bike advocates have been promoting a safe solution. And it looks like it’s on the way: The city recently presented preliminary designs that include the addition of a protected bike lane.

The Somerville proposal is the latest sign that as protected bike lanes gain currency, this type of street design isn’t just for big city transportation departments. Evanston, Illinois, an inner-ring suburb of Chicago, recently built a protected bike lane linking residential areas to its downtown.

As with protected bike lanes in other cities, Boston-area advocates are running up against some opposition in their bid to make Beacon Street safer. The dynamic in this case is a little unusual: A handful of dyed-in-the-wool vehicular cyclists are giving a big assist to residents who value on-street parking in front of their doorstep more than street safety.

Somerville’s plan calls for eliminating about 100 on-street parking spots on Beacon for the mile-long stretch where the bike lane will be installed. Although a local parking study found that there was more than enough on-street parking capacity to accommodate the reduction, some local residents have been grumpy about the proposed change. At a recent preliminary design meeting with the community, one neighbor called the plan “discriminatory” (against drivers) and said it violates their “right to park” in front of their homes.

“I want my parking place; I think this is a dumb project,” said Somerville resident Marty Filosi.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that a handful of vehicular cyclists in the region have opposed the plan. One of them is John Allen, a prominent local follower of John Forester’s transportation theories, which — against the preponderance of evidence — argue that dedicated cycling infrastructure makes cyclists less safe.

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Did “Anti-Cyclist Bias” Let a Hit-and-Run Killer Off the Hook in Boston?

A hit-and-run truck driver has escaped prosecution for killing a cyclist in Massachusetts after a grand jury failed to indict on vehicular homicide charges. Alexander Motsenigos, 41, was killed last August while riding his bike along a suburban road in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where he lived with his wife and six-year-old son. The driver never stopped.

Hit-and-run victim Alex Motsenigos. Image: Boston Herald

The hit-and-run death outraged the community and sparked a through police investigation. For a moment, it looked like the perpetrator might face criminal charges for his fatal recklessness behind the wheel.

According to the local police department: “Investigators spent over three months and countless hours identifying and interviewing witnesses, reviewing and processing substantial amounts of evidence that was recovered at the scene and on the truck involved in the crash, executed multiple search warrants, completed a systematic accident reconstruction which included consulting with experts in the trucking field to conduct a simulation of the crash.”

Authorities brought vehicular homicide charges against Dana McCoomb, a semi-truck driver with a long list of driving infractions. But earlier this month a grand jury failed to bring those charges against the accused killer.

This weekend the Boston Globe fired off an excellent editorial blaming “anti-cyclist bias” for the miscarriage of justice and even suggested judges should screen jurors for bias against cyclists the same way they do for racial and ethnic prejudices:

Many accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles can be traced to road design, inclement weather, or attention lapse. But law enforcement traced Motsenigos’s death to truck driver Dana McCoomb, a man with an extensive history of driving infractions who fled the scene after striking the Wellesley cyclist from the side. Witness statements, video footage, and subsequent police analysis of the scene suggested that the deadly collision was more than an unavoidable accident.

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Will Massachusetts Tax Parking Lots to Fund Transit?

Here’s a transportation funding idea that aligns incentives nicely: taxing parking lots to pay for transit.

That’s what one former high-ranking state official is proposing for Massachusetts, ahead of a big announcement by the state Department of Transportation. Earlier this week Governing Magazine looked at the parking lot tax plan, part of a series of policy recommendations laid out by former Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary James Aloisi.

A former high-ranking Massachusetts officials says parking lots should generate revenue for the state's transit systems. Photo: Kunc.org

Writing for Commonwealth last fall, Aloisi said the state’s transit system (specifically the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) is in a crisis that will only be solved by hard decision making, and he urged the state’s leaders to resolve it with a series of bold proposals.

Aloisi proposed both a vehicle-miles-traveled tax and a 20 cent per-gallon increase in the gas tax, to be split evenly between transit and roads. But what’s garnering the most attention is Aloisi’s proposal to tax non-residential parking lots and garages with more than 20 spaces and dedicate the revenue to transit. The idea isn’t exactly new. All of these proposals emerged as part of a 2004 study on transit finance, commissioned by the state to fix the MBTA’s still-unresolved budget woes.

Observers are anxious see whether the parking tax put forward by Aloisi makes it into the state’s formal plans. The state of Massachusetts was set to release a new Department of Transportation comprehensive plan this past Monday, but officials have delayed the announcement until early next week.

Shoring up the transit system in Massachusetts’ largest urban area is vital to the state’s economy, environment, and social equity, Aloisi says. And he argues that it’s a mistake to continue funding transit with sales tax revenue — which should be directed to priorities like healthcare and education — and with unsustainable levels of debt:

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The Biggest Bike-Share Beneficiaries Won’t Be Cyclists

This column on the “super-users” of Boston’s Hubway bike-share system was a breath of fresh air after reading some of our local NYC coverage depicting bike-share planning as a raging conflict between car owners, pedestrians, and bike advocates.

Writer Jonathan Simmons does a quick profile of the Hubway customers who use the system more than anyone else:

With Hubway set to reopen next week, I was interested in hearing from the Gold Club riders (the 6 men and women who logged the most trips on Hubway) about their experience with biking around town. Here’s what I learned.

To begin with, none of these Gold Club members are what you’d describe as a “hardcore cyclist.” Typical of the group was Andrew Schwartz, who prior to joining Hubway had not ridden a bike in years. Likewise, Caroline Fridmar (who racked up 166 trips on Hubway last year) is a self-described “casual cyclist” who likes to pedal from her home in the North End to her job as a concierge at the Ritz Carlton. Hubway bikes are so comfortable that she often wore high heels and a dress for her commute.

Here’s the thing about bike-share: Whether you consider yourself a cyclist or not, it provides a convenient way to make trips in a city environment. In fact, the people who get the most out of bike-share are the subscribers who have no bike of their own. You can have an unlimited Metrocard and still get a lot out of bike-share — using it to make trips that start or end where the transit system doesn’t go. You can own a car and still get a lot out of bike-share — making short errands without the hassle of searching for parking.

In some ways, the same goes for bike lanes and bus lanes too. They’re not only for the people who already bike and ride the bus. They’re for the would-be cyclists who need the streets to be safer and the would-be bus riders who need bus trips to be speedier in order to switch modes.

Bike-share is going to make it more obvious that providing new transportation options is not a zero sum game where one interest group has to lose in order for another to gain. Once the system goes live, the biggest winners are going to be New Yorkers who aren’t cyclists.

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Trains, Buses, Bikes, and Sandwiches… There Should Be an App For That

Earlier today we brought you a story about a new and potentially dangerous technological innovation – Facebook in cars. To help end the week on a higher note, here’s some far more encouraging news on the transportation tech front.

A challenge to app developers aims to help this Boston bike-sharer plan his route, especially if it's lunch time. Photo: The Fosbury Flop

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in issuing a challenge to software developers: Create three new programs that combine real-time transit, bike-sharing, and even food truck data, in order to demonstrate how transit and bike-sharing complement each other.

Boston rolled out their new 60-station, 600-cycle bike-sharing system, called Hubway and sponsored by shoe maker New Balance, last July. It has been so successful — logging 140,000 trips in just four months — that Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council is overseeing its expansion to 90 stations and 900 bikes starting next year. But in addition to upping the number of bikes, Boston hopes to make Hubway more useful to its customers in other ways.

The MBTA/MassDOT challenge is really three separate challenges:

  • A software application that combines transit schedules and real-time Hubway bike availability to display possible connections between the two modes;
  • A visualization of “A day in the Life” of Boston’s transit and bike-sharing systems, possibly along the lines of what Oliver O’Brien has done for London; and, as a bonus,
  • The BLT (Bikes, Lunch, & T) Challenge, with the goal of helping “residents and visitors learn about and get to Boston’s food trucks.”

The winners of the first two challenges will each receive a year-long transit pass and a year-long membership to Hubway; all three challenge winners will receive a free pass to area food truck festivals.

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Boston to Expand Hubway Bike-Share After Brilliant First Season

It’s logged more than 140,000 rides over just four months. And now Boston’s brand new Hubway bike sharing system is packing it in for the cold New England winter.

Boston's Hubway bike sharing system will follow its successful first season with a major expansion. Photo: The Boston Globe

When it returns in the spring, Hubway will be expanding, adding stations in Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline. In total, the four-month-old bike sharing system will add 30 stations and roughly 300 bicycles — a 50 percent increase, according to The Boston Globe.

Hubway has come out of the gate roaring, surpassing early ridership figures from some of the country’s most well known bike sharing systems, the paper reports:

Its first 2 ½ months, Hubway recorded 100,000 station-to-station rides, significantly eclipsing the pace of similar systems in Minneapolis (where Nice Ride needed six months to reach that mark) and Denver (where B-cycle needed 7 ½ months).

And it seems Boston’s neighboring cities and towns were feeling left out of the bike sharing excitement. Jeff Levine, director of planning and community development in Brookline, told the Globe that the “number one question” he gets is, “When is Hubway coming to Brookline?”

Local news site BostInno credited the system with helping to make Boston more bike-friendly overall. According to writer Lisa DeCanio, despite some lingering ambivalence about biking in Boston, growing enthusiasm cleared the way for the removal of 71 parking spots on Massachusetts Avenue to make way for a bike lane. She called Hubway a “shining success,” noting that even the defending NHL champion Bruins have gotten on board, “with players riding to and from practice.”

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