Monday, August 2, 2010

Getting Around

A recent New Yorker article discussed the (not surprisingly) horrible traffic in Moscow, which reminded me of the great book by Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic.  Probably more than the average guy, I get about by a lot of modes of transportation -- in any given week, I'll make several trips by car, bike, subway, and foot, and I'd like to think that I'm pretty even-minded about it: when I'm driving I take care to watch for bikers, when I'm walking I don't jaywalk in front of cars that have the right-of-way, etc.  As such, my mind often wanders towards observing the urban environment in which I live and wondering why transportation isn't better, and if I were king of the world (or at least, my area of Boston) what I'd do about it.  In no particular order:

1) For major thoroughfares in the city, such as Massachusetts Ave., Huntington Ave., Centre St., and many others, there should not be any on-street parking.  Take out those spots and install bus lanes.  Right now, from about 4pm to 7pm on any work day, I see a line of cars slowly snaking its way through Centre St. in downtown Jamaica Plain.  Next to these slowly moving cars are a line of parked cars.  First, these cars take up space and could easily be parked elsewhere (plus, whenever someone wants to get into or out of these spots, no one can move for a good 30 seconds).  Second, interspersed with the slowly moving cars are slowly moving buses. Right now, there is no incentive to take the bus versus driving, because they are both on the same roads and hit the same bottlenecks.  But if buses had their own lanes, they could get about much faster, making more people chose the bus (which would, in turn, lessen car traffic).  Clearly it isn't feasible for every street to have its own bus lane.  But if you want to improve mass transit and you don't have a few billion around to dig another subway line, exclusive bus lanes for a few key lines gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

2) More tickets.  Please, way more tickets.  There's a light on the Jamaicaway that is a major corssing point to get to Jamaica Pond.  Every time I press the button to get the walk sign, it is pretty much guaranteed that someone will run the red light (to then wait at the next red light about 100 yards up).  Not ticketing that guy is lost revenue for the city.  Put in cameras, automate it, send the ticket out.  I have no problem with that from a "privacy" standpoint.  Ditto for idiots that "block the box," or just have a cop stationed there once every so often -- he can just walk up to you, hand you the ticket, and on we go.  After seeing that, very soon, no one would block that box. 

3) This is futuristic in implementation but not in technology -- you have to insert your drivers license to start your car.  Way too often I hear of 'accidents' caused by someone who, surprise surprise, was driving with a suspended license.  If your car won't start unless your license is valid, problem solved.  I know, suggestion #2 that is very Big Brother, but really, you're on a frickin' public road in a deadly machine.  We don't let just anyone buy automatic machine guns, so we shouldn't be so blase about proper road usage.  Would this lead to an increase in black-market activities (i.e. chop shops that short circuit the verification mechanism)?  Of course it would, but my guess (hope) is that such a policy would still do more good than harm.  Actually, this would be a great way to deter car theft -- if you needed a valid license to start the car, then it would be very hard to steal a car just parked on the street (of course, this could lead to an increase in car-jackings... hmmm....)

4) No congestion pricing.  Other cities have started to try this, but I don't like the idea.  There is something very democratic about traffic -- doesn't matter if you're in a BMW or a Datsun, everyone is on equal footing.  Unlike airline travel, college admissions, and everything in between, there is (generally) no class distinction on the road.