A Bike-Friendly Future?

Thousands of people are working from home, not driving or Ubering. The streets are so empty, MBTA buses can actually make their schedules. (The buses are almost empty too, of course.) Biking and walking are safer and more pleasant. In Massachusetts, driving is down by 75%, which will undoubtedly lead to a greenhouse gas emissions drop as well.

How can we preserve these trends after social isolation is over and the state’s economy starts to revive? What are your ideas? Here are mine to provoke yours.

State and city policies?

  1. Massive incentives for telework.
  2. State-corporate collaboration to limit work traffic. Could companies require employees to come in only on certain days of the week, and stagger those days?
  3. Congestion pricing downtown or tolling on all routes into Boston. (Three-quarters of transportation emissions in Boston are generated by trips that start or end outside the city.)i
  4. Bus rapid transit lines on all high-volume routes.
  5. Much, much more bike infrastructure, installed quickly.
  6. “Ride-sharing” fees that users pay.
  7. Speedy adoption of the Transportation Climate Initiative to help pay for these. (The state budget is going to need help for the next several years.)

What about the negative trends?

Along with the positive current trends, some negative ones are being established and they won’t be easy to overcome.

  • Catastrophic drop in public transit ridership. Could the MBTA offer free fares to get people back onto the T?
  • Driving alone in your car. People with cars are going solo now to avoid virus transmission, and they’ll probably continue to for a long time. Should we discourage driving generally? Or discourage solo trips somehow?
  • Light traffic. Right now there’s so little traffic, car trips are fast. (Hasn’t stopped drivers from honking.) That may continue if the transition out of virus-land is gradual.

Culture changes?

Policy creates transportation options for us, but culture (and necessity) drives the choices we make. I hope you have more ideas about changing our culture than I have. My only idea is: behaviorally, our culture is radically changed right now. There have to be ways to work off that starting point.

One obvious first step: pull our advocacy groups together and start brainstorming.

PS: Here are some good national-level recommendations from the Smart Growth Alliance, and some more good ideas from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

i Carbon Free Boston Summary Report 2019, p. 52.