I am passionate about intersections - organizational, social, cultural, and physical - where people come together and have to coordinate to figure out what happens next.

Achieving Mode Shift in Massachusetts

Posted: January 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off

Over the next few months I’m going to be examining the policy topic of mode shift, an specifically how it can happen in Massachusetts.

Mode shift is clearly a transportation policy phrase. Few in the public think about shifting modes when they choose walking over driving to get to a destination. Most likely they will be making the choice because its the option available to them that feels most convenient or is part of their natural behavior. If you live in compact, walkable neighborhoods where many of your daily needs can be met in short walks, and where the infrastructure takes into account for your level of ability, and where that journey is perceived as safe and pleasant, you might choose walking over driving. If there are disincentives to driving–perceived lack or high direct cost of parking, or traffic congestion–these may cause you to walk even those some of the more positive incentives are lacking.

Successful mode shift is the result of an integrated set of changes to our physical environment, land use and zoning, policy, and individual behaviors. A series of policies that are being written that help achieve these goals ranging from the direct, like making the costs of driving more transparent and achieving more equitable funding for non-automobile infrastructure, to less direct like creating large scale and coordinated conservation zones around cities and towns to limit long term sprawl so that future development will be constrained and compact to increase the walk-ability of cities and towns.

Massachusetts is taking a national lead in developing sets of policy directives (some coordinated and some not) that span transportation, environment, public health, and zoning to achieve mode shift. While mode shift is good supporter of goals in each of these areas, the state has additional reasons. We are a small state where much of our land use is constrained. We also have dense, complex, and expensive to maintain existing automobile infrastructure that is near capacity. Both of these happen in a vibrant economic environment, creating long-term population growth. One way to allow for growth is to remove some automobile trips from the system. For Massachusetts, mode shift is an economic necessity.