Massachusetts’ public mass transportation system is about to go broke. It is being dragged down by over $8.6 billion of debt (including an inappropriately huge chunk of the Big Dig costs), decreasing federal aid, and the unwillingness of state government to raise revenue. The MBTA’s capital spending plan lists $3.7 billion worth of projects needed for safety or reliability, while the agency only gets to spend between $200 and $300 million a year.
Like transit systems around the country, the MBTA is caught in a downward spiral. Cultural changes and hard times have increased demand, which is growing at a faster rate than highway vehicle travel. But decreasing revenue means less service and higher fares. According to the American Public Transportation Association, more than 80 percent of the nation’s transit systems are considering or have recently enacted fare increases or service cuts, including reductions in rush-hour service, off-peak service and geographic coverage. Locally, T riders are facing potential increases of 25 cents for each bus/subway ride, about $120 a year. But these cutbacks drive away riders and reduce revenue while also setting the stage for public criticism and reduced public support, which further undermines efforts to get political support for the desperately needed investment. The result is an increasingly unreliable and unsafe system, with anti-government right wingers crowing that “the government can’t do anything” or attacking the very idea of non-car transportation.Read more
HOW ROADS SHAPE ECONOMIES: Why What Happens to the McGrath/O’Brien Highway, Sullivan Station, and Rutherford Ave. Will Make – or Break – Local Job Opportunities and Community Well-Being
Will Boston’s inner ring of old suburbs – Somerville, Charlestown, Roslindale, even Dorchester — be able to build on residential upgrading to become economic growth nodes as well? Or will they continue to be left out, with growth focused either in downtown Boston or the still-expanding outer rings of suburban towns around Routes 128/95 and 495?
The answer partly depends on the types of transportation system that gets built over the next twenty years – not only what happens to mass transit but also what is done with the older highways that run through the area. McGrath/O’Brien, Rutherford Ave., Casey (Rte 203) – these were once vital arterials bulldozed through the inner ring to connect the outer suburbs with downtown. Building them required the destruction of working class neighborhoods. But they kept the wheels of commerce rolling as the tide of growth moved outward.Read more
While we’re waiting for the big transformations needed to deal with climate change, resource depletion, dietary distortions, inequality, and the other despair-evoking problems we face, it’s good to remember that incremental improvements are still possible – and may be all we can gain at this particular moment in history. The first five items in this post applauds small but significant steps forward while pointing out some additional actions that are still needed.
The fifth item picks up a previous post’s theme – the need for bicyclists to discipline their own community about dangerous and anti-social behavior. (See “Time To Stop Behaving Badly On Bikes“) As our streets are redesigned for pedestrian and cyclist safety, we will have to confront an inevitable backlash as car owners protest the loss of their once-privileged status and businesses worry (mostly inaccurately) about decreased access for truck deliveries, parking-dependent customers, and car-commuting employees. The last thing we need at this time are stupid cyclists (or jay-walkers) providing good reasons to oppose continued change.Read more
There is never enough money or time to do everything. So decision-makers always have to prioritize where to spend and what to spend on. Other than using some random selection method, this requires having criteria (the more explicit the better) and a transparent process of applying those criteria – both understandable and visible from evaluation through decision-making.
For transportation, in addition to the standard economic development rationale, even as modified by other economic policy goals such as regional fairness and Smart Growth, the 2009 Transportation Reform Act required MassDOT to work towards a more energy-efficient, environmentally protective, and health-supporting system.Read more
Some more thoughts about how to make it safer for cyclists to get through intersections, how we walk/ride on paths, and how to speed bus traffic through congested streets.
IMPROVING INTERSECTION SAFETY — Let Bikes Go When an Early Walk Signal Flashes
GETTING PEOPLE OFF CENTER — Paint Center Lines in Multi-use Paths
THE VEHICLES OF CHOICE – Why Buses and Bikes Are the Only Modes That Will Solve Urban Transportation Problems.
SPEEDING UP THE BUS: PrioritizationRead more
- BABY STROLLERS and BIKES on the T
The MBTA has come a long way in allowing bikes on the subway, commuter trains, and busses. But there are still limits, especially during rush hour. Which is why, when I got on the T the other day during commuting time, my attention was caught by the presence of several baby strollers.
These are no longer the compact, umbrella strollers they were when I was pushing infants around. Today, they are more like mini-SUVs with enough space to carry an entire closet worth of paraphernalia on top of wheels about as big as the one on my wheelbarrow. Some of them hold two or even three kids, often way past the toddler stage. In other words, they’re big. And there were three of them on the train. No one complained, in fact, people happily moved out of the way and did the typical smile-at-the-baby routine as they moved. I was particularly happy to see that it was mostly fathers who had picked up the kids at daycare and were taking them home.
But I couldn’t help wondering. What is the difference between one of these strollers and a bike with an attached child seat? And if it’s ok to bring these 5-foot-long-by-3-foot-wide devices on to the T without restrictions, why not bicycles? And would it make a difference if some of the cyclists were willing to say “goo, goo?”Read more
One of the core insights of political strategic is the need to set expectations. Right now, the state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the Charles River bridges from falling into the river and (after being pressured by advocates) to re-align the surface layout to provide greater access and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Traffic on all the bridges has been congested for years, from long before the repair work began. Actually, the problem is mostly caused by the crazy intersections and rotaries at the entrances and exits to the bridges, rather than on the bridge span itself – although we tend not to think of it in this way.Read more
Imagine that you wanted to invent a better public mass transit system. Like a railroad it would run on an exclusive right-of-way, have weather-protected stations where people with already-bought tickets could wait, and multiple cars with comfortable accommodations. Like a subway, each car would have lots of doors so that large numbers of people, standing or in wheelchairs, could quickly get on and off from a platform that is level with the doors. Electronic signposts at every station would display the waiting time before the next pickup. Like a bus it would change its route and stopping locations as changing need requires. It would be clean and safe and fast and high-status enough to attract both rich and poor. It wouldn’t cost nearly as much nor take nearly as long to build as rail. And it would work best where traffic congestion is worst. Pretty good, right?
What you want to invent already exists. It’s called Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT. I’m not talking about Boston’s Silver Line – which is no more BRT than Amtrak’s Acela is a true high-speed rail line. Both use a label that they don’t deserve to cover up their basic failures. They are a sad reminder that the most powerful way to undermine a good idea is with a bad first example. But true BRT already exists in a few cities in this country and many more around the world. We in the Boston area need to erase our negative impressions, start again learning about BRT as if the state hadn’t already spoiled the concept. In fact, there are several places in our own region that could be well served by such a system.Read more
Despite having a high percentage of transit-dependent households, the mostly low-income and non-white sections of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan have some of the area’s worst transportation options. The buses are old, over crowded, and slow. There is no trolley or commuter train service. Since the latest estimates are that a two-person Boston household spends up to $12,324 a year more if they use cars rather than trolleys, buses, and feet, many of these people have little choice but to take what’s given them. It’s hard not to see this as discriminatory. And many residents do.
So, the only good that may emerge from the withdrawal of the state’s application for about one hundred and fifty million dollars to upgrade bus service along Blue Hill Ave – because of community opposition to the state’s plans – is that it becomes a case study in how NOT to implement successful transportation projects. What went wrong, and what can we learn?Read more