Part 2: Accepting temporary discomfort; Fighting for long-term transformation

This post is the second of two parts. Part One frames our current situation in existing inequities. In Part Two we focus on solutions that are designed to address these equity gaps and apply in the new context of COVID-19, while making our streets more livable.

Orange cones are part of the solution, but they won’t fix the problem 

This pandemic has created a heightened sense of urgency around our streets, how they are managed, and who they serve. As summer approaches and more states begin the process of “re-opening,” we must understand that operations haven’t changed much for many sectors, transportation included. Life hasn't stopped for many people who are continuing to experience age-old problems like overcrowded and infrequent buses and unsafe walking conditions.

Believe us when we say LivableStreets would love to see Boston filled with tree-lined, safe streets for people walking, taking transit, and biking. The Emerald Network isn’t a dream - it's a serious ambition that we have every intention of completing. Vision Zero is core to our mission and we are proud of the progress we’ve made in the last five years, and we won’t even think of stopping until we achieve zero serious and fatal crashes on our streets. 

Using Old Solutions to Fix New Problems

At LivableStreets, thinking about our streets is nothing new. We have been fighting to make our streets work for people for 15 years. In this unprecedented time, many are looking to new, rapid solutions to solve the issues we’re facing. In addressing this public health crisis, which has exacerbated many of these problems, we find that we already had many of the solutions to our transportation challenges. 

COVID-19 presents a new context, but further solidifies the need to center equitable process and design solutions. If we only focus on these new solutions, we will not be able to equitably conduct outreach in this time. Therefore, let's use what we have already heard from communities most impacted so we can create equitable and contextual solutions in the time of COVID-19. 

What would happen if we focused less on trying to replicate a few pretty pictures of streets in Oakland and instead put our energy into advocating for specific interventions that are explicitly designed to help the most marginalized and most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis? 

We could start with the things we already know should be done, including creating and maintaining crosswalks, slowing traffic, and adding streets lights. It would look something like this: 

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In addition to pre-existing problems being exacerbated and taking on a new context, there are certainly new unique issues that have arisen during this time. 

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Though solutions like increasing service frequency, shifting when service “peaks,” creating better infrastructure, and creating high frequent service all day outside of peak hours have long been sought after, we must also redesign how we get on the bus, how we negotiate curb space, and how we facilitate public processes, in order for us to safely and equitably operate during this pandemic. 

Earlier this week, the City of Boston’s transportation department outlined a plan to respond to COVID-19 that covers some of these elements, including expediting key bike lane routes and bus priority projects and expanding bus stop waiting areas. To learn more about their proposal, check out this Streetsblog MASS article

This is just the start. As part of the transition out of the stay-at-home advisory, people will need to continue to be conscious of the spaces they have to travel in. We will need dozens of other interventions to create safer access to parks and green space, to provide more space for people to visit small businesses on our main streets, and to improve and increase transit corridors to provide frequent and uncrowded service for those traveling to work. In addition, we also need to ensure we’re addressing systemic and structural issues, not just short term interventions. Also, we have seen rapid responses to the pandemic that incorporate new solutions that before seemed impossible, including virtual meetings and rear-door boarding, allowing for free fares on buses and trolleys. We need to continue to build new solutions that make people feel safe in the context of public health regarding transportation, and many of these new solutions can work hand in hand with existing solutions and work double duty to address old problems.

In partnership with the above recommendations, it's important to be specific and intentional about each and every intervention we advocate for. If we step back from what is easy or obvious and instead take a moment to ask: who is most impacted, who is most in need, and what intervention will have the greatest impact, we will all benefit from a more equitable and livable Boston that will be more resilient to future crises.  

Be sure to check out our Virtual StreetTalk Series on COVID-19 mobility issues.

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