While the Seaport gets all the headlines, of Boston’s traditional neighborhoods it is Allston that is about to undergo the most dramatic change physically, economically, and demographically. As a result, it is an important case study and indicator of how the city will be implementing its commitment to Complete Streets, walkability, traffic calming, and the Mayor’s core statement that “the car is no longer king.” The good news is that there is no doubt that transit, pedestrian, and bicycling facilities will be included in future plans. The question is whether they will be treated as secondary, or as equals, or even (can we hope?) be given priority over Single Occupancy Vehicles – meaning cars.Read more
Massachusetts’ difficulty in finding ways to sustainably support its public transportation system (and its still-stuttering efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure) – in other words, its continuing inability to move away from overwhelming dependence on cars – is simply a specific example of a national problem. In Congress and in many states cars are still king, if only because most people have no other choice: a 2003 Harvard study found that owning a dependable car was a better predictor of finding and maintaining a job than having a GED.
As in many other jurisdictions, Massachusetts’ MBTA’s budget crisis, temporarily settled by fare hikes and service cuts, will return again next year as an even bigger and more catastrophic problem. The MBTA Board has just approved a FY13 budget that depends on $61 million in one-time and uncertain revenues – and still ends up with a $100 million funding gap in FY14. The rerun will wreak havoc not only on the 1.24 million people who use the MBTA every day but on the entire Metro-region economy. A 10% drop in T ridership, within the range of possibility for the current reductions and probably an underestimate if future cuts are needed, will cost the state economy nearly $66 million a year simply dues to increased road congestion. Even car drivers will suffer as more people are forced to get back into their cars and endure even higher levels of time-wasting congestion, injurious accidents, and greater air/water pollution.Read more
The state has, once again, announced a multi-year delay in completing the Green Line Extension, from 2014 to 2018 or 2020 or even later. Somerville is already mobilizing to fight. But they should not be fighting alone. All of us, around this entire region, have a deep stake in the outcome. As national transportation policy gets warped by the Tea Party’s opposition to anything besides unregulated automobiles, and national transportation funding remains hostage to the right-wing goal of dismantling government, letting the Green Line Extension get “kicked down the road” will weaken our ability to push dozens of other pending transit projects to completion, whether they be rail road, subway/trolley, bus, and even off-road shared-up paths. It will make our entire regional economy weaker, our environment dirtier, our options fewer.
We’re all in this together. We need to unite to demand no more delays. In fact, given that both construction and borrowing are cheaper now than they’ve been (or probably will be) for decades, it makes sense to speed up implementation and push all the way to Route 16 near Medford Square. Putting construction off until only makes it more expensive – even the state estimates that a half-decade postponement will increase the estimated $1billion bill by at least 20% — about $200 million!Read more
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