Downtown View: Wish I Were There

A long time ago we decided we should try Florida for a couple of weeks in the winter. Other people seemed to like it. The place we are staying has drop-dead beaches, beautiful shells, a plethora of wildlife and an ocean that varies its shade of blue hour by hour.

While all of you have struggled with snow, ice, transportation woes, loss of work, inconvenience, discomfort and wasted time as you’ve tried to get kids to school or family members to jobs, I’ve been walking the beach, collecting shells, training my binocs on a snowy egret and listening to the raucous call of the ospreys that live atop the telephone poles.

I prefer Florida to the Caribbean, which never has shells or wildlife as good. And it’s quicker and easier for a Bostonian to get to.

There’s the rub. I’m a Bostonian. I feel as if I’ve deserted my city in its time of need. I would be out there shoveling not only my walk but also the corner, where it can be tricky to get out to the street.

Even though we’re not there, we’ve followed the situation closely. It’s easy. So many Bostonians come to this part of Florida that the Boston Globe lies beside the New York Times, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal at the nearby news stand. Boston’s drama is also being closely followed by all the national news outlets.

So we know about the city’s poor snow-clearing abilities, the too-late call-out of the National Guard and the implied criticism of the MBTA’s Beverly Scott, who has been the most entertaining public official. The rest have looked just hapless.

I felt sorry for Beverly Scott. It was disappointing to see Baker skirt around scapegoating her. That was Mitt Romney’s pitiful management style—to find someone to blame if anything went wrong and to try to make himself look blameless. I had more confidence in Baker’s management skills, and to his credit, he backed off from blaming Scott.

If I were Scott, I would have resigned too. She looked ahead and saw no way to make the system work. Baker has proposed slashing her budget—he says it won’t affect T operations. Baloney.

She saw her workers out in the ice trying to fix outmoded third rails, switches, and forty-year old trains, impossible tasks on any day. Direct current? I hadn’t realized we were running on 19th-century technology. In the “Innovation State.” Shame.

Many individuals are to blame for the T’s poor performance, and none of them is Scott. First is House Speaker Robert DeLeo. It was only last year DeLeo, etc. shot down Deval Patrick’s aggressive transportation funding proposal. Second are the other legislators and former governors who haven’t had the gumption to fix the T’s awful funding problems and invest in a system the region can’t do without. Half the MBTA’s board should fall on their swords and leave. Outmoded secrecy and a few unsavory financial practices don’t make it in the 21st-century. Old-style union leaders are another culprit.

As for those officials from the rest of the state who think all the money’s going to Boston? You won’t have state-funded resources in Pittsfield if Metro-Boston isn’t successful.

Interestingly, this is the time certain city leaders are trying to persuade the Olympics committee that Boston is up to the task of hosting the summer games. An outsider might see the T’s collapse over the past few weeks as a sign that, despite its winning sports teams, vaunted universities, world-famous hospitals, highest tech, yada, yada, Boston is really a third-world city that can’t handle a bit of weather. Certainly not “world class.”

On the other hand, the T’s collapse could be the disaster we’ve needed to finally find the political will—and money—to tackle its modernization. The Olympics give us the time line.

A city cannot be successful without up-to-date, fast, reliable public transportation. Without it, a city’s economy weakens, its environment is degraded, its tourism declines, and its citizens waste more time in traffic, affecting their well-being.

An MBTA spokesman once gave me the excuse, “It’s the oldest system in America.” That only means we’ve had longer to keep our system up to date. London’s Underground is almost 50 years older than Boston’s, and it is in far better condition with at least ten times the service and convenience as Boston’s.

By the way, you think Boston has problems? Be glad you don’t live in Florida. Get away from the beaches and the wildlife and you’re in unpleasant-ville. The roads seem worse than in Massachusetts, and this place doesn’t even have freeze and thaw cycles. Traffic is bad, probably because there is little public transportation. There are pretty neighborhoods and wild swamps with their own kind of beauty, but the place is about 80 percent strip malls and parking lots.

            I’m wishing I were back home, coping with the snow along with everyone else.

1 comment for “Downtown View: Wish I Were There

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.