Downtown View:Boston’s Future Mobility

April 22, 2017
By

By Karen Cord Taylor

The city published its Go Boston 2030 report in mid-March. It is 223 pages long. I read it so you don’t have to. It’s taken me awhile.

It is available electronically at http://goboston2030.org/en/. Suggestions are accompanied by a note explaining how other cities have fared with such changes, a nice touch.

After I read the report, I checked in with a few people familiar with the project. The complaints were consistent. The solutions are small ideas. Many of them won’t address big problems. And the period of time the report predicts it will take to implement the solutions seems far too long. 2030? We need many of these solutions now.

But there’s much to like in Go Boston 2030. It involved many citizens. One overwhelming theme emerged: Bostonians want fewer cars on the roads and many more options for walking, biking and transit riding. Everyone wanted the ways we get around to be safer, better, faster, more reliable and less congested. “Every home should be within a 10-minute walk of a rail station, a key bus route stop, a Hubway station or a car share,” the report urged.

The principles the city employed were that plans must work for ALL Bostonians, they must foster economic opportunity, and they must respond to climate change by reducing emissions and enabling Bostonians to get around despite severe weather. Aren’t you proud of a city with those principles?

The project illuminated interesting facts: Of the people who both live and work in Boston, 36 percent ride public transit, 27 percent walk to work, and 38 percent drive alone or in a carpool. In the North End, Beacon Hill and downtown more than 40 percent walk to work.

The report’s biggest surprise was about commuting times from homes to jobs. Mattapan residents are screwed big-time. It takes them twice as long to get to work as it does the average of people in every neighborhood. Some other outlying neighborhoods have long travel times too. Downtown neighborhoods fare well in such measures. The report noted that higher housing costs mean lower transportation costs.

Achieving equality is challenging because of past history. Lower income neighborhoods rely more on slow buses while higher income neighborhoods have better access to rapid transit. Is their aversion to helping poor people why Congress finds it so hard to fund public transit? Another reason to be grateful that Boston is beginning to address this inequity.

Some suggested solutions seemed to exacerbate the problems. If you consolidate bus stops so the bus won’t have to stop as much the bus will go faster, but some stops will be farther from many riders’ homes. Running a bus from North Station to the Seaport district won’t sit well with North End and Waterfront residents, who think Atlantic Avenue and the Greenway roads are already impassible.

Many routes labeled “Bus Rapid Transit’ are not rapid since they share lanes with cars. Yet installing such lanes is estimated to take more than five years. Why so long?

“It has to be done the right way,” said Vineet Gupta, director of policy and planning for the Boston Transportation Department. “It requires us to work with the local community.”

When such lanes are created it usually requires the city to eliminate driving and parking lanes, he said.

But this report shows that the Boston residents want such things to occur. Meanwhile I’m feeling pretty bad about our Mattapan neighbors who are sitting in those slow buses.

Some pieces are missing in the report. Wayfinding isn’t mentioned much, especially the problem that newcomers might not know where they are because Boston does not install street signs on such thoroughfares as Commonwealth or Massachusetts Avenue. Several people have pointed out that taxis not mentioned anywhere. Have we decided that taxis play no part in transportation?

The North South Rail Link is not mentioned either, even though estimates predict it would take 55,000 cars off Boston-area roads. That clearly addresses the climate change and emissions goal. The rail link would also enable residents in the north to get to jobs in the south and vice versa, which addresses the economic opportunity piece. I’ve been clear before in this column that I’m an advocate for seriously studying the NSRL to judge if its promise lives up to scrutiny.

The report does mention the South Station expansion, which some predict will be out of date and at capacity as soon as it is completed.

A turf war is going on between those two projects. That is not good for the city. Minds need to open so that both projects get fully and fairly vetted.

One interesting matter regarding Go Boston 2030 is the way things are structured here.

This was the city’s effort to understand what Bostonians want in mobility but, except for streets and sidewalks, the city does not control Boston’s transportation. The MBTA does.

Gupta says his department works closely with the MBTA, and I believe him.

It would have been nice, however, to have some indication of how the city and the MBTA will work together to achieve residents’ goals.

And then there is the money problem. We’re not going to have an excellent transportation system with economic opportunity, equality and reliability without a lot of dollars to make it happen.

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