Downtown View Mayor Walsh: We’re Okay with Bold

BHT1This is an advice column. To Marty Walsh. With pictures. The message: You’ve been bold. Expand your efforts.

                The mayor’s State of the City speech showed his intention to solve two of the Boston’s thorniest problems—housing and education. Downtown residents need affordable housing and good public education as much as other neighborhoods. But neighborhoods in Boston’s densest areas have additional problems. The persistent lack of solutions affects downtown residents’ everyday life.

                Since Marty seems to be taking bold action on two important fronts, we’d like to remind him of the innovative steps other city leaders have taken to improve quality of life for center city residents. Such steps require daring and fortitude, and we think he just might have those qualities.

This photo shows how seriously London residents take cleanliness. If a dog fouls a sidewalk or street in Kensington or Chelsea, the owner could be fined 2,500 pounds sterling, or about 3,700 U.S. dollars. (There was another sign that said the top fine was 1,000 pounds, but I liked this one better.)

                The City of Boston website says there is a law that one must clean up after one’s dog, but no fine is mentioned. With no consequence, the dog owners with low IQs—that must be the reason they don’t pick up because it is so easy to do so—show no inclination to follow the rules.

                A large fine, publicized on signs throughout the neighborhoods, then levied by alert city officials, would be a deterrent.

This sign accompanied a sofa that was left on a South Kensington street. In Boston we are lucky—the trash guys pick up stuff like that. But televisions and toilets, which they don’t pick up, can sit on the sidewalks for days. No fine apparently goes with this sign, probably because it is impossible to tell who put the offending item out in public view. Nevertheless, calling it an environmental crime raises the stakes.

No pictures exist for the rest of these ideas taken from other cities. But Mayor Walsh could copy the boldest ones and endure the complaints that will surely come. Then, within a year, everyone would accept them because their lives would be better.

                Charge big bucks for resident parking stickers. Bostonians, like other Americans, are guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but that does not include free parking. Parking stickers should cost a significant amount per year—50 to 75 dollars for the first car and double and triple that amount for a second and third car per household. Even though half the people in some downtown neighborhoods have no car, parking is still difficult. Charging for stickers would remove a few cars, and it would raise funds for other needed services.

Charge big bucks to drive into Boston. Forbes Magazine reports that Boston is the ninth most traffic-congested city in America. Cities in other parts of the world have successfully attacked this problem. Singapore, Oslo, and Stockholm have designated congestion zones and imposed fees to enter them. London, another example, charges the equivalent of about 17 dollars for the authorization to drive into the zone between 7 A.M. and 6 P.M. on weekdays. The charge reduces traffic, but it also reduces toxic traffic emissions, a goal Mayor Walsh has said he wants to achieve. Funds raised supplement London’s transport system. Wouldn’t it be nice to have such a new source of revenue for our MBTA?

                Wouldn’t it also be nice for those people who must drive into Boston to have fewer vehicles on the road so they don’t have to waste an estimated 35 hours annually sitting in traffic?

                Congestion charges were at first unpopular with Londoners. Then they decided they loved it. Judging by London’s continued success as a financial center, the congestion charge did nothing to stunt its economic growth, and may have stimulated it instead.

                Mayor Bloomberg tried to initiate such a thing in New York, but that city’s residents were not worldly enough to take such a step.

                Many Bostonians worry defensively that Boston isn’t world class. Taking any of these steps would put Boston front and center into the category of cities taking important steps toward making themselves better places to live.

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