Downtown View:Ideas

This seems to be an ideas era. It’s as if we need a fresh start, that we’ve run out of old ones, that surely there’s something we can do to make this old city come alive.

The biggest idea, the Olympics, didn’t do it, except for introducing us to Widett Circle, a large acreage everyone had forgotten. Mayor Walsh has been asking for ideas for a project he calls Imagine Boston 2030—you might be surprised to realize this is only 15 years away, as short a time it has been since Y2K, which was predicted to be the end of the universe, or at least computing, as we know it.

We will know more about the Mayor Walsh-inspired ideas after the community process concludes early this winter. UMass has instituted IDEAS Mass Boston, the ideas of which haven’t gotten a lot of play, but, hey, they’re only ideas.

So why not have some publicized ideas right now. Ideas are cheap. You don’t have to build infrastructure, make sure women and minorities are represented, include affordable housing, or go through zoning. We’ve been talking so much about ideas, I wanted to hear some. I figured it was going to be up to me to ask.

So I did. I contacted friends, public officials, civic observers and just plain folks. I asked them what their ideas were for making Boston a better place to live. Wacky, unrealistic, silly or fun was all okay, since sometimes really good ideas evolve from such way-out thoughts. Serious was okay too. Some idea people wanted to remain anonymous. Others said, what the heck, use my name, so in this column I am doing so.

The most common ideas involved transportation—a challenging arena in this traffic-clogged city.

Matt Conti, who runs the popular neighborhood news website,, was inspired by Venice, Italy. He would like a more extensive water transportation system in the harbor. “Right now,” he wrote in an email, “water taxis and ferries are point-to-point and not well used.” He predicts that  a “roundabout loop” of small boats that could accommodate people hopping on and off from East Boston to Charlestown, the North End, downtown, Fort Point, the Seaport District and Southie, would be better used, especially if it were “regular, flexible and cheap.”

Those attributes are true for all public transportation.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone  also focused on water transportation. He likes an idea suggested by the Cambridge City Manager of developing a water taxi service between Boston and Cambridge with several stops along the river and into Boston Harbor.

Since we can’t add many more vehicles to our streets, these water routes might be an attractive option.

Jay also wanted a continuous bike and pedestrian path from the North End to Watertown on the Boston side of the Charles and from Charlestown to Watertown on the Cambridge side, with improved connections between Boston and Cambridge. Those connections would include a long hoped-for, but buried-under-design South Bank Bridge, which would get people safely across the train tracks at North Station.

While an underpass at the Anderson Bridge on JFK Street between Cambridge and Boston is now in the works, other bridges still prevent bikes and pedestrians from freely moving along the river in safety.

Jay said he was also pushing for a better pedestrian and bike crossing near the Museum of Science.

The transportation theme continued with both former Downtown North executive director Bob O’Brien and architect Brad Bellows thinking we don’t need a new idea.

We’ve got an old one, they said. The North-South Rail Link should have been constructed long ago, but there is no time like the present. They suggested this old idea long before Governors Dukakis and Weld met with Charlie Baker this summer. They pointed out that such a link would reduce commuter trips as well as traffic within Boston itself. They say this link would support expanded real estate development opportunities and economic growth.

They think Boston is way behind other cities in this kind of transportation planning. So even though their idea is not a new one, they say it is the most obvious idea that can be brought to fruition.

Next week, there will be other ideas—not all about transportation.

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