I constantly think about how we move around the city — about public transportation, about the fight to stop the inner-belt highways from being built here in the 1960s and 1970s, and what the defeat of those highways meant for the growth of multimodal transportation in Boston. I think about Mayor Janey and Mayor Wu lifting up the need for free buses and rolling out the really successful pilot program for the MBTA’s 28 bus line and, later, the 23 and 29 lines. That is innovative and revolutionary. It shows us how drilling equity into our infrastructure planning can help relieve the economic burdens of under-resourced communities.
But as Boston’s population grows, our public transportation infrastructure continues to crumble, and our transit planning can’t just be about new cars on one line and new tracks on another. It has to be a discussion about the system and the economic impacts of that system on Black and brown communities that are struggling to get to doctors’ appointments, to schools, to jobs that don’t allow working from home. The pandemic has intensified our understanding of why we need to go deep with our infrastructure investments. It showed us that there’s a vital population of families, workers, students, and residents who are really dependent on the efficacy of our public transit system. Many parts of the city are still disconnected because the radial orientation of our transit system doesn’t make it easy to move across communities like Dorchester and Jamaica Plain. So we need to upgrade our understanding of how Boston’s connectivity works and make sure that our public transit is safe, reliable, and based on “desire patterns” — which is formal transportation language for people’s desire to go from one destination to the next.
Karilyn Crockett, assistant professor of urban history, public policy, and planning at MIT, is the author of “People Before Highways.” Miles Howard is a freelance journalist in Boston.