A plan for Boston’s gridlock
Maybe Marty Walsh should read more of his own press releases. In a recently detailed meeting with the Globe’s editorial board in April, the Boston mayor pushed back against suggestions he should be doing more to solve the city’s mounting transportation woes. He has limited influence over regional problems, he complained. “How could a mayor have a plan, where would you find that?” he said. “Seriously, tell me where?”
Perhaps on the shelf labeled “2017,” because that’s when the mayor’s own plan — Go Boston 2030 — was unveiled with much fanfare as the city’s most comprehensive transportation initiative in decades. “This plan will connect people to the region’s fastest growing job centers, tackle transportation inequality, prepare our transportation networks for climate change and increase economic mobility for the people of Boston,” Walsh declared in the March 7 statement.
Go Boston 2030 is an ambitious, ground-breaking initiative, the product of two years of data-gathering and creative community engagement that went far beyond the usual evening meetings in church basements. It lays out a 15-year transportation vision for Boston, with 58 specific ideas to achieve more reliable, accessible, and safe travel options for every resident of the city. If only they were implemented.
Sure, some of the proposals require cooperation or funding from the state or regional authorities. But contrary to Walsh’s assertion, there is plenty the city can do on its own to make it easier for its citizens and workers to get around, and it’s all right there in the plan.
Advocates for balanced transportation have seized on the mayor’s statement. “What’s really frustrating is that, in terms of street management, the city controls its own destiny,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of the Livable Streets Alliance, who served on the Go Boston advisory committee. The plan’s goal to close the gap for the 59 percent of city residents who are currently more than a 10-minute walk from a train, bus stop, bike share, or Zipcar lot, she said, is “100 percent within the city’s purview, its budget, and its control.”
Among the top priorities in the plan is the creation of dedicated bus lanes along several high-traffic routes, including Mass. Ave. from Albany Street to Storrow Drive, and from the Longwood Medical Area to Mattapan. Those initiatives are still languishing, though the city did conduct a pilot program in Roslindale that was so popular it was made permanent almost immediately. It removes 146 parking spaces from Washington Street, but benefits some 19,000 riders, shaving close to 25 percent off the typical commute. Still, the dedicated lane is only operational from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., and not during the evening commute at all. Another new bus lane along a stretch of Brighton Avenue in Allston is limited to the inbound side of the road. The mayor seems to be taking half steps, trying to please the advocates while not antagonizing drivers or taxpayers.
Another relatively low-cost Go Boston initiative within the city’s control is programming traffic lights to facilitate better movement for pedestrians and streetcars. But most traffic signals still give cars the advantage.
Some of the proposals in Go Boston have been implemented, including flexible parking meter rates and reduced speed limits on neighborhood streets, and the mayor’s new five-year capital budget invests $1.2 billion for new bike corridors, sidewalk repair, and other transportation infrastructure. Walsh recently joined other local leaders in calling for a freeze in the planned MBTA fare increase until the Red Line can be repaired. But the pace of change is slow, not befitting a city in a transportation crisis.
Boston is hot, with a booming economy and population, but the city is in serious danger of choking on its own growth. A study in February confirmed that Boston has the worst traffic gridlock in the country at peak periods. Commuter buses have had to adjust their schedules to allow for daily congestion. In the Go Boston report, large percentages of drivers say they would prefer to bike, walk, or take public transportation if it were available, reliable, and safe.
Mr. Mayor, there is a plan for that.
Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.