Lately, the notion that commuter rail can reliably meet the needs of local employers often seems in doubt amid the MBTA’s money troubles, and efforts to promote bicycling as a serious means of commuting sound to skeptics like an urban planner’s pipe dream. Which make the role that New Balance, the local athletic-shoe maker, is playing in the local transportation landscape all the more noteworthy.
New Balance has for the last two years paid for the shoveling of the Charles River bicycle and running paths during the winter months. Last year, the company also became the corporate sponsor of the Hubway bike-sharing system. Promoting outdoor activity is good PR for a Boston-based company that makes athletic apparel. But the company’s willingness to tie its name to bicycling also has a legitimizing effect on an insurgent form of transportation.
Meanwhile, New Balance’s commitment to pay for a new rail stop near its planned mixed-use development is another significant statement. The MBTA has been under siege in recent years as its financial woes have deepened, and recently approved price hikes are bound to discourage some riders. The New Brighton Landing stop, as the facility will be known, will fill a need in an underserved neighborhood. It’s also a clear vote of confidence in the viability of the rail system.
If this is a self-interested move on New Balance’s part, well, so much the better: The company’s presumption that rail service for its employees is worth millions of its own dollars sends a strong message to everyone else.