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City seeking transportation solutions

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
City seeking transportation solutions
A Go Boston 2030 representative discusses transportation ideas with Codman Square neighborhood resident Daisy Ramos at an “Ideas on the Street” pop-up cart in front of the Codman Square Library. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

How will Bostonians get to work and move around the city in the future? Looking ahead to 2030, how might transportation improvements address challenges already evident today — a growing, diversifying and aging city population, increasing income inequality, congested streets and an overburdened public transit system?

The City of Boston has been pondering these questions, with the help of an advisory group and public input from thousands of Hub residents and workers, for much of 2015. Last week, its “Go Boston 2030” initiative reached an interim milestone as Mayor Martin Walsh and the Boston Transportation Department released a report outlining a vision and goals.

The “Go Boston 2030 Vision Framework” report sketches out the state of jobs, income and commuting in Boston and lays out goals under several themes, including access, affordability, safety and reliability.

For access, the larger vision includes a “seamless, convenient, and easy to navigate” system in which “quality jobs, educational opportunities, healthy food, and cultural facilities will be accessible from every community.” An “aspirational target” is that by 2030, every Boston home will be within a 10-minute walk of a rail or key bus route, Hubway station and car-share. Today, that combination of amenities exists for less than half of the city’s households.

Early action projects include new connections between the city’s green spaces, traffic calming measures to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and “intelligent” parking meters that accept multiple forms of payment and collect data to inform parking policies.

A call to be visionary

The Go Boston 2030 initiative’s Mayoral Advisory Committee was co-chaired by state Rep. Russell Holmes, whose district includes parts of Dorchester, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan and Roslindale, and Rick Dimino, president and CEO of A Better City, a Greater Boston independent business and institutional membership organization focused on transportation, land development and environmental policies.

“We had a long discussion, thinking about what’s practical versus setting the stage to be aspirational,” said Dimino, who formerly served as Boston’s transportation commissioner and is on the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s executive committee. “We knew that, in being aspirational, we might raise some eyebrows. But I’d rather think big and long, and the mayor thought that was important, too. Near-term actions should be in the context of a larger idea.”

Holmes said the committee’s work involved addressing the needs of every stakeholder, from commuters to walkers, bikers and people with disabilities.

“The walkers would point out that walking is free, but then the disabled folks would say, ‘but that’s not so easy for us,’” he said.

But the biggest challenge, Holmes noted, is that the city of Boston does not have control over every piece of the transportation puzzle.

“The city does not manage the T or the commuter rail,” he said. “So when we create a report that involves state and federal agencies, how do we as a city force that to happen? This is a vision we have for the city, and we need all these players to be involved.”

Neighborhood participation

The visioning process started in January. Through a Question Truck, social media outreach and an interactive website, the city collected some 5,000 questions from workers and residents. The questions were sorted and organized into major themes and priorities. In April, residents, community stakeholders and passersby provided feedback in a two-day “visioning lab” at the China Trade Building.

The Vision Framework report caps Go Boston 2030’s first phase; the next phase will be formulating an action plan.

Public dialogue sessions for phase two include this fall’s “Ideas on the Street” program, in which the Boston Transportation Department stations a bicycle-drawn cart at neighborhood sites. Passersby are encouraged to respond to the prompt, “My transportation project or policy idea is…”

Outside Codman Square Branch Library on Oct. 7, hexagonal sheets of colored paper held suggestions and questions handwritten in several languages by adults, teens and a few grade school children who stopped by on their way into the library with their teacher.

On the Web

Go Boston 2030 info, Vision report: http://goboston2030.org

Ideas on the Street schedule: http://goboston2030.org/ideas-on-the-street-schedule

A Better City: www.abettercity.org

For the most part, people’s comments expressed day-to-day concerns of public transit riders:

“Give announcements in Spanish.”

“Trolley too crowded — Make trolleys larger to lessen crowds.”

“Fairmount Commuter Rail should run more often.”

“Make buses come more often! So if I miss one bus, I won’t automatically be late for work.”

Victor Rodriguez, 71, chair of the Friends of Codman Square Library group and a board member of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council, lingered for a good while as area residents stopped by the cart, staffed by consultants working with the city on the vision initiative.

“We have serious issues with transportation, especially in wintertime,” Rodriguez told the Banner. “Transportation for seniors — it’s a disaster.”

The main issue in improving things, Rodriguez said, is communication. For elders in his community, he said, transit-related information should be communicated by radio, newspaper and flyers in multiple languages, as well as by e-mail or websites.

The Ideas on the Street pop-up sessions will continue (weather permitting) through Oct. 17, with the cart appearing Oct. 14 at Roxbury Crossing T Station; Oct. 15 in Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain; Oct. 16 in Dorchester and Roxbury; and Oct. 17 in Hyde Park. For details, see http://goboston2030.org/ideas-on-the-street-schedule. Additional public engagement through the fall and winter is expected to culminate in a consolidated Vision Framework and Action Plan in Spring 2016.