How to pay for the MBTA? Get more cars off the road.

The MBTA is in a financial crunch. The recently convened MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board painted a “bleak picture” of the MBTA and its finances in September: it has a projected deficit of $242 million deficit in fiscal 2017. Costs of the Green Line Extension have ballooned by an extra billion dollars, seemingly without explanation.
In an effort to get the agency back on track, no option is off the table. Governor Baker has already proposed privatizing lesser-used bus routes, an unpopular move among the labor leaders (despite claims that no union jobs would be lost). It was proposed to increase parking costs at MBTA parking lots in order to close the operating budget deficit. And yesterday, the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board floated the idea of raising fares as a solution to this crisis.
It is true, these solutions may help to close the operating budget deficit – assuming ridership is maintained at current levels. But with raising fares comes another problem: it decreases ridership because some may not be able to afford the cost of a ticket or monthly pass. In other cases where commuters drive to an MBTA lot, it may raise the cost of commuting to be equal to commuting by car, especially as gas prices hit record lows.
However, the proposal to raise fares is unsaleable and should not be considered as a serious approach to fixing the T. A recent Boston Globe article cited the cost of subsidizing the various modes of transit:

Mode Taxpayer Subsidy per Ride
Subway $0.61
Light Rail (Green Line) $1.39
Buses $2.86
Commuter Rail $5.75
The Ride $45.53

A few things stick out when looking at this table. First, The Ride seems to have a huge subsidy. But this is warranted given the nature of The Ride – it is paratransit service provides door-to door, shared-ride transportation to eligible people who cannot use fixed-route transit (bus, subway, trolley) all or some of the time because of a physical, cognitive or mental disability (according to the MBTA). It is bound to be more expensive.
The table below looks at the total cost of each ride by adding the fare the MBTA charges for someone with a CharlieCard to the reported subsidy:

Mode Fare per Ride Taxpayer Subsidy per Ride Total Cost per Ride Percent Paid by Rider
Subway $2.10 $0.61 $2.71 77.5%
Light Rail (Green Line) $2.10 $1.39 $3.49 60.2%
Buses $1.60 $2.86 $4.46 35.9%
Commuter Rail $2.10-$11.50 $5.75 $7.85-$17.25 26.8%-66.7%

The data show that subway riders pay for the greatest percent of their ride, meaning the fare is the closest to the actual cost per ride. The commuter rail has the greatest variability of cost paid for by the rider.
Note that bus riders pay for 36% of their bus ride. This stat has been the basis for further investigation by the Baker administration. The $2.86 subsidy as reported by the Globe is an average, meaning that it is subject to great variability. Outlier routes could pull that number either up or down. The Governor identified several low ridership routes, including night and express routes, that had a net subsidy of $3.51 per ride and cost $8.9 million annually (while they bring in only $1.9 million in revenue annually), according to the T in an article on WBUR.org.
The idea is that these routes, which cost the taxpayers a great amount of money, should be privatized so the private companies pay to operate the routes (assuming the same standard of service) and those subsidies can go toward bridging the T’s operating budget deficit. Governor Baker promises that no union jobs would be lost in this program, since those operators would simply be reassigned to routes warranting greater drivers, dispatchers, etc.
While this sounds like a great idea, it is assuming that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority exists in a vacuum. Yes, it is important to look for ways to make the agency more efficient by reforming it. But reform can only go so far. Transportation advocates tout the phrase “Reform AND revenue,” emphasizing the need for a dual-pronged approach to fixing the T.

But this talk of reform and revenue raises a question: why is the T solely responsible for closing its deficit? The fact is that there are not enough ways for the T to gain revenue without public subsidies. By its very nature it is intended to lose money. This is because it is a public good and ultimately benefits society. (Most) students do not pay to go to school. They attend a public school funded by property taxes because an educated populace is good for society as a whole (indeed, it can be argued that public schools are underfunded as well, but that is a topic worthy of another post and outside the scope of my expertise and research).

The fact of the matter is that the T cannot exist without taxpayer subsidies, and cannot rely on fare increases as a means to fix itself. The MBTA is not alone in this fact. Cars are highly subsidized, too. According to data from the US census, Massachusetts’ drivers only pay for 58.7% of the cost of driving on roads. The other 41.3% comes from – you guessed it – the government.

So, how do these numbers break down?

Revenue Type Amount Received by State (Millions)
Tolls & User Fees $467.9
Fuel Taxes $660.8
License Taxes $378.1
Total $1,506.8

This means Massachusetts collects $1,506.8 Million from user fees & user taxes. This is a very significant number. But Massachusetts spends a total of 2,564.8 Million on state-local roads. The state has to pony up an additional $1,058 Million to cover the total cost of roads.

In short, drivers only pay for 58.7% of the cost of driving.

Drivers use their cars in lieu of the T because it’s cheap to driver. They drive because it’s sometimes more reliable than the T. They drive because they don’t have access to the T, or because it’s faster than taking three buses.

But in this drivers cause many problems. Not only are they costly to the state to the tune of $1,506.8 Million, but they cause congestion and traffic. They cause pollution through tailpipe emissions.
Using Governor Baker’s logic, the state should raise taxes on drivers to cover the deficit of roads and infrastructure. However, the Governor actively campaigned for a ballot question that reduced the state’s ability to raise the gas tax in order to pay for roads and infrastructure. He has actively opposed raising any new taxes, noting that reform is the answer.

Why then, is it acceptable to raise MBTA fares but unthinkable to raise the gas tax? It seems like a problem of nomenclature. Would it be permissible to raise user fees? If the cost of driving were more accurately reflected in tolls, registration fees, and the cost of gasoline, then driving would be a less economical choice for many people. They might be forced to take the T. With an influx of T riders come higher revenues because there are more people paying fares.

Ultimately, the Governor, the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, and the Commonwealth are interested in finding unique ways for the MBTA to fund itself. The MBTA is impaired from doing this on its own, and government agencies must collaborate to address this problem. The goal of increasing T revenues is achieved by having fewer drivers on the road and more riders on the T. Fares need not be raised.

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If I Could Improve One Line

One Line

I was recently posed the question: If you could improve one line in the greater Boston area, which would you prioritize? This post is an attempt to answer that question using existing plans as well as my own imagination. MassDOT and the MBTA have drafted many plans for what they would like to see in Boston’s public transit, yet many remain plans and dreams until funding comes around. While time might be better spent brainstorming creative methods to raise money for infrastructure beyond highway repairs, it is good practice to go through a planning process if significant funds were every made available, be it through an increased gas tax, toll fees, or increased fares (all of which are half-solutions to the greater problem at hand). In the words of President Eisenhower, “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

There are many approaches to this question. Do I think realistically and suggest an answer that could actually happen? Or do I take a risk and suggest something that isn’t even included in the MBTA’s long-term capital plan? My question is, why not both? There is an easy fix to the Silver Line, which I would suggest in order to provide more opportunities along the Washington Street corridor to spur business and create access to jobs. I argue that improvements on this line will spur innovative solutions to the entire transit network in the Boston region.

The story of the Silver Line is one of disappointment and compromise. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, it is the

Image from bostonstreetcars.com

Image from bostonstreetcars.com

replacement for the elevated orange line that once ran above ground from Chinatown through Dudley Square to Forest Hills until 1987. The Orange Line moved to the Southwest Corridor after Jamaica Plain activists prevented the construction of an expressway there. It resulted in a vacuum of transportation for those in the South End, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain who had relied on the elevated.

Despite being promised an “equal or better” replacement, residents were given what we have today: the Silver Line, which is a botched implementation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and must confuse the heck out of tourists. Originally the plan was to provide transportation to the developing Waterfront area with a cheap alternative to rail. The SL 4 and SL 5 were afterthoughts and a way to silence the criticism of local residents and elected officials. Although the Waterfront has dedicated tunnels and lanes (see Courthouse Station, which is the epitome of lavishness but completely underutilized – so much so that no one even pays to advertise there), the BRT along Washington Street is essentially a glorified articulated bus. It is plagued by delays because of traffic, on-board payment, and overcrowding.

My improvement would be upon SL 4 and SL 5. Signal priority was a simple fix that we have already seen on normal bus routes across the region and have seen on the Silver Line. Further improvements are possible that would be simple and could increase the efficiency and ridership to this once flourishing corridor. There are three simple suggestions that would improve this line: median stations to speed boarding processes, dedicated bus lines to ensure speed, and more frequent service to accommodate ridership increases.

Median Stations

Image from sfcta.org

Image from sfcta.org

These changes require alteration of Washington Street. It is already a wide street with dedicated bus lanes along some stretches. Constructing a concrete median would eliminate a lane of traffic or make traffic lanes smaller. However, it would be consistent with MassDOT’s goals for more complete streets, which embrace all modes of transportation. Roads are intended for use by more than just cars, and it is important for infrastructure improvements to reflect this, especially as fewer people are using cars. Median stations would allow fare gates so passengers could board through all doors rather than lining up at the front to pay their fare. This would result in quicker boarding. It would create “stations” rather than just shelters and bus stops, which might then include heaters, fare machines to reload CharlieCards, and sign displaying arrival information.

A potential problem would be the exit from median stations. Obviously pedestrian safety would be a main concern. Therefore, crosswalks would be installed and colored to differentiate themselves from the street. Lights would be synced with the arrival of Silver Line buses to reduce overcrowding on station platforms and so riders can cross the road with ease. This is already seen on the Green Line B-Branch at Griggs Street/Long Avenue, but rather than pressing a button pedestrians would be open to cross immediately upon disembarking. More station infrastructure could be built along the sidewalks to increase mobility within the system, such as bike racks, Hubway stations, and more seating.

Dedicated Bus Lanes

The next suggestions would be dedicated bus lanes. Although there are already bus lanes along stretches of SL 4 and SL 5, there is room for improvement. For example, bus lanes would be moved to the center to accommodate new median stations. They would include overhead electric power to reduce tailpipe emissions, much like the underground portions of the Waterfront Silver Line and 71, 72, 73 and 77A trolleybuses in Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown. This right-of-way removes the buses from congestion and ensures on-time arrivals according to schedule.

Frequency

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

The last improvement would be more frequent service. Currently, peak service on SL 4 and SL 5 is every 10 and 7 minutes respectively and up to 20 minutes at non-peak hours. Meanwhile, rapid transit runs every 5-7 minutes during rush hour and up to 10 minutes at non-peak hours. Currently many commuters walk to the Orange Line to travel downtown. With a better Silver Line, they may opt for a shorter walk to the Silver Line, creating more rider demand. Improved reliability and efficiency would increase ridership along the Washington Street corridor, which means already crowded buses would become even more crowded. Larger buses do not seem feasible given large articulated buses already run on the Silver Line. Therefore, more frequent service would be necessary.

But the biggest question remains unanswered: of all the problems Boston faces in terms of transportation, why should we focus on fixing the one “line” that isn’t a train? The answer comes in terms of cost: Bus rapid transit is a cheaper alternative than rail. There are minimal infrastructure costs compared to laying down rail. Stations are much more minimal. Plus, they are much more flexible to shift with city travel patterns than rail. Whereas rail is a fixed route, BRT can change when the people within cities change habits. As development continues in Dudley Square and other portions of Boston outside downtown, the “travel from outside the city to the central business district” model of commuting will be outdated. It is important for transportation to reflect the needs of the people who use it, and BRT will allow for this.

Successful implementation along the Washington Street corridor will serve as a model for the rest of the city. The Silver Line Gateway to Chelsea and East Boston will become more a reality, as will improvements in neighborhoods currently without rapid transit. Effective transportation options will become available to provide unparalleled mobility and opportunity to all Boston residents. In an age where funding for transportation is scarce, it is important to make the most of every dollar. BRT is a cost-effective solution for moving mass amounts of people with minimal infrastructure costs and costs to the environment.

The SL 4 and SL 5 are the two lines I would improve if I could, and believe the process of improving BRT in the Boston region now will pay dividends later.

Mayor Marty Walsh’s First State of the City Address

What can you take away from this speech? We’re making moves on education by creating opportunities for kids to gain practical experience, and doing so by partnering with companies and actually talking to the unions. We’re fixing affordable housing by using the carrot of tax incentives to promote low- and middle- income housing. Homelessness is a major problem, but rather than patching wounds Mayor Walsh aims to attack it at the source by creating an Office of Recovery Services to help people get back on their feet. But most of all, there was an emphasis on innovation and data-driven decision: the old-fashioned ways of doing things just won’t cut it anymore – so we’re going to need new ideas, and have to foster others’ creativity, too.

>> I was very excited after having the opportunity to attend the State of the City in person tonight. As such, what follows is a rather long reflection of Mayor Marty Walsh’s agenda and my musings on what they might actually mean for the city. <<

The Summary

Thriving. Healthy. Innovative. These three words were the theme of the night during Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s first State of the City address at Symphony Hall on January 13. As he roared through an energetic speech the crowd stopped him after nearly every sentence, erupting with applause and enthusiastic support for the Mayor’s ambitious agenda. He touched on the important topics of schools, affordable housing and the necessity of a living wage in the city while laying out the accomplishments of the first year of his tenure, and describing what lay ahead in 2015.

The night began with a handful of artistic performances, including the Kenney School Elementary Marching Band and a quartet from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Highlighting the pre-speech events were an invocation from Sister Patricia Andrews, which touched upon Boston’s storied history, and how diverse Bostonians have become. The City of Boston Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges read aloud her craft, describing the physical and demographic changes to the city in a winding artistic rendition. The Pledge of Allegiance was even performed by naturalized and future US citizens, highlighting the opportunity Boston lends itself, holding true to the nickname “Athens of America.”

After a brief intermission, the Mayor stepped onstage. To no surprise he shared his thoughts and prayers to those in Paris, thanked those in attendance, and remembered the lives of the public servants who passed away (especially Mayor Menino), but spared no time proclaiming that the state of our city is “strong and getting stronger.” From there, he recited carefully rehearsed facts and figures, proving his steadfast dedication to numbers and data. 19,000 potholes filled, 1,061 guns off the street, and the most diverse command staff Boston has ever seen.

When the Boston 2024 Olympic bid was released, many feared that it would distract Mayor Walsh from paramount campaign promises and mayoral duties, primary the need to improve the schools. Tonight proved this to be false, as Mayor Walsh proposed a series of initiatives aimed at improving Boston schools, from the elementary level to the high school, where a whopping 30 percent of students do not graduate. In addition to the earlier news that BPS would lengthen the school day for forty additional minutes of learning, he announced an excitement partnership with tech company SAP, which would help students from Charlestown High transition to Bunker Hill Community College. He introduced financial empowerment program aimed to help children save money to fight poverty. And he described a new authority dubbed the School Building Authority, which would be a permanent program to ensure schools in every neighborhood would provide the facilities necessary for children to learn. He topped it off with the announcement that he would narrow down the applicant pool for a superintendent of schools, so that BPS would have concrete leadership. We will not be “satisfied with anything less than success.”

Staying true to the celebrated notion that Boston is a city of neighbrohoods, Boston “succeeds when it galvanizes the entire community.” This meant the welcomed investment of neighborhood innovation districts. This is exciting because it allows all of Boston to reap the benefits of innovative tech companies and startups created by its own residents. Rather than zoning a place for outsiders to come in, this idea allows the creativity and ingenuity of local residents to be translated into economic empowerment and a way to improve the world. Rooting in the power of data, Boston will continue to innovate and thrive, starting with the introduction of a parking app for phones, eliminating the need to juggle around quarters every time one parks. On the campaign trail the Mayor said he would tear down City Hall and replace it with a decentralized neighborhood setting. Well, this has yet to materialize, but the barren brick plaza at City Hall is due for a facelift, since the city itself should have as much pride in its front yard as its residents. This will be a welcomed change to complement the beautiful new head house at Government Center coming in one year.

Related to development is the obvious need for affordable housing. The Mayor acknowledged the lack of it, and repeated his October plan to create more housing by 2030. Rather than enunciate the need for more housing, Mayor Walsh outlined a plan to make the City more affordable for its longtime residents. There are 250 city-owned parcels he plans to develop for low- and middle- income housing. He announced a 30% discount on sewer rates for seniors, urging other utilities to make the same discount in order to keep our older generation in their homes. And he flexed his #MApoli muscles by explaining the bills he has put forward, including tax incentives for developers to build middle-income housing as well as a trust for seniors to continue to afford their homes.

While there were a plethora of solutions to combat the ever-climbing housing prices, Mayor Walsh seemed slim on the pressing issue of homelessness. There was no doubt that he took the issue seriously; it was evident that he lamented having to close Long Island Bridge. However, it was a necessary safety precaution and has forced us to create “real solutions.” The city just completed a homeless shelter for 200 people, but are still scrambling to house the 700 displaced form Long Island, in addition to the large amount of homeless already in Boston. The Mayor described the first-in-the-nation Office of Recovery Services, showing his dedication to the recovery community. However, it will be important for this office to include helping the homeless recover from this situation, which seemed bleak and still rather open-ended. However, as was mentioned before, Mayor Walsh understands the issue, recalling a story from Thanksgiving Day when he volunteered at Pine Street Inn. He spoke with a man working there who had once been a visitor to the shelter himself, but had turned his life around. This inspiration story provided the audience with hope that possibly the Mayor will be able to address this urgent problem with concrete steps. I certainly hope so.

Before the activities began protestors gathered outside Symphony Hall to demonstrate against police brutality made evident by the events in Ferguson and New York City. As the Mayor said, “When it comes to race and class, Boston has a lot of unfinished business.” This is undoubtedly one of the scars Boston has had to bear. While there was recognition of the cooperation between protesters and police officers, he explained the need for a continued conversation, alluding to the recent Rockefeller Grant as a way to ease these decades-old social tensions.

It was a brisk, thirty minute speech wrapped up by a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is creation of a beloved community.” These words could not be more applicable, and left the crowd energized and excited to embark on a remarkable journey to help keep Boston strong.

The Analysis

First of all, I have to stay I was surprised at how short it seemed. Reviewing my notes he covered an incredible amount of material in a brief thirty minutes, making me wonder what other policies he has up his sleeves. The press has been hard on the Mayor lately, especially in lieu of the Olympic bid. However, he has excelled in many areas that were previously challenges for leadership of the City. Most notably has been his ability to negotiate labor contracts, especially that with the Boston Teachers’ Union to extend the school day by forty minutes. This was a campaign promise by Mayor Walsh that he has held true, arguing the logic that more time in school allows more opportunities for kids to learn and to stay off the street.

It is clear that the Mayor is displeased with the current school system, which perhaps is why he has waited so long to hire a superintendent. It is better to wait for a perfect candidate than proceed with an average hire. Education policy is not my forte, but is something I am rapidly learning more about and certainly understanding the importance in creating opportunities for future generations. This is why I was thoroughly excited by the concrete programs and partnerships announced tonight. They seem like they will be able to create unprecedented opportunities for students in our city, and will allow them to contribute to the thriving innovation culture Mayor Walsh is helping nurture.

As I alluded to earlier in this article, I felt like he was short on solutions for homelessness. I understand it was necessary to make a quick decision on Long Island, and there are opportunities to attack at the core problems of homelessness. In the meantime it might be more cost-effective to put up temporary homeless shelters as we have been doing, but it also seems like there have to be more ways to get people off the streets. Haley House and Pine Street Inn can only help so many people, often crowding its lobby and kitchen during the cold winter months. Therefore I am hoping that the new Office of Recovery Services will help not only recovery and addiction efforts, but help with training in order to teach skills that will help with employment. Just as we emphasize innovation and creativity with our children, it will be beneficial to foster innovation and opportunity to help those out on the streets. In addition, more shelters will be necessary so long as Boston faces these unforgiving winters.

Now to the issues that were not necessarily developed in the speech, perhaps due to lack of time or lack of public outcry. As is the theme of this blog, transportation: Admittedly, the Mayor mentioned several improvements to transportation, such as side guards for city trucks to protect cyclists, and transit-oriented development along the orange line in Forest Hills and also in Dorchester (I’m assuming he means the Fairmount Corridor). Is there anything we can do about the Northern Ave. Bridge? The behemoth Allston Interchange Project? The Mayor has done a good job vocalizing his support for complete streets, so I am generally pleased with his complete streets approach and encourage him to continue to push development that encourages ALL modes of transportation (note: he did mention that the City is looking out for all forms of transit, so that seems like it’s in the bag, for lack of a better term).

Overall, I am very pleased with Mayor Walsh’s first year and even more excited for his second. I am a senior who will be graduating from BC in a few months, and this speech truly inspired me. I feel energized and ready to help keep Boston great. We are on the same page, and I look forward to every opportunity I have to promote a better environment for all Bostonians and the chance for equal transportation access and economic opportunity.

Beaux-Arts Boston: The City Beautiful

Copley

There was once a point in time where people would finance beauty for public enjoyment. It was a shared value that everyone could appreciate, and would add value to the public sphere. Knowledge was a public virtue that could make society better. This ideal is epitomized by Copley Square in Boston. In the bustling Back Bay Historic District, Copley Square stands out as one of the most beautiful urban areas in the world. The size of one city block, it delivers architectural styles ranging from the High Victorian Gothic of the mid 1800s to the bold International Style in the 1970s. The square encapsulates the “city beautiful” ideal of the Beaux-Arts school of architecture in France. Always in flux, the buildings surrounding the square combine to create a surreal experience, bound to capture the imaginations of tourists and locals alike. It is the epitome of creating beauty for the public, accented with the addition of the Boston Public Library, confirming the city’s dedication to knowledge, while also adding aesthetic value to a beautiful part of the city.

There are several unique factors that make Copley Square a meaningful urban space. The first is the John Hancock Tower. One of the most recognizable symbols of the city, the Hancock was designed by architects Henry Cobb and I.M. Pei and was completed in 1976. As the tallest building in Boston – and New England – it is visible from miles away, indicating Back Bay’s influence as the face of the city. It is not uncommon to see tourists wandering around its walls, staring at its great height or looking at their reflections on the glass. In fact, it is almost impossible to go to a Boston gift shop without seeing the recognizable glass and shape of the Hancock Tower. No skyline photo is complete with out it, and it often harkens as the city’s business center, without actually being downtown.

It faced significant trouble when its windows started falling out shortly after completion. Due to a complex mixture of physics and engineering, the wind actually caused the building to bend in such a way that the windows would dislodge from their holdings and descend on the world below. It is nothing short of a miracle that no one was hurt from the glass from the sky, but is a fitting allusion to the history of Boston itself. As a city faced with its fair share of bumpy history, from the hundreds killed in the Revolutionary War to the turmoil resulting from busing. Despite these bumps, Boston has recovered to become a city on the international scale and an icon for the rest of America. The Hancock operates in much the same way for its surroundings. Its windows are now secure and it captures the heart and soul of the city – often seen in its reflecting windows.

Further, Trinity Church adds to Copley Square’s mystique. Designed by the magnificent Henry Hobson Richardson, it has often been called one of the most beautiful buildings in the country and in the world. It is a hallmark of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, complete with archways, magnificent carvings and statues, and a tower that draws the viewer upward towards the heavens. At nighttime the building is illuminated and commands respect from the Square below. It is an imposing building, and stands out when juxtaposed against the modern skyscrapers in the background. It is regal as the centerpiece of Copley, and is an interesting mix of public space and private worship.

This has always been a subject of interest when studying architecture. People from around the world come to Boston to admire the church’s natural beauty, while other come inside to worship the beauty of the heavens. People come inside to view its magnificent interior architecture, while others come inside to go to work. The dichotomy between private worship and public admiration does not cause tension, but rather acts to reinforce the natural connection between spirituality, reflection, and the individual.

Directly across from Trinity Church is the centerpiece of the city beautiful: The Boston Public Library. Designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the BPL represents America’s first public library. Boston has always been a city of firsts, including the first public park and first underground subway system in America. The BPL further cements Boston’s dedication to the advancement of the public good by creating a center for learning in an environment just as beautiful. The exterior alone is worthy of marvel: beautiful rhythmic black lamps accentuate the arched doorway and clay tile roof, clearly a nod to its Italian villa influence. Its façade is etched with the phrase, “The Public Library of the City of Boston Built By The People And Dedicated To The Advancement Of Learning.” Open to the public, the inside provides a safe space for reflection, admiration, and reading. It is highlighted by the Bates Reading Room, a majestic room with high vaulted ceilings that create a quiet space for reading and writing. The building itself is shaped like a doughnut with an atrium in the middle. It creates a sanctuary from the urban environment and places the visitor into an Italian villa. As a whole, the building itself is just as beautiful as the knowledge and the books it holds.

Finally, Copley is accented with the new Old South Church, a colorful High Victorian Gothic building whose tower adds to the mystique of Copley Square.

Overall, Copley is an architectural beautiful space that best represents the development and influences of American architecture. It is important, however, to not overlook the square itself. The large open space has many purposes, from hosting open air markets to creating common space for citywide celebrations. It is a gateway from the city’s outer neighborhoods into the traditional “downtown” area. It welcomes those from the T underground and greets marathon runners as they finish mile 26.2. It is unimpeded public space that people use for their own purposes: skateboarders use the fountain structure as a ramp in the winter while kids frolic in the water during the hot summer months. People from across the country visit Copley to admire its architecture while those going to work utilize its functional purposes. The Hancock is as much a destination for pleasure as it is a destination for the dreariness of work. It embodies the values of the city of Boston, that knowledge and beauty make the public a better place. It inspires people to achieve their dreams, and continues to capture the imagination of this Boston resident even after 4 years. Its magnificent buildings are a symbol of the City and tower over the landscape for miles. Its very existent is a testament to the ingenuity of Boston city planners, as it was once a literally bay before it was filled in to become land.

However, in every beauty there must be flaw. In Copley Square, it is an obvious embodiment of lavish and wealth. Surrounded by Back Bay and the gentrified South End, it is an obvious product of influence. The history of Boston shows that this neighborhood was more likely to receive investment dollars than some of the poorer neighborhoods. The central library is difficult to access for a majority of the neighborhood, and shows disparities of wealth and influence. It is almost as if to say culture and knowledge is available to the public, but only if you meet certain requirements. Indeed, this is a product of its location and its wealthy history, but it does not hide the fact that Boston has other, more neglected neighborhoods.

And this is the plight of architecture. Urban planners and designers are often trying out the next best thing, whether it is a new style of building or new layout of road. They feel free to experiment where the money is, so influential parts of the city are able to develop with new technology while the neglected neighborhoods fall into deeper neglect. South Or, if investment is focused on dilapidated areas, it often prices out longtime residents such that they can no longer afford it.

Thus, it begs the question. Can innovation, beauty, and smart design combine in an urban environment without driving out the people who matter most to the neighborhood? Can planners create a beautiful city that inspires its residents and creates opportunities for the public founded in the principles of the city beautiful? Can technology and history combine to create a modern, transit-oriented urban area in one of the oldest cities in America

There is no easy answer to this question. However, there are plenty of opportunities to test different methods in an urban lab. The Fairmount Corridor provides opportunities to create a beautiful city intended for its current residents. Transit-oriented housing in Jamaica Plain along the Orange Line has the potential to house the middle class without the need for a car. Lastly, Dudley Square is increasingly becoming a center of city and state government agencies, showing that the public sector is dedicated to the neighborhoods it serves. If these development projects can proceed and promote inclusion on the current communities, they will be considered a success.

Boston is poised to position itself as an urban laboratory, and will reap the benefits of successful implementation. Public involvement is key for these projects, and engaging relevant stakeholders should mean involving those where are already there, not those who plan to move there. Boston is best when it invests in itself; Boston is best when it invests in its people. The city can make itself more beautiful, more accessible, and more opportunistic for people of all classes, races, and ages by embracing smart development and New Urbanism. With the methods and principles in mind, Boston will reaffirm its longtime nickname as the Athens of America.

Underrated Transit Projects

Great considerations for Boston in here. They need to be heard!

Pedestrian Observations

In between the airport connectors and mixed-traffic streetcars are some public transit proposals that would be potentially high-performing. This is a list of potential lines in the US that don’t get nearly the exposure that they deserve.

The basic rule of this post is that if it’s being built, or is on an official urban wishlist pending finding the budget for it, then it’s not underrated. Some of the most important transit projects in North America are in this category: Second Avenue Subway’s current and future phases, the Regional Connector, the UBC SkyTrain extension. What I’m interested in is lines that are only vaguely on any official wishlist, if at all, but could still get very high ridership compared to their length. It is possible that these underrated lines would turn out to be worse-performing if a study were undertaken and the costs turned out to be very high, but…

View original post 1,586 more words

The destination of this train is: Closing

I’m a few days late to the party, so by now most Bostonians are aware of the Government Center station renovation project. For the

2014-03-21 16.39.04 HDR

An ominous warning for the next 2 years

next 2 years, the major downtown hub serving as transfer between the green and blue lines will be closed. In addition to complete redesign of the headhouse (a behemoth all-glass structure, which might stick out compared to the desolate City Hall Plaza it occupies), it will become ADA compliant (something it has needed for a very long time). While these renovations won’t fix the screeching noise that emanates from the rails, it’s bound to make the dreary Government Center Station a much more welcoming face to the City.

 

The closure is going to have some major implications for the City and its infrastructure, which I’d like to address in a somewhat logical order. I’d also like to provide some improvements to the entire system that can be made possible through this massive project.

The Story of the Blue Line

Ah, the blue line. One of the only ways for someone without a car to travel west from East Boston to Downtown, and vice versa, in less than an hour. It connects to the orange line at State, but will no longer be able to connect to the green line at Government Center. This means anyone desiring to go from Maverick Square to say, Allston, you’ll have to leave the system and reenter into a green line station once you’re downtown. Or, for anyone desiring to get from Orient Heights to Cambridge, you’re better off taking a cab, because you have to transfer from blue to orange to red if you don’t want to pay another fare. So take that into account when planning your trip.

Wait – that last scenario didn’t involve Government Center at all. Would its opening make the trip any easier? Let’s see: Blue line to Gov Center, green line to Park Street, transfer to red line toward Alewife. It seems like even if the station were open, it would still be a pain to transfer to the red line.

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The Blue Line calm before Rush Hour

This is exactly the problem: the blue line doesn’t live up to its potential. It has the newest, most reliable stock, and serves as the only form of rapid transit into Boston from the north shore. Unlike the Orangeand Green lines, which have stations separated by only a few blocks (Symphony/Mass Ave. and Ruggles/MFA), there is no substitute for the blue line.

 

Not only does the blue line not live up to it’s potential, but it also hinders easy access Boston beyond the downtown area for those in East Boston, Revere, and Lynn. There are a slew of reasons for these populations to want to go to Cambridge, Brookline, and Dorchester, including jobs, entertainment, and schools. However, they are deterred from these trips because it takes two transfers and a lot of time. I’ll harp on it again: it’s unfair.

A connection from the blue line to the red line seems natural. Bowdoin Station is set to close after the Gov Center renovations, so why not add to a few more tunnels under Cambridge St to connect the Blue Line at Charles/MGH? In a perfect world this would happen and eliminate a lot of injustices for Eastie, a neighborhood already feeling the neglect and isolation created from a mile-wide harbor.

Getting to the Airport: a Silver Lining

As a student I’ve experienced taking the T to Logan Airport quite a few times. It’s pretty flawless: transferring at Government Center to the Blue Line isn’t that bad, especially now that there are countdown clocks. My only complaint has been the shuttle bus that goes to the airport terminals once you’ve arrived to the Airport Station.

Not only is it obnoxious to have another transfer, but it’s relatively annoying how the first bus only goes to A and B, while the

A B-Line train screeches to a halt

a B-Line train screeches to a halt

second bus goes C and E. Does it really get that crowded for one bus to serve all four terminals? If so, wouldn’t it be easier to use an articulated (“double”) bus? I learned this difference the hard way after arriving to A when I needed to get to C. I guess it’s more a lesson to read signs and follow directions.

Regardless, I still have a problem with this shuttle bus situation. The station is called Airport, but it’s still quite a ways away. Additionally, it’s going to be quite a hassle to get on the green line, transfer to the orange just to ride it one stop in order to get on the blue line for the next two years. Maybe I should just suck it up? Or pay the $50 cab fare (Darn you Williams Tunnel toll!).

Luckily, the MBTA has a solution, and it’s called the silver line. Okay so it’s not really rapid transit, but I’m a firm believer that Bus

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Some of the last riders at the station

Rapid Transit (BRT) has a lot of potential in this city. The Silver Line is great: it takes you directly from South Station to the front door of each individual airport terminal. And even greater, it’s free from the airport back to South Station!

 

As a green line user, all I have to do is walk the Winter Street Concourse at Park St. to the Red Line, get on at South Station, and get dropped off at the front door. It’s the same amount of time as before, but you get to take the elusive silver line.

My theory goes as follows: the T should really advertise this route. Getting more people on the Silver Line gets them acclimated to riding a BRT bus. Once you break down the barrier, they’ll open up to the idea, which could lead to a lot of support for Bus Rapid Transit in the city. BRT is great because you don’t have to build any additional track, and it can be as effective as rail systems if implemented. The biggest reason the Silver Line wasn’t implemented to its fullest potential was because of public support (or lack thereof…). But the closure of Government Center could possibly open up the future of the silver line and more mobility within the city.

With this sort of support buses as rapid transit could become a reality and reach areas in desperate need of transportation options. Perhaps the Chelsea Silver Line Gateway and Urban Ring could become realities.

In Closing

At the end of the day, I don’t think the Government Center closing will be all that bad. If that’s the normal end of your trip, you’ll have a slightly longer walk to work or whatever your destination may be. It might include one more transfer, which is really only ten more minutes to your commute. Or, it might require taking a completely new line and experiencing a new form of travel. It’s a small cost that may eventually benefit Greater Boston communities – and who doesn’t like that?

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A love poem to Gov Center scrawled on the walls

As I paid my final respects to that old, grungy station on March 21, 2014 I noticed I wasn’t alone. There were others taking pictures. Others were exploring the station one last time. Someone even wrote a love poem on the walls. Government Center, you will surely be missed, but I think your newfound beauty and potential for the entire MBTA far outweigh your minor inconveniences. Until then, I guess I’ll settle for getting off at Park Street.