Policy Updates, September 14

Seven out of nine incumbent Cambridge City Councillors form Unity Slate

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.11.17 AM

This makes things interesting!

As you may know, I too am running on a slate, #SLATE2015, which launched on August 2nd. My slate-mates are incumbent City Councillor Nadeem Mazen and newcomers Mariko Davidson, Romaine Waite, and Jake Crutchfield (School Committee candidate).

Our organizing effort to run new, policy-focused, progressive, non-career politician candidates began when Nadeem first ran (and won) in 2013, and will continue past the 2015 elections. It’s about making real change, rejecting special interests, and bringing intelligent, able voices to the table to challenge the status quo. My slate-mates have a diversity of experiences, with a common thread of vision, collaboration, finding data-driven solutions, proactive inclusiveness, and building on the progressive Cambridge values of sustainability, livability, and equity. We dive into the details.

There is a feeling that today, policymaking is at least much about reëlection as it is about the long-term prospects of our neighborhoods and our streets. We can do better.

This will certainly be the big story of the 2015 Cambridge City Council campaign season.

Green Line Extension at risk

Rendering of the new Lechmere station

A few articles worth your read:

Stay the course on Green Line Extension, James Aloisi (former MassDOT Secretary)

Just Build the Damn Green Line Extension, Garrett Quinn

Community Path will not be a waste, Alan Moore (co-president, Friends of the Community Path)

Somerville Transportation Equity Parternship: how to move forward

And for entertainment value, the over-the-top Herald editorial (a staff editorial), Red Light on Green Line

Transportation infrastructure fundamentally underlies all of the Greater Boston region—employment, education, services, housing access. The Green Line is not an amenity, nor should be it be required to be “profitable” in the corporate sense.

Can we scrutinize the budget and spending, and scrutinize them again? Yes. Do Massachusetts and Greater Boston have a legacy of corruption in public works projects? Yes. Should this cost $3 billion? I don’t hear anyone making a case that it should.

Should it cost even $2 billion? Probably not.

The bottom line is that the imperative to expand the T outweighs the admittedly great energy it will take to fix the budget problem. Too much of Greater Boston falls outside the “walkshed” of any T stop; too many of our bus lines are poorly connected, infrequent, unreliable, and generally unattractive. Our bikeability languishes around an F+ for most areas, despite some bold and noble improvements in a few places. The Green Line Extension and Community Path Extension directly improve this fundamental mobility scenario for tens of thousands of people, while enhancing the overall interconnectivity and long-term viability of Greater Boston.

The Green Line Extension and Community Path Extension will create opportunities for:

  • Thousands of daily transit trips
  • Thousands of bicycle and foot commuters/travelers
  • Taking thousands of cars off the roads, reducing traffic and the need for highway-style thoroughfares like Rt. 28 (boulevard it!)
  • Better economic and social competitiveness on the global stage
  • Creating and enhancing newly transit-oriented districts

The Green Line Extension’s merits are largely unarguable and unchallenged (with the exception of the carburetor nostalgists at the Herald). The conversation, however, even from some on the advocate side, is largely focused around austerity: cut the path, cut the “frills” (whatever those are), cut the scope.

The Green Line Extension shouldn’t be something we’re desperately trying to save from the chopping block; it should be but one component of an aggressive T expansion regime. We are far behind other 21st century cities and it won’t take long for the ripple effects of inadequate transit to take a toll on our global competitiveness. That’s not to mention the severe social justice issue of poor transit access, particularly for our most vulnerable and underserved populations. We should be aggressively expanding transit, e.g. implementing bus-only lanes on overbuilt roads, bus rapid transit infrastructure on our most critical routes, and planning a hundred miles of light rail lines through and between our neighborhoods. We should be aggressively examining the budget, and closing revenue gaps, because a billion saved here could be a billion spent on deferred maintenance or expanded service somewhere else.

Instead, the politics and management is such that MassDOT and the MBTA are years and decades behind in maintenance, saddled with massive debts and ridiculously unsustainable costs, and so deprived of vision that the best we get is a once-a-generation half-hearted expansion in an existing rail corridor years and years behind schedule.

The Golden Age of transit in Massachusetts peaked in the 1970s. The New Golden Age of transit, globally, is now, and Greater Boston is limping. It’s embarrassing. We are adding density to our city centers (and really, everywhere else), but still have to fight aggressively (and lose most of the time) for basic, behind-the-curve biking infrastructure and transit expansion. That equation: more people and more jobs + a deficiency of mobility infrastructure, quickly gets very lopsided and unsustainable.

The Green Line Extension must proceed. It must proceed to Route 16, and we shouldn’t cannot stop there. We must declare, regionally, that everyone has the right to reasonably access transit and experience a reasonable level of transit service, and that everyone of every age has the right to safely walk and bike in their neighborhoods and throughout the region. The stakes are gridlock and non-livability. The feeling of transit expansion and of safer, more complete streets, fuels monetary and social investment, especially in the urban cores. Unfortunately, that feeling is largely unsubstantiated by reality, a reality now glaringly exposed under the austere limelight of Green Line Extension politics (or what you will).

Instead of trying to save a barebones service expansion, our dreams and hopes ought to be flourishing: the Green Line Extension ought to be celebrated and inspiring other transit expansions, and not be pitted into debate and frustration. It goes beyond the “cost vs. revenue” debate—though obviously both of those are crucial to solving this tangle. It goes to a question of values. Little of our state and even local leadership “get it”: that transit is the primary mode of travel we must plan around at all levels; it’s not a tack-on to roads and traffic. It’s not a privilege; it’s a necessity. It’s fundamental to every city and every neighborhood, especially those yet without it. The budget must be solved, but there is little that will ever be solved or rescued if the outcome isn’t fundamentally, emphatically valued.

And yes, transit infrastructure should be more than cheap platforms; our stations should be iconic centerpieces of our public realm.

Relevant: “Getting the T on Track” feat. MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack, Wednesday, September 16 at 6:00 p.m., Weil Town Hall, 1st floor Belfer Building (Corner of JFK and Eliot Streets)

Forward Fund Grants

Grant recognition on behalf of the Friends of the Grand Junction Path

The Cambridge Redevelopment Authority has piloted an interesting grant program to enhance Cambridge’s built environment by helping to “jumpstart” physical improvement projects by small businesses and nonprofits. The Friends of the Grand Junction Path, in conjunction with LivableStreets Alliance and Toole Design Group, received one of these microgrants, to study a few “low hanging fruit” sections of the Grand Junction Path, feeding some very welcome momentum to the long-languishing, albeit modest, path proposal.


2015-09-10 12.30.33In other Grand Junction Path news, the first path section is underway, between Main Street and Broadway in Cambridge!


Sept. 11


They say I’ve got to fundraise to run this campaign. Others raise prolifically. Your support in making me more prolific is appreciated. Donate here.

Policy Updates, September 14