What do we want the MBTA to be in 2030?

What do we need our public transportation to look like twenty years from now?

There is consensus that we need to address the backlog in our transportation infrastructure maintenance, but no consensus on what we need to develop for the future. My advocacy priority now is to build consensus that we need to improve our system and increase its capacity. For more of this thought, see this news post.

The Governor’s Transportation plan came out on Monday — it is a big step in the right direction. Read more about the plan here.

Please share your thoughts about the system’s future and the stories that motivate your thinking.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

65 replies on “What do we want the MBTA to be in 2030?”

  1. I just finished reading your column about public transportation funding in the Belmont Citizen-Herald and it hit close to home.

    We live near Cushing Square and my wife works in LMA (Brigham and Women’s Hospital). It’s about eight miles by the most practical bicycling route, and she does it at a leisurely pace so it takes about 45 minutes. The problem is convincing her to do it; she’s very timid about bicycling after dark or in any kind of foul weather. So basically it’s a spring and summertime thing for her.

    The rest of the time, she is at the mercy of the MBTA. From Longwood, she has a plethora of options:

    1. Take the Harvard M2 shuttle to Harvard Square and the 73 from there.

    2. Take the 66 bus to Harvard Square and the 73 from there.

    3. Take the 47 bus to Central Square, the Red Line to Harvard and the 73 from there.

    4. Take the Huntington Avenue Green Line (E train) to Park Street, the Red Line to Harvard Square and the 73 bus from there.

    5. Take the Riverside Green Line (D train) to Park Street, the Red Line to Harvard Square and the 73 bus from there.

    There may be other options, but those are the ones she has explored. Interestingly, despite the fact that the buses get stuck in traffic and the Green Line does not, neither Green Line option is as fast as any of the others. Usually the M2 or the 66 are fastest, but the M2 gets so clogged up in Longwood traffic (largely consisting of other MASCO buses, apparently) that sometimes the first two blocks of the trip can take over 15 minutes. Under no circumstances is the bus ever faster than bicycling; under ideal circumstances it takes about an hour; typically an hour and a quarter, and often an hour and a half if she can’t get onto the first 73 bus that passes through Harvard Square.

    90 minutes to go 8 miles. That’s an average speed of five and a third miles per hour. Unserious runners do ten minute miles, which six miles per hour. The record time for the Boston Marathon is more than twice as fast as her commute.

    This is a dreadful situation. The Green Line should be much faster than it is. Whatever is preventing it from being much faster was not a factor 80 years ago; Bradley Clark (president of the Boston Street Railway Society, a trolley-fan club) has researched it and service used to be much faster and more frequent *on the same tracks*.

  2. We should increase capacity possibly by adding more parking lots where people can board trains and possibly by adding monorail lines where doing so would relieve traffic congestion and where no train lines currently exist. With high gas prices, commuters should be more willing to pay for dependable and comfortable public transit. Perhaps Mass could issue bonds to cover the expenses.

  3. Looking ahead 15 years, there will likely be huge technological changes, such as driverless vehicles and centralized traffic routing. That will impact the balance between roads and rails. Another factor will be global warming and the relative pollution levels of roads versus rails based on future vehicle technologies. Predicting the future is difficult, so I think some top-notch academic advice is essential.

  4. Hi,

    I live at the Warren T Stop at the Green Line is pretty much my lifeline to anything in Boston. I don’t own a car, so it’s either taking some form of the MBTA, walking, biking, or asking a friend for a ride. Here are a few things I think would greatly improve the MBTA.

    B-Line Specific
    -More capacity: even if all the T cars were upgraded to the newer type of Green Line car that would help. 3 car trains should be regular, not just used at the rush hours.
    -Less stops near BU: as a former BU alumni I can tell you they don’t need so many stops. There are other options: both the 57 bus and the BU shuttle. There is no reason for T stop at every other light (for example: Blandford St)
    -Most cities have bus lines that run to the routes to help out with congestion, the MBTA should consider this as well.
    -While in general, the front door only rule works outside of rush hours, the T driver should have discretion to modify this rule when the T is packed

    MBTA Overall
    -More options between the Green lines especially when it comes to connect the outer parts of Boston. This also applies to the red line.
    -More T trackers or trackers available for the Green line (It’s awesome that the Red has this, but it should be on more lines)

    Thank you!

  5. The MBTA needs to become part of a well integrated regional transportation system with well planned and inegrated residential, commercial, and if possible industrial devleopment. In other words, as little sprawl as is possible given existing development. The main outlines of this exist now with the in-city T, regional commuter rail, and highways. And incidentally this needs to happen not only in metro Boston but in other cities across the state.

    So what’s needed in addition to some new major statewide funding source is to begin the construction that was promised as part of the big dig agreements. Along with that, well structured area-wide plans (does MAPC still exist?).

    This still leaves the question of maintenance of existing equipment and routes for rail, bus, car and truck. It’s probably a chicken egg question as to which goes first. It’s probably most important to decide what will maintain existing T ridership and expand it ‘with all deliberate speed’. I don’t know whether expansion or maintenance would be better for this.

  6. I have no particularly informed view on how to deal with MBTA issues, but I strongly endorse expanding public transportation, and I would be happy to pay my share, one way or the other. We’ve spent much too much money easing the way for cars and trucks, and much too little for people who rely on public transportation or would like to have the option.

    It is frustrating that the MBTA has been burdened with so much Big Dig debt that budget decisions cannot be made in any kind of a rational way, but that’s the way it is and maintenance and growth decisions still have to be made.

  7. Defintely more capacity throughout the system. Two specific thoughts:

    1.) More attention to public tranportation in cities/neighborhoods outside the center of Boston. With shifting housing patterns, it’s important to provide good subway and bus service in the ring of cities outside Boston – such as Malden and Quincy — and in the farther-out Boston neighborhoods. As the downtown neighborhoods keep getting more expensive and more in-demand, people with lower-wage jobs are moving to lower cost areas farther from the center of the city. For the sake of fairness and for for the sake of access to housing and jobs/workforce, it is essential that public transportation be as equitable as possible across the region. (Ideally, good public transportation would support a more diverse blend of housing options in both the downtown neigbhorhoods and outer neighborhoods/cities.)

    2.) Better coordination of bikes/MBTA. The idea of allowing bikes on the subway and on bike racks on buses is (was) a great idea, but it’s not really practical. Even at non-peak times, the subways and buses are too crowded, and as a bicyclist, I don’t like to impose on other passengers by bringing a bike on board. It would be great to expand other alternatives, especially more secure bike cages for bike parking and more Hubway stations. For example, if I’m going from Boston to someplace in Malden that’s a few miles from the Orange Line, I’d like to be able to take the T from Boston to Malden and use a Hubway bike for the last couple of miles. Another alternative – provide more bike cages where commuters could keep a bike in the community where they work, to use for a commute from the subway to their place of work.

  8. Will — if we are seriously looking at 2030, then let’s go long. The answer is, move forward with the Urban Ring project. To help with funding, open a discussion now about imposing a congestion fee that is at least partially reflective of the very real costs imposed by bringing vehicles into the urban core. Surface buses are at best an interim solution; to be truly effective, the ring must be an underground, electrified transit line. The radial nature of metro Boston’s street network makes the concept of surface buses to connect the spokes unviable. A fast, high-capacity circuit on the periphery of the city would provide tens of thousands of commuters every day with faster, more effective access to jobs, homes, school, recreational activities etc. without having to pass through the dense urban core where connections at many times of day are paralyzingly slow. It will speed the trips of vehicle commuters and ease pollution. Would this be costly? No question — but the cost must be balanced against the cost of worsening, suffocating congestion. A modern urban ring project, which has been envisioned for half a century, is long overdue. It will transform our city and entire metropolitan region.

  9. To me the simplest, most obvious and inexpensive first step would be to encourage employers to let employees work flexible shifts. If more people worked from 6 to 2, 7 to 3 or 10 to 6, for example, the crush would lessen and more people could be carried in greater comfort throughout the day on the same equipment and infrastructure. That would reduce the urgency of finding money for capital improvements.

  10. John Howe is absolutely right about the urban ring. We were in Tokyo a few years ago, and the ring line rapid transit was enormously useful in getting around. This is in addition to the promises made as part of the Big Dig. Improving — well, restoring — the speed of the green line is also a good suggestion. At some time, I’d like to see the red line extended to Rt 128 (probably in the Rt 2 right of way) and a parking garage built over the station to supplement and vastly expand on the Alewife garage. I’d also like to see much more commuter rail service. That is infrastructure that already exists; why can’t we make better use of it?

    And of course more protected bike paths, separate from the roads, would encourage many more people to commute by bike.

  11. I’m afraid there are many more legitimate demands for public funds than current funding mechanisms can adequately address. Transportation, especially mass transportation is an area that if we stay with the current funding mechanisms will always be underfunded. To adequately “address the backlog in our transportation infrastructure maintenance” and “to develop for the future” we need a new funding mechanism. A state carbon tax would be a funding mechanism that will signal that we realize fossil fuels are a limited and environmentally destructive resource that we should use as sparingly as possible. I realize a state carbon tax, that could be used in part to fund mass transit’s current and future needs, would be considered radical but I can think of no “moderate” state or federal funding mechanism that would provide adequately funding.

  12. Will,

    This is a great initiative. Interacting with people is the best way to understand what they really need.
    Specifically, I have the following observations:
    1. Alewife – it serves a great number of people. Yet, its location is such that puts commuters through a nasty traffic. I am not sure if there are easy ways to address this issue. One quick note – there is a third railroad rail between Blanchard St and Alewife, which isn’t used and if the state is capable of turning it into some sort of road – this will help with the commute time for many people. I understand, your question is about the next 15 years, but at the pace things are moving, I suppose that such initiative can somehow be fitted in that period ;). Another option is to extend the Red Line in this direction.
    2. Speaking of extending the Subway… I am not entirely confident that this is the best course of action. After all, the system is very fragile as it is. A small amount of rain or snow are sufficient to cause significant delays in service. So, if I were a state policymaker, I’d rather focus on making the current system stronger and more reliable. The management at MBTA has to prove capability to deal with the system at its current size before growing bigger.
    3. Investing in safe bike paths is one of the greatest things.
    4. Using smaller bus sizes in non-peak hours to save on fuel and amortization.
    5. While it is great to have high quality public transportation, I think that the state can review its options to encourage more companies to use telecommuting. Many employees nowadays can work from home and contribute equally to what they are contributing now, but the companies need to be enticed a bit to pursue such option. Reducing the peak hours crowd has many positive effects on roads, MBTA, accidents.

    Most importantly, listening to the people is the greatest approach.

    Thank you!

  13. The Germans like to say: fix organizational issues first, then work on electronics issues, and finally turn to concrete to fix your problems as a last resort.

    The first problem that we have, particularly with the Green Line, is overly slow dwell and boarding times. It takes too long to get people on and off the trains. This is exacerbated by the boneheaded decision to use front door-only boarding. The Germans use Proof-of-Payment on ALL their lines, and they handle much higher passenger volumes than us. We need to use Proof-of-Payment and all-door boarding as was promised years ago with the Charlie system.

    Then, stop elimination and consolidation will help reduce more overhead. There’s no reason for a light rail train to be stopping more often than a bus.

    At the same time we need to install signal priority to make the travel time of a Green Line train more predictable and reliable, and help avoid bunching as well.

    The T needs to work together with other departments. BTD and the T can work together on signal priority, access to stations, and safety of riders. BRA and the T can work together on land use, which is inextricably intertwined with transportation. No more wasting valuable transit-accessible land on giant parking lots! It’s not realistic to expect the T to serve every location — we must have officials who understand transit geometry — and who promote policies that work well within those constraints.

    Those are organizational and electronic changes that can help right away.

    In the future we should be using off-the-shelf equipment that is easier to maintain and purchase. That will require some capital investment up-front but will save loads of money in the long run.

    We need low-floor/level-boarding at all stops not only for the disabled but for everyone.

    Restoring a short-turnback on the “B” line could help — the old ones were taken away… first the Braves field loop, then the “A” line was taken away, and finally even the Packard’s Corner pocket track was removed for no good reason. Let’s use the eventual rebuilding of Commonwealth Avenue to do this right, and put a pocket track after Harvard Ave to help scheduling during peak periods.

    Similarly, the Green Line extension will help with scheduling even on the “B” line, by making it possible to layover at both ends of the trip.

    The Red Line needs to have its signals redone, they made a big mistake last time around and didn’t create enough blocks downtown, which causes a loss of much needed capacity.

    The Orange Line desperately needs new/more equipment. It could run at higher capacity and frequency but for the fact that it’s still using the same old now-broken down trains that ran on the Elevated way back when!

  14. Our cities depend on a solid public transportation for their very survival. Congested roadways destroy the appeal of a city. What draws people are the walking and cycling opportunities. If Boston wants remain a leading metropolis in science, medicine, education, it needs to be prepared to host visitors from all over the world. As it stands now, our public transportation system is an embarassment. In order to provide world class service, we have accept the fact that government subsidy will be required. If you rely on fares alone, the system either falls into disrepair, or you have to raise fares to such an extent that it becomes unaffordable, and ridership drops, further deteriorating revenue. I don’t know of ANY metropolitan transit system in the world that operates in the black. It is a public investment that yields dividends in improving quality of life for all of the people that live and work in the city, drawing more economic activity.

  15. I think we also have to realize that the suburbs have a lot of office parks and that there is not only travel from suburb to city but suburb to suburb. We need to see about connecting the office parks to one another with some sort of public transportation system.

  16. All for increased capacity and better service. Cars and track need maintainance and repair. the MBTA is what makes Brighton a neighborhood of Boston. We need that good connection. It would be nice if using the T was the best option and not the default option

  17. My understanding is that there is a constitutional prohibition on having a special service district in MA. To me, it is unfair that a slice of the statewide sales tax goes to support the MBTA. I don’t know how hard it would be to change, but it seems like we’re going to continue running into funding problems as long as the funding mechanism requires people in the Berkshires to help pay for public transit in Boston. I hope we can find a way to set up a special district in the MBTA service area to support transit with, perhaps, a small payroll tax.

    It seems like a “fix it first” policy is in order for transit. However, if the capital dollars become available, I think it’s time to begin a renewed effort at the urban ring project. After moving here, it didn’t take me long to realize that there is a ring of areas (JP, Allston-Brighton, West Cambridge, Porter Square/Davis Square) where I frequently need to go, but have no good transit connection between them. Too often, my wife and I end up driving.

  18. Among the things the T needs to be better are

    1. Removing the stone from its back of paying off debt from the operating budget — the state should assume the large debt obligations.

    2. A stable source of funding adequate for current T operations and future expansion, best effected through a gas tax increase earmarked for transportation funding — this would serve global warming/green benefits as well.

    3. more effective means of fare collection such as prepayment of fares at above ground Green Line and at bust stops to decrease delays in service caused by long waits while people pay as they board — too often mitigated by drivers allowing people to board without paying. Surround the “waiting area with a wrought iron fence, and require people to pay as they enter the waiting area, as is done at underground stations.

    4. Signs that show how many minutes until the next train — and train after that — is arriving, as is done in Europe and DC — and now at Park St.,

    5. North/South rail link between North Station and South Station — the fact that this is the most common Hubway bike ride should be a message.

    6. Planning for outer links — how to get, for example, from Coolidge Corner or Cleveland Circle to Harvard Square quickly — the outer ring is intended to address this.

    7. Effective coordination between the T and traffic — Cleveland Circle is an example.

    8. Subsidizing fares with a gas tax.

    This is just a starter list

  19. Improved transportation is key to economic growth and making housing more affordable, and would also greatly improve quality of life for many people in eastern Massachusetts. For example, my commute on public transit is 40 minutes to travel 4 miles, i.e. I am traveling at 6 mph. And I have a relatively easy commute. Because of the poor road network from the large southern suburbs, making a commuter rail system that works in the south (and maybe also more effective park-and-ride to the Red Line) is essential. This may require building more parking at commuter rail stops, and running more trains. The Green Line “B” and “C” lines are ridiculously slow, the T must have priority controlling the traffic lights at the cross-streets and stops should be spaced by at least half a mile. The boarding system also needs to be fixed, and longer trains at rush hour would help. The Somerville extension needs to be built: Somerville has the highest population density of any city in the state, it is crazy that it does not have a subway. Both the roads and the MBTA need a lot more spent on maintenance, it is time to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation. We need safer bike routes; in part this requires a change in attitude: current practice is to just paint lines on a busy street, which is not usually safe; in many locations one could run the bike routes much more safely on small streets, e.g. by converting a quiet two-way street into a one-way one-lane street for cars, with bike lanes running both ways. More secure bike parking at the subway stations would help encourage biking.

  20. Given the effects of climate change and global warming on our economy, it makes sense to focus on frugal use of our communal resources. That means focusing on the region’s carrying capacity to sustain our society, and with energy becoming ever more important as well as precious, we will see a consolidation of our physical development patterns. The communal rather than individual transportation opportunities will become ever more important as we focus on this regional self-sufficiency.

    What this logic portends is the clustering of development along communal transportation routes, and rail as well as bus systems have a very important role to play – statewide, not just in the larger metropolitan areas. Hopefully there will be a gradual but pronounced transition from the predominant use of individual cars to the increased use of communal transportation systems, and the MBTA is an important component.

    So our legislature and the governor have a vital role to play in recognizing and strengthening the interdependence of building density and transportation systems in order to support the growth of a well-functioning and energy-frugal network.

    Thank you for all your good efforts in this important work!

  21. I think that in order to make everyone’s life easier and safe, the MBTA buses will need to follow the rules that everyone needs to follow: Do not go through the red light; park appropriately at the T stop. It will improve the traffic a lot right away.

    Whenever you have time, please walk through Washington Street in Brighton, you will see all the buses: Bus 57; 86; 501; 503; 504 all park in the middle of the street to let the people get in and off the buses; sometimes in front of the police. Do the bus drivers have difference rules?

    Thank you,

  22. I ride a bike into downtown when the weather allows – probably 35% of the time. I also take the Red Line into town, when possible. Driving can be easy at off hours but most of the time, finding a parking place is expensive and/or difficult. We have bike paths, MBTA paths, and other infrastructures tha can allow us to get into town without having to figure out where to park the car. Anyone who has experienced downtown auto traffic knows that cars and pedestrians are frequently adversarial, with cars having the natural advantage. I have traveled and worked in UK, Denmark, France, and Holland. These countries, among others, have better designed and maintained public transit systems. We are fortunate in Boston and environs that we have a potentially “world-class” city. We just should not let the MBTA languish without proper maintenance and new features. Otherwise, our “world-class” nature would be compromised by the onslaught of motorists with few alternatives.

  23. The first way to improve streetcar service is to increase service., and have the streetcars run more often, so they can carry more passengers. With 38,000 riders per day on the Commonwealth Avenue line, the B car should be running on a four or five minute headway during rush hours. More long term solutions would for the MBTA to install a smart signal system that can detect the streetcar waiting at major intersections and change the signal to the trolley’s favor (this has already been done in major streetcar systems in Europe). Also, the MBTA needs to seriously consider the restoration of the “A” Streetcar through Allston, Brighton, and Newton Corner. Streetcars would carry a considerable higher amount of passengers than the buses on the route 57. In addition, streetcar restoration would have the added benefit of speeding up service on the “B” streetcar as streetcar service through the Boston University campus (the largest bottleneck on the Commonwealth Avenue Line) as service on Commonwealth would be doubled, and service in the already at capacity central subway would be increased.

  24. I believe that the state needs to raise revenue through multiple, slight increases in fees (e.g. RMV fees) and taxes (e.g. gas tax). The state must also ensure that public transportation statewide benefits from new revenue. Those in the Commonwealth who do not directly benefit from the MBTA will be reluctant to pay additional fees and taxes unless their local transportation systems receive improve as a result. I am in favor of a comprehensive solution that extends service, builds new infrastructure, and retires aging equipment. I no longer ride the T or commuter rail (I commute by car), but all of us in the Boston area benefit from a healthy transportation system through reduced traffic, CO2 emmissions, and a favorable business climate.

  25. I envision a light rail line running along side the 128/95 corridor, built in sections from say Braintree north to Cape Anne to make the MBTA a regional system that deals with the needs of a greater area of eastern MA. It would impact the heavy traffic along this loop road. And would begin to get the T to be effective dealing with traffic other than to and from Boston. It would make the communities outside of the core T service areas see value for having T service. Along with this loop, I think the T needs to plan on beefing up rail service, so that Rail travel is as successful as trolley and subway service and as good a value. Finally, I think that Funding for the T needs to reformed, so that it takes into account the value having the T adds to adjacent property, and that the T is funded by that increased value for developments.

  26. Any future development of the MBTA system should be baded on and integrated in a comprehensive regional transportation planning process, which has not happened for Greater Boston since the BTPR in 1971-72. Appropriate transit-system imrpovements must be implemented in coordination with all modes of transportation for the region. Fortunately, we now have consolidated DOT management at the state level, which should be able to pursue this. In that context, there are several specific MBTA expansions and enhancements that deserve priority attention over the next twenty years, including:

    1. The Urban Ring – Circumferential transit intersecting the “hub-and-spoke” system that that we currently have is essential to better serve employment concentrations like the LMA and Kendall Square and provide access from lower-income residential areas. This will also relieve some of the capacity problems of the current system, espeically on the green and red lines. The MBTA has stalled the planning and delayed the potential for this vital improvement for years (for proper disclosure, I was involved in the initial study of this concept as part of the BTPR in 1972). This transit concept must be given priority, fast-track attention, and should be updated to incorporate relationships to the new Fairmount Line, Green Line in Somerville, and enhanced commuter rail.
    2. The Fairmount Line, serving dense, underserved areas of Dorchester, should be upgraded as rapidly as possible to full transit service, priced compatibly with the other T lines. The populations in this very urban corridor deserve better than infrequent and inequitably overpriced commuter-rail-style service.
    3. Green Line Extension through Somerville-Medford should be accelerated. It has already been delayed for more than a decade longer than originally promised.
    4. Green Line Capacity improvement is essential in the overpressed central corridor from Kenmore to Government Center. The problems in this corridor will only be worsened by the new green line extension and increased MBTA utilization. A mix of measures should be considered, including adaptation of operating procedures and equipment to permit closer spacing of trains, longer trains, higher speeds, and potential use of parts of the parallel rail right-of-way for additional transit track operations.
    5. Secure and Ample MBTA Funding that is not dependent on the vagaries of sales-tax receipts and annual appropriations, to enable long-term physical infrastructure and operations planning and implementation. Funding decisions should recognize that the Greater Boston economy is the engine that benefits the entire state and region, and support of the MBTA is not discriminatory against the rest of Massachusetts. However, funding decisions should simultaneously address critical transit infrastructure and operations deficits and road network infrastructure needs of the entire Commonwealth.
    6. Maximization of Transit-Oriented Development opportunities related to new and existing MBTA corridors and stations, with regulatory requirements and financial incentives to encourage this development, and potential to capitalize on these projects for the financial benefit to the T and state for use of public lands involved in the developments.

  27. As a disabled senior, I want to say up front that I overwhelmingly experience patience from drivers and kindness from other passengers, on the 73 bus for example. Vehicles are well designed with yellow handbars and enough space to get my groceries in — this trend in design should be continued on all buses.

    I’d like to see the Sunday buses also use the overhead wires instead of diesel. For the future, the T should negotiate for economies of scale in using renewably-resourced fuel on all its lines.

    I’d also like to see north-south bus lines on this side of the river, between Watertown and Belmont Center for example. At present, a non-driver in Cushing Square can get to Harvard Square but not to Belmont Center.

  28. I have ridden MBTA trains and buses for years, I also have ridden trains and buses in some European countries, we can take a lesson from them. Increase the fairs, keep the stations well lit and clean, watch were the revenue go very closely, make maintenance a top priority, Cities like New york, Washing ton D C, Paris, London, Berlin, and the Netherlands all have large well run systems. What can we learn from them?

    Jim P

  29. Two problems to address:
    1. Time schedules are curently unrealistic, unreliable;
    drivers cannot meet them, given the vagaries of traffic, weather
    conditions and flucuating levels of ridership (e.g. handicapped riders, ladies with baby buggies, swarms of Red Sox fans, etc.)

    2. Systematic discrimination against outposts. E.g., when #57 bus loads up at Kenmore, it may be too full to pick up would-be
    riders a few stops out. A lady with a load of groceries may
    have to wait through seveal cycles (over an hour) before getting
    a bus.

  30. What are we aiming to improve? Are we planning for population growth, or do we want cheaper/faster/nicer commutes, or do we want safer/nicer streets? I don’t think that single-occupancy vehicles have a big part in any of these, at least not the way cars are now. We often get congestion and jams; add 10% more, and it will seize up like concrete. That means something has to replace a lot of those cars. Taking 10% of the current metro auto use and converting it to transit or bikes means a huge surge in transit or bikes. This also interacts with our affordable housing policy (would it be more cost-effective to provide quality commutes from cheaper affordable locations? Can we saturate the transit market enough to avoid exporting high-priced housing to suburban transit hub neighborhoods?), and somewhat with our tax policy (suburbs with “spare” land like to turn it to commercial/industrial purposes so they can lower residential taxes; is that good for the region?)

    I think that self-driving cars may lead to big change, and may present competition for the traditional big-bus model of transit. Either people will find it much easier to car-pool in the cars that they own because of automated navigation and driving (why would they? Expensive gasoline, expensive parking, congestion charges, congestion), or the MBTA itself will start to use smaller self-driving vehicles instead of busses, which should allow them to efficiently provide point-to-point transit (all the bus drivers probably get turned into car maintenance guys; one big bus might get replaced by 10 smaller cars). I think this is a future variable with huge effect that we don’t completely understand. People might not buy into this — they may really like their car-privacy, they may really like to control their own radio, their own temperature, etc.

    I imagine, without enough data to make me confident of my imagination, that we need to do more with commuter rail, but I am not sure what “more” would be. I’m not 100% sure it should be commuter rail; would Bus Rapid Transit make more sense, if those busses were really rapid? Rail can move fast, if done right. My worry here is that I’m not sure it can scale up, and the infrastructure is expensive and inflexible. If (say) Burlington builds a lot of new office space, and there is no rail link (true) and the cycle routes are nasty (true, I ride them) and the bus service is inconvenient (true, especially after recent cuts), people will drive. What then?

    I also think that we should plan for bicycles to have some role, though at this stage not a specific role. The main reason is that nothing does short trips as well as bicycles; cars aren’t much faster (sometimes they’re slower), they take up space, are noisy, provide no exercise, etc. It doesn’t take incredibly expensive infrastructure to establish a bike route, they’re not noisy, they’re not dangerous. However, they DO require social acceptance, and if they’re not used regularly, they won’t be as easy to use (tires will be flat, chains will be rusty, legs will be weak, etc). I can imagine two uses right away. First, one limit on expanding commuter rail service is how many people can get to rail stations. Right now most people walk or drive, and the abutters to the parking lot complain about the traffic, so the parking lots don’t get expanded. We should/could make it as easy as possible for anyone in the .25-to-1.5 mile range to ride a bicycle to the train station, so that more people are happy to bike to the train (not just “able”, but “happy”). Second, suppose we actually get transit into good enough shape that many more people use it to commute. This means that personal cars are less useful, and they’ll still cost quite a lot of money to own and insure, but transit is not going to be waiting at your doorstep 24/7. Once you take commuting out of the picture, very many trips land in the short range that is very well served by bicycles, and it’s difficult to imagine scaling up transit so much that it could compete for those trips. So bicycles can fill a gap that we know will not be addressed well by transit. There is some bit of chicken-and-egg here; an awful lot of scarce road in Cambridge and Somerville is reserved for 0-mph parked cars, but you are not going to get people to give up cars just because they get good bike routes; they DO sometimes use those cars for trips that would not work on a bike.

    The Dutch provide an interesting example of a sort of alternate transportation universe. With good separated infrastructure for bikes, we see most kids riding bikes to school. With well-maintained roads for bicycles (smooth and well-maintained) people use things like velo-mobiles — more expensive than bicycles, but also faster, and also weather-protected.

  31. Sharing an interesting thought that came in by email:
    I am in favor of the T adding a line that uses the RR bridge under the BU bridge to connect Boston to Cambridge without having to go to park st. I think this will have a large impact especially as the universities squeeze CSX out of the rail yard and redevelop it. The tracks are there. It is low hanging fruit. If the line extended from roughly the Harvard stadium to east Cambridge that would be a good way to connect Allston housing with biotech in Cambridge. Add a Rail stop somewhere in the current CSX yard that connects the train to the new T line and that would connect the suburbs…

  32. There are a lot of good ideas on this forum, and there is a lot in the state plan released today (Jan. 14) that sounds good. I like the ideas like replacing older buses and rail cars (Red and Orange lines). It’s important to finally raise the gas tax. It’s inevitable that MBTA fares will rise again, but we can’t let it become cheaper to drive. As Will said in his comment, there are important ideas that are not in the plan, such as the North-South Rail Link. That could lead to electrifying the commuter rail lines, allowing more frequent service with less noise and pollution.

  33. Dear Will,

    I am in favor of the T adding a line that uses the RR bridge under the BU bridge to connect Boston to Cambridge without having to go to park st. I think this will have a large impact especially as the universities squeeze CSX out of the rail yard and redevelop it. The tracks are there. It is low hanging fruit. If the line extended from roughly the Harvard stadium to east Cambridge that would be a good way to connect Allston housing with biotech in Cambridge. Add a Rail stop somewhere in the current CSX yard that connects the train to the new T line and that would connect the suburbs…

  34. Sir:

    Conceptually, government exists to serve the people. However, Federal, State, and local governments in 2013 have created so many rules and regulations that is fair to say that there are few, if any, among us who truly understand how the economy and the society work at this point in time let alone 20 years from now.

    While it is popular to use vision statements to guide current policies, short term mission statements are probably more useful and less intrusive. So, what is the mission of the MBTA? Let’s assume it’s to “provide public transportation that facilitates economic growth within the confines of the Boston megalopolis and to provide access to other economic zones as needed for the same purpose.”

    With this in mind, we can make the following recommendations:

    1. The service should be free as otherwise it represents a useage tax on the working poor and others who choose to use the system.
    2. Employee income should be tied to average income for the service area.
    3. Employee benefits should include healthcare equivalent to average healthcare costs for the service area and retirement benefits should be based on social security and 401k programs.
    4. The service needs to be good enough to provide a viable option to transportation by car.
    5. The service should be paid for by road tolls, parking fees, and other car related taxes and diversion of public funds from automobile related projects or programs to the MBTA.
    6. Income tax revenues should not be used for MBTA support.

    Best regards,
    Jim Williams

  35. Will,

    My issue is with the idea of a tax on miles driven. I am a regional sales manager for a company and am on the road visiting my customers four out of five days a week. I spend most of my time out of state in RI, ME, NH, VT and NY. I put on 40K miles a year. My company will not put up the extra 2.5 cents a mile he wants to charge. That is $1,000 per car. It will come out of my pocket or we will move my office out of state and register my car from there and the same with all my sales guys. That plan will hurt MA economy and take jobs out of MA. Raise the fares, and charge the communities that use it based on the ratio of the number of fares that get off or on from those communities. Fitchburg should pay less than Belmont who should pay less then Cambridge who should pay less than Boston. Mass Pike should be paid by the users and we all have to pay for the Big Dig and overall road and bridge maintanance.

  36. An additional comment, spurred by mentions of taxes and funding. We should pay a lot more attention to vehicle weight, both for how we tax, and also for the T busses. I have read that damage to (new, maintained) roads is roughly proportional the cube of the weight on each wheel, summed over all wheels. We should be sure that truck mileage (and tonnage) is taxed appropriately, since the largest part of road wear comes from trucks. We also want to be sure that busses are not unnecessarily heavy, since that weight also tears up the roads (if heavy vehicles were taxed appropriately, choosing the right weight would be a simple matter of cost minimization).

  37. Not an exhaustive list, but a couple thoughts as a resident of North cambridge –
    The Alewife area is a mess, yet it’s our transportation hub. Get the DCR or whoever owns it to redesign and reconfigure the Alewife rotary so one can get in and out of the T station safely. Right now is it dangerous to cross Alewife on foot from Rindge Ave and almost impossible to get there by car sometimes.A pedestrian tunnel or bridge? Maybe extend the Red line out along Rte 2 and build a better more car-accessible station? We’re building lots of housing in NoCambridge (IMHO a good thing) but all those people want to be there becuase of the T accessibility and the bike path.
    Increase capacity on Red line trains. Right now, not “in the future”, make the new Green Line extension go out to Rte 16 at least, with plenty of parking.
    Take another look at that rail line into East Cambridge and do something with it – I was disappointed that was discarded so quickly.
    A lot of our regional growth relies on getting a LOT of people in and out of East Cambridge every day. Better infrastructure and storage for bikers (and more enforcement for all).

  38. The one issue that has seemed to me to be incomprehensible since I first became aware of it is why, if the parking garage at Alewife fills up early early every morning, indicating that commuters are willing to leave their cars, pay for parking and take the Red Line, there hasn’t been an effort to provide more parking by enlarging the Alewife structure, or building another. Do so would not alleviate Route 2 traffic, but would help from there on in to Boston. My guess is that something of the same could be said for the Communter Rail parking at or beyond 128, but I’m less clear about that. Alternately, if the Red Line is extended beyond Alewife, there should be maximum parking included in the planning.

  39. I would like to see the MBTA be free of long term debt, with updated equipment and infrastructure, financed by a dedicated portion of a gasoline tax increase.
    The commuter rail should all have increased parking and increased frequency to reduce commuter automobile traffic.
    On many bus routes (69, 71, 73, for example), the number of us stops should be greatly reduced to reduce transit time. There should be more stops at fire hydrants to cut down on illegal parking at the stops and more aggressive ticketing of illegal parking at same to increase passenger safety and traffic flow (perhaps cameras on buses to get license plate numbers).
    I would like to see natural gas powered buses to reduce noise and pollution.
    And I would like to see aggressive experimenting with hybrid buses and the use of MBTA property for solar generated power (repair shed roofs, parking lots, garages).
    We should make the T faster, more energy-efficient, more affordable, more reliable, and a preferred method of transport for all, not just for those of us with no choice.

  40. auto excise taxes
    gas tax (currntly .43 cents of every gallon sold in this state)

    seems to me our roads should already be paved with gold, unless this money is being spent elswere

  41. I’d like to see the Red Line get much more reliable. I get nearly daily updates about delays, and the vast majority of the time it is due to a disabled train or a signal problem. Occasionally, it’s a medical emergency or an unruly passenger, but those are the exceptions. The Red Line also has crowding issues. At rush hour, I occasionally end up standing on the platform and letting 2 or 3 trains go by before I can get on.

    On another note, I’m happy to hear that it’s OK to say the “T” (taxes) word now. My husband and I have been wishing gas taxes would be raised for a while now. He commutes to work by car, so it’s not just a T commuter saying this.

  42. I have a couple of thoughts. First is that the whole system should be expanded to truly provide the public with a viable alternative to private cars…
    Second, the budget should reward good employees who are worth being paid properly and given the right benefits and remove from the payroll those that are rude, lazy and otherwise unhelpful.

  43. I would like to see the following enhancements to the Greenline:
    1. rear door fare boxes
    2. front and rear alarms to catch fare evaders
    3. more frequent service on the E line
    4. cameras at above ground T stops to catch drivers who do not stop
    5. both Brigham Circle and Heath Street trains

  44. I would like to see the following enhancements to the Greenline.
    1. rear door fare boxes
    2. front and rear alarms to catch fare evaders
    3. more frequent service for the E line
    4. cameras at above ground T stops to catch drivers who do not stop
    5. both Brigham Circle and Heath Street trains

  45. In response to the Governor’s Transportation Plan, $1.8 billion for South Coast rail is, alas, a giant project akin to the Big Dig and thus likely to go awry. As designed now, it also cuts through the state’s largest fresh-water wetlands, the Hockomock Swamp, and has ludicrous per-rider costs.

    Most of the rest of the plan seems much more sensible. It would be wise to come up with a good alternative to South Coast rail before that one project kills the whole package.

  46. I would like to see the following enhancements made to the Greenline sooner than 2030.
    1. Rear door fare boxes.
    2. Front and rear door alarms to catch fare evaders.
    3. More frequent service for the E line.
    4. Cameras at above ground T stops to catch drivers who do not stop.
    5. Both Brigham Circle and Heath Street trains.

  47. I would like to see the existing transportation fixed before we expand or do more. I would like to see better signage everywhere but especially where new thing happen. Many elevators have no signs letting people where they are or more important that they are open. Porter Sq.elevator needs better signs for how to enter the elevator from the street. Directional signs need to be put up with each change in constructions.

    Harvard Sq. has a wonderful elevator going out near the Eastern Mt Sports Store. There are no sign letting people in the Harvard Sq. Station letting people in the station know it exists. When one enters the station from the elevator there are no signs letting people know where they are and where to go.

    The same is true of the new elevator from the Red line going upstairs or outside or? It was just there one day.

    There is water in Porter Square near the elevator and often between the escalators and the inbound tracks. I cannot pinpoint where there is water but I have seen it elsewhere.

    The buses need to be more consistent on all the lines.

    I am speaking/writing from my experience and know others must have their stories.

    We need good maintenance on all equipment and stations.

    The above needs to be completed befor or while the above is happening the expansion and updates can happen but nothing should be done if it cannot be maintained.

  48. Listening to the funding plan for this, I think its idiotic to increase the income tax and decrease the sales tax.. in the end, we want people to earn – and taxes discourage whatever they hit… sales taxes encourage people to save.

    Why would we both cut sales taxes and increase income at the same? Both seem wrongheaded – we should do the opposite. There are ways to protect the poor in any direction we choose with exemptions and credits..

  49. I cannot honestly say that having to pay a sales tax ever stopped from buying anything other than a new car. As I always buy used cars as a matter of choice, lowering sales taxes doesn’t affect my behavior. However, it might encourage new car sales, which would be problematic if it increases the number of vehicles in use. BTW, would auto excise taxes also decrease?

  50. Here’s some notes during taking commuter rail for overnight trip.

    Sorry so rough not that good on email from phone

    More lines that run faster
    Bike lockers and Free bike locker ticket with commuter train ticket
    Near 128 train beltway connection in 10 yrs as a start so as not only serving thru Boston
    Parking that avoids fine and maybe discount for overnight saves two car rides maybe
    Long term plan built to leap technology forward by examining what best advanced plans look like in Europe and Asia (great project for some staring research for a summer intern in 2013)
    Better systems for overnight parking payments

    Thanks for asking!

  51. A network of bus lanes. It would be relatively cheaper and easier to establish than other proposals. Even if not along the entire route, a dedicated lane would help prevent buses from getting stuck in traffic. Parking could be eliminated during rush hours along some sections of roadway, with only buses allowed. Boston does do this on some streets in the Back Bay, but any vehicle can use it.

    The idea suggested above, using the existing rail bridge under the BU bridge to connect Boston and Cambridge, sounds interesting. The state will have to assert the public interest regarding all the property (Beacon Rail Yards, Allston Mass Pike interchange) the school owns. At a community meeting I attended a few years ago, Fred Salvucci spoke about the possibility of a West Station. (He stated he had been hired by Harvard as a consultant.) Salvucci also suggested some type of water service on the Charles River.

  52. This is essentially the idea of the urban ring in its “light” form — you can do tunnels or just lanes — that rail crossing is that part of the vision for the urban ring. There is a move afoot to get it in use as a bike/ped crossing in the shorter term.

  53. @Will: I was thinking more in terms of existing bus routes, rather than the urban ring. A while back I attended a local meeting where the urban ring was presented, and it did not garner a lot of support. People were more concerned with upgrading existing service, or adding a commuter rail stop (which is, happily, going to be part of the New Balance project.)

    Using the rail bridge for pedestrians and bikes sounds like a good way to get some use out of it.

    Also, here is the link to a story about Fred Salvucci and West station.


  54. So I only just found this topic and got a little carried away with my primitive photoshop skills and drew a bunch of extended mbta lines on an old map of greater boston.

    It shows:
    -new, extended, and restored green line routes.
    -an extension of the orange line to andover and readville
    -an extension of the redline from alewife to brockton and readville
    -extension of the blue line from lynn to west medford and watertown sq.
    -restoration of old “elevated” line.
    -a probably overly-complex urban ring, dividded into 5…sub-rings, each with their own branches

    -a different “silver line”, more of a lightrail/streetcar service starting in chelsea and the airport, and going out through east boston, cambridge, belmont, and watertown


  55. Like the ambibition!

    Top priority, I think in terms of major expansions is the inner urban ring. That will take a lot of pressure off of the spokes b/c people won’t have to go in and out to get everywhere.

    Unfortunately, we aren’t near doing that.

  56. No real vision demonstrated in the plan. Just MOTS (more of the same) like tweaking lines, paying for stuff, seeing that trains run on time the GM’s diapers get changed. Same-old same-old MBTA hub and spoke architecture. A 19th century solution to a 20th century system that does not serve 2030 (let alone 2014). There still is no insight on how we are going to serve the growing suburb to suburb commuters. Getting the graying population aging in place around. Mostly a Boston centrist view on how government wants people to get around, not how we need to get around

  57. A vision should not be “constrained”. It should be what we strive for not what we consign ourselves to. If we don’t set the goals, they never will be achieved. We need to set forth the expansions that will allow for growth of the transit system and then leaders like Sen. Brownsberger will have us at his back when he pushes for the funding and financing needed to match our vision.

    If we do not set goals worth striving for, we will never grow as we need to. The purpose of our vision is to set the bar high so we can overcome “constraints”.

  58. That sounds right, Andy, but I also think it’s important to have a vision that’s achievable. Otherwise, people just spin their wheels (ha) in frustration.

    My vision is changing on urban transportation. I’m starting to think that we should be more interested in smart transportation innovations than in big transportation projects. There is an unbelievable amount of unused capacity on our roads for example — it’s a mistake to think we need to build more roads to accommodate single-occupancy traffic at rush hour. If we can spread the traffic out and use smart ride sharing technology, maybe we can really improve our quality of life for much shorter money.

    Just the beginnings of a thought . . ..

  59. But Will, how do we get there? I used to be a lot more optimistic about this (imagining Smart Cars that would handle all the carpooling hassle for you) but the incentives aren’t there. There’s not that much reward for carpooling; you save money, but not that much, it takes time to assemble the carpool, and then you’re stuck in the same traffic as everyone else. That we have rush hour use of the breakdown lane, but no carpool/bus lanes, is bizarre. And as far as self-driving cars go, in the short-to-medium run I am sure those will be expensive, and likely purchased by relatively well-off people in suburbs with really terrible commutes — for them, the cost is their wasted time in the commute.

    I think, if you want to get more doubling or tripling up in cars, that there will need to be stronger incentives, meaning carrots and sticks, and if we lack the money for carrots, then we’re left with sticks.

    By-the-way, and this is a little unfortunate, a while back I got curious about the effects of busses on roads (wear-and-tear), and as near as I can tell they do present a problem. My math is here, it is based on the accepted conservative estimate of road damage as proportional to the cube of the weight on a wheel, summed over all wheels (my source for this was Road Work from the Brookings Institute) https://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/city-busses-are-surprisingly-very-bad-for-roads/
    Unless I’ve made a math error, the first passenger boarding an empty bus causes more incremental damage to the road than if they had hopped into a Lincoln Navigator, and a bus loaded to crush capacity is more damaging to roads than an 80,000lb semi.

  60. I have been in Israel the last few days, where there is a wonderful public bus network, a huge growth of bikes, both bike shares and young people on the newly created bikelanes. My son and his peers do not own cars or want to own cars. Yet despite this new attitude, the new train line being constructed from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is side by side with the highway that is being widened.

    Senator, you are right that we do not need to build more roads, but we do need to make huge capital improvements in our public transit infrastructure AND we need to have better bus and rail service that will make it preferable to use public transit than to drive.

    And we should not back away from a bold vision where a good public transit system means that more people will not need or want to own a car.

  61. Let’s talk about goals, then. Is the object to be able to move as many people as possible from as many locations to other locations using as many modes as possible in the the shortest amount of time? I don’t think so.

    Instead, I believe the object is to transform Massachusetts’ regional transportation systems into an ecology of movement alternatives and to discourage people from going anywhere they don’t have to.

    Telecommuting could solve a lot of problems, but cocooning a lot with our devices could create some new ones. At least they wouldn’t be transportation problems.

    I would say that the overall goal is to minimize stress on transportation systems while anticipating the needs of the future.

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