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 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?

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. @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.


  6. 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


  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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”.

  10. 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 . . ..

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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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