We’ve been through a lot in the last 22 months. Are we less afraid of change?
Like many others, I went into 2021 wondering if after a year of pandemic upheaval, we might regain firmer footing about the direction of Massachusetts transportation. Over the course of 2020, massive changes in how people lived, worked, and traveled made clear everyone needed to take a fresh look at every best-laid plan – but for what future?
Fast forward through a roller coaster of a year and it feels like we still have as many questions as answers to what may lie ahead of us.
We do know some things for sure. We know that ongoing systemic oppression has led to this pandemic disproportionately impacting communities of color, and that mobility can be a critical lever in eliminating longstanding inequities. We know that climate change is another unfolding crisis, and that a low-carbon and affordable transportation system will support healthy communities. And we know that after these difficult years, focusing our public spaces on joy and connection will boost our economy and our spirits.
Perhaps a lesson for us in transportation is that even when the future feels uncertain, we can all help shape it together. Tweet This
We also have a growing list of mobility ideas tested throughout the pandemic that we should feel hopeful about as we look to what's ahead. Remembering that change is an opportunity, what can we continue to pursue that will lead us to a safer, more affordable, accessible, and sustainable transportation system than before the pandemic? The list is long, but here are my top five:
Quick and creative street projects
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 180 cities and towns in MA have made simple yet impactful changes – sometimes just paint, lines, and signs – to prioritize people on our streets. In 2022, we will hopefully see municipalities continue making streets safer (and make many of these changes permanent).
In 2019, the City of Lawrence became the first place in Massachusetts to test making buses free. Now, we’re poised to have three of the busiest bus lines free in Boston for two years, benefiting thousands of riders. And recently, Worcester and the Merrimack Valley voted for free buses too. Moving forward, it’ll be exciting to shift from pilots to a systemic change in how we sustain affordable public transit across the state.
More responsive transit
In early 2021, the MBTA brought the Commuter Rail closer to a modern Regional Rail approach by updating schedules to be more predictable and spacing out service more evenly throughout the day and evening. The MBTA also began deploying – in real time – more buses on busy routes to prevent crowding. Both of these changes demonstrate the flexibility we’ll need for transit to continue to meet our needs today, not two years ago, and adapt as our patterns change.
The joy of biking
I get more than joy - I get overjoyed – when I think about more butts on bikes. BlueBikes riders shattered records in 2021, and trends across the state indicate that more people are dusting off the bikes in their basement and buying new wheels. It’s on us to keep retrofitting streets to make them safe for people to bike and to expand our bike network.
Centering people who are most impacted
From environmental justice legitimatized in the 2050 Roadmap Bill to Justice40, we should have hope – and continue to push – that people of color who we have marginalized for centuries will be welcomed and supported to lead on decision making. This is the only way to move toward our climate goals, and if we aren’t listening to and elevating the voices of people who are experiencing the most extreme impacts of climate change, what’s the point? After all, people know what they need.
MBTA employees create bus and bike lanes in Malden, Massachusetts.
On Barr’s mobility team, I also adapted to change as an incredible teammate departed, an exceptional one joined, and another stepped up to lead our Climate Program. The whirlwind continues, and instead of shying away from change, I'm here to celebrate it. Perhaps a lesson for us in transportation is that even when the future feels uncertain, we can all help shape it together.