GoBoston2030 visioning lab

Time for Aspiration for Mobility in Massachusetts

Reflections on the urgency, and possibility of dramatic change in Massachusetts’ transportation system in 2018 and beyond.

When it comes to our transportation system, Massachusetts is making progress. But with profound challenges ahead, we need to unite behind fundamental and dramatic changes.

At the Barr Foundation, our mission is to invest in potential, to take the long-term view, and to aspire to big change. And, though the challenges are many, so too are reasons for hope. We are regularly inspired by our grantees’ and other stakeholders’ efforts to improve mobility and access to the region’s economic and cultural resources. In 2017, we saw bold transportation plans hatched and communities embrace new ideas, like streetscape improvements and expanded greenways. We also saw municipalities willing to improve bus commutes with pilots projects to test elements of Bus Rapid Transit.

Yet, as the new year approaches, one can’t help but be concerned about some profound shifts barreling toward us. The largest, without question, is climate change. We are also contending with rapid and significant shifts in the state’s population and economy, with Greater Boston experiencing surging growth that’s stretching housing stock and infrastructure to its limits. Simultaneously, changes in technology loom large as we plunge headlong into what many are calling the “three revolutions” in transportation—automation, electrification, and vehicle sharing. As Zipcar founder and former CEO, Robin Chase has cautioned, advances in technology like driverless cars could create “heaven or hell” when it comes to mobility and carbon emissions. So, we need to follow these developments closely and remain actively engaged. Hoping for heaven is not a strategy.

What does this mean for Massachusetts? We are at an important inflection point, and must do more than simply keep up our current, steady state of progress and improvement. While Massachusetts ranks first in the country for its education and medical institutions, for transportation, we near the bottom - at 45. We’ve got to accelerate and get ahead, or we risk watching our economy wither along with our aging infrastructure.

Investments in the MBTA both in and beyond Greater Boston are investments that pay dividends in local economies throughout our Commonwealth.

It’s not an easy task, with budgetary and political challenges, and a debate that has, unhelpfully, gotten stuck, framing transportation as a Greater Boston vs. the rest of the state issue. Future progress will require us to change that frame, recognizing the interconnectedness of our state’s entire transportation system, and that investments in the MBTA both in and beyond Greater Boston are investments that pay dividends in local economies throughout our Commonwealth.

We also need to confront some difficult realities and acknowledge deep economic disparities in our state. Too many have been left behind when it comes to infrastructure investments, access to jobs and opportunities, great neighborhoods, and the benefits of economic growth. Most notably, people of color have suffered diminished mobility and access to economic opportunities. And we need to be attentive both to urban and rural communities that are not connected to Massachusetts’ abundant educational, health, and economic resources.

How can we overcome these challenges for the good of all in this state? The Barr Foundation certainly doesn’t have all the answers. Yet, we believe that finding the right pathways will depend on honoring the needs and priorities of individuals in communities. A new, faster, more efficient, more equitable, more sustainable mobility future will be shaped by broad and deep public engagement, and be characterized by solutions that meet the needs of residents today, while creating flexibility for the future.

For 2018 and beyond, our aspiration is for a transportation system that provides connection and access for all to the resources that allow us to live happy and prosperous lives. It means our health and safety, and security for the next generation. It means not spending hours stuck in traffic or on delayed, broken-down trains or busses. And, it means travelling in ways that don’t further degrade our environment and climate. And, for all of us in Massachusetts, its our move to bring this potential into being.

For 2018 and beyond, our aspiration is for a transportation system that provides connection and access for all. Tweet This
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