MassDOT

Podcast 29 - Transit Advocacy with Rafael Mares from the Conservation Law Foundation

We're joined in studio by prominent Boston transit advocate Rafael Mares, Vice President and Director of Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice for the Conservation Law Foundation. CLF has been instrumental in improving access and mobility for MBTA users, including holding the state to transit project commitments they've tried to wiggle out of.

We discuss the current state of transit operations and investment, the Control Board and politics, the fate of long-awaited projects such the Green Line Extension, the Big Dig legacy, and much more. This episode was recorded on May 16 in the studios of WMBR 88.1 FM in Cambridge, engineered by Scott Mullen.  Find Rafael Mares online at @RafaelMares2 or CLF.

TransitMatters advocates for fast, frequent, reliable and effective public transportation in and around Boston. As part of our vision to repair, upgrade and expand the MBTA transit network, we aim to elevate the conversation around transit issues by offering new perspectives, uniting transit advocates and promoting a level of critical analysis normally absent from other media.

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Podcast 16 - Former MassDOT Secretary James Aloisi on the state of transit in Boston

Podcast 16 - Former MassDOT Secretary James Aloisi on the state of transit in Boston

Former MassDOT Secretary James Aloisi joins us to share his thoughts on the MBTA fiscal and management control board - how focusing on the bottom line distracts from improving and expanding our transit network - and how we can achieve a robust, efficient and egalitarian transportation system in an era of public sector austerity.

What reform could the T make to improve service? What does revenue mean and how do we get there? What can cities do? Can the private sector or “innovation” help us use real-time data more effectively to create a better regional transportation network? We review lessons from past political struggles, including the “four constituencies” of any project and challenges of trying to do things differently within structures designed to preserve the status quo. 

Podcast 13 - moving a vision for Boston's future transportation network

Podcast 13 - moving a vision for Boston's future transportation network

How will we get around in 15 years? What could our transit system and other public spaces look like if we develop goals and focus on achieving them? Do we even have that much time before the sea level rises and floods the whole city?

We debate these and many other questions on the future of transportation in Boston, as the city moves forward on developing a "visionary" and "transformative" action plan, GoBoston2030.

There's much we don't know yet, like how we'll communicate -- remember that 15 years ago smartphones didn't exist -- but one thing we know for sure is we'll have to move beyond fighting over every little project (and every single parking space!) and turn plans in processes so that change actually happens. And advocates like you and us need to make sure that happens!

UPDATE: NYC Donates Snow Fighting Equipment; Governor Releases $30 Billion Plan

UPDATE: NYC Donates Snow Fighting Equipment; Governor Releases $30 Billion Plan

Spring has sprung today for transit as NYC MTA CEO Thomas Prendergast announced a small donation of snow fighting equipment and the Governor announced a commitment of $30 billion over 15 years to drastically upgrade the MBTA's infrastructure and equipment.

Podcast 09 - Snow Cripples MBTA, Governor Baker Presents Statewide Budget Cuts

Podcast 09 - Snow Cripples MBTA, Governor Baker Presents Statewide Budget Cuts

It's been a terrible few weeks for the chronically neglected MBTA as record snowfall and epic traffic congestion stalled buses and trains throughout the region. Damage to vehicles and infrastructure following 50 disabled trains on Monday forced the MBTA to suspend rail service for the third time this year as crews work to clear tracks and repair ancient equipment.

MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott blamed old equipment and lack of investment for the recent troubles and said she hopes we can pursue the "systemic, planned, serious, bold reinvestment" that the system needs.

Meanwhile, our new Republican Governor Charlie Baker called the system's recent performance "unacceptable" and blamed T management while admitting he has not yet called the GM.  Baker insisted his proposed $40 million transportation budget cuts will not affect transportation service.

How did we get to this point? Where do we go from here?

Mixed Feelings About Longfellow Reconstruction Process

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQsyPClwVj8] Tuesday evening, MassDOT hosted an informational meeting at Shriners Hospital as part of its community outreach to provide details on the upcoming Longfellow Bridge reconstruction. Plans were initially introduced in February and MassDOT is working to ensure that the public is well aware of the disruptions for the next three years that will restore a regional landmark. Not everyone walked away happy from the meeting though, especially car-dependent locals and advocates of the cycling community.

The Longfellow Bridge is the only bridge in Massachusetts that carries cars, trains, and pedestrians across the Charles River and one of the oldest in the Commonwealth. Opened on my birthday 107 years ago, 3 August 1906, the bridge has been neglected for nearly a century as many of the Commonwealth's other bridges. It's a critical link in the region's transport network, carrying over 28 thousand autos each day and over three times that in Red Line passengers in addition to scores of pedestrians and cyclists who enjoy the picturesque views of Boston into Charles Circle.

The last time heavy work was done on the bridge was in 1959 and that rehab was only supposed to last 50 years. This reconstruction, scheduled to be completed in 2016 at the cost of over $255 million, should last 75 years and will bring some much-needed improvements to modernise the bridge, including wider pedestrian paths and wide, buffered bike lanes on both sides of the bridge. Sedimentation basins will even be installed at the ends of the bridge to catch and filter the rain runoff from the bridge, cleaning the oil-slicked water before it gets dumped into the Charles.

A significant amount of attention will be paid to the historical elements of the bridge, requiring the careful disassembly of various decorative bridge components, from railings to cladding, and hand-restoring them off-site. The masonry of the bridge's iconic towers will also be removed block-by-block for cleaning and restoration.

A new pedestrian bridge will also be installed next to the bridge to replace the existing bridge that spans over Storrow Drive to provide wheelchair accessibility from Charles Circle to the Esplanade. The bridge will be built adjacent the existing pedestrian bridge and will open in 2015.

But what about the bikes?...

Restoration is being handled by the joint venture of White, Skanska, and Consigli. All three are high profile engineering and construction contractors, but are any of them up to the task of managing pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure? White has built much of Boston's significant infrastructure projects, but most of those projects have been auto-oriented or large transit projects and none appear to have as much mode mixing as that at the approaches of the Longfellow Bridge. Tetratech will be providing traffic design for the project, but no experts in pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure design have been brought onto the project.

Bicycle advocates from MassBike and LivableStreets brought into question the approaches at the end of the bridge during construction for pedestrians and bikes and when those designs would be available for public comment. The engineers from the joint venture noted that during the final phase at 75% of design completion, there would be an opportunity for public comment, but this was only for the final bridge approach design. The group claimed interim plans for the bridge approaches already take into account public concerns about bike and pedestrian infrastructure, but they did not actually present how the approaches will look during each phase of construction, which was the focus of this informational meeting. '[The interim approaches] will be reviewed by public safety officials', said one of the presenters who later clarified those would include traffic engineers, fire department officials , and police officials, but not there will not be any opportunity for public input before construction begins.

And the cars?...

Another incendiary point of the evening was the fact that all Cambridge-bound traffic would be eliminated for all 3 years of construction. One Beacon Hill resident claimed the plan was 'incomprehensible', noting 'it’s a disaster lots of times just to get home' and further exclaiming it would significantly hinder her ability to leave the city, even with the planned detours over the adjacent Craigie Bridge. One alternate route was to direct traffic across the Harvard Bridge via Mass Ave to get to Cambridge, which as scoffed at by at least one attendee.

As a nation, we've been driving less month over month since 2004. Commissioner Thomas Tinlin of the Boston Transportation Department was there to assure her that traffic shouldn’t be as severe as she anticipates, considering the fact that stats barely flinched when one Cambridge-bound lane was closed on the bridge as a live test. Though not an official announcement, he suggested there was time before the actual bridge closure to do a live test of an entire Cambridge-bound bridge closure.

Through thick and thin, the trains will run (except for 25 weekends)

Despite auto lane closures and 25 planned weekend service diversions, the Red Line will still run in some shape or form. Dedicated bus lanes and an additional 20 buses purchased by MassHighway are planned to run during weekend service diversions per construction planning by the joint venture. Contrary to the plans noted by the Globe, the phasing appears to permit the weekend shuttles to run in both directions over the bridge instead of only one direction with the other routed over the congested Craigie Bridge. It's still up to the MBTA to determine how they'll manage the weekend service diversions and whether Red Line trains will run between Kendall and Park or Kendall and Charles-MGH.

There is a point where trains can cross over between Park and Charles-MGH so the latter is more likely since Charles would offer operations to run more like the terminal at Alewife, where trains can enter the station on either side and turn around and cross over to the correct track before reaching the next station. Let's hope for the shuttle to go between Kendall and Charles-MGH since past shuttles between Kendall and Park have been nightmares due to the number of lights and awkward routing between Charles-MGH and Park for shuttle busses.

Unfortunately for one gentleman who has lived adjacent Charles Circle for over 40 years, there's no relief in sight, including the 2 years of various phases where the Red Line will be running on temporary 'shoofly tracks' right on the road itself. The new bridge construction will not include any noise abatement walls along the tracks, so the people who live at Charles Circle won't get any relief, at least for the next 75 years.

Tuesday evening was one of the last meetings held by MassDOT before rehabilitation begins on the bridge this June.

LivableStreets hosts a T-riffic night of T Trivia

WP_20130328_001 The turnout for this evening's LivableStreets first (hopefully annual, semi-annual, quarterly, or even monthly) T trivia night was on-par with what programming manager Kara Oberg had expected, but definitely filled the room on the lower level of Lir on Boylston St. On the evening's agenda: drinks, food, networking, and community-building.

'I just met these people an hour ago', said a student among a group that seemed to have known each other for years. The group, itself, a perfect mix of the attendees this evening: students, train enthusiasts, and professionals across every trade.

At the adjacent table, former LivableStreets board member, current Walk Boston board member, and graphic designer Nina Garfinkle sat with David Loutzenheiser, transportation planner of MAPC, and several others. A mix of who's who of transportation advocacy and trivia lovers, the event seemed like it was only missing a visit from MassDOT secretary Richard Davey and newly appointed MBTA GM Dr. Beverly Scott.

The trivia questions ranged from MBTA triviata to political and financial issues. One of the first round of questions included facts about the Boston's Green Line being the most heavily used light rail line in the US and the origin of the T's iconic logo of a 'T' in a circle.

WP_20130328_002Artie, a transportation engineer from HDR Engineering, brought in many of his friends to form his team. A designer of the very streets we walk, drive, and bike on or travel rapidly underneath, he was very 'new school' of those within transportation engineering, many of whom are notorious for taking an auto-throughput-first view of street design. Upon mention of 'sidewalk bumpies', he politely enlightened me of their more correct industry term: detectable warning pads. His consultancy work with the city of Boston and its outlying areas has even brought him into the engineering and design of innovative mid-block crossing notification strips for the visually impaired, a feature often not needed in or overlooked by most walkable American cities because of their lack of mid-block pedestrian crossings.

His most interesting insight was something that many miss when talking about re-urbanisation: I think that many disabled people will start moving into cities because of their ability to provide [the disabled] services and accessibility that suburbs simply can't provide in order to give them independence. In areas outside the T, mobility and independence can be very costly and time-consuming for the disabled, as shown by The Ride's growing costs and hurdles as compared to the rest of the MBTA's operations. Even as the fixed routes of the T have become more accessible, affording the disabled and elderly better independent mobility, other systems have been improving their accessible services, like the MTA in New York and the CTA in Chicago that have started piloting newer, more flexible vehicles designed specifically for accessible door-to-door transit services.

A number of student organisers from Northeastern were also present, including Justin Bensan, Daniel Morrissey, Alexa Torres, Jake Berman. The group is in the process of creating a 'transportation club' at Northeastern as a means of bringing forward mobility issues at their school and building a community around alternative transportation issues. Led by Jake Berman, president of the nascent club, and Justin Bensan, founder of the Northeastern branch of Students Against T Cuts, the group wants to build the club on the momentum from last year's unified protests against severe service cuts and advocacy of more balanced transportation funding.

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In the hopes that this might be a more regular event, I asked Kara about the next T trivia night. Of all the planning that had to come together for the evening, she noted the most time-consuming was coming up with all the trivia questions. That said, I challenge the state's decision-makers to come to LivableStreets' next T trivia night to see how much they actually know about the system that drives the economic engine of the Commonwealth.

Not everyone has to be a transportation expert or historian on the T, but without an appreciation for it, we may as well be blind to the T's funding problems as we would a spewing, backed up toilet.