Massachusetts made progress in the work to modernize the state’s transportation network in 2016, along with some setbacks and skirmishes. Perhaps the year can best be summed up this way: we still have a lot of work to do, and we know we can do better in Massachusetts!
Our creaky system needs time, talent, revenue, imagination and above all, a commitment to high standards matched by the will to invest the time and money we need. Massachusetts didn’t get where we are overnight, nor will we fix it fast. But if you are reading this, you’re part of the solution, and we are glad for that because it's up to all of us to improve transportation in Massachusetts.
Some of the notable issues in the past year:
The revolution in transportation technology has already begun. Ride-sharing, bike-sharing, self-driving cars and other innovations are happening now, and will solve old problems while posing new challenges. In some ways, we are all playing catch-up, but we are moving forward, as befits our innovation-based economy.
A reality check for big projects and big ideas. The Green Line Extension, South Coast Rail, the North-South Rail Link, late night and overnight MBTA service: many longstanding transportation projects and services were in the news in 2016, and frequently the message was that we can’t achieve what we want for the price we are willing to pay. And while some of these initiatives are moving forward through diligence and compromise, others will take years to resolve. The lesson is that transportation advocates must have a seat at the table, and must be prepared to negotiate for the best possible projects and services.
Streets are for everyone. The Complete Streets program has taken off all across the state, with cities, towns, MassDOT and advocates all working towards a goal of roads that serve all users safely. Cycle tracks and bus-only lanes are beginning to emerge. But our roads are still all too dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians.
Equity is essential. There’s growing awareness of “transit deserts” and communities that are underserved by transportation choices. Transportation is a lifeline and we can’t keep leaving people behind, whether they are in Mattapan, Franklin County or any neighborhood in our commonwealth.
The revenue we need is closer than ever. Proposals to enable cities and towns to raise revenue for regional transportation projects are popular with the public, but haven’t made it to the finish line yet. And the concepts of expanded tolling, or systems to test distance-based fees to replace the stagnant gas tax, need more attention and support. But the legislature also voted to advance a constitutional amendment to help fund transportation as a key step towards a 2018 ballot initiative. Among the overdue benefits to new revenue: expanded regional transit service all across Massachusetts, and local roadway funding so city and town streets and sidewalks get the maintenance they clearly need. Of course, revenue debates seem to attract fake news, and we're always ready to fight back.
The climate is essential to our commonwealth, and transportation is part of the problem and solution. A landmark court decision – and science – have opened the door for far-sighted approaches to reduce the carbon effects of transportation.
Reform has taken root. Our state transportation agencies are taking a hard look, and taking action to improve operations that are out of date. From procurement to capital spending, management staffing to labor agreements, this work is essential to better service delivery. As these efforts show real results, public trust will grow to support a better transportation future.
Fares aren’t always fair. After months of debate, the MBTA increased average fares by almost 10%, well above what we think is right. Subsequently, the legislature set a new biennial cap of 7%. And the MBTA’s fare package also provided an expanded youth pass program that will have real benefits.
What’s to come in 2017? We know that the choices we make now will determine our state’s future. Here’s our wish list.
- Our leaders agree on a vision for transportation excellence, and support the investments, revenue and accountability to make it real.
- The experience and perspective of everyday riders and commuters matters to decision-makers.
- Reforms and service improvements will show visible results.
- Better integration of innovative transportation models with our existing public transit network, and pilot tests of autonomous vehicles.
- Safe and enjoyable bikeways for riders in many communities, and enforcement to reduce dangerous driving.
- A healthy climate matters to everyone, and we work to prevent - and adapt to - the changes we are creating.
- The federal government will be a trusted partner in modernizing transportation; and if not, the state will step up to close the gap.
- Landmark transportation projects make real progress and take shape.
Whatever you wish for, and however you travel, we at Transportation for Massachusetts wish you a healthy and safe 2017 – and may you get where you are going on time!