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Community News

Feb 28, 2020

Rail Priority

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Senator William Brownsberger at BSA Space

Photos courtesy of Susan Green

At BSA Space, State Senator William Brownsberger and Transit Matters COO Jarred Johnson share opportunities and challenges related to rail transit investment with a room of more than 40 AEC professionals.

At BSA Space on February 25, 2020, before a crowd of about 40 architects and allied design professionals, Senator William Brownsberger put forth two key priorities for public transportation in the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area
—to increase operational funding of the MBTA, and to evaluate and formulate a line-by-line rail improvement plan for the commuter rail.

He cited under-management of maintenance, and the lack of a culture of safety, as major problems. One example was the Green line crash in 2019, costing millions of dollars in repairs and causing thousands of hours in delays. This event was the result of a missing component—previously listed as missing in the inspection reports but never replaced, exposing a critical mechanism to the dirt and debris beneath and ultimately resulting in the crash.

He also described under-management of resiliency (investing in tracks that are in known sea-level rise areas, exposing the engines to corrosive sea water), under-management of construction (essentially, no overall plan related to the network of projects for maintaining the stations and platforms), and under-management of operations (lack of a dynamic response to bus route conditions, poor customer communications, and a limited ability to control or absorb absenteeism).

“Rapid transit is to a city as an elevator is to a skyscraper.” The senator asserted that “if people can’t get on a train, even sometimes, they’ll give up” and remarked that “there’s nothing environmentally good about transportation that is not efficiently used.”

His proposal would be to create a story line-by-line, particularly on the commuter rail, and to design a more efficient plan around that. In order to reduce congestion and greenhouse gases, he proposed to focus on making rapid transit more attractive to the “low-hanging fruit” – people who are already making the trip. We need at ask how we are meeting people’s needs and find a consensus of where we are in that hierarchy. This includes making the existing system more reliable, shifting commuters’ mode of transportation to reduce congestion and greenhouse gasses GHG, and attract new commuters through community partnerships around housing and economic development.

Big picture: If we really want to facilitate Greenhouse Gas reduction, we need to electrify private vehicles. (Motor vehicles in MA drive and average of 60 billion miles per year vs 2 billion for all other modes combined.)


TransitMatters COO Jared Johnson speaks about the relationship between density and mass transit. Conversation moderator, David Gamble FAIA listens.

In the comments and Q&A with TransitMatters COO Jarred Johnson, Johnson asserted that density is necessary to drive mass transit and that equitable pricing needs to take demographics into account. (Cost of MBTA ridership has risen faster than the cost of living.) He pointed to congestion pricing, ride sharing incentives, design for ample charging stations, MBTA and municipal partnerships to support bus lanes and signal priority, improved bicycle and pedestrian safety, and the creation of car-free urban areas, as additional steps toward “a world where everyone can live and get around, including persons with disabilities, seniors, children—a world where people can get around without cars.”

See Senator Brownsberger's presentation.

This discussion was presented by the BSA's Infra\Tecture Knowledge Community and its Urban Design Committee.

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