Photo: "Lechmere with no buses" by Mark Jaquith
By now if you haven’t heard that the MBTA has a huge operating deficit and is proposing steep fare increases and service cutbacks that still won’t solve the problem in the long term, then stop reading and go back to the TV. Most of the coverage of this mess has concentrated on the impacts on T riders. Very little has been said about what it might do to cities like Cambridge. Certainly, cutbacks will reduce ridership, and that will negatively affect access to education, employment, commerce, and recreation. These reason alone should be enough to worry you, with the associated economic, social and environmental impacts. But wait, there’s more.
The City of Cambridge relies heavily on good public transportation in its planning, permitting, and development policies. North Point, Kendall Square, and Alewife are all conceived of as transit oriented development (TOD) areas, and the city is staking its economic future on projected commercial real estate taxes from these areas. TOD relies on good public transit for access, traffic and parking planning, density bonuses, and efficiencies in energy and financing.
At the latest Kendall Square Advisory Committee meeting on January 26th. The topic was transportation, and it was made clear just how important good public transit is to the future of the area if any significant growth is to occur there. Many reasons were put forth. Roads are reaching capacity. Building parking is very expensive. The documented decrease in automobile use (which is dependent on good alternative transport) is used to justify a reduction in parking spaces. Simply to get the users in and out will be nearly impossible without significant increases in public transit to the area. Energy efficient building is also expensive, and reduced parking can offset some of these costs.
Then of course there are reams of evidence that the pollution reductions resulting from mass transit use reduces health related costs to individuals, employers and governments.
Massachusetts needs to come up with a scheme to make public transit sustainable (no pun intended) and expandable over the long term.
So what can you do? There are all of the obvious things like attending the T’s meetings and speaking out, writing T and State officials and legislators. We can take collective action as well. Together we are the City and its government is our voice.
The only action that the City Council has been willing to take so far is to request a “briefing or roundtable to inform the City Council about issues and impacts of MBTA service cuts and fare increases as they affect Cambridge” The order was passed on Jan. 9 and the meeting was to be scheduled before Feb. 8. As of Jan. 31, I can’t find it on the city calendar.
A roundtable is limited to those who are able to attend, because it's not televised, does not necessarily provide for public comment, and, most importantly, rarely results in action. The Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods has asked the City Council to do something a bit more pro active. To adopt a Policy Order with specific instructions to tell the T, Mass. DOT, Governor Patrick and his executive staff and our legislative delegation What the stakes are for our fair city, and what we want them to do.
Please read the policy order and if you think it would help ask your favorite City Councillor to sponsor this order. You can email the whole Council at this address: email@example.com
To see the order click here.
The Author lives on Hurley Street and is the former President of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods.