BOSTON : THE TRANSPORTATION CHALLENGE

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^ transportation in Boston toady is already a mix of options. Tomorrow there’ll be more options, and much more mixing.

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Much ado has been bruited about what the 2024 Olympic Games might inflict upon Boston traffic; Boston parking; Boston public transit. All of this ado prevents us from hearing the underlying conversation about transportation : it will change big time, in ways that will alter almost every part of our lives, our habits, our expectations, our time.

The challenge is upon us; and, as with so much that is changing in Boston, the change will happen whether we like it or not (and many of us do like it) : so, why not take charge of the change instead of passively bitching about it as others impose it on us ?

What are those changes in transportation, that are already hitting us ?

1.The T, of course. Governor Baker and the legislature have got us to the threshold of reconfiguring every part of its operation : equipment, governance, work rules, administration, scheduling, outsourcing. And there are changes that go beyond what politics is likely to accept, For example : why does the T need to own and repair any buses ? Why can’t it lease them all, and have them repaired by the lessor ? Calculate the millions of dollars this would save every year. You don’t want the T’s fares hiked ? Leasing would enable the T to NOT raise fares at all.

2.T expansion. Why can’t we extend the Blue Line to Lynn, the Orange Line southwest to Needham, the Green Line north beyond West Medford, top Woburn ? As for bus routes, why not hire van-sized vehicles to serve less traveled routes and late night riders ?

3.Parking. Mayor Walsh is doing an inventory of every parking space in the entire city of Boston – an effort as momentous,. And powerful as was the Doomsday Book to William the Conqueror in 1086. We can’t effectively create new parking spaces until we know where they are most needed – and where it is most feasible to create them.

4.Transportation competition. The taxi business as we knew it is finished. Today’s taxi companies – Uber, Lyft, and Bridj; and who knows what others ? – own no vehicles and employ no drivers. They are flexible, on demand services, the epitome of what a service business must be.

5.Cars. Some modern-day Luddites want them gone, but that’s silly. The two most significant reforms that we can do to cars are (1) make them much smaller and (2) make them much more energy efficient. European cities get by with street widths created in the 15th century, sometimes; because European cars are a s small as matchbooks and make 60 miles per gallon of gas, largely because (1) they are tiny and (2) gas costs triple in Europe what we pay.

Public transit and on demand taxis cannot serve all of us. It’s nice to have the supreme flexibility of a car. But having a car does not mean having any damn car we please. For city driving, especially, we should create economic barriers to the usefulness of huge cars with large fuel consumptions. May I add that taking this policy route will also lighten the burden we now place on parking space sizes ?

6.Bicycles and Vespas. Again, European cities could not exist as they are, had not thousands of urbanites these two options. Everybody who can use a bike or Vespa in Europe does so. The same trend is imposing its truth on Boston. We should encourage it.

7.Traffic.  Cities are full of traffic ? Why is t.hat a bad thing ? Bad would be for Boston to have no traffic. Traffic means commerce, commerce means prosperity. Yes, traffic brings noise, and slow movement, and some carbon emissions. The emissions, we can deal with. But noise and slow movement are part of the DNA of a city., if you don’[t liker them, you probably should not live in Boston, not even in its nearby communities. That, you will have to decide.

One thing we can change is traffic patterns. Building a new road, however, doesn’t get us there. A new road creates new traffic. And entrances and exits create build-up and bottlenecks no matter how we design them. But we can use one-way signage to direct existing traffic onto streets where it is most needed. We can do it and should. Up to now, Boston one-ways its streets often because of neighborhood complaints. That’s reactive; it is not good leadership.

To use one-waying – and other means of traffic diversion — effectively, however, we need to research traffic preferences regionally, not simply within Boston. This will be a huge undertaking for every governmental body that decides to do the research.

To sum up : transportation as we have known it – cars, or trains, the T or taxis – is moving off stage, to be replaced by systems much less clumsy, less inefficient as to both costs and service, and far more individualized. We’re entering a small unit world in almost everything – the new economy is bringing it to us. Our transportation models cannot avoid the new paradigm.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

STARTING A NEW BUSINESS : A WOMAN’S LAMENT

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^ John Barros, Boston’s Director of Business Development : helping women become entrepreneurs. Cities do that.

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Why is it so hard or a woman to start a new business ?

That was the question asked of me yesterday by a good friend, a woman of long-time American heritage who lives in an exurb on the North Shore. She was responding to a facebook post showing that immigrants start businesses at almost double the rate of long-time Americans.

Her question is a good one, as is the issue of why immigrants start so many more businesses than long time Americans. Neither admits of a simple answer. There isn’t room, in an op-ed of 700 to 1000 words, to list and analyze all the likely reasons why immigrants do entrepreneurship so well, or why a non-immigrant woman living in an exurb might find it hard to start a business; but it’s well worth briefing some of the factors.

Immigrants have two ready advantages over long-time Amerricans. First, because they live in communities of language, often close by each other, they start all the businesses that the nation at large starts but which they, not proficient in English, or not speaking it at all, cannot patronize : they do restaurants, their own insurance firns, their own lawyers and tax accountants. They do radio stations, groceries specializing in what they ate back home. They do check cashing, money wiring, real estate firms. These they do in addition to starting businesses, eventually, that cater to others outside their ethnic community.

Immigrants also seem better positioned to committing the entire extended family to a new business. Long-time Americans are more likely to live in nuclear familes, the relatives living far away, maybe out of state or even out of the country entirely, pursuing their separate lives; whereas immigrant families arrive more or less all at once, starting their American lives at the same time and place and thus all available to help.

The second advantage immigrants enjoy is that almost all of them live in cities. It is hard to plant an immigrant community of 5000 to 10,000 people in a suburb; few in the community have money to buy a home, and out there rentals are few. To live in exurbia, one needs a car; few immigrants readily acquire funds to buy and register a car, or to pass the road test, which requires some knowledge of English. Thus immigrants by and large take the bus to work. If you ride the 5 AM to 6.30 AM buses, you will see them on their way to the jobs that they almost monopolize : cleaning offices, hospitals, college dorms, and working hotels and restaurant kitchens. These jobs are city jobs.

Living in cities gives immigrants an enormous entrepreneurial advantage. Cities are populous with diverse interests, and it is from diversity that commerce arises : a community where everyone is a farmer is a community without commerce. Commerce requires that A buys from B what she, A, does not have, and that B buys from A, what he, B, does not make. There can be some of that in exurbia, but in cities, that is the whole story. Everybody has or does soemthing that everybody else needs or wants. An immigrant can start almost any kind of business in a city and find customers : food trucks (try doing THAT in exurbia !), day care, pet walking, a gas station, a DJ service. (Yes, you can do all of these in exurbia, but it’s much much harder, because customers are sporead out and not easily informed that the new business even exists. In the City, that’;s not the case.

Cities are also where public relations businesses start up, and entertainments, and networking firms. Cities host all sorts of journalism (simply because so much of interest is happening). And cities are where most technology start-ups start, because cities are where the advanced education institutions are found — and their students.

Again, all of these can initiate in exurbia but subject to all sorts of obstacles that don’t pertain in cities.

Lastly, cities have offices of business development that help new entrepreneurs to get started. Because cities are who they are, city business development teams give special attention to immigrants, people of color and — women; extra attention and pathways to funding. Exurbia doesn’t do that. Living out there — 25 to 50 miles from the city — you’re pretty much on your own, in an environment not plenteous with commercial opportunity.

as exurbia is where my friend lives, she has full cause to complain. Perhaps she can start a pet-sitting business, or do crafts, or repair laptops and computers; or do house cleaning — all in high demand in exurban towns. She might also become a real estate broker, as many exurban women do. She’ll have to do it without much set-up help and using her own capital.

I wish I had more suggestions to offer her than these; but demographics really are destiny where commerce is the goal.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

AT HIS BEST, THE MAYOR, WHERE THERE IS TRUST

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^ Mayor Walsh speaking to voters who trust him — and who he trusts too

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Last night I saw Mayor Walsh at his best. It was “Monday with the Mayor,” and he spoke and, for almost 90 minutes, answered citizens’ questions at Excel High School in South Boston. Walsh was at ease; he knew many of the questioners personally, and they knew him. Some addressed him as Marty, not “Mayor.” He called them by their first name too. Most of the questions involved basics ; traffic, parking, housing, schools, trash removal. Walsh gave surprisingly well informed answers to most. I’m not sure that “Southie”s own representatives know the neighborhood as well as he does. It was appreciated.

It was clear that the questioners trust Walsh; and that he trusts them. Only once did I hear a speaker tell the Mayor “you don’t listen to us.” Only twice did Walsh cut off a questioner who spoke too long. Everybody else made clear that they felt well listened to, and that the Mayor really will clear up, or at least address, the neighborhood snags that were broiught to his attention. And why not ? He had with him a representative of almost every City department, and for detailed answers to some questions, he called on those representatives to provide an answer. It was very effective politics.

How different this meeting with the Mayor was, from the conentious, angry, brickbat words I’ve seen exchanged at Olympics meetings ! Different last night’s meeting was even from other Walsh Mondays that i’ve attended, in Charlestown, Mattapan, East Boston. At angry Olympics meetings, the Mayor isn’t shy about fighting back. He has a temper, and you really do not want to feel its teeth or fire. I like that in Mayor Walsh; it’s why he has supporters who will go to the mat for him. Still, a Mayor must do more than give battle to those who bring him heat. The Mayor must lead, must change minds. That, he seemed to do at last night’s Monday.

There was skepticism aplenty, among the South Boston voters conversing with the Mayor, about rising real estate taxes, housing and parking shortages, and — above all — the Olympics. “No neighborhood in the City will be as impacted as we will,” said one civic association leader. Yet she, and the several hundred who applauded her, seemed persuaded that Walsh understands the point and will not allow an Olympics plan that South Boston doesn’t accept. And why not be persuaded ? As Walsh said, “i live right across the bridge from here, i have family here.”

He might also have said, “and you guys voted or me.” In his 2013 campaign, Walsh carried South Boston by 20 points. He is Irish, and so are most of South Boston’s activists. He is a recovering alcoholic (and mentioned it, a lot) : it’s a recovery that many South Boston people can identify with.

If anybody can lead South Boston activists, including several in the room who in 2013 opposed him, into the very, VERY different Boston that he envisions for 2030 — all night long he talked about “imagine Boston” and invited people to share their ideas for it — Walsh can. Last night he worked to do that; to get the most populous of Boston deeply rooted neighborhoods attuned to a very changed City, and, perhaps, to like it and even profit by it. Most civic leaders present applauded a lot of what Walsh was saying.

By any political measure, this was a success for Walsh. It was the Mayor at his best. He will need to match it many, many times over the coming two years as he faces a re-election campaign that right now looks stormy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere