^ Professor Jim Lambrechts : a bold Blue Line Extension plan presented at a forum hosted by Council candidate Margaret Farmer
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Disclosure : I am the consultant to candidate Margaret Farmer’s campaign. If I focus on her role in the story I am writing here, please know that that is why she is my subject. What I will assert, however, should be of general application to all Boston City Councillors in the current economic and political circumstances, and I do mean to apply it to all who hold or seek to hold a Councillor office.
Last night the candidate whom I consult for, Margaret Farmer, hosted a forum at which Professor James Lambrechts, a transportation specialist, presented an ambitious plan for Blue Line extension all the way to Riverside in Newton. The forum was held in the meeting room at Maverick landing in East Boston; a fair number of people attended, and so did I.
Lambrecht’s plan solves a host of Boston’s transportation inadequacies. It is, as I said, very ambitious. Obstacles abound. It foresees new tunnels constructed, and one new routing to connect the Blue Line to the Green Line and the Red Line — tunnels deep under existing lines — and it envisions 13 years of construction, not to mention innumerable years of prior public comment and state budget negotiations. His anticipated price tag — $ 2.8 billion — feels short by at least half. The new extension goes through Brookline and Newton, and who knows what those communities will think of a line that makes them more accessible to the immigrants who live in East Boston ? (It’s a shame I have to mention such a condition, but Boston-area transit line extensions have failed several times for precisely this reason : extension communities didn’t want to become more reachable by “those people.”)
In addition, as the proposal includes a new, deep tunnel under Newbury Street after running under the Boston Common and Public Garden, it will be subject to the most critical-powerful neighborhood associations in the City, not to mention all the (also influential) property owners along said Newbury Street. Good luck.
Nonetheless, despite every barrier, the plan has enormous merit. Lambrechts is right that the current Green Line is overburdened, and that the Blue Line is under-utilized. Why not unify the two ? Residents of East Boston have called for a Red Line to Blue Line connection for years (it was the first matter that transportation expert Jim Aloisi, an East Boston native himself, mentioned to me when we first talked). Politically that’s the entry to this much larger vision.
So much for the proposal itself. The point I want to make is that, given the vast and comprehensive changes Boston is committed to, or impacted by, isn’t it important for its City Councillors to direct the conversation about them ? You may answer that that is the mayor’s job. It is his job. But the mayor is not a dictator. Under Boston’s City charter,, as set forth in Sections 17 D through 17 I, the Council legislates ordinances of the city, may subpoena persons to testify to matters before it, and may request the Mayor provide specific information to it. (Acts of the Council are also subject to the mayor’s approval, and the Mayor may present his own legislative proposal to the Council for its consideration.) The Charter reads like a manual of procedure, but implied in its grants and limitations of power is plenty of authority to raise major issues longer term than any particular ordinance. This is where my view of the Councillor job comes in.
Mayor Walsh has themed his mission as “imagine Boston 2030.” In which he envisions 53,000 new units of housing and, perforce, major expansions of city services to the 75,000 to 100,000 people who will live in them, new to Boston. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information coming from Walsh’s office about said expansions other than his ten-year Capital Plan for reconstructing, consolidating, and re-purposing Boston’s public schools. In which case — and even if Walsh were providing all the information that he isn’t — voters have to look to the Council to lead the discussion. In particular this is a vital duty for District Councillors, of which there are nine. The four at-large councillors can converse about changes with a city-wide application; but the city’s nine Districts differ enormously, and these differences can best be voiced by their Councillors.
That is what I want to see our District Councillors do. It is not enough for them to talk only about what is happening now, indeed in most cases if a change is happening now, it’s too late for a Councillor to amend it. Councillors must get ahead of the story. They must talk about changes that will be upon us two, three, five, even twenty years from now — because the Mayor sure is planning them, and voters shouldn’t have to wait until the beast is already biting. Change is in most cases a good thing;’ life is change in action, and the future belongs to those who create it. Still, change in cities is directed, if not by you then by others. A Councillor who does not work to shape upcoming changes, and instead leaves it to others, disserves his or her voters.
Which is why I applaud Margaret farmer for alerting her District to transit eventualities. Transportation obstacles beset District One more, probably, than any other district in the city. Transportation reform involves every branch of government, enormous construction and maintenance contracts, temporary inconveniences, and huge trouble if the reform gets it wrong. Hosting last night’s forum may not be the most vote-getting move that Farmer will make, but it’s one of the most responsible. I would like to see issues forums become a staple of Councillor activity in this city.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere