MASSACHUSETTS’s TRANSPORTATION FUTURE : PART 2 –THE POLITICS OF POPULATION SHIFT

county_map3_2018

If Governor Baker’s Transportation’s Future committee report has it right, the City of Boston will, for the next 20-plus years, experience population growth more typical of cities in Arizona and Texas. And that our State’s mountain counties and Cape Cod will decline in population.

Nothing that the Committee report foresees has larger significance than that.

To opine first and then quote at length :

Boston is growing fast. From 2010 to 2040 the City is expected to increase population by 31.5 % !

Which means about 800,000 people in a City where barely 600,000 lived in 1990.

“Population growth in Massachusetts is highly concentrated in the eastern part of the state. While Greater Boston alone makes up 45 percent of the state’s population, it accounts for 67 percent of population growth since 2010.

…growth is even more concentrated in the urban core, close to
where the jobs are: Greater Boston region is one of a minority of metropolitan areas in the US where the primary city growth rate is higher than the suburban growth rate. Communities with high-frequency subway service accounted for 42 percent of Massachusetts’ net job growth in the last decade, up from only six percent in the previous decade for those same communities.

Future projections for the state exhibit this uneven growth trend: communities in Greater Boston and Central Massachusetts are expected to grow, while Berkshire and Franklin counties in Western Massachusetts and Barnstable County on the Cape are expected to contract over time.”

 

Politically, these population facts command large changes in representation. Today, Boston has 17 State Representatives and five State Senators. If the population predictions come to pass, by 2040 the City will have 22 State Representatives and six, maybe seven, state Senators. Meanwhile, the numbers for Berkshire, Franklin, and Barnstable counties will decrease accordingly. It’s likely, too, that representation for central Massachusetts will decline, while that for the Route 128 communities will increase.

This assures that the transportation priorities of Boston voters, and of those who live in its nearby suburbs, will dominate state planning, and that the transportation needs of people living outside metro Boston will be heard less and less. This imbalance is already happening, despite the best efforts of Governor Baker to bring new institutions and enterprise to the Connecticut valley and beyond.

To sum the situation up : for communities west of Worcester, connection to the “Hub” will be the be-all and maybe the end-all; while for the “Hub,” a major overhaul of every transportation infrastructure will be crucial.

Boston, with its enlarged political voice, will win most of the fights. What fights ? These :

( 1 ) vehicle traffic will have to be channeled. No longer will through traffic be able to monopolize major streets. In addition, through traffic will have to be directed away from narrower, and shorter, neighborhood streets. Both of these situations have already reached critical mass.

( 2 ) the central Artery, planned for 1970s traffic, has become almost unusable. Between 7 am and 10 am and again from about 3.30 pm to 7.15 pm, everything is slow-crawl or worse. Some through traffic, at lest, must be directed elsewhere. From Sullivan Circle all the way to Columbia Road, so many entry roads feed the Artery, or exit from it, and from opposite sides, that much traffic criss-crosses the wide roadway in order to exit, across entering traffic from the feed roads. The exit from Artery to the Ted Williams Tunnel narrows down to one lane, backing rush hour traffic for over an hour. This is what it’s like today. Imagine it in year 2040, in a city with one-third more people.

Suggestion ; a by-pass tunnel, built under Mystic River and Harbor, from Wellington Circle in Medford to University of Massachusetts campus in Columbia Point, accessible only to passenger vehicles. (with roof built low enough to assure it)

( 3 ) From Boston downtown to Pittsfield is about 140 miles. Only the first 25 miles or so lie in metro Boston, another 25 in greater Worcester. Beyond that lie communities losing population and influence. These are already served, somewhat, by the Turnpike in the south and Route 2 to the north. Traffic is not a problem, but road time is. I’m not a big fan of high-speed rail., but to offer people of our west a speedy connection to Boston, I don’t see a choice. Because the Connecticut valley sits perpendicular to the east to west flow that really matters, any high sped rail line will need two spurs, one to Springfield, the other to Greenfield, to feed the east-west rail running from Pittsfield to Worcester along current Route 9 and then onto the existing Worcester to Boston commuter rail. An important issue is : how frequent the train trips ? This will not be a heavy-usage line. I’d suggest that the east bound trains leave at 5 .30 am, 6.30 am, 7.,30 am,. 8.30 am, noon, and 3 pm, and that the west bounds leave at corresponding times.

( 4 ) the North Shore corridor. Vehicle traffic coming into Boston from the north has few options, thus the major one, Route 1 A, is as backed up as the central Artery when one needs it most. Route 93 isn’t any better. There are no other major access roads. What then to do ? Suggestions : ( a ) extend the Blue Line — finally !! — to Lynn, maybe t.o Salem ( b ) extend the Orange Line to Route 128 between Wakefield and Reading ( c ) build a service road alongside the Orange Line accessible only to passenger vehicles

( 5 ) Hyde Park and beyond. Traffic here hasn’t yet overloaded, but the day is coming. Suggestions : (a ) build a service road alongside the commuter rail Fairmount Line, accessible only to passenger vehicles ( b ) extend the Mattapan high-speed trolley line from Mattapan Square along Route 138 all the way to Stoughton ( c ) build the South Coast rail line

( 6 ) Cape Air’s Dan Wolf has a seaplane proposal for transport up to and across Boston harbor, including servicing Logan Airport. It should be looked at with favor,

( 7 ) Logan Airport. We’re very lucky to have our city’s major airport so close to Downtown. On the other hand, traffic to the airport impacts East Boston more and more, and rising seas threaten its very low-lying runways. It may be best to expand the Airport more toward Deer Island and perhaps even shift its footprint half a mile to the southeast, freeing up space for East Boston to develop normally and diversely and with less noise.

Overall : Governor Baker’s Future of Transportation report also emphasizes the need to decrease the carbon emissions put into the atmosphere by traffic jams and non-electric vehicles and trains. The report correctly prays that future public transit vehicles be electric, and it encourages electric vehicles generally. This is far less difficult a proposal than the basic infrastructure challenges, and it’s one proposal that the Commission Report can look forward to success at.

For further reading, it might be instructive to look at this, by Transportation for Massachusetts, a public interest advocacy group,which offers this proposal to the State’s recently released policy statement : https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/t4ma/pages/314/attachments/original/1537900718/white_paper_final_9-21.pdf?1537900718

In my next installment I’ll look at some of the Baker Commission’s specific suggestions.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OUR CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, 2018

IMG_4770

^ tree lighting and carol singing at the State House

—- —- —-

We at Here and Sphere send our holiday best to you as always. Some of you celebrate Christmas as a religious event; others savor its cheer and happiness for their own sake; some of you celebrate joy and happiness under a different name. Whichever of these rituals you observe, we embrace your observance and wish you bright days, weeks, months ahead.

For many of us, 2018 has been a second year of trial. As we wrote last year, most of us did not vote for Mr. Trump and dislike his behavior in office. I think I can say that most of us react to his presence with disappointment, even heartache; some with anger. As we are politically minded, we share these reactions fully. Almost every day we have wanted to yell, to scream, to wish Mr. Trump gone. Having ousted his supporters from control of the House of Representatives, however, we can look forward to better legislation in Washington, to some measure of respect for immigrants, LGBT, those of other faiths than Judaism and Christianity, and for marginalized people generally.

I ask that for these next few holiday days we set our entirely justified disgust for Mr. Trump aside, that we focus on what is nearest and dearest to us : our family, friends, and our pets; our neighbors and our work colleagues. Remind ourselves that those who share our life journey are loved by us and love us in return and that that love binds us and blesses us, daubs us in glory, renders us immortal even in mortality. We can never forget those who love us and have our backs, just as they can never forget us.

Those who have our backs, and whose backs we have, are male, female, transgender, gender-fluid. They are straight, gay, bisexual. They have all kinds of skin colors, come from every sort of culture and national origin, worship all sorts of gods or none at all. Some who have our backs, and whose backs we have, are not American but Canadian, or French, or German — Catalan — Chinese — Russian — Colombian — Salvadoran –Vietnamese. They are Italian, Iraqi, Irish, Iranian, Hindu, Haitian, Korean and on and on and on : for our backs have no nationality, they are human backs backed by anyone from anywhere who stands behind us as we behind them.

Thus our message : celebrate the day and its rise-up meaning, and invite all who love you, and who you love, to celebrate with you, harmonious and glad of it. Truly I say to you : let the angels sing. All the angels.

Merry Christmas !

—- Mike Freedberg and the Editors / Here and Sphere

A LOOK AT GOVERNOR BAKER’s TRANSPORTATION REPORT — PART ONE

Baker speaks

Six days ago Governor Baker’s Commission on the Transportation Future of Massachusetts released its report after working it for ten months. It’s certainly good to see that state government recognizes the urgency of doing more than merely repairing the MBTA; that the crucial need is to plan a NEW transportation system, to replace what we have now, geared to 1970 traffic and usage. Today’s traffic has boomed far beyond the 1970 numbers, yet MBTA ridership has not kept pace. It must catch up, now, and quickly, or the entire thing will clam up no matter what state-of-good-rep[air measures the T takes in the five to eight years ahead of us.

That said, I am disappointed by the report in two ways.

First, I think the Commission has tried to do too much. No doubt the following quote is true —

…the (interplay) of many…major forces influencing the larger system in which transportation operates:

how the regulation of land influences the cost of housing; how the cost of housing influences trip patterns; how long commutes and low-density development contribute to carbon emissions and climate change by forcing all but exclusive reliance on personal vehicles; how climate change drives the need to reinforce infrastructure and re-think long-established development preferences; and whether and how electrification and greater levels of autonomy may be able to help the Commonwealth to address these challenges.

— yet a Commission charged with prioritizing a transportation system ought to focus on transportation itself and not be cowed by, or diverted by, other factors, even those these factors all play a part in what Massachusetts communities and commerce might look like in 2040.

Governor Baker charged the Commission in these words, however :

1. Climate and Resiliency: What changes will be needed to reduce transportation
greenhouse gas emissions consistent with Commonwealth targets for 2040? What kinds of investments will be needed to make transportation infrastructure more resilient?
2. Transportation Electrification: To what extent should the Commonwealth encourage or promote electrification of personal vehicles, transit systems and other transportation systems? What changes might be needed to energy infrastructure to support electrification?
3. Autonomous and Connected Vehicles: Over what time frame will autonomous vehicles likely be deployed in Massachusetts and under what policy framework? What changes to policy and infrastructure might be needed to support deployment of autonomous and connected vehicles?
4. Transit and Mobility Services: To what extent will “mobility as a service” change
transportation in Massachusetts? How will the role of public transportation evolve if on demand and mobility-as-a-service options become more widespread in the future?
5. Land Use and Demographics: What changes in land use and demographics could either drive or be driven by the types of disruptive climate, technology and business model changes likely to occur in transportation? What other context issues should the Commonwealth consider when planning for its transportation future?

That’s a lot. I agree that all these events impact the future of transportation and may well determine what is politically doable — and that should be done — yet in my opinion Item 3 is a side matter at best, and Item One cannot be the top priority no matter how significant climate matters may be.

I’ll return to this critique later.

Second, I am troubled to see not even one community activist in the list of  Commission members whose recommendations I will be talking of :

Steven Kadish, Chair
Senior Research Fellow, Taubman Center for
State and Local Government, Harvard
University

Eileen McAnneny, Vice Chair
President, Massachusetts Taxpayers
Foundation

Rebecca Davis
Deputy Director, Metropolitan Area Planning
Council (MAPC)

Dan Dolan
President, New England Power Generators
Association.

Gretchen Effgen
Vice President, Global Partnerships and
Business Team, Nutonomy

José Gómez-Ibáñez
Derek C. Bok Professor of Urban Planning and
Public Policy, Harvard University

Andrew Hogeland
President, Berkshire County Selectmen’s
Association; Williamstown Selectman

Kenneth Kimmell
President, Union of Concerned Scientists

Carol Lee Rawn
Senior Director of Transportation, Ceres

Timothy McGourthy
Executive Director, Worcester Regional
Research Bureau

Mark Melnik
Director, Economic and Public Policy Group,
UMass Donahue Institute

Colleen Quinn
Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy,
ChargePoint

Karen Sawyer Conard
Executive Director, Merrimack Valley
Planning Commission

Sandra Sheehan
Administrator, Pioneer Valley Transit
Authority

Stephen Silveira
Senior Vice President, ML Strategies

Navjot Singh
Managing Partner, McKinsey Boston

Kirk Sykes
President & Managing Director, Urban
Strategy America Fund, L.P

I’m sure these are all fine people, thoroughly versed in the professional minutiae of transportation planning; yet should not the commission incorporate actual riders and community activists ? It’s for their benefit (and votes) that the commission is working. It ought to have brought at least four or five activists and riders aboard.(No doubt testimony by activists and riders was received at the five public hearings the Report’s cover letter mentions. I don’t think that’s enough.)

I would also have liked to see participation on the Commission by other advocates, such as Transportation for Massachusetts. Certainly these activist organizations have their own agenda, but a commission planning state policy for everybody ought top include, as feasible, voices of everybody.

We now come to Items 2, 4, and 5. These form the core of any realistic transportation commitments going forward. Electrification of the system is a very defensible priority. I might add that the MBTA is already developing it. Electric buses will be in use by 2023. Certainly demographic change has to determine where new transportation projects will go : you build where the riders are going to be. Mobility service is a very smart rubric for viewing tomorrow’s transportation system. Taxpayers fund a “mobility system,” in other words, a mans of getting around, other than one’s own car or bicycle. The success of Uber and Lyft should make clear to everyone that if the state doesn’t offer a superior “mobility system,” entrepreneurs may do it instead. (That might be  a good thing, except that entrepreneurs will focus on demand, as they must: but transit routes have to be available even to less demanded routes : which is why taxpayer-funded transportation was instituted to begin with.

The Commission has issued its report, so there’s no means now for influencing it. Going forward, I want to see public hearings everywhere, well advertised, so that activists of many kinds can participate (as Boston’s BPDA is now very effectively doing for its Zoning overhaul initiative) and so that workable plans can be agreed to which will establish flexible mobility services that respect climate resilience requirements and which utilize electric power chiefly, maybe altogether. There’s nothing in the Commission report that impedes these discussions or discourages public input from playing a big part in what is eventually committed to.

As the Cover Letter notes :

…against this very complex and interdependent backdrop are the ways in which
our transportation ecosystem itself is evolving rapidly. The birth of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and the advent of car-, bike-, and scooter-sharing are some of the first paradigm-shifting mobility innovations in many decades. Other paradigm shifts that we can only imagine are likely to occur by 2040, but transportation infrastructure will likely remain much as it does today: made up of bridges and roads, rails and airports, and focused on the mass movement of people and goods.

How people and goods move and on what types of infrastructure built and managed by what types of entities will determine much about whether and how the Commonwealth will thrive in 2040.

After Christmas I’ll write Part two of my report, focusing on the meat of the report itself.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

NOT MUCH URGENCY AT AN IMMIGRATION FORUM IN EAST BOSTON

IMG_4887

^ Ayanna Pressley speaking powerfully at her recent “Equity Agenda” Forum on Immigration

—- —- —-

Something was missing on Saturday at Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley’s Immigration Forum on her “Equity Agenda” : people. About 75 showed up, far short of the 231 that her facebook event post listed as  “going.”

Pressley’s immigration reforms carry some urgency — I’ll outline them for you later in this report; most should be enacted as soon as possible. Why weren’t 500 people there ? Certainly Pressley doesn’t lack for support. In the primary race she defeated our incumbent Congressman, Mike Capuano, by almost 20 points, well over 10,000 votes. Immigration matters a lot. Divisive the issue may be, but those divisions reflect plenty of voter passion, on both sides. You’d expect a Pressley event in East Boston, where about 54 percent of all residents are recent immigrants, many facing visits from ICE, to draw a standing-room-only crowd. It didn’t happen.

I counted about eight Eastie residents present. Where were the other activist who show up all the time at Eastie gatherings ? Those who did attend came mostly from elsewhere : Jamaica plain, Chelsea, Downtown,  Cambridge. And what did they find there ? A two npage list of Pressley’s immigration proposals, a brief — eloquent and passionate — stump speech by Pressley, and then a long lecture, by Liza (no last name given) from MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Agency) which, though heartfelt, veered away from Congress matters into state and local immigration concerns (drivers’ licenses for undocumented, police co-operation with ICE) which, however important to immigrants, have nothing to say about what Pressley intends to do in Congress. (Note : Pressley did say that she intends to weigh in on these state legislative matters. We’ll see where that goes.)

After Liza’s speech came an hour of breakout as each table of attendees was asked to discuss among themselves what immigration reforms should have priority. This sort of table group process at issues forums has become kind of a norm these days, and in some settings it can focus the ideas, usefully, of ordinary participants. Not, however, in this case. If Pressley wants to find out what her voters prioritize by way of immigration, she can do an in depth poll. If she wants to activate citizen enthusiasm, she can hold an outdoor rally. That’s what she ought to do.

I did not stay for the full hour of table group discussion. To tell the truth, I’m less interested in what 75 Pressley supporters want her to prioritize than i am in her own list. She’;s the one elected to Congress. Here is that list :

( 1 ) pass a clean DREAM act that creates a pathway to permanent status for DREAMers and their  families.

( 2 ) Like DREAMers, individuals and families with temporary protected status (TPS) should have a pathway to permanent status

( 3 ) “I will fight any proposal that links protections for DREAMers with funding for the construction of a border wall….”

( 4 ) Increase Title 1 funds to district schools… Expand resources for English Language Learners

( 5 ) End ICE enforcement and deportation activities. “Immediate end to funding for ICE’s immigration enforcement and deportation activities, while working to re-house non-immigration enforcement activities currently carried out by ICE, including human trafficking investigations…”

( 6 ) co-sponsor HR 6361 Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System  to officially terminate, defund, and replace ICE

( 7 ) Codify protections for asylum seekers…pass legislation codifying grounds  for seeking asylum, including domestic and gang violence.

This list is quite more carefully worded than the sweeping generalities she adduced during her primary campaign. Note there is nothing in it about citizenship. The most that Pressley offers to DACA people and those with TPS is a pathway to permanent status : in other words, a Green Card. This is hardly a radical proposal. It may  fall short of what some are hoping for. As for the border wall, an overwhelming majority of voters (including me) agrees : don’t build it, it’s a useless waste of money.

Re-purposing the functions now carried out by ICE also makes good sense. Pressley’s original  call to “abolish ICE” seemed reckless, not to mention threatening the jobs of ICE’s thousands of employees. Her revised reform avoids that consequence and offers specific systemic suggestions that will maintain ICE’s proper mission while eliminating any legal basis for current abuses, some of them disgusting.

All of this is worth rallying for. Pressley should call such a rally, or engage other electeds if need be to maximize attendance. She has a passionate, powerful stump speech in her: she should use it where it’ll do the most good. 75 people at a table group discussion sends a message that the immigration issue isn’t all that important to folks. That’s not good.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OF POT SHOPS, BOOZE BOUTIQUES, AND YES MEANS YES

IMG_4841

Aris Halani begins his family’s pot-shop Porter Street presentation

—- —- —- —-

In 2016 Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative making “reefer” — formally known as “marijuana or “cannabis” — legal for purchase. This vote was, of course, a bit of a joke, because everybody who wanted reefer could already buy it anywhere, and they could openly buy “blunts” and wrapping paper whence to make “roaches.” #Why anyone would want to smoke a “joint” of reefer, I can’t say : myself, I find it doesn’t provide the jolt that its fans exult about,  not to mention I can’t like the smell. But smoking a smoke-able substance is up to the individual — who am i to tell someone they can’t frolic with reefer ? — and so by me it was perfectly OK that people bought “a bag” of reefer — for way too much money — and smoked it with the joy that I bring to ice cream. Thus the vote of Massachusetts people was quite all right by me. Of course I too voted “Yes,” even though I do n’t smoke anything — except barbecue on a wood fire.

So now comes 2018, and entrepreneurs are opening up “cannabis shops” here and there in our state, and other entrepreneurs are proposing to do so; and suddenly the public, which voted Yes, is all up in arms that their Yes actually does mean Yes. Oh no, they cry, no pot shops in my neighborhood !! Oh, we say, but we voted Yes, right ? Well, no, cry the “Yes doesn’t mean yes” crowd, we didn’t actually vote yes. that was just a statement of principle. In practice we mean No, No, and No.

So, what you guys are saying is that it’s all right in principle if i inhale some spliff, but not OK for me to actually DO it ? Answer : “You can smoke wherever else you like but not in my neighborhood !

Right.

Anyhoo — it came to pass this past Wednesday that a proposal for a pot shop in East Boston was accorded a community hearing. The presentation was has hosted by the East Boston Social Center and moderated by a spokesman from the City’s Planning and Development agency. The presenters, father and son Halani, have a location in mind on Porter Street (where my grandparents fist lived after arriving from overseas as dirt poor immigrants) hard by North Suffolk Mental Health’s (NSMH) East Boston facility. Many NSMH clients are addicts in recovery; thus the obvious concern about the Halani family’s proposal.

It probably does not make sense to locate a pot shop next door to an addict recovery station, if only for messaging : as two friends pointed out, addicts in recovery aren’t there because of reefer. Other friends point out that there’s plenty of booze shops right around the corner; and why is booze quite OK but reefer not OK ? In any case, most of the folks attending the hearing did not voice these sorts of quite reasonable observations pro or con. The sense of the meeting was that ( 1 ) the pot shop will bring tons of traffic into a square already trafficked to the max and ( 2 ) marijuana should never have been legalized in the first place, and no, it should not be in East Boston no matter what location. The intensity of this objection was perhaps epitomized by the comment of one man who said that “there’s a lot of minorities in the area and they’re all on booze.” (It may be unfair to call his comment epitome; he was called out by many, including by me, and was shut down by the City’s moderator.)

The traffic objection was not so easily disposed of. East Boston has all but succumbed to traffic  impact. The tunnel approach road (for which my grandparents’ house on Porter Street, along with two dozen others, was taken by eminent domain) was built to handle 1970 traffic at most. 2018’s traffic looms at least four times as busy, with no end yet in sight; and the pot shop location sits directly adjoint to the tunnel approach road where it turns, along Porter Street, onto lanes attached to London Street toward the tunnel entrance. This objection, compounded by the message sent by locating the pot shop next door to NSMH, makes the Halani family proposal quite problematic. There are many other pot shop proposals for locations elsewhere in East Boston, including one along McClellan Highway, far away from East Boston residences and neighborhood streets. I think the Halani proposal can’t compete with that one.

So let me sum up :

First : Councillor Lydia Edwards spoke at the hearing and eloquently expressed the common wisdom, that marijuana is legal, that she voted Yes to make it so,m and that it is coming to East Boston, but that the shop location must be one friendly to the neighborhood, not an irritant. (my words)

Second, opponents really have no good answer to the observation that the Porter Street location has booze shops almost next door to it, and why booze but not reefer, which is far less a health issue than booze over-use ?

Third, my own observation : how will the Halani proposal ever make money ? They are preparing all kinds of security features staffed by two ranks of security people. They will build a fortress-like interior with check points, like those you f ind in a military bunker or a prison. You’ll need a “government-issued” ID and must be 21 years old. (You’ll probably also need an FBI background check: their employees must obtain it.) Crazier still, you’ll need an appointment (!!) in order to shop there. Lastly, the cost of a joint will be about 50 percent higher than from a street dealer. This, my friends,  did not sound like a recipe for business success. It was a kind of verbal slapstick.

The Halani’s have already poured thousands of dollars into preparing the presentation. They had two security consultants and one licensing consultant — well paid I am sure.  They had a doctor in the room. I’m no expert, but I can count. Do they really think that their appointment-only marijuana fortress — their secure reefer prison — can make money ? My own reaction is, I want nothing whatsoever to do with that sort of bristling, deflective, you the customer are-a-danger-to-society place.

Maybe you see it differently. Good luck if you do.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE MBTA CAN’T BE MANAGED BY A “NATION-WIDE SEARCH”

Poftak

^ Steve Poftak, seen here, discussing the Commonwealth Avenue bridge re-build, during his stint as interim MBTA CEO. He will now be THE CEO.

—- —- —-

Luis Ramirez is now out as MBTA chief, Steve Poftak is in. No one c an know if Poftak will accomplish would Ramirez could not, but he has at least one major advantage : he knows the MBTA up and down and knows its workers and is known by them. Given the complexity of MBTA operations, and the multifold ways in which its schedules fall short and its tools break down, Poftak’s in-house acquaintance with every thing and everyone has to advantage things.

If Poftak succeeds, it should be a nail in the coffin of the “nationwide search” chimera. If there is any state system inappropriate for outsider management, it’s the MBTA. Why was seeking an outside person ever judged appropriate in this case ? Maybe there are some answers :

At about the same time that patronage jobs ceased to be the political norm, management of major state and city government agencies was given over to a hope and a prayer : the “nationwide search.” No longer would big systems be superintended by locals, men and women who had risen through the ranks. These were seen as beholden to the politicians, who were now, of course, judged bad and dishonest people. Instead, the “nation-wide” search for the best, brightest, and most disinterested outsider would assure the public that big government would deliver effective service diligently budgeted, no waste, no cronies, and no favoritism. At the time, some predicted that such “nationwide searches” would do no better than the old crony methods and might even backslide, but these voices were not listened to.

At the MBTA of 40 years ago it was not at all unusual for political workers to get hired there — as bus drivers, repairmen, fare collectors, what have you. You knew a state legislator with some seniority, you asked him, he “put you on the T.” Not all t workers were hired by patronage, but many were, and it was a damn good job : great pay, great benefits, and no layoffs. I well remember working campaigns with guys who were political T employees. Not surprisingly, this system pissed off those who did not, or could not, get hired for great T jobs, and the same was true of so many other state and city workforces, and during the early 1980s politicians were made — by pissed-off voters — to see patronage as a bad thing. On the T, and in the state’s Courts, political pull no longer dominated hiring, and for the top jobs, it was now entirely off limits.

I think that now, 35 years later, we are free to bring back the tactic of hiring from within; that raising an MBTA deputy to the top job is a good thing. First, it is no favor to ask an MBTA deputy to run the entire system. The salary is high — $ 320,000 — but the opportunities for failure are higher. I feel pretty confident that, with the T, very few voters think that promoting an insider is a bag job. Even with his knowledge of the system, and of its employees, Poftak still has to oversee bus schedules that often  fall short, bus trips that are missed , breakdowns of T infrastructure, ancient Red Line and Orange Line trains, missing line connections, and weather hazards. Hands-on, he will be; he’ll probably be a boost to employee morale; and he will benefit from the coming of new Red Line and Orange Line cars. Other than these, he’ll have to devise a very detailed plan for improved service and make sure all of the public knows of it and accepts it.

What should that plan be ? I would recommend something like this :

( 1 ) schedule fix-by dates for each systemic segment, and stick to it. Be candid with the public that it will take eight more years, maybe, to bring the entire system to “state of good repair.”

( 2 ) If more time is needed, as almost always happens, notify the public of it in advance.

( 3 ) hold public comment hearings, in the neighborhoods, on a regular basis. I would suggest one such every month, location rotating. Poftak himself should be available at these hearings. His top deputy, Jeff Gonneville, too.

( 4 ) increase bus service on major routes. Add additional trains on the Blue Line.

( 5 ) Commit to a Blue Line – Red Line connection and a date for beginning the work.

( 6 ) publish the T operating budget on twitter and facebook. The public has to be made aware of the enormous costs involved in upgrading and expanding T service.

When he hired Luis Ramirez, Governor baker praised the selection, cited Ramirez’s business background, and asserted that after one year most of us would agree with the selection. The opposite proved true. I think Baker has learned his lesson; that with a system as damaged as the T, and as complex and in some ways intractable — even at its best, it’s built for 1980 traffic, not 2018 — it would be foolish to give even the Poftak hire a carte-blanche “you betcha.” The new guy will have to prove himself to a justifiably skeptical public.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

OF “TRAFFIC CALMING”

calm streets

^ what Boston officials now call “courtesy streets” or :calm streets” — streets that disinvite being used, sort of like chairs in a museum with “don’t sit in this chair” signs around.

—- —- —-

No later than college years one learns how to behave in social settings and how to speak. There are things one does not say. To say them invites all kinds of unpleasantness; and pleasing is the premise of a social setting. Dissimulations that we adopt in society are no cause for alarm, so long as we never forget that they are, often, not what is silently said inside our heads but instead, a highly cosmetic “photoshop” of our actual thoughts. We who are invited back all do this.

We know most of the ordinaries : “How are you ?” “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” “Can I get you anything ?” “You look beautiful !” “So glad to see you again !” In each there’s likely at least a thimble of truth, maybe an entire bottle of it, but I’m guessing that when you say these pleasantries you really don’t expect an answer. “How am I ? Today I feel sick.” “Can I get you anything ? “Thank you so much. (Actually I would love you to buy me a drink.) “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” (I really wish I were in Philadelphia.) “You look beautiful !” (Did a blind person apply your make up ?) Oh how one wants to say these ! But of course one does not.

The quasi vocabulary of as-if politeness serves us all, and almost all of us take advantage and understand the difference. Not so, when quasi language is used for public policy statements. I don’t know about you, but I quease when I hear a politician refer to a big spending bill as “investment.” When an investor invests, she is investing her own money in hopes of a profit. That is not what happens when taxpayer dollars are spent on a public policy initiative. I find the political meaning of “investment” not polite at all. It’s a borderline lie, at best an evasion. That I feel so does not mean I do not support the spending proposal. Often I encourage it. But in no case do I like being told that it’s “investment” because that is not true. Polite is fine in a social setting; matters of public policy require the truth. Have I overreached here ? Probably I have. Probably public policy requires its own version  of polite. Still, even the polite should not intentionally deceive, right ? Maybe.

And so we come to the term “traffic calming.” Until recently i had not seen this phrase in print nor heard it said. Now I see it plenty. What does it mean to “calm” traffic ? Is traffic an angry beast that rants and raves in need of calm ? As in that meme “Keep calm… and go shopping.” Or what have you. Keep calm. So here we are.

“Traffic calming” is city planners’ term for decreasing the volume of vehicle traffic — of care and trucks in particular. I can’t say that today’s traffic density doesn’t frustrate me. Boston’s main roads are clogged with overmuch traffic in the morning and again the evening. From 6.30 AM to 9 AM one cannot move on most of the major incoming arteries. From 3 pm to about 7.30 pm one can’t move on the outbounds. As these roads were built in the 1980s-1990s to handle traffic burdens figured in the 1960s and 1970s, it isn’t very surprising that 2018 traffic makes them almost unusable. Boston in the late 1960s and the 1970s was a city from which people were moving away, out to the suburbs and the by-pass roads where the malls were built and the picket fence houses were everyone’s ideal. Toady, just the opposite holds. Everybody wants to shop, trade, entertain, and live in the city. Thus the traffic. Neighborhoods of streets once quiet find themselves flooded with cars and trucks, noise and frustration. The remedy ? “Traffic calming.”

Boston City officials have decreed a “neighborhood slow streets” program. You can read all about it here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/neighborhood-slow-streets

The artwork in it has a kind of Norman Rockwell, squeaky clean, rural peace valley look to it. Haha and haha. Does anyone takes this sort of leafy eye perfume seriously ?

I’m not a fan of taking a four lane main street and decreasing it to two lanes, setting the other two aside for bicycles and feet. What planners call “traffic calming”: I call “traffic abolition.” Neighborhoods belong not only to those who live in them, but also to those who shop in them, visit people in theme, entertain in them, run businesses in them, hotel in them, tourist in them. Restricting traffic flow — and thereby shoving half of it onto the city’s other, already overcrowded roads — may make some residents rest easier, but it impedes commerce and adds to people’s commute times. Boston already has several “traffic calming” systems in place. The city’s public garages inflict a very costly use price; parking meters cost a ton and don’t allow for more than two hours stay. If you get towed, you’ll spend at least $ 200 plus the ticket’s $ 53 to $ 100 fine. All of these obstacles push thousands onto the MBTA, which also suffers from carrying 1960s-1970s traffic in year 2018. Planners definitely “calm” traffic in one place; but the more they “calm” traffic HERE, the more that it doubles down over THERE. So why don’t we, instead of “traffic calming,” cal,l it “pushing traffic from one place onto another place ?” Or, “my traffic calm is YOUR traffic tsunami” ?

Not very polite, if you ask me.

What it is, is policy bullshit.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

IN MEMORIAM : GEORGE H. W. BUSH

george-hw-bush-13

“This aggression will not stand.”

Of all the sentences that George H. W. Bush spoke, as President or otherwise, those five words can still be felt. I suspect they will be felt for a century to come. Maybe longer.

Saddam Hussein, then tyrant of Iraq, had sent his army into Kuwait, a small, neighboring nation, conquering the entire country. The world was angry; war was threatened.

President bush did not threaten. He simply stated : “this aggression will not stand .”

Over a six month period thereafter, a vast armed force, involving several nations, maybe 500,000 troops and their arsenal, all of it sought for and persuaded for by the President, gathered at the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Hussein was given a choice: withdraw, or be pushed out. Hussein defied the ultimatum and was pushed out and much more.

The world then knew that when the President of our nation said “this will not stand,” he meant exactly what he said.

The entire event was a huge confidence builder for a nation that had, since the disaster of Viet Nam, profoundly doubted itself. Doubted our resolve. Questioned our strength. Dared not test our ability to be the world’s “arsenal of democracy.” Yet here we did what we said we were going to do, and we as well as the rest of the world saw it happen as we made it happen, and we were right to do it and to led a large coalition of nations to do it alongside us.

Kuwait remains free, and so do Iraq’s Kurds; and if the full result was incomplete — because President H. W. Bush felt that to go the whole distance might overreach — it was good enough for its purposes.

Bush ’41 was not re-elected. He lacked political smarts; was unable to sell his big tax compromise after having promised his voters that compromise was off the table. A master of diplomacy, and no slouch at legislating civil rights — his Americans on Disability Act changed the entire world for millions of disabled Americans, and still does change their world — Bush ’41 was no master of the street. Foresight was not in his craft. He had scant grasp of the AIDS crisis — his son would master that — and was content to run a nasty 1988 election campaign directed in part by the very street-smart Lee Atwater. At home among world leaders and movers, he seemed awesomely unaware of what his fellow Americans were like, so that what he did achieve — there was plenty: include among his works the Clean Air Act — came about more because of his idealism and sense of duty than from any personal witness. Nonetheless, he accomplished; and we live with the benefits of what he –and his Congresses — accomplished, however they accomplished it.

He was a son of America’s traditional merchant aristocracy — short-handedly called “WASPS” — “white Anglo Saxon Protestants,” which was what the motivating majority of the class were, though by no means all : WASP leaders included many who were Catholic, or Jewish, or even Black: think Senator Ed Brooke, Brooke’s mentor Melnea Cass, Ambassador Ralph Bunche, Tuskeegee Institute’s Booker T. Washington, the union leader Bayard Rustin, author Langston Hughes ( himself the son in law of an Abolitionist leader, John Langston), and, above all, Frederick Douglass. The Bush family were WASP to the core : Andover Academy, Yale, law and banking, diplomacy, the world stage; and the social register. And public service : in Bush ’41’s case, Navy Pilot in World War II, Congress, the CIA, Ambassador to the UN, the Vice residency and the Presidency. The sense of duty; of serving because, so much being given to one as a member of an entrusted, leadership group, one had to merit that trust. All of that was Bush ’41, and he never looked back or doubted himself.

If, as his son Bush ’43 said today, “the best father a son or daughter ever had,” that too was the way it had to be for a man who just did it, because it was how one did. Being best came naturally to him; he didn’t have to think how to be best or worry about what-if’s. He was perhaps the luckiest of men as well; in Barbara Pierce he found a lifelong soul mate who was what he was — and as witty as beautiful, a woman who did not suffer fools at all and said so. But of course Bush ’41 was no fool,. not ever, except perhaps “a fool in love,” as the 1950s song had it, and that was a foolishness that he never had second thoughts about.

The nation is now saying a long good-bye that expresses the unconscious, long, heart-beatingly confident love that most of us have always had for a leader whom we may not always have agreed with, or understood, or applauded, but who would never by us be denied. Who among us could deny a man who did a parachute jump at age 90 ? Who with his prep school accent so incongruously loved baseball, country music, and barbecue ? Who summered in everyone’s ideal summer corner, Kennebunkport ? (Lobstah ! Chowdah ! An ocean cold enough to chew !)

Bush ’41 was an un-self-conscious child-man who hated broccoli and said so. Doubtless they won’t dare serve him broccoli in heaven; but they will allow him parachute jumps — upwards this time.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

COSTS & REFORMS — THE UPCOMING LEGISLATIVE SESSION

 

DeLeo

^ Speaker DeLeo and Governor Baker do not look happy, as well they might, given the budget obstacles that loom in 2019

—- —- —-

The 2019 legislative session here in Massachusetts looks much less easy than was the 2018 version. This year, the legislature enacted all manner of detail reforms, on all kinds of topics from criminal justice to minimum wage, and from gun regulation to workforce housing and transportation funding. Much of the 2018 work was agreed to unanimously, or almost. I doubt anything like these successes will be done in 2019 without major effort.

First of all, the budget number itself is sure to cramp reform’s style. A recent article in Commonwealth Magazine, by Robert L. Reynolds and Christopher Anderson    — Reynolds is a major fundraiser for Governor Baker — asserts that the state’s financial stability ranks near the bottom of the 50. We face major unfunded state worker pension liabilities and a shortfall in retiree benefits; the “rainy day fund,” it is claimed, has nowhere near the billions of reserve dollars it needs if the state falls into recession; and, so the article cries, health care cost increases show no signs of leveling off. What will the legislature do about these ? Hard to say, given that “no new taxes” is Speaker DeLeo’s litmus test. Governor Baker’s, too.

With respect to health care costs, note that the transfer of opioid addiction responses from criminal justice to health care treatment has certainly raised them. I doubt that the costs of incarceration exceed, or equal, the cost of hospitalization and treatment that we now provide to addicts in recovery — provisions that will increase as the state completes addiction’s  transfer from criminal to health issue. Nor can we turn back. Treatment is the only useful response to addiction. We all recognize that. But the effect upon health care costs will NOT be to decrease this budget item.

Even without accounting for addiction treatment, health care costs in Massachusetts are rising much faster than state revenues. Universal health care, as “Medicare for All,” may be a goal of Federal legislators, but in Massachusetts it’s what we do — and have done since 2006. The state’s population is growing, too, quite rapidly; thus too our health care “universe.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration has cut back the contribution that Federal dollars had been making to Massachusetts’ health care funds. Little wonder that Governor baker, back in 2016, told me that health care cost increases worried him mightily on a long term basis.

They will increase, and the 2019 legislature will really have no choice but to account the increases. In 2018 it and Governor baker were able to allocate to businesses about $ 800 million of health care employee contributions as part of the “Grand Bargain” that included many employee pay and benefit increases (and one large give-back). Will Massachusetts businesses be equally ready to take on additional employee (and retiree) health care costs ? Maybe, if there’s yet another give-back. We’ll see.

Second, several measures of reform that could not get done in 2018 remain, even more urgently than during last year. Education funding probably comes first. The legislature failed to complete its chapter 70 funding formula reform — the bill died before a joint committee could finalize the bill — and Governor Baker has committed to prioritizing education money. As Carrie Healy reported last August, Baker said “there’s more work to do there.” Baker said if he is re-elected, he will file a budget next January that puts more money into the schools that were the subject of concern during the debate.

Baker’s commitment includes chapter 70 reform, and for good reason. The current formula does not prioritize school districts most in need. Boston schools always fall far short of what they assert is needed. That the Boston Schools budget tolerates millions of dollars of inefficiency and special interests is no excuse for the State not contributing properly. Will chapter 70 reform overcome the “equal protection” hurdle that now bars the allocation from favoring one sort of school district over another ? We’ll see.

There will be plenty of outcry for substantial new housing funding. Carrie Healy’s article mentions zoning reform, a huge issue in every community, given the passions that in every community, including Boston,  govern what sorts of housing can be built where. It’s one thing to allocate construction money and land acquisition funds; it’s quite another to win local approval of developments within present zoning law. In Boston, zoning variances are the rule these days, partly because Boston’s exceptional zoning regulations (Boston’s zoning follows a different path than the State’s chapter 90) make construction and renovation very difficult without a variance, and partly because almost every Boston proposal upsets extremely delicate balances of various land-use interests. That said, the State should and probably will increase its housing budget: because if the money is there, those involved will find a way to spend it; and the need for housing is there, given that metro Boston is likely to gain 500,000 new residents, if not more, by 2030.

Thirdly, what about if there’s a recession ? Right now, state revenue well exceeds expectations and thus supports a bullish budget. In recession, those revenues recede too. This is where the “rainy day fund” serves. Today it has something north of $ 1,600,000,000 dollars. Reynolds’s article says it should total closer to three billion. Windfall revenue receipts in FY 2018 added $ 2909,00,000 to the fund: The deposit will push the state’s rainy day fund balance above $1.6 billion, which Baker administration officials said represents an increase of about $500 million since the governor took office in 2015.

If Evan Horowitz’s October article in the Boston Globe is to be credited, the rainy day fund actually totals $ 1,800,000,000. Horowitz says that’ still not enough. If the 2109 budget comes in at about $ 42.5 billion, $ 1.8 billion represents barely two weeks funding. He recommends a fund large enough to fund six weeks of budget — some $ 5.4 billion. We’re nowhere near that. Reynolds and Anderson concur with Horowitz’s $ 5.4 billion figure. How do we get there ? Especially how do we get there in a budget session that demands more money than ever for health care expenses, education funding, and transportation’s “state of good repair” needs ?

There will be one new source of state revenue : marijuana sales in state-licensed marijuana stores. The 2019 prediction is $ 60,000,000 of revenue. sales boomed in this first week. Let’s say that actual marijuana revenue doubles that $ 60 million. It’s still way short of the $ 3.6 billion rainy day fund gap that Reynolds, Anderson, and Horowitz say is needed.

Next month Baker will deliver his “state of the state” speech. It will feature his budget objectives. Soon thereafter DeLeo will appoint a budget chief — his 20-18 chief, Jeffrey Sanchez, was defeated in a primary. T>he new budget chief will have to get accustomed to the task. We might not see the House’s proposed 2019 budget until June. Baker’s, we’ll see before that. They’ll then have only till the end of July to agree on numbers and pass the budget. I remain hopeful that it will address the challenges I have outlined. Hopeful, but not by any means certain. There will be no new taxes — that, all parties agree on. Thus the money just isn’t likely to be there.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE MAYOR OR THE ACTIVISTS : WHO ACTUALLY GOVERNS BOSTON ?

Michelle Wu

^ City Councillor Michelle Wu : can she set Boston onto a course  not that of Mayor Walsh, and of which he may well disapprove ?

—- —- —-

We’re at the point right now, in Boston, of upending the City’s strong-Mayor system. The City Council, given scant power under the City charter, is moving to block the Mayor’s directives on many fronts. It may well succeed, because a large segment of actives support the Council’s agenda

Political mistakes on Mayor Walsh’s part have abetted this movement : it hardly boosted his clout that four of the five candidates he openly backed in September’s Democratic primary — Congressman  Capuano, State Representative Jeff Sanchez, 3rd Congress District hopeful Daniel Koh, District Attorney candidate Greg Henning — were defeated, and that his one “win, ” Dan Cullinane’s re-election as State Representative, was a fairly narrow one. These defeats add to an already weak record : defeats in State Representative and City Council races , the 2014 Governor contest, and the defeat of Warren Tolman by now Attorney General Maura Healey. Walsh is said to have an excellent relationship with Governor Baker; if so, Walsh staying neutral in Baker’s re-election campaign was probably a plus for both men.

The old Tammany Hall saw has it that in politics, “you don’t back no losers.” By this standard, Walsh looks politically bled. This is not a great position for him to be in at a time when city governance, generally, is trending away from City hall and out to the activists in the streets. On almost every issue, from schools administration to diversity in hiring, and from police issues to Air BnB regulation, traffic control, and real estate development, agendas forged by activists have already won the day in many instances and now challenge almost every major decision the Mayor is supposedly empowered to make. Consider the matter of Widett Circle and its environs: the Mayor wants to sell the major Widett parcel to developers for a soccer stadium — but the City Council, led by Michelle Wu, taking its cue from neighborhood activists who want “affordable” housing (whatever that means), insist that the parcel be set aside for housing purposes.

For me, this matter cuts both ways. I certainly side with the many activists who want the City’s housing to not price itself out of reach of most Bostonians, and who want development, where it is acceptable at all, conform to neighborhood characteristics rather than upend them. Yet is the City better off having its decisions made by the activism of a moment, than by a Mayor elected to make decisions for the longer term ?  I doubt it. Consider the analogous situation that rules today’s stock market: companies seek short -term advantage, at the expense of longer term investment goals, in order to satisfy shareholder activists who want instant quarterly results. I doubt that anyone but a speculator thinks that short-term fixations have made corporate governance better for anyone — employees, management, actual investors. So, why even have a strong Mayor with a four-year term if we the voters aren’t ready to give him discretion to decide major questions on his watch ?

The four-year term is not carved in stone. Boston mayors once upon a time served for one year; the Council, too. What might Boston government be like if that were the set up today ? It’s not hard to answer this question. If a Boston Mayor had to face the voters every year, he or she would surely avoid making controversial moves whose benefits might not be visible that quickly.

We see some of this already even with a four-year term. Walsh in his 2013 campaign set forth a city-wide school building reconstruction plan that would consolidate 126 under-utilized, budget-wasting, old school buildings into 90 much more efficiently used, newly constructed schools. Opposition to the plan from several activist groups led Walsh to backpedal this plan until now, five years after — five years of millions of dollars wasted on staffs not needed and utility costs not warranted; and even now the plan has aroused opposition forcing Walsh to forgo re-configuring the under-performing McCormack School.

Somehow Walsh must find a movement which will regain him his full four year power. I do not know what that will be. He has staked all on being the “building boom Mayor,” and as the acknowledged leader of the City’s powerful construction unions — and the Construction industrialists who hire them — being the “building boom Mayor” matched the City’s major fact : economic expansion, population growth, need for much more housing and commercial building. Yet the boom has become so big, and its consequences so expensive,. that almost the entire City is rebelling. If not development overreach, then traffic jams. If not these, then the price of everything.

Some Bostonians like the new use density; they want more of it, not less, and applaud micro-apartments, or backyard hives, rather than decry them. Perhaps these voters approve Walsh’s bottom line as Mr. Construction: but far more voters dislike what is happening, and that unrest has now become a serious threat to Walsh’s agenda, to his power and even to his re-election in 2021. The City Council — Councillor Wu, but not her only — is moving its own agenda for the Air BnB riddle, for development impacts, housing affordability, climate and sea rise resilience, utility lines and power stations, vehicle use, and land sales. If Walsh can’t quickly find a competing agenda that can mobilize a significant part of the City’s activists, he may well lose the political initiative to a Council whose members know how to use social media to solidify an energized and noisy following — one much more nimble than Walsh’s sometimes old-fashioned insiders.

I am uncomfortable with government by unelected activists. Much of what activists want contravenes the City’s long-term interests, in transportation, economic growth, taxation, and free trade. What are my options ? Perhaps this :

Walsh still has the unions. Can he make effective electoral use of their cadres ? So far, he has failed the test. If his failure continues, and his re-election begins to look dodgy, we may well see City charter change on the 2021 ballot, beginning with an elected school committee — this, a move certainly worthy given the recent history of grievous administrative mishandlings by the City department that accounts for one-third of the total money spent every year by Boston’s government.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere