By Beth Treffeisen
Special to the Gazette
There is no question that Boston is booming with both increased development and with an influx of residents. Between 2000 and 2010, Boston’s population grew by five percent to more than 615,000 residents. By 2030, the population is expected to exceed 700,000.
Already, Boston has crowded roadways, trains, and buses during high peak hours and it is only bound to get worse as more and more people continue to move into the city.
But, Mayor Martin Walsh hopes to address these issues through his Go Boston 2030 Vision and Action Plan that will guide the City’s transportation future. The plan is comprised of 58 projects and policies that will guide the City’s agenda moving forward.
“The hope is that more and more people rely on public transportation,” said Walsh during a roundtable discussion last month. “You’re seeing more and more younger people taking public transportation or other modes of transportation. My generation, my age, we got our license the day we could. People today aren’t following the same pattern.”
Today, a third of people in Boston are taking public transportation and the mayor hopes to continue that growth in the future.
The plan focuses on expanding access to ensure that every home in Boston is within a 10 minute walk of a rail station or key bus route. Walsh also wants to see better safety, and ensure more reliability.
“Boston is booming, with new housing and new businesses opening up and even more on the way,” said Chris Osgood, the chief of streets for the City.
He continued, “We now have a framework to provide connections between Boston’s neighborhoods and to new job centers, allowing people to access them using transportation options that are affordable, efficient, and enjoyable.”
The funding for these projects will be a mix of City, state, and federal sources. Last year, the City allocated more than $700 million in the capital budget for improvements to infrastructure over the next five years, but funding all of these projects can easily go into the billions if not more.
Moving forward, the City is looking into creating a Transportation Access Plan Agreement (TAPA) where developers with larger projects can invest in projects either adjacent to their project or contribute to a larger pool, where money will go towards transportation improvements in that area.
A recent example is with the 370-380 Harrison Ave. project in the South End, where the developers will be contributing more than $400,000 towards transportation infrastructure improvements for the neighborhood.
“Eventually, if we don’t have reliable transit, we’re going to be full, meaning people are going to make decisions based on it’s impossible to get to Boston,” said Walsh, adding that all the major roadways coming in will be blocked up.
“I look at the budget,” said Walsh. “We are heavily dependent on the real estate tax. In order for us to grow as a city, we need to continue development in our city, especially with us being 67 percent dependent on real estate tax.”
Walsh said that in order to make the region grow, you need more jobs, which will mean more income tax to the state. By marketing that to the state, the mayor said, he hopes that they will agree that they need a better transit system in order to achieve that.
After hearing responses from close to 4,000 Boston residents, four major goals came to the forefront: go local, go cross town, go regional, and go tech.
Locally, residents wanted roads in their neighborhoods to feel safe, buses to come more often, protected bike lanes, and to feel like you didn’t need a car to make short trips.
Today, this is being implemented through ‘Complete Street’ projects that are already under construction, including Boylston Street in the Fenway and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall Phase II from Kenmore to Allston.
In addition, a renovation of Hyde Square in Jamaica Plain is expected to begin construction in 2017 and will include an enhanced public square with sidewalk expansions and public space.
In the Fenway, Audubon Circle, which is currently under construction, will increase safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers and will feature four small rain gardens.
Cross town improvements include bus service reliability improvements, restructuring of all bus routes, Green Line improvements, and an increase amount of Boston’s green links.
One of the early action projects includes the Southwest Corridor Park’s multiuse path that will connect downtown Boston to Massachusetts General Hospital and eventually Cambridge, and in the South to Columbus Avenue in the South End.
Another will be an improved Silver Line, which over the next five years will widen the width of the bus lane, increase physical buffers, and provide stronger enforcement to avoid double parking and create off-board payment system.
“As we move forward into this new era of transportation our goal is to promote other modes in transportation and not simply just jumping into your car to get into Boston – that’s really the future of transportation here,” said Walsh.
He continued, “Right now, our mindset here is let’s jump into the car and drive to Fenway, so I think it’s how do you work to get that change in thought process.”