Allston I-90 "540 Comments"
March 05, 2018

“Comments expressing an opinion on the Throat Area alternatives heavily favored the at-grade alternative conceptualized by A Better City.”  So said the MEPA Certificate signed by Secretary of Energy and Environment Matthew Beacon that summarizes the responses to the Draft Environmental Impact Report prepared for the I-90 Allston Interchange.  MEPA received 540 comments on the 600 page report, demonstrating a high level of interest not only among the agencies and organizations focused on the project, but among members of the public who live near the site primarily in Allston, Cambridge, and Brookline.

The overall site is located at a bend in the Charles River and is currently owned by Harvard University.  The “Throat Area” is the 1,200 foot long, 220 foot wide corridor between the edge of the river and the property line of Boston University.  The overall site accommodates eight Turnpike travel lanes – part of the way on a viaduct that is deteriorating, four lanes of Soldiers Field Road, multiple lanes of major streets and ramps that connect these streets to and from the Turnpike, narrow bike and pedestrian paths, two active rail tracks between South Station and Worcester (and beyond), tracks that connect rail systems north and south of the river and provide freight service, an abandoned rail yard, and acres of very accessible land with the potential to provide that “once in a generation” opportunity to build something grand.

Last year, the toll booths at the Allston Interchange were removed and were replaced by All Electronic Toll gantries near the BU Bridge and west of Cambridge Street.  The former rail yard tracks have been removed, and soon the spur that supports rail deliveries to the Houghton Chemical plant will be removed allowing the present Turnpike curve to be straightened a bit, and opening the opportunity for a flat and level Turnpike . . .


The Transportation Dividend: Transit Investments and the Massachusetts Economy
February 12, 2018

As home to America’s first subway, Boston has been a transit-oriented city for more than a century. In fact, much of our regional economic success is due to the connectivity that a transit system provides. It is no coincidence that the area served by the MBTA houses almost 70 percent of the state’s population, offers 74 percent of the jobs, and generates 84 percent of Massachusetts’s gross domestic product. The MBTA is the backbone of our economy and any successful strategy for continued growth and prosperity for the region must begin with smart investment in this system.

Luckily, the calculus is straightforward as the benefits from our transit system far outweigh the costs we dedicate to support it. A new report from A Better City, made possible through support from both the Barr Foundation and The Boston Foundation, measured the MBTA’s performance and economic impact. It found that through travel time and cost savings, vehicular crashes avoided and reduced auto emissions, the MBTA provides an estimated $11.4 billion in value to Greater Boston each year for both transit users and non-users alike. Boston residents experience all of these benefits from the T’s annual operating budget of approximately $2 billion.

The report also considered the alternative, examining what would it cost if our transit system did not exist. Our economy would require the capital cost of nearly 2,300 additional lane miles of roads and 400,000 more parking spaces. If we needed to build that today, the cost for this vehicular infrastructure would be over $15 billion. The MBTA is a bargain today and for the future.



At more than five times the return on investment, the choice to finance the maintenance, improvement and expansion of MBTA operations within the 164 communities of metro Boston is clearly worth it. Unfortunately, the current MBTA budget plans . . .


New 2017 Member Companies
December 06, 2017


Kleo Taliadouros
Director - Development 

Ameresco, Inc. is an independent, integrated, comprehensive energy efficiency, and renewable energy company that is building a sustainable future with public organizations and private enterprise throughout North America and the United Kingdom. Through energy audits, innovative engineering, utility-scale solar farms, and deep energy retrofits, Ameresco applies forward-thinking technology to the challenges of controlling emissions, enhancing energy security, and shifting toward clean, renewable sources of power.



Brian Swett
Director, Cities and Sustainiable Real Estate

Arup is the creative force at the heart of many of the world’s most prominent projects in the built environment and across industry. They offer a broad range of professional services that combine to make a real difference to their clients and the communities in which they work. They are truly global. From 85 offices in 35 countries, their 12,000 planners, designers, engineers, and consultants deliver innovative projects across the world with creativity and passion.


LEED for Resilient Buildings?
November 13, 2017

In the last few years, responding to climate change hazards has become part of the way we do business. At a state level, September 2016’s Executive Order 569: Establishing an Integrated Climate Change Strategy for the Commonwealth requires Executive Offices to assess climate vulnerabilities and identify adaptation options, and cities and towns in the Commonwealth to complete vulnerability assessments, identify adaptation strategies and begin implementation of these strategies.  

At a city level, Climate Ready Boston has taken large steps forward in identifying Boston’s climate hazards and vulnerabilities, and providing recommendations for further action. Coastal resilience solutions for two of the City’s eight vulnerable areas – East Boston and Charlestown – have recently been released; the same process is beginning in South Boston with resilience solutions due in April 2018. In addition, UMASS Boston is expected to release results from a much anticipated harbor barrier review and a study on resilience governance and financing by the end of 2018. 

At a building level, the number of voluntary resilience standards has also grown rapidly to assist developers, building owners, property managers, and tenants in preparing for the potential impacts of climate change. The intent of these standards is to shift the building sector toward more robust adaptation and preparedness practices in the same way programs such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard has driven the development of . . .


The Campaign to Create a Greenway BID
November 13, 2017

The campaign to create a Greenway Business Improvement District (BID) is officially underway! For the last ten months, A Better City's Greenway Abutters Committee collaborated with the Greenway Conservancy, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the City of Boston to develop a long-term sustainable funding structure for the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Establishing a BID is the key mechanism in this four-party arrangement that is modeled on shared responsibility of this special area. This partnership will ultimately help to fulfil the original promise of the Greenway and ensure it continues to be a first class urban park for the foreseeable future.  

Creating a BID is a difficult. There are multiple steps required by Massachusetts state law that culminate in a vote of the Boston City Council. A Better City and the Abutters Committee, with support from John Rattigan and Mark Tang from DLA Piper, prepared the legal documents and enabling forms for the Greenway BID’s purpose, boundary lines, fee structure, and many other details. With those now in place, we are now asking the owners of properties located inside the Greenway BID boundary to sign letters of support to create the BID. 

If 60% of these property owners endorse the BID plan, and these supportive owners represent more than 50% of the assessed value in the Greenway district, we can submit this as a petition to the Boston City Council. If successful at City Council, the Greenway BID would exist through 2023 and become the only the second BID in Boston, after the Downtown BID.  It would be the sixth active BID in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Greenway BID is necessary to close a funding gap for Greenway’s maintenance and operations expenses. These Greenway abutters would be agreeing to collectively contribute approximately $1.5 . . .


Transportation & Climate Change Overview
November 13, 2017

When we focus on Boston’s transportation needs, it’s often in the context of congestion or delays on the T. However, as we passed the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy and watched large portions of the East & Gulf Coasts and Caribbean experience a devastating year of storms, the impacts of climate change loom large over a sea-level coastal metropolis like Boston.

In 2008, the Massachusetts’ legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which set statewide Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets of 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (over a 1990 baseline). Last year, the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth ruled that those targets are legal mandates, further underscoring the need for widespread action.

Over the past decade, Massachusetts has worked aggressively to address emissions from the energy sector—what was then the single-largest source of our state’s emissions. The Commonwealth helped to launch the nation’s first mandatory market-based program to reduce climate pollution from power plants across 13 states, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and established a suite of incentives and standards that has led our state to be ranked the most energy efficient state in the country for seven consecutive years.

Due in large part to our participation in the RGGI cap-and-invest program, emissions in the electricity sector have dropped by almost 50% since 2008. Proceeds from that program are invested in programs including energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, greenhouse gas abatement, and direct bill assistance to further drive down emissions. As of 2017, the . . .


Member Spotlight: Samuels & Associates - Abe Menzin
November 13, 2017

Over fifteen years ago, Samuels & Associates embarked on a journey to transform an area of the Fenway from an industrial neighborhood, dominated by surface parking and automotive service uses, into a vibrant mixed-use community. Today, the word “Fenway” is not only associated with the baseball park and the surrounding brownstone neighborhoods, but also with a new mixed-use and entertainment destination for many Bostonians looking for unique culinary, entertainment, and shopping experiences. Since their arrival to the area, the real estate development company has acquired over a dozen parcels and has executed ground-up or redevelopment of many of them, including retail, office and residential uses. Samuels & Associates’ Senior Vice President of Development and A Better City Board Member, Abe Menzin, met with A Better City Assistant Planning Director Irene Figueroa-Ortiz to share his company’s recipe for transformative placemaking. Abe, a real estate developer with a background in engineering and finance and a passion for transit-oriented development, explained that at the core of great placemaking is a long-term commitment to building a community and establishing strong relationships with residents, local community groups, and institutions. The real estate group approaches land development as a project of “third places” –an industry term used to describe social spaces outside of work and home. For his team, it is not just about commercial or residential development but about carefully crafting the spaces in between both, the places where people meet others and connect with the city.  As their masterplan architects, Elkus Manfredi Architects has played an important role in helping them shape their public realm vision.

So, how have Samuels & Associates implemented this notion of third spaces in the . . .


Keeping Businesses Powered and Profitable During and After a Natural Disaster
October 10, 2017

As we come up on the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, and we are living through one of the most damaging Hurricane Seasons on record, do you know what you would do to ensure continuity of operations during and after a natural disaster? When “the big one” comes to Boston, will your business have the lights on?

Business continuity is the capability of an organization to continue delivery of products or services at acceptable predefined levels following a disruptive incident. Whether you’re a hospital, financial institution, law or design firm, educational institution, or a commercial property owner, to maintain business continuity in 2017, your facilities need a reliable supply of power. Beyond physically hardening your assets and installing short-term on-site generation or storage, how can you position your buildings to maintain electric service as you weather a storm and its fallout?

Start by learning:

  • Your grid: Where is the substation that feeds into your building? How many other buildings are connected to that asset?  Are your local distribution lines buried?
  • Your restoration priority and timeline: Are you or your neighbors considered “critical” facilities? Where do your facilities stand on the priority list for restoration? How long should you prepare to be without grid-supplied power in the event of a severe weather event?
  • Who makes which calls and who should you call in the event of an outage: Under whose jurisdiction are your vulnerabilities? Should you be communicating with the federal, state, or city government emergency management agencies or would working directly with your electric utility be the most productive?

To help provide our members with access to decision-makers to . . .


Reimagining Our Commuter Rail System with Urban Rail
October 10, 2017

Today, the MBTA’s Commuter Rail system is a regional network that reaches far from downtown Boston. The network consists of 12 main lines and operates according to a spoke-hub distribution paradigm, with the lines running outward from the City of Boston. These lines service the eastern third of the state, and provide important transportation opportunities for half of the communities (175 out of 351) in the Commonwealth.

On September 26, A Better City gathered members and experts to help “Reimagine Our Commuter Rail System.” This included a presentation by Glen Berkowitz, Project Manager at A Better City on the concept of Urban Rail and what it could mean for Metro Boston. 

What is Urban Rail?

Urban Rail is the concept of running faster, more frequent train service on the inner core sections on various branches of the commuter rail system. Primarily, the MBTA’s Commuter Rail operates suburban and intercity service at far lower frequencies than its rapid transit lines (which includes the subway and Silver Line bus system). Compared to these rapid transit lines, our commuter rail corridors are relatively underutilized, with stations often spaced far apart.

Exploring the concept of Urban Rail asks us to examine three questions:

  1. Whether self-propelled, faster passenger cars can substitute for or supplement the traditional heavier, slower, dirtier locomotive approach that the MBTA still exclusively deploys;
  2. Whether new infill stations can be appropriately sited to serve both existing neighborhoods and new transit-oriented development;
  3. Whether new, shorter, faster trainsets can be the next most cost-effective way to greatly expand mass transit opportunities within and around the Boston urban area.  

I. Can we switch cars?

Going back . . .


Transportation Finance
October 10, 2017

At A Better City, we maintain a constant focus on our transportation system and the resources supporting it because the condition of our roads, bridges, and performance of the MBTA is directly related to the health of our economy. In the past few weeks, the conversation on transportation revenue reemerged both inside Massachusetts state government and within the stakeholder community. The stars are aligning for a larger debate and possible public action in 2018.  A Better City is prepared to lead this discussion once again through our work on potential statewide ballot questions and an upcoming report on the transportation finance at the MBTA and MassDOT.

Upcoming Ballot Questions

In November 2018, two different ballot questions will likely be placed before statewide voters. One is a proposal to allow a new 4% income tax surcharge on annual household incomes above $1million per year. This is commonly referred to as the “millionaire’s amendment." Proponents of this question are officially demanding this revenue to be used exclusively for two priorities: transportation and education. A separate ballot question will ask voters to reduce the sales tax rate to 5%, from the currently level of 6.25%. A specific portion of the sales tax in Massachusetts is automatically dedicated to the MBTA, so this ballot question could result in additional budgetary challenges for our public transit agency. The combination of these two questions will certainly stimulate public debate over the amount of revenue we need in Massachusetts for transportation.

The voters were almost given a third ballot question, but A Better City worked to disqualify a specific proposal that would eliminate all tolls on Massachusetts roads and highways.  We submitted an official comment letter to Massachusetts . . .