COVID-19 Response: How is the Public Transit System Measuring Up?
April 07, 2020



Americans woke up on January 20, 2020, to a new COVID-19 world, with the first case of the Coronavirus reported in the United States. An unprecedented set of national, state and local government orders would follow over the weeks to come, placing severe limitations on citizens’ ability to go to work, to interact with family and friends, and to meet the basic needs of their families. Almost overnight, many Americans were deemed non-essential and directed to stay at home and practice social distancing to protect themselves and other citizens—and to help to “flatten the curve,” or rate of infections, to mitigate a surge on already-limited hospital resources.

In the public transit sector, the social distancing directives called for immediate responses to strengthen sanitation protocols. They also called for continued adjustments to service to respond to declining ridership and to limit exposure for the essential workers both operating and using public transit to support frontline efforts to win the war on COVID-19.

In the United States, 2.8 million transit riders—one-third of transit commuters—are considered “essential” during COVID-19.1 Globally, essential workers also rely on public transit as their primary mode of transportation. Shutting down public transit systems during a pandemic is therefore not feasible. Worldwide, public transit agencies are putting in place the requisite protocols following emergency response plans. In the United States, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) issued a Policy Brief with a summary of the National Academics of Sciences, Engineering Medicine Guide for Public Transportation Pandemic Planning and . . .


April 07, 2020

Written by Tom Nally, Senior Advisor

Wendy Gettleman of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in the midst of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, was looking ahead to maintaining construction progress on a project in Chestnut Hill and has found the requirements established for essential and non-essential work to be confusing, with the state and municipalities offering different interpretations.

A review of the list of construction workers accompanying the Governor’s emergency order “COVID-19 Order No.21” updated on March 31, 2020, the closest applicable reference defining essential workers is “construction workers who provide services…essential [to] operation of hospitals and health care facilities” [emphasis added] and not the construction of health care facilities; however, the description goes on to state “you may request designation as an essential business.” 

In addition to the list issued by the state, there is a special note:  “If the function of your business is not listed [above], but you believe that it is essential or it is an entity providing essential services or functions, you may request designation as an essential service.”  There is a link to a brief form to be completed and submitted to the state on which an applicant can describe why a service not listed should be considered essential for the purposes of the emergency order.   There is no further description on the form about the nature or timing of this designation process.

It is possible that one could make a case that construction workers working on a hospital project are essential.  But the issue may be complicated by local restrictions. 

 A further complication is the actions of the unions.  The carpenters union has decided that its members should not report to work starting on Monday, April 6, and as a result, there appear to be no carpenters . . .


A Summary: The Governor’s Order Suspending State Permitting Deadlines & Extending State Permits
March 31, 2020

Written By Tom Nally, Senior Advisor 

As a result of the restrictions imposed by responses to the COVID-19 virus and the declaration of a state of emergency, Governor Baker issued an order on March 26, 2020 (COVID-19 Order No. 17) providing that a permit issued by agencies within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs or the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development will not expire or lapse during the period that the state of emergency is in effect. The Governor’s order also pauses deadlines for these agencies to hold a hearing or decide on permit applications. The timing clock on those deadlines will resume 45 days after the end of the emergency.

Hearing deadlines, decision deadlines, and deadlines for filing appeals have all been suspended during the state of emergency. A permit issued by a state permitting agency to a holder of approval who was not in violation of the terms and conditions of the approval as of March 10, 2020, will not lapse or expire during the state of emergency.

This order will remain in effect until rescinded or until the state of emergency is terminated.

This permit order does not apply to permits or approvals required from other state or local . . .


Current Status of Construction in Massachusetts - MARCH 31
March 25, 2020


Last week, the Governor’s Office issued new guidelines for construction as part of an update to municipalities. An exhibit that is part of this update designates construction work as Essential Services and workers engaged in construction as within the COVID-19 Essential Workforce.

Nationally, communities are facing choices about balancing worker and community health concerns with continuing to advance essential projects particularly infrastructure and housing projects.


Infrastructure projects under the control of the MBTA or the MassDOT Highway Division continue with construction. These projects include the Green Line Extension in Somerville, work on the Tobin Bridge and Chelsea Curves, the North Washington Street Bridge, or other road and bridge projects across the state. These are outdoor projects where the workers are spread out and use goggles, gloves, and in this season, coats.

MassDOT states that these projects need to continue for safety and reliability reasons. The MBTA General Manager reported to the Fiscal Management and Control Board on March 23 on the status of capital projects for the following three weeks:

  • MBTA Construction Field Projects not using MBTA Operations or Keolis staff support will continue.
  • MBTA Construction Field Projects using MBTA Operations or Keolis staff support will be rescheduled/prioritized:
    • Life safety activities, safety-critical work, and environmental stewardship work will continue.
    • All other projects will be prioritized and rescheduled.
    • Professional services, third-party construction fieldwork, and vendor construction (except those supporting State of Good Repair and reliability) will be paused.
  • Keolis Projects will continue.
    • Project sites support social distancing practices

Other members of the Essential . . .


Cycling for Transportation During COVID-19
March 23, 2020

With schools closed, restaurants restricted to take-out or delivery, and social distancing recommendations firmly in place, footage of quiet downtown streets is evidence that Bostonians are staying home as recommended. However, when essential work, family care, or other vital needs require that we venture outside, questions about prudent transportation choices while social distancing are top-of-mind.

Keeping in mind the CDC’s recommendation of maintaining six or more feet of distance between people, cycling solo is an option that naturally lends itself to a buffer of distance between the rider and the nearest person. Even better, choosing to travel by bike can perk up your mood while providing exposure to fresh air, sunlight, and immunity-boosting activity.

In several cities, officials are seeing the transportation opportunity that cycling presents during the current pandemic and taking action to enhance existing infrastructure in response. In the Colombian capital of Bogotá, 47 miles of temporary bike networks are being implemented to reduce crowding on . . .


February 2020 House Transportation Bill Release
February 26, 2020

Statement from A Better City President and CEO Richard A. Dimino:

“The House bill is an important step forward in addressing the transportation crisis and funding shortfall in the Commonwealth. A Better City offers our sincere gratitude to the House for its leadership on this critical issue, and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with legislators, the business community, and advocates as the bill moves through the amendment process and then to the Senate.

There is much in the House bill to support. We are particularly pleased to see the establishment of a transit authority fund with TNC fees directed to the MBTA and RTAs. 

While $600 million is a good starting point, we believe additional funding is needed to fix our roads, bridges, and transit as well as fund expansion and resiliency efforts. A Better City has estimated a funding gap of $50 billion over the next 20 years. We can look to cities like Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto, who have developed a financial path forward at a more ambitious level of funding for comprehensive improvements.

A regionally equitable and consistent road pricing strategy on the major highways surrounding Greater Boston will raise the revenue necessary to fund reliable alternatives to driving. While the House bill opens the door to roadway pricing by establishing a commission, we hope that language can be strengthened from a study group to real implementation, with toll revenues and equity in place within the next two years.

The bill references non-transportation sources of revenue. Transportation source funding is reliable and encourages the behavior change needed to combat roadway congestion and climate change. We urge legislators to reconsider the $150 million in corporate minimum . . .


TESTIMONY | GreenWorks Bill
February 25, 2020

On Tuesday, February 25th Isabella Gambill, A Better City’s Policy Advisor on Climate, Energy, & Resilience, testified in support of Speaker DeLeo’s GreenWorks bill. This is a climate bond bill accounting for $1.3 billion over 10 years to be devoted to climate resiliency through programs like the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program as well as to mitigation measures, like microgrid infrastructure and electric vehicle expansion.

While A Better City applauds the Speaker’s leadership in proposing a piece of legislation that can work across mitigation and adaptation in parallel, we see this as just a down payment on the extensive work that needs to be done in order to protect our Commonwealth. We look forward to engaging in climate finance conversations in order to establish more robust and diverse sources of climate funding that could be distributed equitably across sectors.

A Better City also recommends that GreenWorks be amended to include public-private partnerships in the implementation and siting of microgrid infrastructure, as well as in anticipated studies of electric vehicle infrastructure expansion. Finally, we recommend that GreenWorks be applied at a regional scale when possible to address our critical infrastructure needs and that proposals providing co-benefits across MassWorks projects as well as across mitigation and adaptation needs be given preferential treatment in the allocation of GreenWorks funding. A Better City looks forward to working with Speaker DeLeo, Chair Golden, and other leaders in both the House and the Senate to ensure that our Commonwealth is protected and resilient in the face of climate . . .


Tufts University’s Tisch College Launches Center for State Policy Analysis
February 13, 2020

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Feb. 13, 2020)– Today Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life announced the creation of a new, non-partisan Center for State Policy Analysis (cSPA) to ensure that lawmakers and residents in Massachusetts have access to the best information on effective public policy.

cSPA will conduct detailed, independent analyses of current legislative issues and ballot questions in Massachusetts and will widely share this research with the public. The Center aims to partner with experts at Tufts University and beyond to provide real-time analysis that informs legislative debates and helps voters better understand the stakes of ballot initiatives.
Former Boston Globe data-journalist Evan Horowitz will serve as cSPA’s Executive Director, supported by an advisory council that includes:

• Governor Jane Swift, President and Executive Director of LearnLaunch
• Governor Michael Dukakis, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University
• Alan Solomont, Dean of Tisch College
• Michael Widmer, Former President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation
• Michael Curry, Deputy CEO & General Counsel at the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers
• Katherine Craven, Chief Administrative and Financial Officer at Babson
• Ted Landsmark, Director of the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University
• David Cash, Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston
• Carolyn Ryan, Senior Vice President for Policy and Research at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce
• Kate Dineen, Executive Vice President at A Better City
• Jeffrey Berry, Professor of Political Science at Tufts University

“With a history of policy leadership, and facing gridlock in Washington, Massachusetts has the opportunity to take the . . .


EVENT RECAP: Plazas, Parklets, and Pop-Ups in the Public Realm
December 19, 2019

On Tuesday, December 3, 2019, A Better City hosted a half-day event called Plazas, Parklets, and Pop-Ups in the Public Realm. Fifty people attended the event despite the snow and school closures.

To kick-off the event there was a panel presentation on recently completed tactical placemaking projects, including Downtown Boston plaza projects, Birch Street Plaza in Roslindale, Gove Street Crossing on the East Boston Greenway, Green Street Parklet in JP, pavement murals in and around Boston, and Mathscapes in Cambridge.

Following the panel, there were breakout groups where here participants connected directly with professionals who've recently implemented projects to ask questions. 

Finally, the keynote speaker, Mike Lydon with Street Plans in NYC, presented on “7 lessons for how Boston can Continue to Build Great Streets By Everyone, For Everyone.” Mike Lydon highlighted projects across the county that showed how pilots, pop-ups, and demonstration projects help to test ideas, gain support, and to lay the groundwork for future long-term projects.


  • Projects often have a large set of partners to implement the projects.
  • Tactical projects can happen in 6 months to 24 months, which is much quicker than traditional projects.
  • Pop-up plazas can be a useful tool to build support for projects.
  • Engage people on-site to talk about the concept of the projects.
  • Adding . . .


A Better City Releases Comprehensive Statewide Transportation Finance Plan for a Better Commonwealth
November 07, 2019

BOSTON, MA (November 7, 2019) – With communities around Massachusetts reaching a crisis point around transportation, A Better City today released a transportation finance plan calling for a minimum of $50 billion in new investment over the next two decades to create the efficient, safe, and reliable system people and businesses deserve. The plan also provides an actionable path forward for generating this revenue from transportation sources of funding.

Funding Transportation Solutions: A Comprehensive Transportation Finance Plan serves as an answer to A Better City’s report from February 2019, An Update on Transportation Finance, which identified a projected multi-billion-dollar transportation funding gap over the next ten years just to properly maintain existing transportation infrastructure at the MassDOT Highway Division and the MBTA. The new report lays out a pathway to fill this gap as well as expand and make resilient Massachusetts’ full transportation system.

“From overhauling the commuter rail to electrifying bus networks to upgrading the safety and resilience of roads and bridges, the solutions to our current transportation crisis are complex but absolutely achievable,” said A Better City President & CEO Richard A. Dimino. “We’re grateful to legislative leadership for creating an environment that puts ideas on the table and supports ambition. Now is the time for all of us to come together around a plan that will benefit people in every city and town in the Commonwealth.”

While A Better City’s plan supports statewide improvements, the $50 billion investment is in line with other recent transportation initiatives undertaken by U.S. cities, including Seattle, which passed a $54 billion . . .