A Conversation with Steve Kadish: The Future of Transportation Recap
March 06, 2019

On Wednesday, March 6th A Better City's Transportation Advisory Committee welcomed Steve Kadish, Chair of Governor Charlie Baker's Commission on the Future of Transportation to discuss their recently released report: Choices for Stewardship: Recommendations to Meet the Transportation Future.
In late January 2018, the Governor launched this Commission with 19 members appointed from across the state with a diverse range of expertise and experience. Recognizing that we are in the early stages of a transportation technology revolution, the Governor asked the Commission to imagine transportation in 2040 and provide scenarios and recommendations to arrive in 2040 as well-positioned as possible. To do this, the Commission was charged with considering climate impacts, the electric grid, and changing demographics -- and what this all may mean for our economy, housing and land use.
To set the stage for the report's conclusions, Kadis
h stated, firstly, what this report is and is not. He noted, "It is a presentation of plausible scenarios. It is not about predicting the future." While the commission discussed and took into account the interrelationship of transportation, housing, jobs and the economy; it is not a report assessing specific projects and while there are strong recommendations about resources, it is not about near-term budgets or revenue.
Kadish highlighted that the focus is on the big picture "what" and the "why" and less on the "how" for three reasons:
  • First, this document is intended to have a long shelf life and too much specificity limits its longevity.
  • Second, with cognizance of the transportation revolution underway, the Commission didn't want to constrain the thinking . . .


Carbon Free Boston: Findings & Next Steps Recap
February 15, 2019

On February 12, A Better City hosted a meeting about the findings from the recently released Carbon Free Boston report, and the next steps the City is planning to build on these findings. The Boston Green Ribbon Commission was asked by Mayor Marty Walsh to undertake this report. They selected the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Boston University to conduct the deep research, modeling, and analysis of the buildings, electric power, transportation, and waste sectors to understand their greenhouse gas emission contributions and potential pathways to reach the City’s carbon neutrality goal by 2050.

Amy Longworth, Director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission briefly framed the Carbon Free Boston report before introducing Michael Walsh, technical lead of the Carbon Free Boston project from the Institute of Sustainable Energy at Boston University. To reach the city’s carbon neutrality goals, Michael said the findings identified three mutually reinforcing strategies that must be pursued together: reducing energy demand and maximizing energy efficiency; electrifying all energy services to the extent practicable and purchasing 100% clean energy. He also presented the sector-specific strategies and policy options for reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 identified in the report. Alison Brizius, Director of Climate and Environmental Planning at the City of Boston then spoke about how these findings will be built . . .


Request for Qualifications: Interim Pedestrian Plaza in Roslindale
January 08, 2019

Roslindale Village Main Street (RVMS) and local business owners have the vision to transform the north, short business section of Birch Street into a permanent, fully landscaped, and pedestrianized community space. A Better City has partnered with RVMS and the City of Boston to reclaim incrementally this segment of the street by closing it to vehicular traffic and installing a semi-permanent pedestrian plaza.

A Better City is seeking a design consultant to produce an urban design proposal that would serve as the basis for the transformation of the north section of Birch Street into an interim pedestrian plaza. The contract will be with A Better City, but Roslindale Village Main Street and the City of Boston will be fully involved throughout the whole design process. As property owner for the right of way of Birch Street, the City of Boston will be providing funding for its installation. The construction process for this project will be put out to bid by the City of Boston after the design is finalized.

Interested firms can find the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) by following this link. Responses preferred by January 11, 2019, at 11:59pm Eastern Time. The ideal contract start date is between January 28, 2019 – February 28, 2019.

Questions about this RFQ should be sent via email to Irene Figueroa-Ortiz at


Historic Move Towards a Modern and Clean Transportation Future
December 18, 2018

As we move into the new year, we are also moving into a new era of cleaner transportation for the Commonwealth and beyond. Today, Massachusetts and eight other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and Washington D.C. announced that they will implement a region-wide policy to create a modern, clean transportation system. This news is good for the environment and our health but is also a win for economic development and business.

With transportation now the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions both in the Commonwealth and in the country overall and climate change impacts already reaching our shores, we must move aggressively to curb emissions from this sector.

Luckily, with the announcement today, we have a coalition of the willing and a great model to follow. States in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have already demonstrated success with regional, market-based climate policy through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, the participating states have reduced power plant GHG emissions 40 percent[1] and generated over $2.9 billion in net economic benefits.[2] Similar cap-and-invest programs have also been implemented in California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy, as well as in Ontario, Quebec, and 36 countries across the world.


Introduction to Boston’s Flood Resiliency Zoning Overlay District and Resiliency Design Guidelines - Recap
December 06, 2018

On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, A Better City’s Energy and Environment Unit held a meeting to introduce members to the planning underway by the City of Boston to develop resiliency design guidelines for a Flood Resiliency Zoning Overlay District. Rich McGuinness, Deputy Director for Climate Change and Environment Planning at the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), said the guidelines, at a very early stage of development, will build on the Sea Level Rise (SLR) – Flood Hazard Area map released as part of the Climate Resiliency-Review Policy Update in October 2017. This map, based on parcel level data, models future coastal flooding conditions due to a 1% annual storm event with 40" of SLR.  It provides new construction and retrofit projects in the Flood Hazard Area with a SLR - Base Flood Elevation (BFE) to build to, and existing buildings in this area, with projections on which to plan for climate impacts. 

Chris Busch, Senior Waterfront Planner, BPDA, then described the scope of the resiliency design guidelines being undertaken by Utile that will apply to commercial, institutional, and residential uses. It will evaluate best practices used in New York; Norfolk, Virginia; and New Orleans, and will also review existing overlay districts in Boston to address possible conflicts. The guidelines will include zoning requirements for height, lot coverage, and set back, among other requirements.

Some of the questions raised by attendees for the City to consider included: how to maintain egress when barriers to flooding are in place; how to account for the loss of potential rentable space after retrofitting; what changes there may be to building height limits; how affordable housing projects might be affected; what the implications to insurance might be; and what methods for financing district-wide adaptation would be available.

A question was . . .


Global Models for Commuter Rail - Recap
November 28, 2018

On November 14th, A Better City welcomed global transit experts to discuss lessons learned in reimagining and rebuilding regional rail systems as part of the Partners in Public Dialogue series at the Old South Meeting House.

Isabel Dedring – Former Deputy Mayor for Transport and Deputy Chair of Transport for London and current Global Transport Leader at A Better City member firm, Arup – and Anna Pace – Former Director of Project, Planning and Development for Toronto’s Metrolinx- joined Bruce Mohl – Editor of Commonwealth Magazine – for a conversation about what Metro Boston can learn from their experiences in transforming regional rail systems in London and Toronto.

Commuter rail service into and out of downtown Boston serves as a vital element in the region's economic success. As housing prices in the urban core continue to rise and as available land becomes scarcer, workers will look to live further and further from the city, all while continuing to effectively reach jobs in key inner core clusters. Furthermore, improved connectivity throughout the Metro Boston commuter rail region could unlock economic growth potential in Gateway Cities and other regional economic centers. The Massachusetts economy is driven by Metropolitan Boston. The 164-community region claims 69% of the state’s population, 74% of its jobs and generates 84% of its gross domestic product.[1]

Our commuter rail system touches this whole metro area and beyond with 388 route miles over 14 lines that move almost 130,000 people per day, or 10% of the MBTA systems ridership. This infrastructure, these right-of-ways and . . .


Governor's Future of Transportation Commission- Recap
October 23, 2018

In January of this year, Governor Baker announced the creation of a Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth to advise the Administration on future transportation needs and challenges. The Governor named 18 appointees to the Commission and charged them with developing a range of technology and transportation scenarios anticipated between 2020 and 2040, culminating in a report and recommendations to be delivered to the Governor by December 1, 2018.

We are encouraged by this focus on long-term visioning and planning. Transportation and infrastructure investments may be 20+ years in the making and subject to changing demographics, technologies and aspirations, but the visioning needs to be proactive and continuous.

An important part of this broader discussion is how Massachusetts chooses to approach the wave of emerging changes in transportation technology. It is easy to look to the future and be seduced by the seemingly apolitical promise of technology to guide us away from difficult policy decisions. But technology is not an antidote to public policy. While we are certainly in the midst of paradigm-shifting technological change, the future of transportation is not about technological disruptions that will happen to us; rather, it is about harnessing technological innovation to meet our common goals.

An efficient, equitable and modern transportation network is essential in order to meet our goals of maximizing economic vitality, prioritizing social equity, encouraging smart growth, improving public health, delivering a cleaner environment and maintaining a high quality of life. We must also recognize that we cannot build a transportation system that supports and advances our goals for the Commonwealth without behavior change. Travel mode, location choices, zoning, infrastructure and funding mechanisms have the ability to change people’s behavior. The good news is that behavioral choices are not immutable but rather . . .


North Washington Street Bridge Replacement
October 22, 2018

MassDOT, the City of Boston, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation are about to execute an agreement to construct a temporary bridge parallel to the existing span that is intended to reduce the overall construction period by six months.  The bridge will carry vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, and will support the temporary relocation of utilities.  Working out the details of this agreement has delayed the start of construction, but initial utility relocation is beginning in October 2018 during off peak hours and will continue for several months.  The contractor, JF White, is preparing a detailed construction schedule based on this new approach, with the anticipated schedule calling for construction to be completed by late 2023.

Use of a temporary bridge provides several benefits over the original construction concept which would have used portions of the existing, structurally deficient bridge in phases, and would have required reduction of traffic to one lane in each direction for a brief period.  The new plan will provide two inbound and one outbound lane throughout construction.  MassDOT is now preparing outreach plans, and we will schedule a briefing for members of A Better City in the near . . .


Allston I-90 Status Report
October 22, 2018

On September 26, the Independent Review Team established by Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack in June 2018 presented to the Task Force of stakeholders in Allston three alternatives for replacing the existing I-90 highway viaduct in the narrow “throat” of land between the Charles River and Boston University.  The three alternatives represented the Review Team’s 90 day effort to define the “best” options for a Highway Viaduct Alternative, an At-Grade Alternative, and a new Hybrid Alternative that combined an at-grade I-90 with an elevated Soldiers Field Road on a viaduct over the westbound lanes of the Turnpike.

The Highway Viaduct had been modified to simplify its structural supports to allow lanes of the eastbound Soldiers Field Road to be located under cantilevered lanes of I-90.  Three options were shown for the At-Grade Alternative to reduce the impact of the Paul Dudley White pedestrian and bicycle path on the bank of the Charles River.  In the Open House portion of the Task Force meeting, members of the Review Team expressed an opinion that even with the suggested measures to address permitting concerns indicated by regulators charged with enforcing the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, the At-Grade Alternative offered significant permitting risk.

During the discussion following presentation of the alternatives, a new approach to the At-Grade Alternative was suggested that would remove the Paul Dudley White path from overhanging any part of the river bank by placing it on an elevated “High Line” structure located over a portion of Soldiers Field Road.  This approach represents another hybrid concept that aims to avoid impacts on the bank while maintaining the largest transportation facilities on the ground, to provide the benefits of the At-Grade alternative including important pedestrian and bicycle connections across the corridor.

A Better City has prepared plans and cross sections of three . . .


October 19, 2018

On October 4th, A Better City and Meridian Food Market installed East Boston’s first public outdoor café on an underused corner plaza at the intersection of London and Meridian streets.

During the development of the Public Realm Plan for Go Boston 2030, A Better City identified the need for more tables and chairs in public spaces for public use.  Through our Wicked Streets program, early this year A Better City partnered with the City of Boston, East Boston Main Street, Meridian Food Market, and Sammy Carlo’s Delicatessen to pilot a new model of outdoor café, one that is privately managed but open to the general public. Our staff worked closely with the Boston Public Improvement Commission in designing the floor plans, selecting the outdoor furniture, and drafting liability agreements for two public cafes. The latter with support from the law firm Nutter, McClennen, & Fish LLP.

The three picnic tables and patio umbrellas in Meridian Street have been well-received by the local community. A second public outdoor café is coming to the sidewalk in front of Sammy Carlo’s Delicatessen at the intersection of Bennington and Moore streets.

Outdoor Cafe