Building Smart(er) in Boston

Mar 8, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In 1998 and 1999 CLF played a key role in a coalition that stopped a proposed development that would have placed a large tower on top of the Massachusetts Turnpike.  That proposal was not coordinated at all with larger plans for building on “air rights” over the MassPike (as it is known) and threatened to inflict major cost on the state transportation agencies due to the cost of building a deck over the highway large and strong enough to support a tower – and concerns about the stress this major new development would place on the transit facilities (the buses and subway) serving the area.

The project inspired significant opposition from residents of the Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods for a wide variety of reasons.

One result of the controversy around that, and other air rights project and development in those neighborhoods was a massive stakeholder process to develop a “Civic Vision” for development over the MassPike that literally bridged a chasm between neighborhoods in a way that strengthened and improved existing neighborhoods.

CLF was deeply engaged in that stakeholder process, and the closely related environmental review that created that “Civic Vision” and now, years later, that effort seems to be bearing fruit.  A proposal for that same area has been preliminarily accepted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as detailed in this short blog post and a presentation by the developers.  The proposal would place the actual tower on solid ground away from the Turnpike and put a low-rise commercial building over the MassPike itself.  Still to be dealt with is the crucial question of how the development will enhance the subway and bus infrastructure on and serving the site.  Nearby, the “Fenway Center” air rights proposal that will be built adjacent to Fenway Park is addressing this issue by rebuilding the Yawkey Station commuter rail facility.  Will the Boylston Street entrance to the Hynes station (which is only open for special events as shown in this video) be renovated and opened?  Will the development help pay for signal improvements that improve the Green Line that serves that station? The fact that the designated developers have a good track record of working with the local community suggests that dialogue around such ideas is very possible.  And the fact that the project earns a cautious positive comment from Marty Walz, who led the citizen opposition to the prior project, in the Boston Globe is encouraging.

Building a thriving future with sharply reduced greenhouse gas emissions and strong communities will require investments in real urban development, like the project that has been proposed for this critical Boston crossroads – and we owe it to our future and all the people (even the occasional Yankee fan who finds themselves in enemy territory) who visit, live in and work in Boston to get this one right.

Low Carbon, and Deeply Liveable, Communities and the Death of Trayvon Martin

Apr 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

MIT graduate student Zach Youngerman asks an excellent question in an opinion piece in the Boston Globe: Did bad neighborhood design doom Trayvon Martin?

Of course, my lawyerly impulse is to say that clearly urban planning and local culture was not the “proximate cause” of that young man’s death – clearly the man with the gun is the place to look for that.

But Mr. Youngerman makes a very good point – a place that lacks the “eyes on the street” (to use the phrase that he quotes from the great urbanist writer Jane Jacobs), sidewalks and where there are few sidewalks transforms the fundamental human activity of walking into suspicious behavior. As Mr. Youngerman says, “. . . behavior is not simply a matter of character; it is also a matter of setting. Less than 1.2 percent of the population in Sanford walks to work, and the subdivision where the killing took place is designed for driving, so something as human as walking is odd behavior. Suspicious even.”

What does any of this have to do with “low carbon communities”?  Why is this grist for the blog of an environmental group?

Because, among the many tragic consequences (along with the kind of tragic incidents like the one that ended the life of Mr. Martin) of these isolating communities is deep dependence on the automobile.  As Mr. Youngerman concludes, “Maybe with a small convenience store or café in the clubhouse, Zimmerman wouldn’t have gotten into his car to go to Target. Maybe he would have walked to the clubhouse, and simply passed Martin on a sidewalk designed for him to be there.”

The connection between good neighborhood design, smarter growth, reduced driving and lowering greenhouse gas emissions is well documented by government, academics and advocates.  These liveable communities allow all residents to live their lives with a minimum of driving and create a safe place for raising “free-range kids” who can safely walk to the store and back again.  They also allow us to build smarter communities where we are not constantly in our cars producing the emissions that threaten to subject our communities to the constant hazard of extreme weather and other dangerous effects of global warming. Effects which will be especially marked in places like Florida where even inland communities face very real and looming threats to the supply of drinking water as sea levels rise and the porous stone that underlies the states and are home to its vulnerable aquifers face saltwater intrusion.

Can walkable community where there are stores on every corner, a constant flow of pedestrians and those “eyes on the street” guarantee the safety of our children and solve global warming? Of course not – but they are part of the many solutions we will need to embrace to solve these problems. And as we plan and build our future we need to truly protect all of our children and our communities by making smart and well considered decisions about how we build, grow and travel as well as how we treat each other in the dark of night.

Reason to Believe In Taking Action on Global Warming

Mar 29, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Climate Scientist Katherine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who sees her work and the need to protect the earth as deeply consistent with her faith.

Read all about her at Climate Central.  Buy her book, co-written with her husband who, like Dr. Hayhoe, is a Professor at Texas Tech. He is also the Pastor of their church.

Given the latest science showing that the models that predict the exact march of global warming appear to be overly conservative and underestimating the effects of the warming in progress and the strong likelihood that we are about to cross an irrevocable tipping point that commits the planet to deeply damaging warming it is not crazy to suggest that we need science, prayer and action.

The need for action and steps to be taken to address this crisis is not abstract.  The latest massive compilation of science shows the very real effects that global warming is having all around us and will increasingly inflict upon us.  The need to build resilient communities that can survive (and even thrive) in these conditions is very real.  However, it is equally vital that we reduce the emissions that are disrupting the climate.  This means building renewable energy of many sizes and types, it means making our society and economy more efficient, properly planning and building our communities and providing and funding safe and clean transit and spreading and truly implementing efforts like the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act and the greenhouse gas regulations being slowly rolled out by the Federal government.

The size, scale and nature of the crisis we face must spur all of us, whether we are motivated by a purely secular moral motivation to watch out for our fellow humans and/or other planetary passengers or the religious mission that guides someone like Dr. Hayhoe, to act. Because if we don’t we truly don’t have a prayer.


Finally, Boston’s bike share program is ready to ride

Jul 19, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Bike share programs are already fixtures in cities like Washington, D.C., above. (Photo credit: S. Diddy, flickr)

“Hubway,” Boston’s long-anticipated bike share program, is set to open this month. With 600 bikes at 61 stations around Boston (one a block away from CLF’s Boston office at the corner of Summer and Arch Streets!) and surrounding areas, Hubway will facilitate transportation around Boston by reducing crowds on the T and providing access to places that the T does not currently reach. Moreover, Hubway will contribute to fewer greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector– the largest single source of GHG emissions in the state– and create a more livable city with better transportation options to get people out of their cars and into their communities.

Already very successful in Europe, bike share programs are increasing in popularity in the U.S., and already exist in cities such as Minneapolis, Denver, and Washington, D.C. Many people in the Boston area are excited about the prospect of being able to grab a bike, go where they need to go, and return it at any station convenient to their destination. Operating three seasons a year (the system closes in the winter), Hubway offers 24-hour, 3-day, or annual memberships, allowing members access to all of the bikes and free rides under 30 minutes.

In anticipation of this program, Boston has been working hard to make the city more bicycle-friendly. In the past few years, 38 miles of bike lanes and 1,600 public parking spaces for bicycles have been built. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to prepare for this big change in how we use our roads. Currently, the Boston Police are getting ready for the influx of bicyclists. Focusing mostly at intersections known to have frequent crashes, Boston police officers are prepared to hand out tickets to drivers and bicyclists alike for disobeying traffic laws. The residents of Boston will have to learn to share the road regardless of whether they are biking or driving.

However, we at CLF believe that that’s a small price to pay for the myriad of benefits that Hubway will bring. The program will increase transportation choice and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while saving consumers money on gas and helping them get a little exercise while they’re at it, which will lead to public health benefits as well.

Learn more about CLF’s work to modernize transportation and build livable cities.

Editor’s note: Hannah Cabot is the summer 2011 communications intern at CLF Massachusetts. She is a rising senior at Milton Academy in Milton, MA.

Peak Travel? It would be good news for the planet . . .

May 16, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Throughout human history one overarching story has been that as our society became wealthier we traveled more. The reality that our ancestors generally were born, lived and died in the same place with rare opportunities to “see the world” is hard to deny – so is the reality of our world where it is not unusual to find people walking the streets of our cities who woke up that morning on a different continent and rubbing elbows with masses of people who have lived, gone to school and worked in a wide and complex array of places.

But new academic research is suggesting that the upward surge in travel that has become such a feature of our world may have come to an end.

This could be very similar to well documented phenomena of air pollution rising as a society becomes more wealthy but then reaching a point where the relationship between economic activity (or income) flips –   air pollution increasingly declines as wealth/income rises.  This is know as an “inverted U-Shaped Kuznets curve” by economists (who are almost as poetic when they name things as lawyers).  This analysis suggests that as income rises people collectively take action to reduce pollution.  There is some controversy about applying this principle to pollution that is not as visible and obvious – like the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) that is a major cause of global warming, but some scholars believe that as income and wealth rises that emissions of CO2 drop very suddenly after a critical break point under some conditions.

But the possibility that we may have passed a critical “break point” where travel stops growing would be very good news in terms of slowing and reversing global warming given the critical role of the transportation sector in the emissions of these greenhouse gases – and the major role that travel growth plays in driving (pun intended) such emissions.

These trends are not handed down from above though – whenever we choose to build communities where people can walk, bike or even drive short distances to their offices, schools, stores, friends and families who move our world in a positive direction.  And when we build good transit systems that allow us to move around those communities quickly and cleanly everyone benefits.

The Wheels on the Bus go ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM!

Jan 11, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Let’s say you are a state agency tasked with making a tough choice on how to spend your money.  Your options are:

a.      Spend $150 million on widening 9 miles of highway despite the fact that volume has waned;

b.      Spend $56 million on building another toll booth;

c.       Spend $3.8 million on expanding an existing, highly successful bus service that will benefit thousands of commuters.

Did I mention that you have to do this all while complying with a state law that requires you to give preference to existing systems and other transportation modes (such as bus transit) prior to increasing highway capacity through road building activities?   The obvious answer here is (c), expanding bus service, specifically the ZOOM bus service that is operated by the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Currently, the ZOOM bus runs a limited service between Portland, Biddeford and Saco.  The primary hubs are Park & Ride lots, if you’ve driven by those lots, you will see they are chock full.  Those crammed lots are a glowing testament to the resounding success of the ZOOM.

In an effort to build on that success, last year the Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation approached the Authority to see if it would consider expanding the bus service up to Lewiston and Augusta.  Along the way, West Falmouth, Gray, Sabbatus and Auburn would finally get much needed access to public transit.  But the Authority remained convinced that answers (a) and (b) were right.   After all, highway widening remains a popular solution to just about any transportation problem, despite the fact that, time after time, massive multi-million dollar widening projects only result in more traffic and more congestion. [the fact is, these roads never pay for themselves via tolls or otherwise.]

Does Portland really need another highway widening?

No, and the numbers prove it:

But transit advocates, CLF among them, were not dissuaded.   We found a savvy supporter in Representative Bradley Moulton, a newly elected Republican, who decided to sponsor the ZOOM bus bill, known formally as “An Act to Expand Fiscally Responsible Transportation Through Increased ZOOM Bus Service.”

And fiscally responsible it is.  Not only for the average commuter struggling with rising gas prices, but in the broader context of how Maine decides to spend money on transportation.  The days of subsidized highway widening projects are over.  With the fiscal belt tightening, now is a good time to make some smart decisions on transit.  The ZOOM bus goes a long way towards accomplishing that goal.

The Girl Who Loved the Eagle Nest

Dec 9, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Recent headlines over a strategically thinking Bald Eagle in Wiscasset brought a wry smile to my face because this bird somehow managed to undo what dozens of fiscally prudent Mainers have been unable to do for the last decade: stop the DOT.

It is only with a modicum of irony that it took the American Bald Eagle, our symbol of freedom, to loosen the shackles of an oppressive, fiscally irresponsible DOT plan to build the Wiscasset Bypass.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Wiscasset’s seasonal traffic congestion, let me paint the scene:  let’s say you are “from away” and traveling to Midcoast Maine.  You are heading north on I-295 and you see a sign that says “Coastal Route”, doesn’t that sound charming?  “Let’s take that route!” exclaim the passengers in your car, and so you dutifully exit.  You are cruising along, everything is fine, and you soon approach the town of Wiscasset that declares itself to be “The Prettiest Little Village in Maine.”  Lovely!  You make a few winding turns, catch a glimpse of the water through some Victorian homes, your expectations soar and then suddenly you find yourself in a bit of traffic.  Maybe there was a fender bender, no one is moving.  You inch forward after a few minutes. 17 minutes and 43 seconds go by.  Still stuck.  You move agonizingly slow through this “Pretty Little Village” that seems uglier by the minute because all you can see is a line of brake lights a mile long.  You make one last turn and then the full scope of the traffic is revealed, and it is a brutal scene.  Idling cars are backed up for miles, for no apparent reason other than a bunch of flip-flop clad pedestrians scrambling to cross the road back and forth a zillion times so they can taste for themselves if the lobster rolls at Red’s Eats really are the best in Maine.  It is well known that the summer tourists queuing up for a lobster roll at this well-known eatery, located practically on Route 1 itself, is a significant contributor of the infamous start-and-go pile-ups along Route 1.  By the time you make it through this, everyone in the car is fighting, you have no idea why you thought a vacation to Maine would in any way constitute an “escape”, you are cranky, hungry (because there was no way you were going to contribute to the problem by actually eating at Red’s Eats), and you openly wonder why they don’t just build a pedestrian bridge for crying out loud!?

The truth is, it is a valid question. A pedestrian bridge or tunnel to alleviate the bottleneck at Red’s Eats is such an obvious solution that you really do have to wonder why it doesn’t already exist.  Yes, there are some historical compatibility issues, but it is relatively inexpensive and logical solution.  Yet it was summarily dismissed by the DOT.  So what about the installation of traffic lights at both the intersection of Route 1 and 27?  How about the prohibition of left hand turns in the downtown area?  What about a reconfiguration of parking along Route 1?

Source: Maine DOT

Which of these solutions did the experts agree was a reasonable approach?  None of the above.  Rather, after a decades-long planning process, the alternatives flirted with three bypass options, N8C, N2F and N2A, noted in the diagram above.  All three are wildly expensive, in the $85-$100 million dollar range, (this in a state that lacks funds for even basic road maintenance), all have impacts on environmentally sensitive lands, and all, even the shortest option, double the route.  This will waste travel time, cost drivers more money and burn more dirty fossil fuels.  The negative impacts don’t stop there.  The existing Davey bridge will cease to become a priority and when limited state coffers must choose on repairs, it will be the sacrificial lamb, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.  In addition, let’s think about what the by-pass is actually “by-passing.”  It’s the entire commercial center of Wiscasset.  The charming antique shops: by-passed.  The funky art galleries: by-passed.  The gift shops, well, you get the idea.   All seasonal traffic will be diverted away from the hard working Mainers that rely on tourists for their yearly revenue.

In the wake of the eagle nest discovery, the DOT has indicated that it is “evaluating whether to resubmit an application to support one of remaining alternatives as the preferred option for a bypass.”  But perhaps the evaluation should take a step even further and not start with the assumption that a bypass to alleviate seasonal summer traffic is the only option.  Let’s go back to the drawing board on this one and come up with a solution that reflects our fiscal reality and that can actually be built in under a decade.  The Wiscasset Task Force will meet on December 15 at 6:30 to drill down into these issues and hopefully come up with a sound solution.

Building a major new Boston area airport would have been a mistake – not flying off the handle was right, let's focus on our strengths

Nov 15, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

From November 15, 2010 Boston Globe:

There are reasons aerotropolis didn’t get off the ground

REGARDING PETER Canellos’s recent essay about the decision not to build another major regional airport: While looking back at such decisions is a worthy exercise, Canellos draws the wrong conclusion (“Aerotropolis,’’ Ideas, Oct. 31). He argues that we would have been better off if with a so-called aerotropolis — modeled on the edge city that has sprung up around Dulles Airport — near the former Fort Devens.

The immediate and obvious cost of building such an airport-centric edge city would have been rapid consumption of the apple orchards, farmland, rural towns, and open space of Worcester County and western Middlesex County by low-rise (and low-value) industrial and commercial development. Siphoning off development and energy from the historic city centers of Massachusetts to fuel the growth of a new edge city would have had an even larger and systemic effect.

As we move forward into a world defined by our response to global warming and the exhaustion of fossil fuels, it would be foolish and short-sighted to channel our growth into sprawl fueled by car and airplane travel.

Boston and New England need to play to our strengths — building smart, livable cities and towns connected by high-speed rail and existing highways while preserving the countryside and farms that we inherited. Let’s get on with the task of building a healthy, prosperous New England, not fly off on a misguided mission of imitation.

Seth Kaplan
Vice President for Policy and Climate Advocacy
Conservation Law Foundation

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

Circ Highway – Environmental Review Released

Jul 21, 2010 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

On July 20, transportation agencies completed the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Vermont’s Circ Highway.  The planned project would be an expensive new boulevard roadway outside of Burlington, Vermont.  The project is a poor public investment and a subsidy for sprawl.

Costing over $60 million dollars, saving only 4 minutes of travel time, limiting public transportation options, destroying irreplaceable farmland and wetlands while providing less congestion relief in Essex compared to improving existing roads is simply a bad idea.

Join CLF in calling for sensible transporation solutions, NOT more crowded roads and more pollution.  Submit comments online by August 27, 2010 or attend a public hearing:

Public Hearings will be August 9 & 10:

Monday August 9th 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. @ Williston Central School Auditorium -195 Central School Drive, Williston

Tuesday August 10th 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. @ Champlain Valley Exposition-105 Pearl Street, Essex Junction

See CLF’s website for more information and sample comments.