Boston is facing an identity crisis, and it needs to grow up – literally. Is it a global city, with ample night life opportunities, or a New England town, shutting down with the MBTA before midnight? In many respects, Boston’s identity is based upon its backbone – its outdated, stressed transportation infrastructure.
Relatively unique to Boston, an old city within an American context, are its many narrow and convoluted roads, designed prior to the prevalence of the automobile. To change these roads in order to, say, add a bike lane, add a bus lane, or expand the sidewalk with plants, benches, lighting, bike backs, and bus shelters, is particularly challenging. Unlike newer cities, many of these roads are so narrow that there’s simply not enough room to make the changes possible in newer cities; however, narrow roads in European cities are far more bike-friendly, so it is certainly possible to redesign, if the will is present. In Amsterdam, a city with more canals than Venice, it’s easier to bike than it is to drive.
Streets should not only be about moving cars quickly. They should move people, bikes, and rapid transit as well, perhaps without hurting vehicle throughput, and while improving safety and creating public spaces to live, work, and play. These are called complete streets.
In many ways, our country has become more disconnected. Our politics are polarized, our communities are segregated, and our very lives are lonelier. We connect with our family, friends, neighbors, and democratic structures far less often because of changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles, and, intersecting all of these factors: urban design. Rethinking our roads, which are the vast majority of our public spaces, can help us to reconnect our lives, with more choices for transit. Our roads do not only need asphalt. They also need narratives.
On Tufts’ Medford and Somerville campus, many roads do not have sidewalks, and some roads essentially function as parking lots. Tufts has plenty of parking spaces, but not enough sidewalks and bike lanes. It is easier to drive to Tufts than it is to walk around campus. There are no dedicated and protected bike lanes, and where there are sidewalks, many are constructed with asphalt, cracking, without street furniture. This is quite normal throughout America’s streetscapes, but it should not be the reality in the 21st century. Engineers, planners, officials, businesses, and community stakeholders must strike a balance between vehicle throughput and all of the other potential uses in these publicly-owned spaces.
Tufts needs to be asking itself: what makes a place great? Is it how spaces are configurated? And, who pays and who benefits? Can we afford to build it and maintain it? Does it spur or hinder development? Is it equitable? What are the externalities and long-term costs? Does it impact mobility or access? Safety or speed?
Nearby Tufts, from curb to curb, College Avenue also lacks a narrative. From Davis Square in Somerville, MA, to the Tufts University Fitness Center in Medford, MA, the road has sharrows, but lacks bike lanes – be them next to traffic, sheltered by parked vehicles or ballards, or raised along the sidewalk – and, with only one travel lane in each direction, the road is narrow, and busy, with cars, trucks, and buses. Furthermore, businesses line the street in Davis Square, Powder House Square, and College Square (at the Boston Avenue intersection), but the street could use additional private investment in order to further prevent injuries and collisions, and get more pedestrians shopping along the corridor.
As one of the primary routes for students to get to the MBTA Red Line at Davis Square from campus, oftentimes pedestrians and bikers will use the corridor. But, given high average daily traffic (ADT) in a 24-hour period, and given frequent congestion during peak hours, it may be ideal for bicyclists to use alternative routes on side streets, where sharrows could be installed, because the roads are too narrow for formal bike lanes. This way, bikers would not only avoid congestion, but they would also avoid emissions; since bicyclists are actively transporting and breathing more, they are inhaling more exhaust. And, if vehicles are traveling more slowly, they are also polluting more. Often, vehicles are traveling quite slowly on College Avenue, waiting for the light to turn at Davis Square.
Indeed, there is not a significant speeding problem on College Avenue because the road is narrow, curved, and sloped. The posted speed tends to be observed; after all, the design speed encourages caution, because the lanes are narrow, and there are frequent crosswalks and signals. As the obvious corridor between Davis Square and Tufts, the university could explore investing in the corridor, improving the sidewalks with painted ‘Jumbo’ elephant steps in order to encourage active transportation, and branding the corridor as a fitness corridor to the gym. They can also bring in place-making murals to enhance public space, which would further slow vehicles, reducing crashes and injuries for motorists, but also for pedestrians and cyclists. This corridor will also become a lot busier when the Green Line is extended to College Square.
When visiting Tufts, a plurality will arrive at Davis Square, and bridging the gap between Somerville’s CBD and Tufts University will not only improve the economic vitality of the area by encouraging more retail, but it will also improve the environment and public health through more active transportation. While the street itself is too narrow for bike lanes – let alone contraflow bus lanes – the sidewalks could be improved with way-finding towards Tufts. For instance, to get all the way to the Fitness Center, approximately one mile from Davis Square, the walk is approximately 20 minutes, the bus is approximately 10 minutes, and the bike is still around five minutes. This information could be posted on way-finding maps.
From curb to curb, Washington D.C.’s Barracks Row (8th Street SE) is wider than College Avenue, but the sidewalk width is relatively comparable. After being rebranded as ‘Barracks Row’, 8th Street SE’s dilapidated streetscape was replaced with wider brick sidewalks, American Elm trees (and grates to protect the soil), landscape planters, bike racks, and new street lighting. As a result, café culture blossomed, with more foot traffic and bicycle amenities, more businesses, and national recognition. Barracks Row also hosts events and festivals, and many cafes offer attractive outdoor seating, adding to the streetscape by setting out planters. Can College Avenue likewise be rebranded as the Fitness Corridor? After all, they both have similar densities, diversities, design standards, destination accessibilities, and distances to transit.
Essentially, Davis Square’s typologies would be extended to Powder House and to College Square, where sidewalks would also be transformed with brick, signifying importance for pedestrians, as residents know that brick sidewalks are typically found in downtown areas. At Powder House, an expansive and historic park is nestled across the street from retail, and shoppers (and the elderly) could rest in this area.
As it (literally) stands, at College Square, the sidewalks are narrow, with no street furniture, and if the MBTA Green Line does arrive on campus, the intersection will become a lot more congested. Even if the T is not extended, Tufts is expanding along Boston Avenue, turning the intersection with College Avenue into a campus crossroads. Will it be a nexus for Jumbos and vehicles, or just vehicles?
In Washington, planners, officials, businesses, and community members all worked together to revive Barracks Row, and brand it with a new narrative. Granted, Barracks Row is wider than College Avenue, and it is not on a slope, and it has ground-floor retail throughout the corridor. But College Avenue can ‘transport’ these ideas, as mentioned, to Powder House and College Square, connecting the corridor with more pedestrian hubs, more bicycle storage areas along the route, and more way-finding towards Tufts.
For users with bulky items that may rather take a bus (with bike racks), or during slick, wet, or icy weather, the Joey could be used, and the T buses could also be utilized. Moreover, the Joey schedule should be synchronized with T buses and Red Line trains so that passengers can easily transfer. The Joey could also explore stopping at Powder House, so that students can further activate that node along the active transportation corridor. Also, the campus shuttle used to seat many more people, and run at regular intervals. Now, oftentimes, not everyone can fit inside the bus, and people need to wait for the next one.
Thankfully, next year, Tufts will be adding a 45 passenger fleet bus to the Davis Square Shuttle, which currently seats 24 people. However, the schedule still does not operate at equal headways, and it has breaks for an hour at a time during peak periods. And when it has breaks, the mobile application still states that it is arriving shortly, and the buses on breaks still show up on the map. To actually see the schedule, which states that the bus is not going to arrive for a while, requires squinting into the non-mobile website. Most students do not know to do this and they waste time waiting for the bus. Also, the the route is highly inefficient. I know it was changed from running along Packard because it was loud, but the new small buses are quite quiet and surely can be re-routed. For a school that prides itself on sustainability, it is quite sad that the Joey is wasting so much gas on every trip. (It is also sad that the school sprays a lot of fertilizer on campus to maintain our grass monoculture, leading to massive amounts of excess nitrogen in regional waterways and ‘dead zones‘).
Personally, having been fortunate to have lived in Vietnam and India, I am not stressed at all by any of Boston’s roads. I wasn’t stressed in Vietnam or India either, where oftentimes, there weren’t traffic lights or crosswalks, and I’d dodge my way across 6-lane roads with trucks, cars, rickshaws, bikes, camels, cows, and dogs. In Mumbai, instead of building crosswalks, sometimes, they’d just build elevated sidewalks and retreat from improving the street for pedestrians entirely.
Thus, biking through Powder House Square is quite comfortable for me, and I just assert myself and assume that drivers will avoid me or pass around me. But if I were an anxious elderly woman, walking and taking the bus, I would be going through open space and parks, but also dense environments towards Davis Square, and plenty of traffic lights at College Square and Powder House Square. I would dislike the loud college students, and due to my decreasing focus, flexibility, and sight, I would have difficulty crossing intersections without countdown clocks.
First, there’s the snow and the ice. Last year, with 9 feet of snow in Boston, the roads would become plowed, but often, the sidewalk cuts towards crosswalks would not be shoveled because they’re in a gray zone of property ownership. Only narrow valleys would be accessible between mounds of snow, and obviously, no wheelchairs could pass through such a narrow opening. People on crutches would also have a difficult time. There’s not that much snow now, but it would happen with more snowfall.
So I’d want to take the bus instead of walk in these conditions. And there are only a few bus shelters along the route with benches for me to rest; furthermore, these benches could also be used as ‘pit stops’ for me if I decided to walk and I needed a rest along the way. Thankfully, though, new buses are all accessible and clearly announce their stops. However, crosswalk lights may be too short for me, and since College Avenue has a slight slope, that may be difficult to traverse, too.
Furthermore, as an elderly person, I may not be as perceptive to noises. I’d still hear that the “walk sign is on” at College Square, and I’d hope to still hear most non-electric vehicles and the diesel trains along the MBTA/Amtrak corridor. I would also be able to hear students on their way to class, chatting, or running to the gym — and hopefully not running into me and knocking me down, because the sidewalks are quite narrow along the stretch to the gym. Moreover, towards the athletic fields down by Powder House, I’d be able to hear kids playing on a sunny day, or dogs barking. During the winter, though, those fields become frozen tundra. And there are no “walk sign is on” noises at Powder House, as well as construction workers finishing the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC).
But this area is predominantly composed of young adults. In Medford, the corridor is surrounded by Tufts University (and privately-owned fields). But in Somerville, the corridor passes through residential neighborhoods, before entering Davis Square, which is the CBD of the City of Somerville. The area is quite dense and primarily composed of renters (renter occupied) rather than owners (owner occupied), especially along the corridor buffer.
In fact, the region’s cost of living is 39.7 percent above the U.S. average, with groceries and healthcare running 26 percent above average, while our median household income remains stubbornly on par with the rest of the country. Thus, more than a third of the city’s homeowners work four months or more each year just to pay for housing, and according to a U.S. Census report in January, the rate of homeownership in the Greater Boston area is now below 60 percent, the puniest number on record.
A mix of residential and commercial density means dynamism, but it also means congestion. This corridor is frequently clogged with vehicles as it snakes towards Davis Square traffic lights. This, regarding transportation accessibility and the neighborhood foodscape, I believe that both can be improved at the same time. Davis Square is the central commercial hub of the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, and hosts one of the busiest subway stations in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) network. However, the Davis Square station is underdeveloped, with the eastern entrance consisting solely of a small, single-story building. Moreover, despite a wide range of shopping and recreational options, Davis Square has no true commercial anchor business. Additionally, there is no full-service supermarket within a half-mile, forcing residents out of the neighborhood (often via automobiles, contributing to congestion and pollution) to do much of their food shopping.
The corridor should be connected to a 10,000 square foot supermarket atop MBTA property and integrated with the station, to be leased to Trader Joe’s, which will operate a small-format supermarket. The MBTA can use its debt authority and institutional resources to finance and manage the project, with permitting assistance from the City of Somerville and MassDOT. This project will develop some of the city’s most appealing and underutilized commercial space. It will also provide competitively priced, full-service grocery options within walking and biking distance for its residents, provide a better transit experience and transit-owned, transit-oriented development, and bring a long term source of lease revenue to the MBTA, while creating 30-50 above market jobs with benefits to the neighborhood. Finally, Trader Joe’s will act as an anchor business, bringing MBTA customers into Davis Square, and making the area a more appealing and dynamic destination for residents in and beyond Somerville to live, work, and play. It will be the southern end of the fitness corridor, with the northern end being the fitness center.
Even without this project, Davis Square is, according to walkscore.com, a “Walker’s Paradise”, with a Walk Score of 95. I think this score makes sense based on my observations, but it may be vastly different for sub-populations such as the elderly, children, and disabled. Davis Square is a tricky intersection, with vehicles coming from all over the place, all the time, so it can be a challenging place for these sub-populations. Perhaps the brick pavement also makes it easier to trip and fall.
However, Davis is probably the densest and most dynamic place in the City of Somerville, with ground-floor retail and office space (as well as residential space) on upper floors at and around the intersection. As a CBD, its land use is primarily commercial, and, located in Ward 6, Davis is less than a mile away from Tufts University, and strategically served not only by the Red Line, but five MBTA bus lines (the 88, 89, 90, 94, and 96). Moreover, Cambridge is only a few minutes away on the T, while Boston is a mere 15 minute commute.
Meanwhile, at the intersection of Holland Street, Dover Street, Day Street, Elm Street, Highland Avenue, and College Avenue, as well as the Somerville Community Path, Davis Square provides pedestrian and bicycle access to the Minuteman Commuter Bicycle Path and is clearly one of Somerville’s most vibrant economic and cultural engines.
Davis Square was not always the engine of Somerville; in fact, it once had diesel engines ramming straight through today’s brick pedestrian plaza, which used to be a commuter rail stop for the Boston and Maine Railroad. When the Red Line was extended and these tracks were torn up for the Community Path, the buildings attached to the side of the Somerville Theatre and those across the tracks were demolished for the station entrance.
If the Red Line dramatically transformed Davis Square, the Green Line will surely dramatically transform College Avenue and Boston Avenue, which I’ve been terming College Square. And yet, my corridor does not have separate cycling facilities, intersection modifications, priority traffic signals, or traffic calming measures. However, there is bike parking along the Tufts campus and at the gym, as well as at the MBTA Davis Square station, where there are secure bike parking garages, with surveillance, and lighting. There are also Hubway stations along the corridor.
However, all of this pales in comparison to Denmark and Holland, where bikes are treated with underground parking protected from the elements, or with multiple stories of parking, similar to a vehicular garage, respectively. It is also easier to bring bikes onto trains in those countries, with bike-friendly stairs, and bike storage areas on trains.
Back in Boston, my corridor is ripe with sharrows, rather than separate lanes, and there are also no bike boxes. Unlike in Copenhagen, where the bike paths are raised and often protected from traffic by being placed on the other side of parked cars, raised next to sidewalks, bicyclists on my corridor compete with traffic through roundabouts and intersections. These are really traffic circles, not modern roundabouts, as entrances are controlled by stop signs, traffic signals, or not formally controlled; in a modern roundabout, entering traffic always yields to traffic in the circle
Also, there are no lights for cyclists, and definitely no signal prioritization; Boston cannot even seem to get signal prioritization for buses, so I doubt they’d do it for bikes. Furthermore, traffic calming has been practiced at the intersection of Packard and Powder House, but not along my corridor. There are no physical deterrents for cars, and at the Boston Avenue and College Avenue intersection, bicyclists need to pay extra attention because the intersection is complex.
Davis Square has a walk score of 95, but this score is reduced further towards Tufts University, mainly because it is farther from the Red Line. However, it is also important to note that there is a slight climb towards Tufts. This is not a problem for me, but the elderly, children, and disabled may have problems biking due to this elevation change. Even slight angles on driveways can be a problem.
I doubt, though, that they’d want to bike this corridor, since it lacks bike infrastructure. Powder House is fine for me, but I can be aggressive, and other bicyclists would not know how to merge into traffic, as there are no designated times for bicyclists to use the intersection. It would be safer to bike along side streets towards Tufts, and one would also theoretically be exposed to fewer pollutants.
Thus, as previously mentioned, I propose that bicyclists use the residential streets. Sharrows should be removed from College Avenue, and installed on Chandler Street, which is a two-way street, so bicyclists can travel southbound towards Davis and northbound towards Broadway, and then towards Powder House Boulevard, where bikers can continue onto the Tufts campus. Meanwhile, sidewalk enhancements along College Avenue at Powder House and College Square will protect, enhance, and expand retail opportunities along the corridor, and incentivize active transportation between nodes. With more trees, benches, lighting, and enhanced sidewalks, more pedestrians will hopefully traverse the corridor, causing vehicles to slow down, too. The sharrows installed on Chandler Street will be extremely large and frequently placed, so that drivers know to share the space.
Tufts would need to work with the City of Somerville and the City of Medford in order to build and maintain this corridor, which would spur equitable development, improve the pedestrian environment, and catalyze bicycle and rapid transit usage. Tufts needs to join the movement to reclaim space for people, with new design standards, while continuing to safely and efficiently move vehicles.
In order to make the corridor work, Tufts also must continue to renew, enhance, and expand active transportation on its campus. While they have worked with the City of Somerville to make the Packard and Powder House intersection safer, with curb extensions and better lighting, there are plenty of additional necessary fixes throughout the campus. Tufts has one of the lowest alumni donation rates, compared to peer institutions, and I believe that this is partly due to its disconnected urban design. For instance, while being founded on a hill certainly increases caloric expenditure, the school is disconnected between downhill and uphill residences, fracturing school identity. It was expanded quickly in the latter half of the 20th century, without much thought for place-making. More identity should be brought to its buildings and to its public spaces, so that more people will be enticed to live, work, and play outside, too.
Tufts has been working hard to improve active transportation around campus, and livability:
But, Tufts still has a lot to improve:
Tufts has some good spaces, and its new buildings are state-of-the-art, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration in shared spaces. But it can have even more spaces, on campus and along the corridor, with steps that are easier for bikers to use, and with more places for people and artwork. It is also important to conclude by reminding that if the Green Line Extension is built, then the corridor will be a connection between the Red Line and the Green Line, and not just a connection from Davis Square to Tufts.
Jumbo the elephant, donated to Tufts by P.T. Barnum, one of the school’s first benefactors, was sent across the Brooklyn Bridge in order to prove the marvel’s strength to an anxious public. The Brooklyn Bridge created a lasting connection between New York and Brooklyn, allowing the cities to connect and consolidate to form America’s largest region. Perhaps, Jumbo steps along this corridor will also help the region to connect, and prosper together.
Even if the corridor is redesigned, it will still be hard to get everyone to bike:
Nevertheless, through place-making efforts – such as ‘Jumbo steps’ and maps – as well as campus shuttle reforms, bike repair stations, and improving the disconnected campus and its sidewalks, I am confident that Tufts can create critical public health benefits, and improve its relationship with Somerville, Medford, and nearby businesses and BIDs. Public-private partnerships are paramount to success in the 21st century.
The City of Boston, founded in 1630 during the height of the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, was anchored to its harbor socially, economically, politically, and physically. Today, the regional economy is also anchored by its stable anchor institutions, and Boston exports ideas because of its skilled workforce, world-class educational and research institutions, thriving startup community, and innovative nonprofit sector. Boston is a global city, with the ninth largest regional economy in the country based on metropolitan area. Job growth is at 5% and the region attracts more than 360,000 college students from all over the world. These scholars contribute billions annually to the regional economy, and schools are also major employers, employing 70,000 people and attracting high-tech industries and venture capital to the area.
While the region’s economy is growing, the City of Boston itself was physically growing outward in the 19th century. Brighton, Dorchester, Roxbury, and additional towns became part of Boston, and annexation was only thwarted once Brookline, in 1873, became the first town to reject annexation. Ever since, Boston and Cambridge – the twin cities of the MSA – have been competing for investment, often by promising the lowest taxes. Meanwhile, private transportation companies were fine operating beyond municipal boundaries, and today, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates these historical lines.
For fifty years, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council has been the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) and regional planning agency (RPA), covering 101 cities and towns, and serving 3.2 million diverse stakeholders, with whom to build trust and consensus. MAPC advocates for good governance, sustainable land use, efficient transit, affordable housing, protected natural resources, clean energy, a healthy public, and equity and opportunity for all. Considering the relatively artificial county boundaries in the region (Suffolk County is comprised of Boston and only a few other small towns), the MAPC truly seeks to bridge the gap and connect the institutional disconnects. As an MPO, they receive transportation funding from the federal government earmarked for planning purposes. As an RPA, they also receive funding from municipalities for their planning services, and even from private foundations.
However, the MAPC does not directly govern municipalities or county politicians, even though these artificial boundaries divide the region and its infrastructure corridors. In fact, the MAPC’s recommendations are provided to municipalities that pay for their services, creating a potential conflict of interest if the MAPC were to constructively suggest new plans and policies, such as transit-oriented development and transit-owned development atop MBTA assets.
The metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is far larger than the MAPC’s region; in fact, it is ranked tenth in the United States, at 4,732,161 in 2014. Moreover, Boston is at the northern end of the Northeast Corridor, a high-speed railroad route that serves the Northeast megalopolis. Over 50 million Americans live in the region from Washington to Boston, and the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH Metropolitan Statistical Area is part of this larger region.
The region’s population continues to grow. In fact, even the City of Boston is growing again, even though it was shrinking in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In 1950, according to the U.S. Decennial Census, the City of Boston had over 800,000 people; by 1960, this was down 13 percent to approximately 700,000, and by 1980, the population was only 560,000. Meanwhile, the region grew from roughly 3,200,000 in 1950 to 3,940,000 in 1980, showing that while the city shrunk, the region suburbanized, and those with means left the inner city. Today, the city has roughly 650,000, so while it has grown, it has not recouped all losses.
Population projections until 2020 show that the region will continue to grow. After all, the fertility rate, even without a migration effect, is positive, and the survival rate allows for population growth. Moreover, there’s a healthy number of women of bearing age in our region. Because the region is growing, housing supply and transportation services will both need to be greatly renewed, enhanced, and expanded. The MBTA is already bursting at the seams during peak hours, causing more delays due to increased congestion and crowding. And housing has not kept up with demand, leading to rising costs, and not rising buildings. The cost of living in Boston is 40 percent above the U.S. average, while median household income remains on par with the rest of the country. Rate of homeownership has reached an all-time-low of less than 60 percent, and homeowners spend more than four months paying for their mortgages every year. Supply has not kept up with demand, and demand will only be increasing.
Growth has its consequences. Because of the soaring value of land, developers are building small luxury units, which do not attract families. They also build office space and hotels, since it is easier to build for a single tenant. But the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has been “woefully behind on zoning”, and developers simply don’t know how much a property is worth, forcing them to routinely bargain for variances. When that happens, the BRA should be forcing developers to renovate nearby subway stations or fund the Green Line Extension, in exchange for more FAR. This is more common in New York, where Frank Gehry’s 76-story 8 Spruce Street was built in exchange for a 100,000-square-foot public school in the building. Rising costs mean longer commutes for working people, and fewer incentives for creatives to move and innovate. We need up-zoning along subway corridors in order to house the projected increase in population in the most sustainable manner: near mass transit and other basic amenities.
Regarding economic projections, the region is stable. The base multiplier in 2010 was 8.32, and in 2014, it was 7.89, showing that the region continues to produce many non-basic jobs, staying within the community. If total employment goes down, then the base multiplier goes down. And since total employment went up, from 2,040,667 to 2,200,908, basic employment went up, from 245,190 to 279,074. The base multiplier would be even higher if industries less than a Location Quotient of 1 were included in the analysis, such as real estate, at .87, and arts, entertainment, and recreation, at .97. Clearly, economic activity remains relatively strong in Boston.
In the Twin Cities, which have been growing faster than Boston, the new Green Line light rail now links Minneapolis and Saint Paul for the first time since the 1950s. Unlike the Boston MSA, where cities and towns fight to move jobs a few miles here or there, the Twin Cities are working as a metropolitan area. According to Whet Moser for the Chicago Magazine, in the 1970s, the region passed the Fiscal Disparities Act, which greatly reduces inequality in the area by collaborating on taxes across municipalities. Chrissy Mancini Nichols, director of research and evaluation for the Metropolitan Planning Council, states that the law puts “40 percent of the growth in the commercial-industrial tax base in each municipality annually into a seven-county regional pool and then distributes those funds back to participating municipalities and school districts based on tax base and population.” By keeping property taxes level for the entire region, they reduced the property tax base between the richest and poorest municipalities.
This solution may work in the Twin Cities, a region that is far less diverse than Boston, where New England towns continue to take pride in their balkanized nature. Indeed, even though the Boston region is almost entirely within the Commonwealth (except for a portion in New Hampshire), there are still plenty of disconnects, such as balkanized New England municipalities, each of which has its own zoning and land use restrictions, few of which are truly coordinated with the MBTA. If one were to examine a zoning map, for instance, land around subway corridors are often zoned single-family, as if there was no public transit infrastructure present. And even in liberal Massachusetts, the majority do not take mass transit, leading to less support for investment. Furthermore, costs continue to rise, and until the T can control these costs and fix the cultural incompetence that allowed for the Green Line Extension to end up costing $1 billion more than estimated, legislators will be wary of investing in an aging and failing system desperate for aid. The region is bursting at the seams and the T is congested, leading to increasing delays, and it is also mismanaged.
Indeed, costs have risen astronomically to $3 billion, which would make it the most costly rail expansion per mile in the transit agency’s history. And it is not even a subway line. In fact, most of the right-of-way already exists alongside tracks used by the commuter rail, Amtrak and occasionally freight trains. In order to get it built, the MBTA is considering drastic cuts to station designs, which, in their own words, would be “on the side of brutal.” These stations may not even have turnstiles prior to boarding, making them similar to the Green Line’s outdoor stations — vulnerable to the elements and many built more than 100 years ago. And without pre-board payment, service would be a lot slower; in fact, boarding would be similar to boarding a non-Bus-Rapid-Transit bus.
In our increasingly polarized society, can we balance the budget and bridge the gap, building a 21st-century network without spending too little or too much? The MBTA, as a public authority, does not have a strong motive to control waste, fraud and abuse. The T operates within silos, with convoluted labor costs, work rules and managerial incompetence, and it needs a new narrative for the 21st century. Contemporary challenges require interdisciplinary, interconnected solutions in order to bridge the gap socially, economically, politically and, of course, physically. We need to be planning beyond divisions, departments, agencies and municipalities in order to renew, enhance and expand our infrastructure as well as tackle multiple problems at the same time, creatively and affordably.
Pundits will argue that the United States is not investing in its infrastructure and that it is falling apart. This is only partially true because it is also important to note that capital costs are rising because of our disconnected local, state and federal political system, stemming back to the Bill of Rights itself. Indeed, financing transportation networks is uniquely difficult in the United States, relative to the rest of the industrial world, because of our federal system and the challenges of bridging the gap regionally. Our states have an enormous amount of power, and, for better or for worse, they have granted a lot of these police powers to municipalities, making it harder to streamline costs. Thus, how can we reform the T when its “train” of thought is more of a “chain” of thought, locked from change by balkanized politics?
Financing the Green Line Extension by encouraging real estate development atop station property or along the corridor, for instance, requires coordination with countless municipalities. After all, in order for developers to partially pay for the extension in exchange for being allowed to build (taller), municipalities would need to enact legislation, and transportation agencies are often entirely excluded from this process. This is an institutional disconnect that is far more disjointed in America than elsewhere in the industrialized world, and rest assured, it is even more complicated when working across state boundaries.
Transit-owned assets should have soaring buildings, not soaring costs. Otherwise, we simply cannot expand our system when it’s so expensive to build a few miles and when our motives are based upon political calculations, rather than (under)grounded in facts and figures.
Clearly value capture makes sense. However, the United States is unwilling to pay for good public transportation, even though the quality of infrastructure is directly linked to the country’s competitiveness, as it improves quality of life and makes businesses more productive. The World Economic Forum now ranks the United States 16th for infrastructure quality, behind France and Spain, a place that increases accidents and inefficiencies and costs individuals and companies hefty sums of money. And all of that added commuting time takes a huge toll on our bodies, minds and spirits.
Building more housing can tackle gentrification and displacement, because it will increase the supply. Already, Chapter 40B stipulates that 10 percent of housing stock in the Commonwealth’s municipalities must be subsidized and affordable, based on 80 percent of area median income. Already, 4 dozen communities have met this threshold, with 20 others at 8 or 9 percent. But more municipalities could reach these goals if they allowed for higher buildings, especially along transportation corridors. In fact, the Prudential Tower, once the tallest building in the world outside of New York City (before the taller John Hancock Tower was later built in Boston by a competing insurance firm), was actually built over a railroad yard. The Massachusetts Turnpike would later deck additional structures along the highway. And today, Tufts University is considering an Air Rights Building over a Green Line station, if it is built, while there are joint development plans for mixed-use towers atop Back Bay Station, North Station, and South Station. These practices should be encouraged, and made easier to implement.
Even the Twin Cities or Portland, Oregon (which directly elects its metropolitan planning organization and which has regional growth boundaries) cannot accomplish as much as European regions. In Europe, local, municipal policy is followed by central government and transnational government policies, and European countries have national bike policies and plans, including tax incentives, while the same is true of the EU. In the US, we have local biking policies and plans, but our central government does far less than European governments when it comes to distributing tax revenue for active transit projects and maintaining comprehensive biking facilities along national highways and long-distance cycling routes. Many European cities have land use regulations that promote density, making it easier to bike, because locations are closer together. European cities also have higher taxes and fees, from gas taxes, new car taxes, registration and license fees, driver training fees, and parking fees to congestion pricing.
Also, in Europe, bikers are not a demographic just as drivers are not a demographic; in the U.S., they’re still seen as a cultural group. Many of our offices have ample parking spaces for employees, but not for bikers. Companies should provide bikes just as they provide vehicles, as well as access to bike share programs, maintenance facilities, and showers.
European cities have ample information on bicycle routes, activites, and programs, and many try to get people to bike by ‘actively’ explaining the health benefits for all populations, and building narratives.
In the US, many of our so-called bike routes are simply sharrow lanes. Google should specify these routes so that users can plan their trips based on their preferences for speed, safety, and/or comfort, among other factors. (Google should also let users provide feedback about these routes in order to crowdsource transportation data; I’m sure they have crash data, delay data, and other real-time information).
Our municipalities should be coordinating between transportation, education, and public health divisions in order to provide programs and activities for children, such as bike festivals, car-free days, guided bike tours, and competitions, to tackle public health problems. They should map safe routes to school for pedestrians and bicyclists, and make sure schools have bike parking.
In Bogota, Colombia, Ciclovia is a free community program, which began in 1974, in which 97km of streets are closed for 7 hours on Sundays and holidays to allow exclusive access to around 1 million pedestrians, runners, rollerbladers, and cyclists. The event engages 9 sectors: education, environment, health, police, sports, culture and recreation, transport, urban planning, and local government; 90% of participants are not wealthy, and the benefits to them – to their bodies, minds, and spirits – far surpasses the costs of the event, which is funded through a tax on phone bills and also through private sponsors. Can we do something similar here?
In the New York region, transportation costs continue to rise while the gas tax has yet to be raised. New Yorkers continue to flock to New Jersey for cheaper prices, while in Europe, gas is far more expensive, and so are driver’s licenses. (It is also harder to get a license, which is why they’re fine posting no speed limit on sections of the Autobahn).
In Asia and particularly China, biking has only recently begun to be surpassed by automobile ownership. Unlike in Western Europe, biking is seen as a sign of poverty, and unlike in the US, it is certainly not seen as primarily a leisure activity, as it is used to commute to work or school. But in Western Europe, relatively homogenous and equal societies do not view biking negatively. Many don’t even wear helmets, and perhaps they’re safer as a result, because they bike more safely. (In the US, studies have shown that drivers will even be more careful around bicyclists that aren’t wearing any special gear; it also helps to be wearing a dress).
Amsterdam and Copenhagen are both flat cities, but geography is not the only reason behind their bike culture. After all, Texan cities are also quite flat, but because they are flat, they can easily sprawl into the horizon. Indeed, our cities are planned by powers, identities, and ideologies; Americans value individual freedom, and from sea to shining sea, they’ve sprawled. Meanwhile, in Europe, citizens are more comfortable with government regulating their lives for the greater good, and keeping cities denser through a myriad of policies.
Then again, Manhattan is far bigger and denser than many European cities because New York was constrained by rivers, and was forced to build towards the sky. Europeans are skeptical of tall buildings harming their historical neighborhoods, and this is true to an extent in New York, but the city’s innovative, capitalistic spirit keeps it soaring higher and higher.
Back to Boston: the region needs to reconnect transportation with real estate development in order to bridge the gap between infrastructure corridors – often used historically to disconnect neighborhoods – and fill the void. Developers should be allowed to build taller in exchange for transit improvements, and communities can beautify these corridors with local input for place-making efforts. This transit-oriented development (TOD) will have marginal impact on the T’s finances, but it will nevertheless literally stand on its own merits, improving the dynamism of neighborhoods, and alleviating the negative effects of sprawl through infill development.
Boston needs a new transit-oriented vision for the 21st century, and politicians need to fight for this, against NIMBYist fears of density. Constructive communication is necessary to get construction started, and the MAPC can help to build trust with a narrative that raises awareness about the rationality behind TOD. The MAPC could also take a hard stand against public sector unions in order to lower costs and improve efficiency. After all, these unions are bargaining against the government – not corporations – and often, they fight against capacity improvements (such as automated trains) because it is against their individual interest.
But, overall, politicians should be streamlining TOD districts across municipal boundaries in order to save time and money. They should be coordinating value capture mechanisms between cities, and the State and MBTA, so that streamlined zoning and land use policies are synchronized with regional plans for transit-oriented development. Perhaps the Commonwealth should advise the MBTA to not extend service into municipalities that do not up-zone for value capture districts, while the MAPC should strongly recommend municipalities to coordinate parking, bicycle, and pedestrian policies and craft public-private partnerships. Furthermore, the State, MBTA, and MAPC should also work with municipalities to implement a universal transportation smart card in order to connect the region’s parking meters, bike sharing hubs, taxis, subways, buses, and trains with one service. Alternatively, a proof-of-payment system should be implemented on the T’s subways and buses, so that costs can be reduced for turnstile maintenance, and so that service can be increased along the Green Line. Right now, passengers delay light rail service at stations without pre-board payment infrastructure and along bus routes, and if passengers could enter at all doors of the train, service would be able to be provided faster.
The T needs to employ enterprise asset management technology in order to improve efficiency. And until the T can control costs, which continue to rise, it will be difficult to secure funding for expansion projects. Besides the Green Line Extension, the T should also consider connecting the Blue Line with the Red Line, as well as the North-South Rail Link, in order to allow through-running between North Station and South Station. But the T can barely operate its outdated, obsolete, overburdened, and overstressed equipment, some of which was built shortly after the end of World War II. The Blue Line‘s trains were not stalled during last year’s winter storms because they’d been recently replaced, and because the line relies on overhead power due to its proximity to the icy, snowy ocean, which would wreak havoc on third rail power. But that’s only one line. The T’s maintenance backlog is now estimated to be upwards of $7 billion, even though ridership has increased and population has increased. Boston is setting itself up for failure if it does not invest in mass transit, and developers can help foot the bill.
But alas, it’s hard to coordinate with every municipality, with so many stakeholders, many afraid of density. Then, there are numerous institutional disconnects, from City and State, to the MBTA not controlling zoning along subway corridors, and simply not having enough resources for TOD. The MBTA needs to change its mindset and consider itself a real estate developer; after all, it is the second-largest land owner in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In the end, the MBTA cannot be profitable in the 21st century due to a political economy that isolates it from municipal zoning and land use policies, and from forming value capture mechanisms – from tax increment financing to joint development and the transfer of development rights. This siloization of zoning, land use, taxation, and transportation operations is largely due to American fears of density alongside protections of private property, but it limits the potential for transit-oriented and transit-owned joint development, and it hinders the formation of public-private partnerships. Local, state, and federal structural reforms are necessary in order to streamline value capture processes, such as up-zoning transportation assets and relaxing land use requirements, in order to facilitate T.O.D. While value capture will provide marginal financial benefits due to the limited assets that U.S. agencies possess, it literally stands on its own merits as a vehicle through which the urban fabric can be renewed and enhanced. Transportation agencies cannot be profitable, but they can be organized more efficiently, if given the resources necessary to effectively practice value capture.
There are various tools and techniques that can be used in order to implement value capture in the Boston region. Special assessment districts levy an additional tax on land parcels that receive a direct benefit from transit. Transportation utility fees are fees assessed on beneficiaries of transit infrastructure based upon how likely these beneficiaries will be using transit, thereby, for instance, reflecting the building’s density or parking capacity. Tax increment financing is a tax policy that captures the incremental difference in tax revenue after construction of transit facilities, in order to pay for the financing costs. Development impact fees are one-time fees assessed to developments, and are determined formally through policy. Negotiated extractions also are one-time fees assessed to developments, but they are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Joint development is a public-private partnership between a developer and a public agency. And, last but not least, air rights are the sale or lease of air rights above a transit facility. Often, these tools and techniques are used together in order to complete a project; for instance, a developer may be using tax increment financing in order to practice joint development, while using air rights in order to increase density bonuses.
While there is room for improvement, institutional barriers ranging from NIMBYism and a fear of density to antiquated zoning laws, financing requirements, and a lack of communication among the City, State, MBTA, and developers would need to be transcended through coordinated reformation efforts. The MBTA’s collective mindset must be renewed for a 21st century narrative, in which the MBTA also considers itself a real estate developer.
Could the MAPC be involved in transforming institutional culture? After all, they provide extensive and intensive resources and expertise to municipalities, from needs assessments to developing an understanding of project constraints, opportunities, and implementation. Besides providing planning services, the MAPC also offers programs to save taxpayer money through group purchasing, and they serve as a regional think tank, generating actionable data analysis, advocating for regional priorities, and promoting collaboration. The MAPC keeps their services affordable, leveraging outside funds to defray costs; furthermore, Massachusetts law allows municipalities to contract with MAPC directly, exempting them from issuing an RFP or Invitation for Bids, or engaging in any other procurement law procedure, in order to work with the MAPC. Could they use their influence to promote sensible TOD policies?
The region’s prosperity, safety, health, climate resilience, equity, and distinctive character are all intertwined by TOD. And TOD can enhance distinctive histories through place-making efforts while strengthening neighborhoods, increasing housing and transportation options, and promoting health, jobs, equity, safety, and the stewardship of natural resources.
It is a tough road ahead – literally. Even though the MAPC coordinates the decision-making, performs the procurements, and lifts administrative burdens from municipalities, they do not control these processes. Zoning remains controlled by balkanized municipalities, along with land use, parking, bicycle and pedestrian policies, and all additional municipal functions. From demand pricing to occupancy, capacity, duration, signage, shared parking techniques, and pricing policies, municipalities may have vastly different rules, regulations, and technologies. Driving between them can be akin to driving through a time machine.
Powers, identities, and ideologies have built our cities, and constrained them. They keep our buildings short, whether to quell concerns about density or to keep churches, monuments, or historical areas intact, and they keep our regions from unifying. Planning beyond borders would not just help transit agencies; it would help to coordinate watershed preservation, or energy policies, or trade and commerce. It’s hard, but it’s necessary to support regional planning initiatives in order to renew, enhance, and expand our economy for the 21st century. Boston needs to grow up – literally – in order to stay on track for the 21st century and beyond.
Land use law has a role to play as well.
In almost half of the fifty states, local governments are required to prepare a land use plan as a prerequisite to adopting certain land use controls. In these planned states, “the tail does not wag the dog”, meaning that minor or secondary parts are not controlling the whole plan or policy. Planned states require vertical and horizontal consistency. Vertical consistency forces plans to coordinate the plan with zoning and land use regulations; for instance, a residential district would not be able to have a non-vested commercial land use district. Vertical consistency also requires that regional and local plans be consistent with state plans, and vice versa. Meanwhile, horizontal consistency requires municipalities to ensure that their plans do not conflict, and that mandatory elements of a plan are consistent – such as land use, safety, open space, and circulation. This is referred to as a consistency doctrine.
In planned states, developers know the rules, and zoning is predictable across the state. In non-planned states, zoning is simply based upon legislation passed by the legislature, which must be rational. This is relatively easy to accomplish, as any simple study can pass a rational basis test, and with judicial deference to the legislature, because they were elected, one can only hope that they approve a non-arbitrary, non-irrational plan, without spot zoning.
While non-planned states are more flexible, they are also a free-for-all for all stakeholders. Similarly, early vesting states are far better than late vesting states for developers, because in late vesting states, applicants seeking development agreements can lose what they already have, rather than simply not getting what they want. Development agreements are applicable in late vesting states, which are almost always planned states. In early vesting states, when a zoning plan is passed, developers all seek to become vested immediately, so they are not subject to the new zoning. Also, in early vesting states, the right to build on a parcel, in accordance with zoning requirements, vests at the time of the initial application for a permit; in late vesting states, it applies only when the permit is issued. Thus, early vesting states provide owners and developers a predictable set of guidelines, while late vesting states allow local governments to change the rules once a proposal has already been developed. Of course, early vesting states are fairer to developers, because municipalities can revise zoning ordinances at any time; developers in late vesting states, meanwhile, can be subjected to sudden rezoning that occurs only after (and perhaps, in response to) permit applications. And Houston, which has no zoning, still ends up looking like other sprawling Sun Belt cities because they have ample land use regulations, but they just don’t use the big government ‘Z word’ itself.
Government gets in the way in late vesting states, protecting itself from controversy, and shifting the costs and risks of political uncertainty onto owners and developers, who may not get their permit approved. Moreover, in these states, developers have already invested in their properties, hiring engineers, architects, consultants, planners, and lawyers, even though the projects may never go forward. Meanwhile, early vesting states force municipalities to maintain zoning policies, and streamline development by favoring competition and allowing smaller, less connected investors to manage the risk of their proposals. In the end, early vesting states are clearly better for developers, while late vesting states are better for politicians.
Massachusetts is a non-planned state, making it a lot harder to coordinate for the 21st century. And joint development has had its fair share of Supreme Court cases, including Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, This was a landmark case – literally – in which the Supreme Court found that designating Grand Central Terminal a landmark, thus forcing Penn Central to not demolish it, did not constitute a taking. After all, even though Penn Central argued that their ownership and investment were based upon an expectation that they could develop their property as they saw fit, Penn Central could exploit retail within the terminal, and they could sell their air rights. At the time, private railroads were going bankrupt, as they had to compete with automobiles and airplanes. In fact, Penn Central had ironically previously constructed the Pan Am Building atop the structure, which had a helipad to JFK Airport, signifying the arrival of the Jet Age atop one of America’s most historic rail terminals. And nearby, the Chrysler Building also stood tall. But Grand Central Terminal remains preserved.
A taking can be successfully argued if there is a physical invasion onto one’s property, or through failed investment backed expectations, or being left with literally zero assets remaining. Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp., a Supreme Court case, held that when the government permanently physically occupied property, the action achieved the effect of a regulatory taking even if it achieved a public benefit or had minimal economic impact on the owner. Thus, the Supreme Court established a permanent physical presence test for regulatory takings. This varies from a physical invasion short of an occupation, and a regulation that merely restricts the use of property.
A temporary physical occupation is simply a trespassing – such as government entering property to install temporary sand bags to prevent flooding – and owners can sue the government for damages due to trespassing. In Loretto’s case, the government physically installed permanent fixtures to the property without compensation, removing the right to exclude – be it to exclude British soldiers, or a small piece of equipment. The government needed to pay, or else it became a regulatory taking. This differs from eminent domain, in which the government can seize property under the Fifth Amendment as long as the owner is compensated. And, after Kelo v. City of New London, it is evident that the government can seize property for other private owners, so long as it is for the benefit of the public.
Loretto successfully sued because her case was extremely specific – property had been invaded permanently. And in Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, the Supreme Court held that there is no set formula for finding a taking. A permanent physical occupation of an owner’s property authorized by government constitutes a taking of property which requires just compensation under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Even if it protects health, safety, and welfare, it is not fair for police powers to allow permanent physical occupation, but it is fair to limit the use of one’s property for the greater good if it is a rational and non-arbitrary request. Our country is founded by the rule of law and by a separation of powers; unlike in some other countries, one man does not have power to do literally anything.
For instance, a transfer of development rights (TDR) district is a lawful overlay district. In urban areas, oftentimes landmarked buildings are preserved, and their air rights can be sold and transferred nearby in order to increase another developer’s floor-area-ratio (FAR). While TDR was first developed in New York City, in rural areas, TDR can be applied horizontally, and it has been used to preserve farmland, groundwater, and even protect coastlines, such as Acadia National Park in Maine.
Overlay districts are not seen as regulatory takings, because value is still left in the parcel, and these districts, approved by legislative bodies, are also quite easily pass rationality tests. And while the requirement of an adjudicative permit for new residential uses is cumbersome, it is commonly practiced – especially in historical districts by landmark preservation boards. In order to challenge these requirements, one will need to explore the rationality behind the overlay districts, and show that the district is arbitrarily defined.
Also, in order to challenge, one must have standing, and prove particularized harm and cognizable interest, either due to arbitrary and irrational proposals or due to discriminatory practices. Under the 14th Amendment, Americans are all equal under the law, but land is not equal; zoning can discriminate and segregate, as it has for decades. To have standing, one should not argue for the general good, and one must have a specific, particularized, and measurable challenge. If everyone is harmed, then no one is, so the challenge must be specific to the developer, and not speculative.
However, if there is a lack of due process (such as a lack of ample notice for a public meeting), it is not a taking, because it is arbitrary and nothing has been taken, so nothing is due. Compensation is only needed when a taking has occurred, and everyone is entitled to fairness; without due process, everyone has standing. In fact, the Supreme Court held in Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. that challenges to the validity of land use regulations for failing to advance governmental interests must be brought under the Due Process Clause, rather than the Takings Clause. This case overturned Agins v. City of Tiburon.
All of this is related to value capture and joint development because often, impact fees are assessed to developers, and these one-time fees are reliantly used to fund municipalities, even though they are not a stable source of revenue. In Dolan v. City of Tigard, the adjudicative body was not allowed to extort additional requests that would infringe upon the property owner’s rights as they were not roughly proportionate to the city’s public purpose. In Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, the California Coastal Commission, also an adjudicative body, was not allowed to proceed with a governmental exaction because it was not substantially related to a legitimate government interest, and there was no nexus between the exaction and that interest.
Hadacheck v. C.E. Sebastian was an early Supreme Court case, and the Court held that the zoning ordinance prohibiting the manufacturing of bricks within the City of Los Angeles did not constitute a taking of Hadacheck’s property, or deny him equal protection. Hadacheck’s property had many resources that could be extracted for his brick manufacturing business, but he could no longer operate this facility at this location under new zoning regulations. It was not considered a taking because Hadacheck could still relocate his land’s resources to a new site outside of the municipality. And since it was deemed a nuisance, no compensation was necessary. What’s more, the Court also held that the zoning ordinance did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because his business was not being singled out; all non-conforming pre-existing nuisances would be shut down. This was one of the first cases legitimizing the use of police powers.
Today, only planned states use amortization, forcing owners to not maintain their property as it amortizes into decay. Other methods to terminate uses that are a nuisance – an unreasonable interference of the enjoyment of someone else’s property – are to show that the property has been abandoned, or to use eminent domain. To prove abandonment, one must show that it has not been used (through seeking bills and eye-witnesses), and that there has been intent to not use it (for instance, a railroad ripping out rails, making it easier to prove abandonment for the Rails to Trails movement).
Zoning changes usually allow existing uses to become pre-existing non-conforming but vested. However, these pre-existing non-conforming uses are not allowed to expand without a permit, and often, as discussed, if they’re a nuisance to the community, they will be amortized and not allowed to maintain their facility. If an area is rezoned residential, for instance, a factory may be allowed to continue to operate, so long as it does not expand, rebuild, or maintain its facilities.
Oftentimes, factories in districts rezoned for residential uses will simply relocate because the value of their land increases, and they elect to leave. Even in districts zoned for light manufacturing, this can happen, because hotels, offices, and other businesses are also allowed to locate in these districts. Municipalities seeking to maintain their manufacturing base often need to zone out non-manufacturing uses in order to keep land values from skyrocketing; at the same time, they need to have basic services in the area, such as restaurants and banks, in order to attract manufacturers and employees. Land use planning is all about finding balance.
Successfully bargaining with a municipal legislative body would result in a city-wide ordinance, while bargaining with a judge for an adjudicative permit would be conducted on a case-by-case basis. The power to condition is the power to deny, and the purpose of zoning is to be pre-emptive, so hopefully, most development agreements are approved and streamlined city-wide. Nevertheless, oftentimes, City Council members will also act as adjudicators, and it is important for them to clarify their role as adjudicators when reviewing special permits. For instance, in New York City, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) can apply to special permits, and usually, the City Planning Commission will review these instances without the City Council’s involvement, but the City Council can become involved depending on the circumstances. There are also special permit requests that do not enter ULURP, and are instead processed through New York City’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).
In the end, clearly, it’s hard to pin down the factors behind our physical environments – from culture, history, and demographics, to land use and zoning laws, geography, and nearby institutions – schools, military bases, ports, and so on and so forth. In homogenous Norway, oil wealth certainly helps fund public transit, but other countries with oil resources aren’t building state-of-the-art transit networks.
One thing has been clear. If it’s built, people will use it. When new highway lanes are added to relieve congestion, eventually, those lanes will become congested too; capacity has been increased, allowing for more users and more development along the route. Similarly, the Second Avenue Subway may not relieve congestion on the Lexington Avenue Subway, because it will just induce more demand. And will building more housing actually quell demand? Is there a limit? How tall are we willing to go in order to find out?
To conclude, please feel free to take a look at all the opportunities for active transit in the Boston region. These places are designed to be friendly towards pedestrians, and they help to get people active.
Thank you, Professor Mary Davis, Professor Justin Hollander, Professor Jon Witten, and Professor Mark Chase for assisting with this project at the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University.