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Designing Future Boston

What creative changes to our transportation system should we make now to be better prepared for a pandemic? Boston experts share their ideas.

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Ayanna Presley headshot

Rethinking Transportation Policy

Ayanna Pressley

U.S. Representative for Massachusetts's 7th congressional district

Who is Rep. Ayanna Pressley?

As the Representative for the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District, I have worked in close partnership with residents, advocates, and other elected officials to combat the inequities and disparities facing our communities.

How has COVID impacted transportation in Boston?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our public transportation system with transit agencies across the country, including the MBTA, cutting services in order to stay financially afloat. Prior to the pandemic, Black and brown riders in the Metro-Boston area spent 64 hours more per year on buses relative to their white neighbors, so cutting these services has a disproportionate impact on them, and on our most vulnerable neighbors and the essential frontline workers who rely on the MBTA to get to and from their jobs, buy groceries, access healthcare, and more. Cutting services will also lessen riders' ability to maintain physical distancing, so this is both a transit justice and a public health issue.

What changes and new ideas have you advocated for or implemented during the pandemic?

In Congress, I am proud to have founded the Future of Transportation Caucus with Reps. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) and Mark Takano (D-CA), the first-ever Congressional caucus dedicated to centering equity, access, and sustainability in our transportation infrastructure. Together, we have introduced the "Improve Access to Jobs Act" and the "Improve Access to Services Act", which would require the federal government to invest in projects that make our transportation systems safer and more efficient to get people to jobs and essential services.

How would this change long-term public transit in Boston?

Our nation's transportation and infrastructure policies play a critical role in building healthy and safe communities, but these policies have also helped perpetuate many of our most entrenched inequities. While our past policy decisions have created these injustices, our future choices can pursue precise, data-driven policies to achieve transit equity. As we re-imagine where to invest our resources, we must prioritize long-term sustainability and improvements to our transit systems while reducing the financial burden for riders who rely on these services.

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Hannah Fong headshot

Rethinking Commuting

Hannah Fong

Planner from the City of Boston

What is Bluebikes?

Bluebikes is public transportation by bicycle. There are over 300 stations and 3000 bikes available for quick one-way trips throughout metro Boston.

How has COVID impacted Bluebikes in Boston?

Since the COVID pandemic, we are cleaning our bikes every time they come into our warehouse, and we have moved our valet service to stations near hospitals. We’ve also noticed that fewer people are riding bikes to work, but more people are riding bikes for fun. The bike trips this summer were longer, and more of them started and ended at the same station.

What new ideas have you implemented here in Boston during the COVID pandemic?

We implemented an Essential Workers Program, which offers free memberships to anyone working at hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, and retail stores.

How will this all change Bluebikes in the future in Boston?

Bluebikes is a publicly owned system, so it will change and respond to the needs of the public. We will continue to focus on the safety of our riders, and ensure Bluebikes is accessible to everyone in greater Boston by engaging with the communities we serve.

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Stacy Thompson headshot

Rethinking Our Streets

Stacy Thompson

Executive Director, LivableStreets Alliance

What is LivableStreets?

LivableStreets is an organization that envisions a world where streets are safe, vibrant public spaces that connect people to the places where they live, work, and play. We advocate for innovative and equitable transportation solutions that create safe, affordable, and convenient options for everyone in Metro Boston.

How has COVID impacted transportation in Boston?

People couldn’t go to the gym or play sports so they started walking and biking around their own communities a lot more. They also started visiting local parks and other outdoor spaces. When the weather warmed up people started spending time with family and friends outside and restaurants turned street space, often parking spaces, into outdoor areas for eating. With fewer people driving, there was more space on the streets for other activities.

What transportation changes have you advocated for or helped implement during COVID in Boston?

Streets have had many uses for hundreds of years, and some ideas that seem “innovative” now are how streets were used before there were cars. We helped advocate for shared or slow streets, which are closed for general traffic so that they are safe for children to play on and for older adults to walk on. Some people have even held community concerts on their shared streets. We also helped repurpose parking spaces, which some restaurants turned into outdoor seating areas, and others created "parklets" or comfortable seating areas for anyone to use.

How could we continue to use streets differently in future Boston?

Repurposing street parking for walking, bike lanes, bus lanes, restaurants and to create more seating areas and park spaces is one of the best ways we can make our streets work safely for everyone in the future.

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Tracey Zhen headshot

Rethinking Car Ownership

Tracey Zhen

Zipcar President

What is Zipcar?

Zipcar is a car-sharing service that provides cars around cities for members to book when they need one. We were founded right around the corner in Cambridge, MA by two women entrepreneurs in 2000.

How has COVID impacted Zipcar in Boston?

Since March 2020, Zipcar members have relied on us for essential trips, like food shopping, commuting to work, and checking on friends and family. We upgraded our car-cleaning protocols, including the use of antiviral and antimicrobial solutions, and added new guidelines and protection measures for our members and car-maintenance team. Car sharing has offered a controlled way of traveling during the pandemic, as our members can choose who they travel with and can clean any surfaces before they touch them.

What creative solutions have you implemented during COVID in Boston?

In response to COVID-19 travel, Zipcar launched a new lower-cost “Stay Local” membership plan to help existing members save money when taking short trips for essential work or other needs. This was particularly helpful during a time when our members only required access for quick trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, and were looking for ways to save money.

How will Zipcar continue to change transportation in Boston?

An August 2020 survey by Zipcar and Engine Insights found that four out of five urban dwellers say it is essential to have access to a car. However, 63% are concerned about the impacts of traffic congestion on the future of city life. One long-term, sustainable mobility solution for our city is car sharing, which enables affordable access, and makes our streets safer, less crowded and less polluted.

Survey conducted by Zipcar and Engine Insights.