Safety concerns, poor infrastructure, and limited capacity on MBTA remain key challenges, says report.
Visit RegionalIndicators.org for the report, executive summary, visualizations, and data
BOSTON — A new analysis of data shows Greater Boston’s transportation system needs strategic, targeted investment in coming years if the region hopes to stay economically competitive and to keep up with shifting preferences away from driving and car ownership and toward more sustainable options for getting around, such as walking, biking, and taking public transit, according to a report released this week by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and the Northeastern University Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy in Boston. The analysis was funded, in part, by the Barr Foundation, which is based in Boston.
The Sustainable Transportation Indicators report, “Transportation: Staying on Track,” measures changes in the way people use and interact with our transportation system and offers a high-level view of the region’s transportation performance. Meant to evaluate how well the region is meeting its transportation goals for 2030 as laid out in MetroFuture, Greater Boston’s regional land use plan, the indicators report shows some clear patterns and trends.
While automobile dependence is the norm in suburban communities, it is waning in urban areas, and developers are increasingly building near transit because buyers and renters want to live there.
Despite the Great Recession, at least 54,000 new units of housing were built near transit between 2000 and 2010, and ridership on the MBTA has increased by 10% since 2010. Despite these trends, MBTA service hours increased only 0.15% and the MBTA has struggled to maintain its assets in good repair, contributing to delays and unreliability.
Investment in walking and biking infrastructure has been slow, although 14% of all commutes in the Inner Core now take place by walking or by bicycle. Concerns about safety and poor infrastructure keep many would-be walkers and cyclists in cars instead, contributing to increased congestion and missed opportunities for physical activity.
Among the report’s key findings:
- Both car ownership and vehicle miles traveled are down since 2011 in Metro Boston’s Inner Core, and remained flat in the suburbs. This is good news for global warming and public health, and demonstrates a change in residents’ preferences — especially considering that the economy strengthened during the same time frame that car ownership fell by 4% and miles driven dropped by 2%. (The Inner Core includes Boston and 19 surrounding cities and towns, with roughly half the region’s population.)
- People are flocking to transit, but service levels have not kept pace. The MBTA has experienced a 10% spike in ridership since 2011, but service isn’t keeping pace with demand. Users regularly experience delays in service, coupled with limited investments in new equipment and systems that could improve on-time performance.
- Commuters of color are disproportionately affected by the network’s shortcomings. Black bus riders spend 64 more hours per year in transit compared to white bus riders. While household spending on transportation is lower in Metro Boston than in other parts of the country, the cost burden still falls most heavily on lower-income households.
- Our public policy is driving people into cars, making traffic worse than it needs to be. Since 2006, the price of gas has dropped in real dollars by 1%, while MBTA fares have risen 97%. If these changes were reversed, even more people would likely leave their cars behind and use transit, sidewalks, and bicycles to get around.
“People are voting with their feet, and with their keys. They’re beginning to leave their cars behind and get around by walking, biking, and taking the T. This change is great for the environment and public health, and it also reduces congestion on the roads. But we’re making it hard for people to make this shift, by raising fares on the T, keeping the gas tax low, and failing to invest for the future,” said Marc Draisen, Executive Director of MAPC.
“So much of our transportation experience is based on personal stories and perceptions,” said Mary Skelton Roberts, senior program officer at the Barr Foundation. “By analyzing our travel patterns, infrastructure, and policy, the Sustainable Transportation Indicators report articulates, with data, what Greater Boston residents are experiencing in transportation, which in turn helps us better target strategies that will improve those experiences.”