Link, a real estate data service firm, sponsored a conversation on walkability with City Council President Michelle Wu, Boston Transportation Commissioner Gina Fiandaca and developer Ted Tye. But urbanist Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, delivered a keynote lecture on walkability first.
“What’s this event really about?” said Link’s Deb Blair. “It’s about building a better Boston — a walkable, vibrant, affordable Boston. Transportation and accessibility is no longer an afterthought, it’s what buyers are seeking.”
“This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever had at an event that cost this much and didn’t have a full meal,” Speck said. “I think it’s because of the panel.”
Speck outlined his General Theory of Walkability, saying that people will walk when walking is usefule, safe, comfortable and interesting. He said that Boston already does many of the basics well. The outer neighborhoods need the most work, he said, and greater density needs to be allowed near Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority stations.
He also addressed the costs of driving.
“If you walk or bike the cost to society is negligible,” he said. “Every dollar a driver pays, our society pays $9.20 — and that was when gas cost $3.50 a gallon.”
He said that expanding roadway capacity generated induced demand, which makes the expanded capacity both counterproductive and expensive.
“The only way we pay for driving in our lives is congestion,” Speck said.
One of the best things Boston could do, he said, was “Take 8” — take eight feet from very wide streets like Congress Street, Cambridge Street in the West End, Commonwealth Avenue, the huge streets in the Seaport and elsewhere to make buffered bike lanes. Speck said that many streets were designed to a highway standard of 12 feet per lane in the 1960s and reducing the width to 10 feet can free up plenty of space for the bike lanes while leaving space for cars and parking.
“You could restripe a whole city for the cost of rebuilding a few streets,” he said.
Speck also said that Boston should get rid of beg-buttons and adopt a leading pedestrian interval, where pedestrians get a head start on traffic at lights. Lastly he said that Boston could start expanding its pedestrian street network. Currently only part of Washington Street, Winter Street and Summer Street in Downtown Crossing are pedestrianized (along with a few other small streets).
More of Speck’s work on walkability can be found in his TED talk.
“Our challenge is to acheive walkability not only in Downtown, but in all our neighborhoods,” Wu said.
She said that the outer neighborhoods lacked good connections to other neighborhoods and to Downtown and even in neighborhoods that have the concentration of mixture of uses vital to walkability, giving her own neighborhood of Roslindale Square as an example, they tend to have poor walking infrastructure. She added that transit is very important and was working on addressing some transit issues on the City Council. Earlier this month, the Council held a hearing in Hyde Park on commuter rail fare inequity and urged the T to keep late night service.
Fiandaca said that the BTD was including walkability in its plans for Go Boston 2030, the city transportation plan being developed. She said the City has also committed to Vision Zero. She said that there were 79 pedestrian and cycling deaths between 2010 and 2014.
Tye said that he parking minimums replaced with maximums. He said that when his company built the Woodland Station apartments, they ended up having to build 40-50 more spots than they needed. He also said that more developers should start charging for parking seperate from rent.
“If you want to buy a space, it runs $70,000 and up,” he said.
Randi Lathrop, the president of RG Lathrop Consulting and the moderator of the panel askeed them what they would do with unlimited resources.
Fiandaca said she would upgrade the Silver Line to be gold-standard bus rapid tansit and redesign major streets to slow traffic.
Tye said that with money as no object he would give it to the commissioner. When pressed he said he would buiild a great streetcar system and repair MBTA cars.
“In a perfect world, the MBTA would be completely free,” Wu said.
She added that BRT to Mattapan Station, signal priority and rezoning the entire city were on her wishlist.
The attendance of real estate professionals and the presence of Boston’s elected and appointed officials bode well for the plights of the pedestrians and cases of cyclists in the city.