October 19, 2018

On October 4th, A Better City and Meridian Food Market installed East Boston’s first public outdoor café on an underused corner plaza at the intersection of London and Meridian streets.

During the development of the Public Realm Plan for Go Boston 2030, A Better City identified the need for more tables and chairs in public spaces for public use.  Through our Wicked Streets program, early this year A Better City partnered with the City of Boston, East Boston Main Street, Meridian Food Market, and Sammy Carlo’s Delicatessen to pilot a new model of outdoor café, one that is privately managed but open to the general public. Our staff worked closely with the Boston Public Improvement Commission in designing the floor plans, selecting the outdoor furniture, and drafting liability agreements for two public cafes. The latter with support from the law firm Nutter, McClennen, & Fish LLP.

The three picnic tables and patio umbrellas in Meridian Street have been well-received by the local community. A second public outdoor café is coming to the sidewalk in front of Sammy Carlo’s Delicatessen at the intersection of Bennington and Moore streets.

Outdoor Cafe


AFC 2.0: Updated MBTA Payment Options Are On the Way
September 17, 2018

In 2015, A Better City completed research on a unified payment system for the MBTA in order to help guide their migration to a fully-automated fare collection process across all MBTA transit modes (bus, subway and commuter rail.) With a fully automated and unified system, the MBTA can potentially include other transit options such as RTAs (Regional Transportation Authority), bike share and more.


Excitingly, the MBTA is now in the process of rolling out this new fare program titled Automated Fare Collection 2.0 (AFC 2.0.) This new system will allow the agency to better integrate payment on commuter rail and all of the other modes riders may utilize to make their commute (bus, subway, ferry). The agency expects to have the technology fully implemented in 2021. At that time, they are looking to adjust fare structures, taking advantage of this technology's more dynamic pricing capabilities. 


With AFC 2.0, you'll be able to tap and board at any door with a fare card, smartphone, or contactless credit card. Reload using cash or credit card at vending machines at all stations and some bus stops, or go online to manage your account 24 hours a day.


It is early days in the implementation process and A Better City is happy to represent our membership on the implementation policy working groups and advisory committees. Initial consumer-facing rollout will begin in May 2020 with system-wide implementation expected by May 2021. Please let us know if you have any question or would like more information on this project.



By: Kathryn . . .


Boston’s Progress in Responding to Climate Change
August 13, 2018

The City of Boston has taken significant steps in the last few years to respond to projected climate impacts – both on the mitigation side and the adaptation side.

The city released the Climate Ready Boston report, October 2017, identifying the climate projections that will be most impactful to the city: extreme temperatures, extreme precipitation; relative sea level rise; and coastal storm.  By quantifying these impacts, the report also identified the most vulnerable Boston neighborhoods and developed a set of resilience initiatives to increase Boston’s ability to thrive in the face of them. Since that time, the City has been working with these vulnerable neighborhoods to develop climate resilience plans. These have been completed for East Boston and Charlestown, work is underway for Moakley Park, and the final plan for South Boston is very near completion.

On the mitigation side, Mayor Walsh launched Carbon Free Boston in November 2017 as the City’s next step to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. This initiative aims to analyze the policy and technology options for achieving this goal in four key sectors: electric power, buildings, transportation, and waste.  The analysis will inform the City’s next Climate Action Plan update, expected to begin by the end of 2018.

At A Better City’s energy and environment focused September Board meeting we will take a deeper dive into the City’s climate initiatives focusing specifically on the building sector work underway for the Carbon Free Boston initiative and the Climate Ready South Boston resilience plan.

Christopher Cook, recently appointed Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space at the City of Boston will introduce these two initiatives now under his purview.

Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE), a partner on the Carbon Free Boston project, is currently modeling policies and technologies to meet the City’s emissions reductions targets. . . .


Commonwealth Avenue Bridge Replacement: The Final Phase
July 11, 2018

On Thursday night, July 26 the next phase of work that will result in the replacement of the Commonwealth Avenue bridge over the Turnpike will begin with the closure of through traffic on Commonwealth Avenue followed by the temporary replacement of Boston College Branch Green Line service with shuttle buses between Blandford Street and Babcock Street.  In 2017, the bridge carrying inbound lanes of Commonwealth Avenue and the MBTA line over the Turnpike were replaced.  This year the outbound lanes of Commonwealth Avenue will be replaced in much the same manner.  One major difference is that the BU Bridge will be closed for all motor vehicles because there will be no bridge for traffic to connect to until work is completed by August 11.

Every other Friday morning since early May, the Transportation Management Working Group, convened by MassDOT, has been meeting to review strategies and tactics for completing the work and ensuring continued convenience and safety for the public.  The group reviewed a broad range of aspects of this work from maintain transit service, to deployment of police details at critical intersections, to allowing access for local businesses and residents.  No consideration was too small.  At a recent meeting, plans were made to deploy bike riders and observers to determine the travel time from bus stops to destinations to prepare wayfinding signs with accurate walk and biking times.

Like last year, lane reductions will be imposed on Turnpike traffic to allow safe demolition of the existing bridge structure and installation of girders and decking overhead in the period from July 27 to August 6.  Commuter rail service to and from Worcester and Amtrak service to and from Albany will be replaced by bus shuttles on the weekends of July 28-29 and August 4-5.  Turnpike ramps at the Allston Interchange will be closed much of the time, and MBTA bus routes #47 and CT-2 will detour on other routes to avoid the area.  The . . .


The State Tackles Important Transportation Projects in Capital Plan Update for FY2019-2023 But Still Misses a Few Key Pieces
June 12, 2018

We all understand that our growing economy cannot thrive, expand and provide opportunity if our transportation system cannot move people and goods efficiently. In fact, numerous recent reports have highlighted this connection. In A Better City’s “Transportation Dividend” report from February 2018, we found that our transit system provides an $11.4 billion annual return on a $2 billion annual investment and identified key regional growth centers where future transportation needs are unmet. As a result of these findings, we, and others, have urged the state to address funding, management and project shortfalls that could impede our current economic growth trajectory.

One of the most important ways the Commonwealth illustrates its priorities is with its capital planning processes. The MassDOT board just approved an updated Capital Investment Plan (CIP) for FY2019-2023 and, given the important influence that transportation investment has on our economy, we are pleased to see many significant projects included and underway in this CIP including: the Green Line Extension, Red/Orange Line Upgrades and Automated Fare Collection (AFC) 2.0, among others. We appreciate the Administration’s push to move these forward and begin their implementation.

The Green Line Extension is a key part of the Artery Tunnel Project mitigation efforts and Automated Fare Collection will allow MBTA users to move seamlessly between modes of transit (bus, commuter rail, subway) and also make a big step toward full Bus Rapid Transit implementation by allowing for all-door boarding on system buses. These projects have been priorities for A Better City for many years and we are pleased with this progress.

Furthermore, we are encouraged to see $103.4 million allocated for DMA replacement vehicles, which we expect will serve a Silver Line currently running at 128% . . .


Silver Line Gateway Helps Chelsea to Become More Connected
April 26, 2018

On April 21, 2018 the MBTA initiated SL3 service in the new Silver Line Gateway corridor in Chelsea.  The concept emerged from the Urban Ring Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report in 2008 and has been advanced by many advocates before and since, leading to construction of Phase 1 in the corridor by MassDOT beginning in 2015.  The new service provides enhanced bus service, in a dedicated right-of-way for part of the route connecting from Bellingham Square in the heart of Chelsea to the MBTA Blue Line at Airport Station in less than 15 minutes and to South Station via the Seaport District in as little as 25 minutes, which is much faster that any of the other bus routes serving Chelsea.

These connections provide this improved service to residents of Chelsea, to employees of the many blue collar and white collar establishments in the area, and even for users of the Newburyport/Rockport Commuter Rail in the North Shore connecting from the Chelsea rail station to South Boston and the Financial District.

These benefits help this wide range of users and enhance access to property in Chelsea that includes health care facilities for Massachusetts General Hospital, the new FBI Boston office, and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, all located in the part of the city leveled by a huge fire in 1973. 

The improved access would not have been possible without a series of public investments that have become part of the Silver Line Gateway corridor starting with the Ted Williams Tunnel opened in 1995, the Silver Line tunnel from South Station to South Boston, the new Chelsea Street lift bridge, and the Martin Coughlin Bypass Road in East Boston.  Connection to the new Airport MBTA Station is also part of this chain of incremental investments that makes this corridor the newest addition the transportation . . .


Publication Release and Event: Harnessing the Power of Energy Storage in Boston’s Commercial Buildings
April 04, 2018

Energy storage has come to the attention of building owners around the country because of the cost savings it delivers, as well as the range of services and benefits it can provide to facilities and the broader electric grid. Energy storage deployment has grown exponentially in the United States over the past several years. Continued rapid growth is anticipated as the market is estimated to grow to nine times its current size over the next five years.[1] Storage deployment has been driven by policies, incentives, and cost declines for certain battery chemistries. Many businesses are benefiting from this growth, in terms of both cost savings and energy resiliency.

Massachusetts is on the verge of capturing the benefits of storage as the factors that have allowed California and New York to support vibrant storage market growth are now—or will soon be—present in Massachusetts. Both California and New York have high commercial demand charges; those within metro Boston can be equally high and make up most of a building’s electric bill. A common metric used to determine the cost-effectiveness of battery energy storage for demand-charge management is $15/kilowatt (kW). In Boston, demand charges can often exceed this number. [2],


April 03, 2018

Every year, the United States produces around 250 million tons of municipal solid waste—a number that has tripled since the year 1960 (EPA). In light of increasing knowledge about the negative environmental, economic and public health impacts of our overflowing landfills, many cities are beginning to set ambitious goals to reduce their total waste generation and increase the percentage diverted from landfill. Cities from New York to San Francisco and Minneapolis to Austin have committed to going “Zero Waste” (often defined as diverting at least 95% of non-hazardous waste from landfill, without the use of incineration).

In 2014, Boston included a Zero Waste goal as part of its Climate Action Plan Update; this year, the planning process to achieve that goal began. Boston has officially launched its Zero Waste Advisory Committee (ZWAC), which will consider a variety of actions and strategies for Boston to become a Zero Waste city by 2050. The ZWAC includes Residential and Institutional, Commercial, & Industrial (ICI) Subcommittees to address waste reduction and diversion from both sectors.

As a member of the ICI Subcommittee, A Better City wants to keep you informed about the process and provide opportunities to get involved. At our recent Sustainable Buildings Initiative meeting, participants heard from the City about plans already in place, such as the plastic bag ordinance (taking effect in December) and use of the ZW International Alliance’s definition of “zero waste.” We learned about some challenges in the recycling market, both at a local level (such as the recent closure of the Ardagh glass facility) and an international level (with . . .


Allston I-90 "540 Comments"
March 05, 2018

“Comments expressing an opinion on the Throat Area alternatives heavily favored the at-grade alternative conceptualized by A Better City.”  So said the MEPA Certificate signed by Secretary of Energy and Environment Matthew Beacon that summarizes the responses to the Draft Environmental Impact Report prepared for the I-90 Allston Interchange.  MEPA received 540 comments on the 600 page report, demonstrating a high level of interest not only among the agencies and organizations focused on the project, but among members of the public who live near the site primarily in Allston, Cambridge, and Brookline.

The overall site is located at a bend in the Charles River and is currently owned by Harvard University.  The “Throat Area” is the 1,200 foot long, 220 foot wide corridor between the edge of the river and the property line of Boston University.  The overall site accommodates eight Turnpike travel lanes – part of the way on a viaduct that is deteriorating, four lanes of Soldiers Field Road, multiple lanes of major streets and ramps that connect these streets to and from the Turnpike, narrow bike and pedestrian paths, two active rail tracks between South Station and Worcester (and beyond), tracks that connect rail systems north and south of the river and provide freight service, an abandoned rail yard, and acres of very accessible land with the potential to provide that “once in a generation” opportunity to build something grand.

Last year, the toll booths at the Allston Interchange were removed and were replaced by All Electronic Toll gantries near the BU Bridge and west of Cambridge Street.  The former rail yard tracks have been removed, and soon the spur that supports rail deliveries to the Houghton Chemical plant will be removed allowing the present Turnpike curve to be straightened a bit, and opening the opportunity for a flat and . . .


The Transportation Dividend: Transit Investments and the Massachusetts Economy
February 12, 2018

As home to America’s first subway, Boston has been a transit-oriented city for more than a century. In fact, much of our regional economic success is due to the connectivity that a transit system provides. It is no coincidence that the area served by the MBTA houses almost 70 percent of the state’s population, offers 74 percent of the jobs, and generates 84 percent of Massachusetts’s gross domestic product. The MBTA is the backbone of our economy and any successful strategy for continued growth and prosperity for the region must begin with smart investment in this system.

Luckily, the calculus is straightforward as the benefits from our transit system far outweigh the costs we dedicate to support it. A new report from A Better City, made possible through support from both the Barr Foundation and The Boston Foundation, measured the MBTA’s performance and economic impact. It found that through travel time and cost savings, vehicular crashes avoided and reduced auto emissions, the MBTA provides an estimated $11.4 billion in value to Greater Boston each year for both transit users and non-users alike. Boston residents experience all of these benefits from the T’s annual operating budget of approximately $2 billion.

The report also considered the alternative, examining what would it cost if our transit system did not exist. Our economy would require the capital cost of nearly 2,300 additional lane miles of roads and 400,000 more parking spaces. If we needed to build that today, the cost for this vehicular infrastructure would be over $15 billion. The MBTA is a bargain today and for the future.



At more than five times the return on investment, the choice to finance the maintenance, improvement and expansion of MBTA operations within the 164 communities of metro Boston is clearly worth it. Unfortunately, the . . .