Historic Move Towards a Modern and Clean Transportation Future
December 18, 2018

As we move into the new year, we are also moving into a new era of cleaner transportation for the Commonwealth and beyond. Today, Massachusetts and eight other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and Washington D.C. announced that they will implement a region-wide policy to create a modern, clean transportation system. This news is good for the environment and our health but is also a win for economic development and business.

With transportation now the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions both in the Commonwealth and in the country overall and climate change impacts already reaching our shores, we must move aggressively to curb emissions from this sector.

Luckily, with the announcement today, we have a coalition of the willing and a great model to follow. States in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have already demonstrated success with regional, market-based climate policy through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, the participating states have reduced power plant GHG emissions 40 percent[1] and generated over $2.9 billion in net economic benefits.[2] Similar cap-and-invest programs have also been implemented in California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy, as well as in Ontario, Quebec, and 36 countries across the world.


Request for Qualifications: Interim Pedestrian Plaza in Roslindale
December 13, 2018

Roslindale Village Main Street (RVMS) and local business owners have the vision to transform the north, short business section of Birch Street into a permanent, fully landscaped, and pedestrianized community space. A Better City has partnered with RVMS and the City of Boston to reclaim incrementally this segment of the street by closing it to vehicular traffic and installing a semi-permanent pedestrian plaza. 

A Better City is seeking a design consultant to produce an urban design proposal that would serve as the basis for the transformation of the north section of Birch Street into an interim pedestrian plaza. The contract will be with A Better City, but Roslindale Village Main Street and the City of Boston will be fully involved throughout the whole design process. As property owner for the right of way of Birch Street, the City of Boston will be providing funding for its installation. The construction process for this project will be put out to bid by the City of Boston after the design is finalized. 

Interested firms can find the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) by following this link. Responses preferred by January 8, 2019 at 11:59pm Eastern Time. The ideal contract start date is between January 28, 2019 – February 28, 2019.

Questions about this RFQ should be sent via email to Irene Figueroa-Ortiz at


Introduction to Boston’s Flood Resiliency Zoning Overlay District and Resiliency Design Guidelines - Recap
December 06, 2018

On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, A Better City’s Energy and Environment Unit held a meeting to introduce members to the planning underway by the City of Boston to develop resiliency design guidelines for a Flood Resiliency Zoning Overlay District. Rich McGuinness, Deputy Director for Climate Change and Environment Planning at the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), said the guidelines, at a very early stage of development, will build on the Sea Level Rise (SLR) – Flood Hazard Area map released as part of the Climate Resiliency-Review Policy Update in October 2017. This map, based on parcel level data, models future coastal flooding conditions due to a 1% annual storm event with 40" of SLR.  It provides new construction and retrofit projects in the Flood Hazard Area with a SLR - Base Flood Elevation (BFE) to build to, and existing buildings in this area, with projections on which to plan for climate impacts. 

Chris Busch, Senior Waterfront Planner, BPDA, then described the scope of the resiliency design guidelines being undertaken by Utile that will apply to commercial, institutional, and residential uses. It will evaluate best practices used in New York; Norfolk, Virginia; and New Orleans, and will also review existing overlay districts in Boston to address possible conflicts. The guidelines will include zoning requirements for height, lot coverage, and set back, among other requirements.

Some of the questions raised by attendees for the City to consider included: how to maintain egress when barriers to flooding are in place; how to account for the loss of potential rentable space after retrofitting; what changes there may be to building height limits; how affordable housing projects might be affected; what the implications to insurance might be; and what methods for financing district-wide adaptation would be available.

A question was . . .


Global Models for Commuter Rail - Recap
November 28, 2018

On November 14th, A Better City welcomed global transit experts to discuss lessons learned in reimagining and rebuilding regional rail systems as part of the Partners in Public Dialogue series at the Old South Meeting House.

Isabel Dedring – Former Deputy Mayor for Transport and Deputy Chair of Transport for London and current Global Transport Leader at A Better City member firm, Arup – and Anna Pace – Former Director of Project, Planning and Development for Toronto’s Metrolinx- joined Bruce Mohl – Editor of Commonwealth Magazine – for a conversation about what Metro Boston can learn from their experiences in transforming regional rail systems in London and Toronto.

Commuter rail service into and out of downtown Boston serves as a vital element in the region's economic success. As housing prices in the urban core continue to rise and as available land becomes scarcer, workers will look to live further and further from the city, all while continuing to effectively reach jobs in key inner core clusters. Furthermore, improved connectivity throughout the Metro Boston commuter rail region could unlock economic growth potential in Gateway Cities and other regional economic centers. The Massachusetts economy is driven by Metropolitan Boston. The 164-community region claims 69% of the state’s population, 74% of its jobs and generates 84% of its gross domestic product.[1]

Our commuter rail system touches this whole metro area and beyond with 388 route miles over 14 lines that move almost 130,000 people per day, or 10% of the MBTA systems ridership. This infrastructure, these right-of-ways and . . .


Governor's Future of Transportation Commission- Recap
October 23, 2018

In January of this year, Governor Baker announced the creation of a Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth to advise the Administration on future transportation needs and challenges. The Governor named 18 appointees to the Commission and charged them with developing a range of technology and transportation scenarios anticipated between 2020 and 2040, culminating in a report and recommendations to be delivered to the Governor by December 1, 2018.

We are encouraged by this focus on long-term visioning and planning. Transportation and infrastructure investments may be 20+ years in the making and subject to changing demographics, technologies and aspirations, but the visioning needs to be proactive and continuous.

An important part of this broader discussion is how Massachusetts chooses to approach the wave of emerging changes in transportation technology. It is easy to look to the future and be seduced by the seemingly apolitical promise of technology to guide us away from difficult policy decisions. But technology is not an antidote to public policy. While we are certainly in the midst of paradigm-shifting technological change, the future of transportation is not about technological disruptions that will happen to us; rather, it is about harnessing technological innovation to meet our common goals.

An efficient, equitable and modern transportation network is essential in order to meet our goals of maximizing economic vitality, prioritizing social equity, encouraging smart growth, improving public health, delivering a cleaner environment and maintaining a high quality of life. We must also recognize that we cannot build a transportation system that supports and advances our goals for the Commonwealth without behavior change. Travel mode, location choices, zoning, infrastructure and funding mechanisms have the ability to change people’s behavior. The good news is that behavioral choices are not immutable but rather . . .


North Washington Street Bridge Replacement
October 22, 2018

MassDOT, the City of Boston, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation are about to execute an agreement to construct a temporary bridge parallel to the existing span that is intended to reduce the overall construction period by six months.  The bridge will carry vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, and will support the temporary relocation of utilities.  Working out the details of this agreement has delayed the start of construction, but initial utility relocation is beginning in October 2018 during off peak hours and will continue for several months.  The contractor, JF White, is preparing a detailed construction schedule based on this new approach, with the anticipated schedule calling for construction to be completed by late 2023.

Use of a temporary bridge provides several benefits over the original construction concept which would have used portions of the existing, structurally deficient bridge in phases, and would have required reduction of traffic to one lane in each direction for a brief period.  The new plan will provide two inbound and one outbound lane throughout construction.  MassDOT is now preparing outreach plans, and we will schedule a briefing for members of A Better City in the near . . .


Allston I-90 Status Report
October 22, 2018

On September 26, the Independent Review Team established by Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack in June 2018 presented to the Task Force of stakeholders in Allston three alternatives for replacing the existing I-90 highway viaduct in the narrow “throat” of land between the Charles River and Boston University.  The three alternatives represented the Review Team’s 90 day effort to define the “best” options for a Highway Viaduct Alternative, an At-Grade Alternative, and a new Hybrid Alternative that combined an at-grade I-90 with an elevated Soldiers Field Road on a viaduct over the westbound lanes of the Turnpike.

The Highway Viaduct had been modified to simplify its structural supports to allow lanes of the eastbound Soldiers Field Road to be located under cantilevered lanes of I-90.  Three options were shown for the At-Grade Alternative to reduce the impact of the Paul Dudley White pedestrian and bicycle path on the bank of the Charles River.  In the Open House portion of the Task Force meeting, members of the Review Team expressed an opinion that even with the suggested measures to address permitting concerns indicated by regulators charged with enforcing the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, the At-Grade Alternative offered significant permitting risk.

During the discussion following presentation of the alternatives, a new approach to the At-Grade Alternative was suggested that would remove the Paul Dudley White path from overhanging any part of the river bank by placing it on an elevated “High Line” structure located over a portion of Soldiers Field Road.  This approach represents another hybrid concept that aims to avoid impacts on the bank while maintaining the largest transportation facilities on the ground, to provide the benefits of the At-Grade alternative including important pedestrian and bicycle connections across the corridor.

A Better City has prepared plans and cross sections of three . . .


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. . . .