August 2013 Advocacy Activities

The CNU New England Advocacy Committee is continuing its efforts efforts over the summer to promote sustainable urbanism in the Boston area in particular. For more information on the Advocacy Committee and how to get involved, please see the advocacy page on the CNUNE website.

Development Projects

Logan Nash and Lisa Gluckstein of the CNU New England Advocacy Committee were recently involved in the public approvals process for the 40 Trinity project, a 33-story, mixed-use project in the Back Bay. The members met with Jordan Warshaw, a developer with Saunders Hotel Group, and discussed the project, its benefits to local urbanism, and its current status in the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approval process. After reviewing the Draft Project Impact Report, the committee determined that the project was thoughtfully developed in accordance with New Urbanist principles and of an appropriate density and scale for its placement in the heart of Back Bay, near Copley Square. Lisa attended the BRA Scoping Session, and Logan and Lisa participated in the public meeting on July 30th. The committee is expressing CNUNE's stance that the project promotes high-density, pedestrian-oriented development that will have positive city-wide impacts in a letter of support, which will be submitted to the BRA.

The committee hopes to undertake similar project-specific advocacy efforts in the future, working to provide constructive criticism on projects in order to assert CNUNE's position as a credible advocate for responsible urban development in the Boston area. Logan and Lisa are currently investigating projects where CNUNE can be involved at an earlier stage to provide input on projects affecting the built environment. The committee is also looking into projects that could fold into a future CNUNE program or event.

Green Line Safety

The Advocacy Committee has been exploring the safety implications of the MBTA's proposed implementation of a Positive Train Control (PTC) on the Green Line. While only a light-rail system, the Green Line provides very high frequency transit service to some of the most densely populated and regionally significant areas of Boston's urban core. However, it is currently manually controlled by drivers, and as a result has suffered a few high-profile collisions that have attracted the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which have recommended the installation of an automated PTC system to improve overall safety. However, a PTC system would require longer headways than those in use under the current driver-controlled system. Without other major capacity improvements, this would result in decreased Green Line capacity on this significant transit asset, which is already overcrowded.

The implementation of a PTC system, and its negative effects on Green Line capacity, will force more people to drive as an alternative. While this is obviously detrimental to the goal of a dense, sustainable, and transit-friendly urban core, it may actually reduce transportation safety. Statistically, driving is much more dangerous that traveling by public transit. In effect, efforts to improve overall safety through a PTC system could reduce overall safety for areas served by the Green Line by making transit less convenient and, consequently, encouraging driving. 

We are currently compiling data from the MBTA, MassDOT, and MAPC to compare rates of fatality per vehicle mile traveled for each mode of transportation. It is clear that fatality rates will be significantly higher per car VMT, and we are working to complete that analysis. We also are considering how to estimate the number of people who might switch from public transit to car given the decrease in Green Line efficiency, which is another crucial figure for the analysis.

Our goal for this project is to encourage the MBTA to reconsider an expensive PTC system as an improvement to overall safety. This research may also have implications for FTA's national policy focus on transit safety. The marginal benefits to safety of focusing on the topic narrowly may in fact be less than if the US Department of Transportation focused on shifting more drivers onto relatively safer transit service.