Let’s boost transit-oriented development

Developing housing near transportation is a smart move for all

I WAS RECENTLY honored to accept an award on behalf of the Commonwealth Housing Task Force for our work with respect to transit-oriented development.  Anyone who has seen all the changes which have occurred in Boston in the past few decades understands that there is a direct relationship between property values and proximity to public transit.

This is not a new trend.  Recently, I saw a photograph of the Ashmont tunnel being constructed in the 1920s to extend the Dorchester branch of the Red Line to its current terminus.  What was then called “rapid transit” changed that section of Dorchester where I grew up.

Not long after the train line was authorized, a developer bought the old Codman Farm west of Ashmont, and started constructing two-family homes, given that people could now walk down the hill to Ashmont Station and find their way downtown to go to work.  Conversations about the new houses were as much a part of growing up in Dorchester Lower Mills as comparing notes about the smell of the chocolate from the Baker Chocolate Factory or even imagining why Saint Gregory’s Church burned down at the end of the 19th century.

These days, every time I take the Orange Line, I thank Fred Salvucci and Mike Dukakis and all the people who worked hard so that we now have transit rather than a highway running through Jamaica Plain. Good Lord knows what Jamaica Plain would be like today had plans gone through for the proposed Southwest Expressway, which would have carved a path through the neighborhood. Now, on Lamartine Street where the highway would have run, there is a million dollar condo for sale. Opposing the highway was one of my very early political battles.  I have no regrets whatsoever.

Next will be the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford, which will bring transit service to tens of thousands of people whose jobs are in booming East Cambridge and downtown Boston. The planned West Station commuter rail stop in Allston is also important. Perhaps, as a state, we may even be able to get our act together and extend commuter rail from Middleborough/Lakeville towards Fall River and New Bedford.

The older I get, the more frustrated I am whenever I am behind the wheel of a car, especially when traffic is heavy, which seems to be most all of the time.

The solution is simple: Make transit more accessible; make pricing more reasonable. Be sure that patrons of the Indigo Line on the commuter rail, which runs through Dorchester and Mattapan, of which I have written previously, do not get forgotten, left behind, or treated as second class citizens.

None of us should be stuck in the ways of the past which limit what mode of transportation goes where.  Train tracks often are the shortest distance between two points.  That’s why they make sense for the movement of people.

What is fascinating about the current era is that so many young people do not have a driver’s license and have no interest in obtaining one.  (How different this is than for those of us who grew up in the years after World War II.) I don’t blame them. Why spend thousands of dollars to purchase and insure an automobile when one can get where one wants to go via public transportation, bicycle, Uber/Lyft, or on foot just as easily?

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Let’s hope that in the coming year a consensus develops that may offer greater incentives for housing to be developed where people want to live, and which will help keep cars off our highways.  Perhaps the proposed Airbnb fee can help finance such housing near transit stations. That is just one idea. No matter how we achieve it, it’s time to get smart about harnessing the power of transit to help spur needed housing development, reduce our regional reliance on cars, and revive urban neighborhoods.

Lawrence S. DiCara is a partner at Nixon Peabody and former president of the Boston City Council.