Let’s move on to flattening commute into Boston

Once in a lifetime opportunity to make big changes

THE COMMONWEALTH of Massachusetts and the city of Boston have come together in impressive fashion to address the COVID-19 crisis and flatten the curve.  As a lifelong resident of the state, I am reassured that the governor and mayor have prioritized our health and created an environment in which many residents are doing the same.  We have a unique opportunity to build on this leadership and collective action to fix the nightmare of commuting into and out of Boston.

I’ve commuted into the city from various neighborhoods in and around Boston for my entire career.  My first job was at 100 Federal Street, and I now work across the street at 75 Federal.  Along the way I’ve commuted to the Hurley Building in Government Center, Kendall Square, 60 State Street, 253 Summer Street, 101 Tremont Street, and several other downtown locations.  I love the energy of the city, the beauty of the Public Garden, the Boston Public Library, and the ocean breezes along the harbor walk.

But I definitely don’t love the commute to get there and get home again.  I alternate between driving and taking public transportation.  After years of experimentation with routes, schedules, driving, and taking the T, I’ve concluded that all the options are dreadful, just in different ways.

Once people start returning to their offices, people who have a choice and worry about crowds may choose to drive instead of taking the T.  It’s hard to imagine that driving into Boston could get worse than it was, but it could happen.  The three-hour commutes we experienced during the snowy winter of 2015 suggest that people will drive to work under extremely trying circumstances.

Can we use this moment to develop a better path?  Driving around Boston these days, when many people are working from home, provides a tantalizing glimpse of a different future.  Several cities have already closed major streets to cars to allow more room for bikes and walkers.  The Centers for Disease Control recommends staggered shifts to reduce the number of people in an office at any one time.  The MBTA was already considering expanded bus lanes.  The options seem limitless.

Meet the Author
Could the governor, the mayor, the MBTA, and transportation experts build on this new platform of public health and civic engagement to make permanent changes in how we commute to and from the city?  I’m no transportation expert, but this seems like a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to make a lasting change that will improve the lives of anyone in Greater Boston who travels to the city and back.

Alexandra Schweitzer grew up in Cambridge and now lives in Lexington.  She started commuting into Boston as a high school student and has worked in the city for most of her career.  She’s a Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School and a consultant in integrated social and medical care management.