Spotlight Team takes on congestion

The Boston Globe Spotlight Team, the same group that exposed corruption within the Catholic Church, turned its focus on Greater Boston traffic congestion on Tuesday. The first story in a three-part series rattled off a long list of dismal traffic statistics, but its real strength was in framing the issue in a way that helps you understand why we’re literally stuck in traffic and what we need to do about it.

“The question is now front and center: Can Greater Boston continue to thrive — or even function — without fundamentally rethinking its relationship to the car? And the answer is as inconvenient as it is true: Not for long,” says the report.

The first installment of the series targets political leaders, the second will focus on businesses, and the third will deal with Uber and Lyft. But the story forces all of us to look in the mirror. 

“The blame for our car-first culture extends beyond elected officials or the entrenched political establishment to corporate boardrooms and, in the end, to each of us. Ultimately every time we get behind the wheel, we must come to terms with a simple truism: We are traffic. And we are stuck in place.”

Still, it wouldn’t be a Spotlight Team report if it didn’t rake pols over the coals, and many of them come under fire for legislating the way they live. Senate President Karen Spilka of Ashland lives a mile from a commuter rail station but infrequently uses it. She receives a $15,000 commuting allowance from the state and uses campaign funds to lease an Audi Q5. 

House Speaker Robert DeLeo lives in Winthrop, pockets the $15,000 commuter allowance, and spends more campaign funds than any other lawmaker on rented Fords, gas, and tolls.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is portrayed as a politician who is slowly coming around to the idea that more dramatic action is needed to reduce congestion, but the Globe’s story fails to mention that he is feeling heat on the transportation front from Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, who has called for a fare-free MBTA.

Gov. Charlie Baker lives a 10-minute walk from a commuter rail station in Swampscott but has never ridden the train and didn’t ride the subway until September, nearly five years after taking office. The Spotlight Team credits Baker with making major investments in the T, but concludes his car-centric travel habits are mirrored in his transportation priorities. The Spotlight report notes he has overseen two transit fare increases, but costs associated with driving – tolls, registration fees, driver’s license fees, and inspection charges have remained frozen since he took office in 2015.

The Globe report seems to conclude that dedicated bus lanes and congestion pricing, as used in London and Stockholm, are approaches that Boston should explore. Walsh, initially opposed, is now interested. But don’t expect Baker to jump on the bandwagon. He dismissed London-style congestion pricing in August, pointing to the findings of a congestion report (page 9) by his own administration that concluded the London experiment was having mixed results.

The Spotlight Team said the governor’s congestion report got basic facts wrong and drew conclusions disputed by British officials. “They’re just lying. They’re just ignoring facts,” said former London mayor Ken Livingstone.

Stephanie Pollack, Baker’s transportation secretary, tells the Spotlight Team the London section of the Baker administration’s congestion report wasn’t meant to be the definitive research piece on London congestion pricing. She also notes that the London section wasn’t included in the “facts part” of the report.

Pollack, a former academic who once advocated for bold transportation initiatives, is now an acolyte for Baker’s incremental approach to change.  “I don’t see incrementalism as an insult,” Pollack said. “I see it as how you actually change things.”



The House is expected to vote on a distracted driving bill today, one that hews more closely to that chamber’s less expansive approach on traffic stops and racial profiling. (CommonWealth

Samuel Kling of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Lucas Stephens of the American Council of Learned Societies say Massachusetts should steer any new gas tax revenue to non-auto transportation uses rather than the “highway-industrial complex” of roadways that is the source of our mobility problems. (Boston Globe)

The Massachusetts Senate plans to vote Wednesday on a statewide ban on stores providing customers with plastic bags. (MassLive)


The communications director for Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno tried to call the president of the MGM casino while being detained by police for plucking lemons off a tree and hurling them through the kitchen and dining room of a restaurant at the casino. (MassLive)

Brookline may require that retail pot shops sell their wares on an appointment-only basis for at least two years, a move that would effectively mean no walk-in marijuana stores in the Boston area for now. (Boston Globe

Boston City Council Kim Janey and Mayor Marty Walsh have reached an agreement to revamp the city’s approval process for marijuana businesses, creating an independent board to review applications rather than having the process entirely controlled by the city administration. (Boston Globe)

Can Somerville’s Davis Square retain its character while soaring rents and developers apply pressure for change? (Boston Globe


Joe Battenfeld says President Trump may outsmart Democrats and take control of the narrative by calling Nancy Pelosi’s bluff and submitting written testimony to House impeachment investigators, just as he did with the Mueller investigation. (Boston Herald) But he admits that goes against any advice a lawyer would provide, a point underscored by the fact that House Democrats are now scrutinizing whether Trump lied in his answers to Mueller, a potential new front in their impeachment probe. (Washington Post)

Bob Woodward says the Trump impeachment inquiry is more narrowly focused than the sprawling investigation into President Nixon’s crimes. (WGBH) 


Peter Lucas pumps up Deval Patrick’s presidential bid, and congratulates himself for suggesting that the two-term governor run back in September. (Lowell Sun) Joan Vennochi says Patrick has a history of difficulty understanding that while in elected office there’s no such thing as taking action as a private citizen. (Boston Globe) Many are writing off Patrick’s late-entry bid, but after watching him for nearly 15 years David Bernstein writes, “wait until he gets on the stump.” (New York Times)

Elizabeth Warren’s evolution on health care issues has increasingly put her at odds with leaders of the state’s health care and pharmaceutical sectors. (Boston Globe)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial says the establishment of a super PAC affiliated with Gov. Charlie Baker could mean the end of the state Republican Party. If that happens, the editorial says, the Trump-loving wing of the party deserves all the blame.

Melissa Mazzeo calls for a recount in the Pittsfield mayor’s race, saying unauthorized persons had access to stored ballots. Linda Tyer, who won reelection by 529 votes, said she is confident in the integrity of the voting process. (Berkshire Eagle)

Former Fall River City Administrator Cathy Ann Viveiros, who announced a write-in campaign less than three weeks before the election, beat out indicted Mayor Jasiel Correia III in the final vote tally for second place. (Herald News)

Democrat and lobsterman John “Jack” Stanton launched his campaign for state Senate in the Plymouth & Barnstable District on Monday in perhaps the most Cape Cod setting ever — on a lobster boat during a nor’easter. (Cape Cod Times) 


A New Jersey developer is proposing to build a 207-unit apartment complex on the site of the former Phillips Old Colony House restaurant on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester. (Boston Herald)

Tenants in a 109-year-old Brockton building are facing doubled rents with new owner Igor Liberman, and eviction without cause prior to those rents even going into effect. (Brockton Enterprise) 

Massachusetts ranks first in the country for the percentage of single people 65 and older who face difficulty covering basic living expenses. (Boston Globe


Quincy school administrators say they want to retrofit a 53,000-square-foot building on Old Colony Avenue with therapy rooms, a sensory space, an adapted gym and a life-skills classroom to serve roughly 200 special needs students. (Patriot Ledger) 


Fallon Health of Worcester reports a $20 million operating loss. (Telegram & Gazette)


State officials defend a proposal to construct a temporary (10 years) bridge in the Charles River while the I-90 Allston interchange is being rebuilt. (CommonWealth)

T notes: Commuter rail on-time performance takes a dive … The Fiscal and Management Control Board approves a resolution urging the MBTA Pension Fund to invest all its money with the state’s Pension Reserves Investment Management Board….Winter is coming. (CommonWealth)

Uh oh. One of the MBTA’s vaunted new Orange Line cars derailed while moving slowly through the Wellington Train Yard. (Boston Herald)

Massachusetts is preparing to come into compliance with federal law and renumber highway exits over the next two years using a mileage system. (WCVB)

Almost half of America’s train engineers have driven a train that killed someone, which can be a traumatic experience for the engineer, and the number of deaths by train is climbing upward. (Philadelphia Inquirer


In an attempt to get the East Coast offshore wind industry back on track, Vineyard Wind and four other companies seeking to build wind farms off the New England coast agree to a standard configuration for their projects. Vineyard Wind apparently now believes the design that won the first offshore wind procurement in Massachusetts was a mistake. (CommonWealth)


A federal judge has dismissed one lawsuit filed by the former Suffolks Downs owner against Wynn Resorts, but there is lots of other litigation still pending related to the contentious decision awarding Wynn the Boston area casino license. (Boston Globe)

Home Grow Community is a new type of business that helps residents grow and harvest their own marijuana for $3,000 per year. (Gloucester Daily Times


The McClatchy Cos., publisher of the Miami Herald, the Charlotte Observer, and the Kansas City Star, is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. (Bloomberg)

Muckrock analyzes state legislatures and their positions on public records requests and zeroes in on Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma, where all records are off-limits to the public. 

Jim Braude excoriates White House advisor Stephen Miller for his large volume of correspondence with Breitbart, where he focused on race, including pitching racist conspiracy theories, and had nothing nice to say about racial minorities. (WGBH) 


Former state Sen. Susan Fargo of Lincoln. She was  77. (MetroWest Daily News)