Tackling traffic, fixing the T, and saving the planet

The transportation challenges facing the Boston region have come to feel like an existential threat on more than one level. Business leaders, including Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce chief Jim Rooney, have sounded the alarm that roadway gridlock and a transit system that limps along from one problem to the next are threatening the regional economy. While drivers and MBTA riders gnash their teeth over commutes-from-hell, the transportation woes pose a far bigger existential threat, as they contribute mightily to increases in climate-changing carbon emissions.

Can some solutions to the fix we’re in come from the innovation economy, whose rapid growth is one of the pressure points that is stressing our transportation infrastructure? 

That’s the idea behind a new initiative the Globe’s Jon Chesto reports on. The Kendall Square Association, which represents the tech-heavy business community in the Cambridge innovation hub, has drawn together nearly 20 area employers to mount an 18-month campaign to brainstorm and test ideas to tackle the region’s transportation problems. The association’s CEO, C.A. Webb, highlighted the urgency of addressing transportation issues recently on The Codcast

One approach already in place by Kendall’s flagship institution that perhaps others will emulate: MIT underwrites the full cost of MBTA subway and bus passes for all 11,000 university employees. It’s not exactly the same as the call by Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu for free fares on the T — an idea Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone is getting behind — but it’s a variation on that theme designed to pump up transit ridership. 

The alternative to transit use for many workers is commuting by carbon-spewing automobile.  Today’s New York Times reports on a detailed national analysis by researchers at Boston University documenting changes in transportation emissions from 1990 to 2017. As the Times reports, transportation emissions from automobile and freight traffic represent the largest source of “planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in the United States today.”

Boston doesn’t look nearly as bad as regions like Dallas-Fort Worth, where emissions have been on an upward tear, but we’re still adding to the problem. The report finds that total transportation emissions in the Boston area rose 24 percent during the study period, while per capita emissions increased 6 percent, meaning the overall increase was not due to population growth alone. 

It’s a grim picture, made only worse by current efforts by the Trump administration to roll back efficiency standards for US vehicles, a move that “could significantly increase future emissions from America’s cars and trucks.”

The Baker administration wants to take on emissions through a regional initiative that would set a cap on gasoline and diesel fuel emissions, to be reduced annually, and auction emission allowances to wholesalers, a cost that would presumably be passed on to consumers at the pump. 

The Transportation Climate Initiative, still in the formative stage, is one way to come at the problem. The new Kendall Square transportation project may generate many more ideas. The good news is that the solutions to the regional transportation challenge and to the climate-changing emissions crisis are on two sides of the same coin.  

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Conservative watchdogs slammed the Baker administration for spending $1.1 million so far on an outside firm reviewing missteps at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, saying the state auditor or inspector general could have been asked to carry out the probe. (Boston Herald)

Attorney General Maura Healey explains in an op-ed why she’s pressing forward with a lawsuit against the Sackler family despite the bankruptcy filing by Purdue Pharma. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Worcester Planning Board gives the necessary approvals for construction of Polar Park to begin. (Telegram & Gazette)

After six years on the job, recently embattled Dracut town manager Jim Duggan abruptly resigned from his position on Wednesday (Lowell Sun) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Speaking in New Hampshire, Joe Biden calls for President Trump’s impeachment and says Trump has tried to muddy him up because he’s fearful of losing next year’s election to the former VP. (Boston Globe

US Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey seek answers on sick immigrant medical program, which was canceled and then reinstated, but with no confirmation yet to those affected. (CommonWealth)

Members of the Boston area Kurdish community gathered in front of the State House to protest Trump’s decision to greenlight Turkey’s attack on Kurdish forces in northern Syria who had been US allies in the fight against ISIS. (WBUR)

ELECTIONS

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito keeps on helping Rep. Shaunna O’Connell in her run for mayor of Taunton. (CommonWealth)

Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan slams the coverage claiming Elizabeth Warren has lied about being sent packing from her job as a special education teacher in New Jersey because she was pregnant. Joan Vennochi says she believes Warren — because she had a similar experience. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Corporation Counsel Joseph Macy, at the request of Fall River City Council Vice President Pam Laliberte-Lebeau, says the city will not comply with the state’s request to recertify local marijuana agreements. (Herald News)

Two Boston area women who say they were raped by Lyft drivers are part of a national lawsuit against the ride-hailing company. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Jeff Riley, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, is looking to the Gates School in Scituate for inspiration as he pushes project-based learning. (Patriot Ledger)

Five students playing on a Lowell elementary school playground were shot by BB guns, wielded apparently by three males who fired away indiscriminately. (MassLive) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Boston Public Health Commission confirmed a case of measles in the city on Wednesday — the first time since 2013 that a city resident has been diagnosed with the highly contagious virus, officials said. (WGBH)

Drug industry officials are pushing back against calls for reining in prices in the wake of a report that said pharmaceutical spending went up by 5.8 percent in 2018, 3.6 percent after rebates. (State House News)

A report by the Boston-based Institute for Clinical and Economic Review  ranked the costliest drug price increases that are not supported by clinical evidence, and put Humira from AbbVie at the top of the list. Edward M. Murphy has repeatedly raised questions about the pricing of Humira. (CommonWealth)

TRANSPORTATION 

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone says it’s time for radical action at the MBTA, including consideration of making the transit system free. (CommonWealth)

CRRC MA is facing two threats. It needs more business, and the T’s decision to buy commuter rail passenger cars from a South Korean company didn’t help. Second, pressure is building in Washington to ban the use of federal funds for transit equipment built by CRRC. Springfield lawmakers, briefed on the situation, say the company is warning it could close in 2024. (MassLive)

A Boston man was arrested for beating up and robbing a man at the Ashmont T station on Wednesday at 5 p.m.. Video accompanies the story. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Samples from a pile of discarded artificial turf in Franklin tested positive for toxic chemicals, a potentially alarming finding considering the widespread installation of artificial fields at playgrounds and school fields across the country. (Boston Globe

National Grid unveiled the largest battery storage project in the Northeast, with hopes that the project can help make the Nantucket’s electric supply system more reliable and resilient. (Cape Cod Times) 

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Theory Wellness begins harvesting its first crop of marijuana at a Sheffield farm, demonstrating that pot can be grown outdoors in Massachusetts. (Berkshire Eagle)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Plymouth County district attorney’s office says state medical examiner’s office has ruled a murder-suicide claimed the lives of a family of five in Abington earlier this week. (Brockton Enterprise) 

A Boston Herald editorial criticizes Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins’s decision to end his contract with ICE to hold those arrested on immigration charges. 

A third inmate in five months has died while awaiting trial in Bristol County jail, but district attorney Thomas Quinn III’s office says it does not suspect foul play. (Standard-Times)

Lynnfield firefighter John H. Walsh acknowledges he walked naked into a convenience store in Rhode Island and agrees to do 10 hours of community service work and donate $500 to charity. (Daily Item)

MEDIA

Ken Doctor says to expect the new Gannett (the merged entity of Gannett and GateHouse) to shed 10 percent of its workforce, or about 3,000 workers, most of them outside newsrooms. (Nieman Journalism Lab)