Tackling traffic, fixing the T, and saving the planet

Innovation economy attempting to take on the challenge

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.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

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.