Boston planners tap commuters to shape ideas for 2030

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BOSTON – Every work day, Fort Hill resident Juan Ramos makes his way to his desk at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge by taking a 40-minute ride, starting on the Orange Line subway and transferring to the Red Line at Downtown Crossing. Heading home, he takes the No. 1 bus from the start of the line to the end.

“The fact that I solely depend on public transportation, that’s the reason why I moved to Boston and why I remain here,” said Ramos, who came to the city to attend school in 1997. “I chose not to learn how to drive.”

His time-consuming commute to travel about 4 miles each way is one of many endured daily by Bostonian and suburban commuters to the city. In an effort to improve transportation and mobility in the Hub, planners in the Go Boston 2030 campaign began an outreach effort called Share Your Trip in collaboration with the Boston Transportation Department. By accompanying people on their daily commutes, planners could hear what those individuals want from public transportation in the future as the map out the city’s needs over the next 15 years.

“For the people who work at the city, it’s been pretty powerful. The people who were part of any given trip definitely learned a lot,” said Alice Brown, the project manager for Go Boston 2030. “For some of them, they were going way out of their normal commute or commute pattern… and it was really powerful to see how someone else travels.”

The Share Your Trip program was only one part of an effort by planners to gather ideas. Others have included a two-day discussion with hundreds of commuters, a “question truck” that visited various city neighborhoods, and an online platform where people can make suggestions.

Outreach methods like these are appreciated by people who prefer to avoid public gripe sessions.

“Those after-school meetings, those community meetings people don’t often have time to go to or they don’t want to sit there for two to three hours when people are shouting, shouting at your face because they disagree with you,” said Angela Johnson, a Jamaica Plain resident and bicycle commuter who participated in a Share Your Trip. She regularly rides to work downtown and at the time to a  property management company in the Faneuil Hall area.

For Gina Fiandaca, the Boston Transportation Department commissioner, sharing the commute with a disabled city resident was an eye-opening experience.

“We take it for granted that we can just walk out our door and get on public transit or in our car or on our bicycle – a lot of people can’t do that,” Fiandaca said. “You see that there are a lot of opportunities here to improve mobility.”

For Chris Osgood, the city’s chief of streets, commuting with someone who has a multi-modal way of getting to work helped sharpen his sense of the importance of predictability. He also gained insights into the importance of the quality of the commuting experience, including even streetscapes.

“It was great for me to think of those elements, of what we need to be thinking about in our plan,” Osgood said.

Marah Holland, the health and wellness coordinator at Madison Park Corp. in Roxbury, wanted to take part so she could tell the story of that neighborhood, which she said typically gets overlooked when it comes to transportation planning.

“Sometimes these designs are made in City Hall and not necessarily taking into enough account the actual area and not really spending time here,” Holland said.

She said she hopes that whoever does end up doing the design for the Dudley Square area that they will spend time riding the bus, biking, walking and talking to residents in the neighborhood.

“I hope what Dudley Square turns into is what all the residents in the area hope that it will turn into,” she said.

Ramos said that while it’s good to see so many ideas being aired, it’s discouraging to think that implementing any of them may not occur for many years.

“Some of these changes we won’t be seeing until 2030 and that is kind of annoying,” he said. “But I’m going to be here to see that, that’s for sure.”