Guest Op-Ed: Everett Leading the Way on Mobility

By Mayor Carlo DeMaria

Not quite three years ago, on a cold morning in early December, I directed my DPW and parking staff to begin placing orange cones down the side of Broadway, kicking off what was meant to be a week-long experiment to speed up the rides of thousands of Everett residents taking the bus each day to work and school. The Broadway bus lane was so successful that week that we quickly made it permanent and it has operated nearly every day since. Successful because over half of all people moving down Broadway during rush hour are on a bus and more Everett residents are on a bus during those hours than are in cars on Broadway. We were the first City in the Boston region to give priority to bus riders in this way. With a half dozen projects in Boston, Cambridge, Arlington and Somerville launching since then, Everett started a revolution. Cities from around the country and beyond have looked to us for guidance with their own similar projects.

But what we really did that morning was to no longer look at our transportation problems as a congestion problem, but a MOBILITY problem. Because, after all, whether you’re trying to get to work, to school, or to your favorite lunch or coffee spot, what’s most important is your ability to get there quickly and efficiently, not whether you drove, rode a bike, walked, or took the bus.  Using mobility as a lens we are continuing to lead the way locally and regionally. The success of the Broadway bus lane is now developing into a vision and action plan to develop gold standard Bus Rapid Transit all the way down Broadway. Fast frequent bus service running in unobstructed lanes from Malden to downtown Boston.  My own advocacy with Mayor Walsh in Boston on this issue has led to a commitment for inclusion of bus lanes on Rutherford Avenue in Charlestown as part of a major reconstruction effort beginning in the next few years. In Everett, we’re working with MassDOT and Encore Boston Harbor to include dedicated bus lanes through Sweetser Circle and down Lower Broadway as part of future redevelopment efforts. We’re also beginning design this winter on an extension of the Silver Line bus rapid transit system from Chelsea, through Everett to Sullivan Square. Commutes that today take 45 minutes or more from Everett to Boston would be reduced to as little as 15 minutes.

Regional advocacy is key. And in addition to working with Mayor Walsh, I am working closely with the mayors of Lynn, Revere and Chelsea as well as our state Sen. Sal DiDominco and Rep. Joe McGonagle, who also sits on the state transportation committee, to ensure that proposed investments in the Commuter Rail system benefit our communities. I’m happy to announce that thanks to our advocacy efforts, the MBTA Fiscal Control Board last week committed to making the Newburyport/Rockport one of the first that will have frequent, affordable, electrically powered trains between Lynn and Boston. These trains will run every 15 minutes, include a new stop in Everett and cost the same as an MBTA subway ride.

One of the most difficult issues not only to discuss, but also change, is our City’s parking policies. However, the decisions we make with regard to parking will have some of the biggest effects on congestion, affordability and quality of life. Parking is one of the most expensive and lease efficient uses of land in an urban area such as ours. A single space can cost upwards of $50,000 to construct and under our current zoning, take up as much as 50 percent of available land area on a developed lot, eliminating green space or opportunities for local businesses and creation of local jobs. And yet our current zoning requires far more parking to be constructed than we actually use. Though our zoning requires two spaces per residential unit, a recent Metropolitan Area Planning Council study found that, on average, fewer than 0.8 spaces per unit are actually used. That same study also found that the biggest predictor of parking utilization was the availability of parking itself. In other words, the more parking you build, the more cars that will come.

We must acknowledge that one of the biggest contributors to traffic congestion is the over-construction of parking. We must also acknowledge that existing parking requirements are currently the biggest obstacle to creating affordable housing, revitalizing our downtown districts, and providing a clean and healthy environment for all of our residents. To address this, my administration is undertaking a three-pronged approach to revise our parking policies, as well as provide better mobility options in its place. This winter we will be proposing a new parking ordinance that better reflects our needs and goals for the City. This will be guided by a Transportation Demand Management Ordinance that will allow and encourage developers to reduce, in some cases to zero, the number of parking spaces they are required to construct. In exchange, they will be required to join a Transportation Management Association that assists them with providing other mobility options. Depending on the size and scope of the development, or its proximity to transit, they may be required to offer discounted MBTA passes, a bike-share station, car sharing spaces or, in some cases, joining with other developers to operate a shuttle bus to nearby destinations or T stations. At the same time, our new parking policies will aim protect our existing neighborhoods by reducing or eliminating the availability of on-street parking permits to new developments, ensuring that parking on local streets is preserved for those who have come to depend on it.

I am proud that in Everett we are placing people and quality of life over cars and easy parking. We are prioritizing the ability to create affordable housing and a clean environment for our most vulnerable residents, and we are choosing to be a world-class city, rather than a second-class suburb.

Carlo DeMaria is the Mayor of Everett.

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