Transforming Transportation Systems

Boston is tackling inequity by improving mobility

Boston has designed a major transportation project that addresses gaps in economic and racial equity, thereby better integrating vulnerable communities into the economy and life of the city and making it stronger and more resilient against future shocks and stresses.

From gondolas overhead to subways underground, from ferries to bus-rapid-transit to self-driving electric cars, new modes of transportation can have profound effects on a city. Likewise, insufficient mobility systems have reverberating impacts through the economy, neighborhood fabric, environmental health, and social cohesion of a city.

In 2014, 64% of all travel took place within urban environments, and the total number of urban kilometers travelled was expected to triple by 2050. Also in that year, 157 cities around the world had a metro system in operation, with 53 of those systems constructed in the years since the turn of the millennium. Five of the busiest metro systems in the world are found in 100RC member cities, with the combined annual ridership of London, New York, Seoul, Mexico City, and Paris topping 10 billion trips. Meanwhile in African cities, walking still accounts for up to 70% of all trips taken, placing even greater import on the distances between necessary services for citizens.

No matter the mode of transport, urban mobility sits at the confluence of a number of major trends, from population growth and shifting densities, concerns for health, air quality, greenhouse gases, and energy prices, to the increasing social and economic stratification of neighborhoods. Therefore, incorporating resilience into transportation planning and projects large and small has the potential to create change across a broad range of city systems.

To achieve this, 100RC member cities are designing transportation interventions that consider more than simply moving people from place to place, as member city Boston currently exemplifies. The cradle of American democracy, the city of Boston boasts storied academic institutions and a history of civic engagement. However, it also leads all large American cities in income inequality, broken down starkly along racial lines; the median net worth of a white family in the Metro Boston area was US$248,000 in 2016, while that of an African American family was a meager US$8.00.

Boston, USA

To address this and other gaping inequalities, the city has made racial equity central to its Resilience Strategy. Several of its transportation initiatives directly target racial and economic inequities and serve to complement the city’s transportation plan, Go Boston 2030. In Boston, non-white families use public transit more frequently, relative to their populations, and experience longer commutes to work — 46 minutes on average, compared with 39 minutes for whites. In addition, Boston neighborhoods with high concentrations of people of color suffer from the highest transportation costs.

The city therefore set a target of reducing the commute times of average Bostonians overall by 10%, and those of communities of color by 15%, along with seeking ways to reduce their cost burden. While this disparity is borne by Boston’s communities of color daily, the snowstorms that paralyzed the city in 2015 exposed its severity. Not all Bostonian communities felt the damage of the storms equally. Non-white communities were far more isolated and their residents more financially devastated by being unable to get to work.

As a result, several of the city’s transportation projects will therefore serve to better connect communities of color to job centers and make their commutes shorter and more reliable. They include changes to current bus routes and an expansion of the metro line. One project — the extension of the Fairmount/ Indigo metro line service — holds particular potential. The city has identified that line as a key corridor for reducing inequality for underserved communities of color, capable of paying dividends in terms of economic opportunity, neighborhood vibrancy, and education. Due for completion by 2021, the extension of the Fairmount/Indigo line will bring regular rail service to within a 10-minute walk of an additional 1,200 households via three new stations. The project also consists of service improvements and conversion to highspeed rail service, both of which encourage residents to switch from driving to sustainable mass transit. According to the city’s Resilience Strategy, “No longer a commuter rail line, urban rail will interconnect the heart of Boston’s neighborhoods and create new direct access to Boston’s biggest employment and commerce centers.”

One of the four visions of the city’s Resilience Strategy is to create a “Connected, Adaptive City,” by increasing “the connectivity of communities of color while adequately preparing for threats to infrastructure used by all Bostonians.” The first goal within this vision is to “develop a redundant and reliable public transportation network to provide equitable accessibility for all Bostonians.” As a first step, the CRO’s office is partnering with key city departments to advance the business case for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to invest in the Fairmount/ Indigo Line as a way to meet the city’s growing transportation needs and address longstanding transportation inequities. By creating greater opportunity for underserved communities of color, and fostering social cohesion, Boston will strengthen itself as a whole, better preparing it for the next paralyzing storm or other shocks it may endure.

Across the Network: Urban Mobility

100RC cities have published over 100 transport and mobility-related actions in their Strategies, many of which address inequity as a central concern.

  • BRISTOL is seeking to extend free travel on public buses to all children under the age of 16, regardless of where they live or attend school. In addition to meeting the needs of its youngest citizens, this approach is designed to create life-long users of public transit. Moreover, the city is augmenting its current 20-year transportation plans with 50-year scenarios around “radical interventions to reduce congestion and carbon emissions, and ensure infrastructure is resilient to climate change.”
  • BYBLOS is working to synthesize its various transport-related programs and research into an integrated mobility plan that will focus on improving walkability and the interconnectedness between neighborhoods in order to address disparities between the older parts of the city and the wealthier, modern areas.
  • MELBOURNE’S modern, multi-modal transportation network has not kept pace with its rapid growth. To address this, the city is working with Platform Partner CityMart to run a challenge seeking “creative, feasible and impactful ideas to address these complex and connected issues, and bring new thinking to address the challenge problem: to help reduce transport congestion, and/or make the experience of travel more socially fulfilling, thereby making an important contribution to our city’s resilience.” The city received 96 submissions and the winner will be announced at the end of July 2017.
  • QUITO is in the early stages of building Ecuador’s first metro system, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country’s history. Through the efforts of the city’s CRO, the city has now secured funding from the IDB to create resiliencevalue studies that go beyond the traditional engineering, environmental, and economic impact reports conducted for such a project. Through this funding, the city is designing a comprehensive analysis of the new system’s potential effects on social cohesion, long-term environmental sustainability, and land value capture.
  • SEMARANG has devoted several initiatives to better integrating its mobility systems. With the support of Platform Partner IGES, the city conducted a study to develop scenarios for transport interventions that will yield multiple dividends, including emission reductions and public health benefits. Next, Semarang and IGES will be conducting a study on modal shift possibilities for the city’s bus system, and eventually the city may look at other options including expanding coverage to corridors and feeder services, dedicating certain routes and buses specifically to students who do not at the moment have their own transportation to school, and exploring plans to implement a tariff for intermodal public transport.