Charley already wrote up WBUR’s transportation poll, but WBUR did a sidebar story on some non-highway transportation ideas.
Reporter Steve Brown talked to State Sen. Tom McGee about his idea to relieve traffic & help people get around – expanding the Lynn-Boston ferry service:
“We started off with 13,000 riders the first year from May to September. Up over 15,000 last year, so there’s definitely an interest,” McGee says. He’d like to see the ferry become permanent and run year-round, to give commuters on the North Shore another option for getting into town.
“We’ve got a state-of-the-art facility with two berths for ferry boats and other operations,” McGee explains. “This is also land that’s also part of the project. [It’s] city-owned, for extra parking spots. Parking’s free, with a building here as planned as a terminal and then a restaurant on the top. You can see how beautiful it is here.”
McGee says the ferry terminal — located a short walk away from a commuter rail stop and parking garage in Lynn Center — could become a major transportation hub for the entire North Shore, especially if long-ago shelved plans to extend the MBTA Blue Line to Lynn were revived.
In general, ferry service is a great idea! Lower carbon, you don’t have to build & maintain new pavement, and it’s just plain way more fun than driving.
But there’s a big problem in Lynn that’s a great example of how we can’t solve our transportation problems without also dealing with housing and development policies.
The problem is the ferry’s location. Here, take a look:
The ferry is cut off from the Central Square-Lynn transit stop by a 7-lane highway with only painted pedestrian crossings, no signal – risky even if you’re young & nimble and dangerous-if-not-impassable if you’re not. I also wouldn’t call the 13-minute walk “short.” There’s a bus from Lynn Center to the ferry, but it only runs every 15 minutes. It also has the makings of a very long commute – a trip to Lynn Center, then a bus ride, to a 30-minute ferry ride, and that’s just to get to Boston, never mind your office. (It’s a 30-40 minute drive from Lynn to downtown, according to Google Maps.)
The ferry terminal is also surrounded by parking lots in the middle of a largely industrial area with no housing. “Free” parking is actually “taxpayer subsidized” parking, and ferry ridership is limited by the size of those lots. If your goal is to “get cars off the road” as McGee says, you’re just redirecting traffic, not eliminating it.
And that’s the real trouble with “transit stop surrounded by sea of park & ride”-style transportation plans – everyone still needs to have a car. The strongest financial upside of transit is going car-free, but if you have to buy, insure & maintain a car AND pay for gas AND pay for the ferry, saving money goes out the window. You’re then much more likely to use that car on off-peak trips, and we wonder why the highways around Boston jam up on weekends, too.
If the goal is to use the Lynn ferry to reduce the number of cars on the road, we should build tons of housing around the ferry so people don’t need cars in the first place. Transit-oriented development also negates the “but won’t new housing increase traffic” complaint from NIMBYs.
We have no shortage of cheap parking, but we have a desperate shortage of cheap housing. The area around any new transit stops should be zoned for dense residential. Dense residential housing should be built on existing park & ride lots wherever it’s feasible. If it’s deemed not feasible, parking should be charged at unsubsidized rates – free market, not free parking. We also need to talk about where & how it’s feasible to add congestion pricing and invest the revenue in transit.
Our transportation system’s failure is that driving & parking are by far the most heavily subsidized, hence often the best, options. That goes hand-in-hand with our housing system’s failure to meet demand for new housing in cities. Our policies make it difficult to build new tall residential buildings or even townhouses in cities while instead subsidizing sprawl through, among many other things, artificially low gas taxes.
It’s long past time to give people more choices on where to live and how to get around.