Eight of the twelve candidates for Boston mayor gathered tonight at the Public Library for a forum on Transportation and Livable Communities. Each tripped over himself to proclaim his support for cycle tracks and protected bicycle facilities. The boisterous crowd cheered as candidates named their favorite neighborhoods and identified top transportation priorities, from changing our auto-oriented culture to embarking on comprehensive planning for the city.
The event—which was hosted by Livable Streets and a slew of supporting organizations—was lively and engaging. Candidates answered questions in short and long format, including “yes” or “no” questions and question-answer-response style dialogue. Participants included Charles Yancey, Marty Walsh, Bill Walczak, Mike Ross, John Connolly, Charles Clemons, John Barros, and Felix Arroyo.
The crop of candidates in attendance evidently recognize the importance of transportation in creating a vibrant and livable Boston. While any politician knows how to appease their audience, most spoke competenty and enthusiastically about creating a truly multimodal transportation system. Still, when asked how they arrived to the venue for tonight’s forum, all sheepishly admitted to having driven there.
Opportunities to distinguish the candidates were limited. Arroyo, Barros, and Connolly stood out for their familiarity with transportation issues. At times, Barros even sounded like a transportation planner as he rattled off plans to integrate land use and transportation, calm traffic, perform road diets, and promote good urban form. On the other hand, Yancey, Walczak, and Clemons failed to impress with depth of thought beyond livable streets platitudes.
Still, while any of these candidates would likely continue to push Boston in the right direction, none seemed willing to make any drastic changes. Lip service toward increasing funding for the T and improving conditions for walking and biking may get them elected, but it is unclear how they would alter the decision-making process that produced our present transportation system. All of the candidates balked at the idea of congestion pricing, and they only tentatively and conditionally supported modifying parking requirements.
Tonight’s forum represents a significant shift in urban priorities. Transportation has become a central issue in Boston, and any would-be mayor must develop a plan for promoting multimodalism and livability. But a stated freedom from cars does not represent true independence. That the candidates for mayor of a city with 40% car-free population cannot bring themselves to support meaningful policy changes in parking and tolling undermines their campaigning. Until they do, they are likely to continue representing auto interests at the expense of the city.