Blue Mass Group, 9/15/16

I’m a Massachusetts native. I’ve lived here my whole life. So it pains me to say that New York is getting something right, and we’re fumbling the ball.

Last week The New York Times featured a piece about the ambitious plan that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled earlier this year to create a hybrid light rail and streetcar line to connect the neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. $2.5 billion would be invested to establish dedicated streetcar tracks along a 16-mile stretch.

The way the New York City transit system works is very similar to the way the MBTA functions. It operates as a hub and spoke, meaning that most riders venture to the hub, think Downtown Crossing or parts of Manhattan, and transfer to reach their destination, like Revere or the Bronx. The Brooklyn Queens Connecter would instead be a straight shot from one neighborhood to another and open up new transit destinations to the myriad of residents and business owners in New York City.

I confess that when I read the article I was green with envy. What if we did something of that magnitude here in Massachusetts? What if we committed to investing in a transportation system that didn’t just barely creep along, but instead was the engine for creating economic growth across our region?

This is typically the moment in the conversation when someone makes the point that we have to fix what we have before we can grow. Here’s the thing: New York has challenges to address too. Replacing dilapidated train cars, repairing tunnel damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, and making upgrades so that trains are running on time are enormous ongoing challenges. But New York appears to understand that maintenance and growth aren’t mutually exclusive. Here, we can also address our pressing state of good repair needs, while still embracing and investing in a vision for our shared transportation future.

The good news is that a planning process is in the works to help us imagine what growth could look like here at home. The MBTA has launched an extensive visioning process, Focus40, to design a 25-year strategic investment plan and guide the agency into 2040. Focus40 is a chance to think bigger and bolder about what the MBTA can be 25 years from now. How can we make getting from point A to point B easier for people, including riders with disabilities? How can we spur economic growth in underserved areas of our region? How can we respond to business demands for reliable and accessible transportation, at all hours of the day? How can we use public transportation to improve public health?

When the Pats meet the Jets in November I can assure you I won’t be feeling any love for New York. But I will be channeling the city’s focus on meeting today’s needs while investing in tomorrow as I attend Focus40 meetings. Because, gulp, Massachusetts needs to be more like New York.

Sebastian Zapata

Program Director

The Alliance for Business Leadership