A step ahead

Peabody is accelerating into the future with new rules outlining how zero emission vehicle charging stations can be sited in the city. Adopted last week, the ordinance provides detailed requirements for locating fueling stations for hybrid vehicles.

The ordinance makes sense and it underscores the point repeatedly made by local transportation visionaries like Lynn Mayor Thomas M. McGee who understand Massachusetts’ economy and the nation’s are tied to transportation solutions that make sense.

If Peabody and other communities can make it easier and more economical to own zero-emission vehicles, then the popularity of environmentally-friendly vehicles is bound to increase.

To the degree that they reduce energy costs and the rising expense of environmentally-unsound transportation projects, zero-emission vehicles represent the future. By the same token, governmental efforts to increase their use also make sense.

In a related and largely symbolic move, Peabody officials earlier this year touted a trolley link between the city and Salem. The link — if it ever becomes reality — is more of a tourist attraction than an environmental and economic game-changer.

But Peabody is headed in the right direction by contemplating the benefits of mass transit links between communities in Eastern Massachusetts where most of the cities and towns are intertwined by roads, streets and neighborhoods that overlap common borders.

Prior to the dawn of the motorized vehicle age, trolleys and other forms of mass transit linked communities. Shopping malls catered to motorized transportation and eliminated mass transit, but the online shopping world is increasingly isolating malls and shopping centers and, by extension, the direct connection between the motorist and shopper.

Peabody’s economy rests solidly on Route 1 and Route 114 but changing shopping habits and consumer desires for convenience without depending on mobility could alter that equation. Many older cities were taught hard lessons three decades ago when they poured money and invested hopes in downtowns already bypassed by shopping malls and consumers.

But that formula has been erased and downtowns are places for living and leisure today more than shopping destinations. Traditional highway-oriented consumer destinations are facing redefinement and communities dependent upon them like Peabody are making smart steps when they embrace cyber-oriented and zero emission-oriented technologies, instead of waiting for these technologies to reshape the economic landscape.

A lot of communities played catch-up when it came to figuring out how to survive the shift from downtown-oriented economies to highway-oriented economies. Peabody is a step ahead in figuring out the next economic change potentially affecting urban areas.

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