“We have to get more aspirational.”
Those are the words of transportation expert Richard A. Dimino, president and CEO of A Better City, whose mission is to enhance the region’s economic health, competitiveness, vibrancy, sustainability and quality of life.
Let those words roll around in your head for a few minutes. Think about what they mean.
Dimino said them Wednesday at a forum at the Lynn Museum on ways to improve transportation in and around Lynn. To me, “we have to get more aspirational” means we have to think big. We have to think outside the box. We have to stop making excuses and finding reasons why we can’t undertake projects and start finding ways to pay for them.
Truer words were never spoken. I’m sure all of us, have encountered the dreaded bean-counters. They keep an eye on the company books and throw money around, as football’s Mike Ditka once said, the way some people throw manhole covers. While no one argues against being prudent with money, you have to also understand that when things need to get done, they cost money. Your job is to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
Dimino and Alden Raine, who worked with former state Transportation Secretary Frederick P. Salvucci in the Michael Dukakis administration, presented a convincing presentation on the benefits of improving transportation access on the North Shore, specifically Lynn.
Raine put together a comprehensive slide show to illustrate his points, most of which centered around the fact that you get your biggest returns on expenditures with improved transportation. See the chart that accompanies this package for further amplification.
Transportation that links Lynn to Boston would be akin to the proverbial rising tide that lifts all the boats. If you doubt this, go to Quincy, Somerville and Medford and see how having an MBTA subway station has transformed those cities.
That’s what Mayor Thomas M. McGee wants to do for Lynn. When he was a state senator, McGee was the head of the Transportation Committee. He has made it his mission to link Lynn with the other Metropolitan Boston communities much more efficiently than it is now. That’s one reason why he, and so many others, were outraged when Gov. Charlie Baker pulled the plug on the Lynn ferry and blamed it on lack of ridership. The ferry wasn’t just a Lynn thing. It provided direct access to Boston for people who live along the waterfront, including Swampscott, Nahant, and Marblehead.
Anything that provides North Shore residents with an easier way to downtown Boston than they have now is a step in the right direction.
That’s what this forum was about, and the solutions Raine offered in his presentation seem doable. He gave the example of a train station in Chelsea that will be completed next year. It will be linked with a Silver Line dedicated bus system that will provide better access to the city. Nobody is saying that’s an optimum solution, but it’s certainly a start. Raine also recommended that the state start “reimagining” commuter rail trains, making them electric, as opposed to diesel-fueled, and running them more frequently in core areas such as Lynn.
And finally, “use the harbor,” he said. At which point just about everyone in the room must have all rolled their eyes and thought about the ferry.
Dimino and Raine concede that all of the above costs money. And the forum wasn’t without arguments from people who fear throwing more money at a poorly-run MBTA, with its inefficiency and bloated pension systems for union workers, would be wasteful.
Dimino has heard these arguments enough times in his professional life. All planners encounter this type of pushback.
His answers are simple, not easy, but simple. Fix the problems, whatever they are. Do what you have to do. It’s possible to fix the problems without letting them get in the way of much-needed progress.
And that’s what “we have to get more aspirational” means to me. Stop throwing up roadblocks. Stop making excuses for why things can’t get done. Start finding ways to break through and do something.
Lynn has been on the outside looking in when it comes to transportation improvements for far too long. And that is something that desperately needs fixing.