Opinion

Krause: Time is ticking on transportation plan

The term Transformative Transit-Oriented Development seems like a mouthful.

Boiled down into simple English, it means that many people who gravitate toward cities would prefer to live in transit-accessible locations, and that cities across the nation are building or revamping rail, bus and rapid transit lines to spur growth through transit-oriented development.

Or, to put it another way, they’re building around transportation centers.

It’s not a bad idea. Wednesday, officials from MassINC — a non-profit dedicated to promoting public policy that creates a pathway to opportunity for Massachusetts residents — were in Lynn to promote the TTOD initiative.

That would be a marvelous idea, if Lynn was served by a 21st century transit system. It isn’t. In fact, the commuter rail that passes by here once an hour is archaic. And it’s basically useless. If I work on State Street, or somewhere else in the financial district of Boston, getting off a train at North Station, behind the Boston Garden, is not making my commute any easier.

The thing you learn about transportation right away is that there definitely is a correlation between accessibility and livability. And this has been the city’s major bugaboo for far too long.

I go back to the mid-1960s, when the car was king, and the plan was to build an I-95 connector that would have gone through Lynn Woods and even a part of Gannon. I had friends whose homes, already taken by eminent domain, were gutted and made ready to be torn down.

It never happened. I was just getting into double-digits, age-wise, but I remember the protests, including threats to sit in the trees once the saws came out. Whether it was that or some other reason, the idea died on the vine. And at a time when traditional downtown Lynn was starting to age out and change, the failure of the I-95 plan, which would have created better accessibility via automobile to points both north and south that Lynn still lacks, really set the city back.

This was, I’m afraid, a portent of things to come. How many times, in the 1970s and ’80s, did I hear that the Blue Line was coming here. But I’m still driving to Wonderland to hop on a train to get to Boston.

And this is why any plan that would improve mass transit, and make life easier for commuters who work in town, or might want to see a ballgame, or need better access to colleges, hospitals, and even the airport via public transportation, excites me. And it’s why it also depresses me badly because I’m 65 now. I don’t look at this as “I can’t wait until it’s finished so I can use it.” It’s more like “by the time the state is finished with everything it needs to do to make TTOD a reality, I will be residing in Pine Grove.”

But that’s what it comes down to. Time has been wasting for far too long.

Right now, the state transportation system is in a pickle. The Red Line train that derailed last week is 50 years old. Already there are calls, including those by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, for the scheduled MBTA fare hikes to be rescinded until the Red Line is fixed. But how is such a purely punitive move like that going to help anybody? Seems to me that if you take money away from an entity that is already in debt, and already hopelessly behind in keeping things like 50-year-old subway trains operational, all you’re doing is getting in the way.

The symbiotic relationship between accessibility and livability is like an unbroken circle. And nowhere is it more evident than here in Lynn. The city is banking on a condominium/apartment complex on Munroe and Oxford Streets being a catalyst to spur the kind of growth that would fuel this symbiosis. It’s directly across the street from the pathway that leads to the train station. And despite protests from people who just don’t see the big picture here, it’s a very important first step in making TTOD, as it applies to Lynn, a reality.

During a MassINC forum Wednesday outlining some of TTOD’s ambitions, protesters — presumably there to rail against the aforementioned housing construction — interrupted the proceedings with a demonstration.

Why? For what possible purpose? I’m all for protesting injustices and corruption, but come on. They’re missing the forest for the trees here. The city needs this type of construction to get in the game. If anything fits the definition of “transformative,” it’s this.

In short order, Lynn should adapt Rep. Anne-Margaret Farrante’s suggestion, applying to Rockport, that school buses, or some other kind of shuttle service, transport people to the train station to alleviate what is a serious parking problem there. She gave the many ways Disney patrons can get right to the entrance of the park comfortably from any location on the grounds as an example.

It isn’t like extending the Blue Line to Rockport, but it’s a start in the never-ending effort to make the commute easier and perhaps spew a little less carbon into the air as an extra benefit.

It may not be much, but it’s something.

Tim Horgan, a favorite columnist of mine when he was alive, used to mock the Red Sox for being too lazy when it came to going after players.

“Don’t just do something,” he would write. “Stand there.”

That’s where we’re at. And we’ve stood there for far too long.

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