Jourgensen: Saying goodbye to streets

This article was published 1 year(s) and 11 month(s) ago.

Streetside takes on new meaning at the corner of Munroe and Washington streets in Lynn where tables and chairs are set up on a newly-created seating area. (Tréa Lavery)

The Boston-based MassINC Polling Group released a fascinating study on Thursday pointing to survey results to conclude: “Changing how streets are configured could also change how people get around.”

The survey conducted in May with 670 Greater Boston-area residents found that a whopping 83 percent of respondents support adding more public seating, like park benches, on streets. 

Survey participants heartily endorsed creating more space for outdoor dining along streets and offered equally-strong support for adding more bike lanes on streets. 

I am a bicycle commuter who looks more like the Wicked Witch of the West on a bike in “The Wizard of Oz” than Lance Armstrong. I hate the bus and bike lanes on North Common Street, but I love breezing down Broad Street in a bike lane, wind in my face and a song on my lips. 

MassINC’s survey found that 46 percent of respondents would ride their bike more if there were bike lanes on streets in their neighborhood. Survey participants also endorsed adding more stations for bikeshare bikes, adding more parking for bikes and just over half endorsed closing some streets to car traffic. 

Don’t worry — all this two-wheeled populism has a long way to go before it sweeps into Lynn. But the city’s downtown is already pioneering changes in the way streets are traditionally defined. 

Added spaces for outdoor dining are in place on Exchange and Munroe streets and on Central Avenue. I’ve already mentioned bike lane locations and bicyclists are out there riding around.

MassINC Polling’s most intriguing findings are reserved for driving habits and public transit use. Three out of four respondents said traffic will return to pre-pandemic levels or get more congested as we pull away from COVID-19. 

Two-thirds of respondents support the increasingly-popular notion of making public transit free. You read that right: free. The reality is that Greater Boston’s snarled traffic, decaying road infrastructure, climate change realities and the seismic shift in work habits triggered by the pandemic have set the stage for a radical rethinking about how people get around.

Post-pandemic office configurations that allow employees to work at home or do a hybrid mix of home and office work are going to reduce vehicle commutes and prompt more people to ask why they even bother driving to work. 

Of course, entire sectors of the workforce have to go to job sites, stores and other work locations. Working at home is not an option for employees in these sectors and it wasn’t an option during the pandemic. If people have to commute and rely on public transit, then why not make it free? 

Although 17 percent of MassInc poll respondents said working from home is not an option, the pandemic accelerated the debate over how people work. 

I say “accelerated” because most young people I know work more or less remotely thanks to mobile devices. Having your workplace at your fingertips or balanced on your knees means offices and 9-to-5 work schedules are as obsolete as the rotary-dial phone and the Rolodex. 

MassINC’s survey underscores a societal change that isn’t confined to the Boston area.

The equation goes like this: Change how people work and you change how people move around — which means a gradual but inevitable evolution in how streets and sidewalks are used and how people live in neighborhoods and communities. 

And that’s a good thing.

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