Extending Community Through the Green Line

When I was younger, I loved pressing the long, thin yellow strip at Traill street, the bus stop outside my house, which prompted the familiar overhead voice to belt out “stop requested.” The 73 bus route rides along Trapelo road, continues along Belmont Street and Mount Auburn Street before finally arriving at Harvard Station. When I was in high school, I would take the bus home when it was too cold to walk or bike. Nestled between elderly women with grocery bags in hand, high school and college students like me on the way to class, and middle-aged adults on the way to work, the 73 bus was a small part of each rider’s life. I remember the light bathing the stainless steel poles in golden warmth. More recent experiences with the Red Line have not been as fond, however. My friend recently attempted to take the Red Line into Boston from Tufts. The Red Line stopped between Davis and Porter, and he was stuck on the train between the two stops for over an hour. As most Tufts students know, the Red Line is often unreliable, which is a major issue especially for those who rely on the MBTA daily. Unreliability is just one of many issues with the MBTA that impact transportation equity and must be changed.

The anticipated Green Line extension on Tufts Medford campus means that Tufts is on the cusp of being able to play a role in riders’ relationship with their commute. Public transportation in a city as populated and well-resourced as Boston is a critical pillar of the community as well as a factor in fostering it. When transportation is inequitable due to high fees or out of date technology, it further exacerbates the societal cleavages that fail those who rely on the MBTA for their daily commute. The extension provides an opportunity for Tufts students to promote equity, social justice, and strengthen relations with both surrounding towns and the greater Boston area. Tufts can set an example for the MBTA by creating a station that is designed for accessibility, efficiency, and the future of our community.

With a weekday MBTA ridership of almost 600,000, the MBTA has no shortage of proposed projects, policies, and other solutions to accommodate the vast number of Bostonians using public transportation. In December of last year, the Boston City Council backed Mayor Michelle Wu’s plan for making three MBTA Bus routes free for at least two years. The move hopes to serve communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This plan is to serve as a pilot program, a first step in Mayor Wu’s expressed sentiments that the MBTA should be free for all riders. Free ridership ensures more equitable access and removes a price barrier for those who need public transportation.

There are also many ways in which a strong transportation system can build and nourish the communities it serves. Public transportation can lead to a decrease in traffic accidents as well as minimizing air pollution. Public transportation vehicles work within a city to interconnect various distinct communities. The benefits of public transportation are “amplified when the systems are planned and engineered for interconnectivity, high-quality user experience, and efficiency,” according to Remix, a transit-based startup from San Francisco. Affordable transportation makes trips to work, school, and medical appointments possible for workers, the elderly, and rural residents among others. This cultivates self-sustainability and allows for spending on other household necessities. When low-income families in Boston have access to reliable transportation, they also gain access to basic needs such as grocery shopping, school access, and medical care. According to a Health Affairs article, a “lack of access to public transportation disproportionately harms those who rely on it, including older adults, individuals with disabilities, and commuters.” Women, younger adults, Black workers, and low-income workers make up a disproportionately large group of commuters. According to the MAPC’s 2017 State of Equity Report, Black people spend on average 64 more hours of their life per year riding on public transit than white people. This demonstrates the link between inadequate public transportation and existing racial disparities and inequities. Expanded access to public transportation has links to health equity as it also increases accessibility to “medical care, healthy food, vital services, employment, and social connections.” Public transportation is an indispensable good. 

Boston has added more than 67,000 new residents and 120,000 jobs since 2010. With issues such as overcrowding, variable train arrival times and schedules, the worst rush hour traffic in the country, and increased ridership, transportation is essential in the Somerville area. Somerville residents use public transportation at high levels—nearly one in three commuters use public transportation to get to work. 85 percent of Somerville residents travel outside the city for their employment. Due to heavy reliance on public transportation, employing the facets of successful, accessible, and efficient transportation are highly relevant to Somerville. The problems in Boston fall short of the ideals of an effective transportation system. 

The addition of a Green Line stop on Tufts’ campus provides a major opportunity to foster a connection among the Tufts community members who share spaces of public transportation. In order to amplify the benefits of the Green Line extension and create accessibility, it is critical that strong walking, biking, and transit connections be provided between the stations and the surrounding neighborhoods in all directions. Walking to each station must be encouraged by providing well-lit, safe routes between the neighborhoods and the station. Cycling to each station must be accommodated by providing paths, on-street facilities, and bicycle storage. These policies facilitate easier utilization for those who need them and are examples of how facilities for public transportation can be made safer and more accessible. It is vital that transportation in Boston is equitable, meaning fair fees, up-to-date technology, and proper functioning is critical in providing the best possible access for users of all abilities. Reliable transportation allows for social connection, access to necessities such as grocery shopping, medical care, as well as means for commuting to school and employment. If measures such as Michelle Wu’s pilot plan to transition the MBTA to a free public good are not taken, problems of equity that already exist in transportation in Boston will only be exacerbated. Michelle Wu’s campaign platform included both the concrete plan to reduce fares and an idealistic vision for the future of transportation in Boston. Tufts students should encourage local politicians like Wu to invest in infrastructure. Furthermore, Tufts administrators must use their leverage to advocate for more accessibility as well as realization of broader goals for transportation equity as outlined by Wu. The Green Line extension is a tangible, real part of the region’s transportation system that we as members of the Tufts community have influence over. When considered through the lens of community, the Green Line extension provides a case study for Tufts and its surrounding constituents to exemplify the welfare that the MBTA can champion in nurturing connection and encouraging racial, social, and environmental justice through legislative policy.