SEP 20, 2017
Walsh, a state representative before he became mayor, took over nearly four years ago from Thomas Menino, who held the office since 1993. Filling Menino’s shoes is a big task, since the city charter puts a lot of power in the executive’s hands.
“Menino was in office for a very, very long time and his City Hall was a pretty well-oiled machine,” says Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston. “So there’s been a learning curve for [Walsh] and for the people in City Hall about how all of this works.”
But nearly four years into the learning curve, there’s a sinking feeling among many advocates that transportation simply isn’t a priority for the mayor.
Other issues, like housing, have attracted the mayor’s attention. Three months after taking office, Walsh created a housing task force; later that year, he unveiled a plan to build 53,000 units by 2030 and has trumpeted his progress on achieving that goal ever since. It’s a topic Walsh knows well: he led the Building Trades Council, an umbrella group of Boston-area construction unions, and was the longtime president of Laborers Local 223 before becoming mayor.
“They have produced units under a housing plan. Marty Walsh understands how that works,” Lawlor says. “We can see how he does when he really believes in something. And with transportation, that’s just not happening.”
Instead, Walsh has presided over a lot of planning for future transportation improvements. Chief among the planning processes is GoBoston 2030, which gathered input from more than 4,000 Bostonians over the course of two years before releasing a “vision and action plan” in March. One of GoBoston 2030’s priorities is Vision Zero, a goal to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2030, for which the Walsh administration released a separate action plan in 2015.
“GoBoston 2030 provides the transportation foundation,” says Gina Fiandaca, the city’s transportation commissioner. She’s been at Boston’s transportation department since 1990, overseeing parking fine collections before Walsh appointed her transportation chief at the beginning of his term.
More often than not, advocates say, Fiandaca and other Walsh administration officials are leaving opportunities on the table and putting its own plans on the shelf. A prime example: Congress Street, a wide downtown thoroughfare, is supposed to be transformed under GoBoston 2030 with protected bike lanes and busways. But when the city repaved the roadway in July, it restriped all six car lanes that had been there before, earning a rebuke from Boston Globe columnist Dante Ramos.
“All these things they say they’re going to do in GoBoston 2030 require a commitment of city resources,” Ramos tells CityLab. “I don’t have any sense that mindset has penetrated the traffic engineering department, or the people who are making plans to pave streets.”