Last year was Massachusetts’ sixth-hottest on record, thanks to accelerating climate change. As if to drive that point home, we ended last week with temperatures in the mid-50s Fahrenheit.  

Last week, traffic data firm Inrix knighted Boston as the fourth-most congested city in the world, up several places from 2019, when we ranked ninth. 

It doesn’t take a genius to realize these two are connected. Our car-dominated ways of building our communities and a lack of investment in public transit have shoved us into this unenviable position. 

Most Bay Staters have been forced to own one, if not two cars because we refuse to spend enough money to guarantee frequent, reliable bus service in our suburbs and in some of our major regional centers outside Boston.  

Bad planning and NIMBYism have prevented neighborhoods in and around job centers from densifying, and hampered developers trying to provide housing near jobs. 

And yet, too many in this state are content to wait for automakers to ride to their rescue with $50,000-plus electric cars – out of reach for many, a huge burden on the electrical grid on top of other must-electrify items like building systems and an no solution to traffic woes – or stonewall new housing in places it will prevent carbon emissions from commuting and running errands. 

State and local policymakers should take these recent, visceral reminders of our rapidly warming world to heart this year as they think about the myriad challenges that cross their desks.  

The good news is that we already have the tools at hand to address them – and some are relatively inexpensive. 

Frequent, widespread suburban bus service and frequent, electrified regional rail score another hit against transportation emissions, the biggest source of Massachusetts’ carbon pollution. Electric trains – a must for any fast and frequent service – powered by traditional overhead wires are the kind of low-risk solution we should reach for instead of unproven hydrogen-powered or battery-driven trains, as the Baker administration proposed. Even diesel-powered buses offer a low-cost, low-tech and high-impact solution because they carry so many more people – up to 52 – than any private car can, cutting per-person emissions dramatically.  

Walkable and cyclable neighborhoods with buildings at least 4 and 5 stories high are climate change-busting investments because they dramatically cut down on car travel for day-to-day errands or trips to work, and make it easier to access mass transit. 

Neither of these climate change-busting tools can be stood up overnight, but vital groundwork can be laid this year to make them a reality. 

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Transit Expansions, Dense Housing Are Good Climate Policy

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min