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Old 02-05-2014, 11:18 AM   #1
BussesAin'tTrains
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Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

Since a number of threads in the past weeks and months end up on this line of discussion, I figured I may as well make a place for it to belong instead of constantly derailing other threads.

Opening bid (from here):

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Originally Posted by BussesAin'tTrains View Post
^ So Boston is too provincially crippled by local politics to ever do anything ambitious that might ease our transit woes? Because if we can't, Boston is going to stagnate fairly quickly in the coming decades.

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Originally Posted by meddlepal View Post
Boston will have similar problems to what Silicon Valley is going to have: Both cities will price themselves into slow and prolonged decline, but unlike Silicon Valley - Boston has to compete with the financial and growing technical giant that is NYC practically next door. VC money is flowing into Boston and driving the economy because they can exploit cheap (relatively speaking) and extremely talented young college and higher-degree graduates thanks to the central and metro regions insanely good education infrastructure.

Some VC money is more rooted here than other money; for example Bio-med VC's will probably continue to pick Boston because the talent needed for those companies is:

1) Hard to find usually
2) Requires lab infrastructure
3) Found easily at Harvard, MIT, Mass General etc etc.

But other VC money, for example, software-focused VC's are riding a bubble that is going to pop eventually (or at least the social application madness, which has fueled software's insane growth since 2000 - and can rely on 20 something developers because they don't need domain expertise to design and implement this particular class of software)

Software companies though can be located anywhere. As a software engineer I can work remotely 90+% of the time. It may make sense for a software company to keep a small presence in a city so it can be close to customers or funding, but we don't need huge offices anymore housing tens, hundreds or thousands of developers. Software companies are going to wake up eventually and basically say:
(1) We don't need a dedicated physical location in the city for our developers.
(2) Therefore, we do not need to pay SV, Boston or NYC wages because our workforce can be geographically diverse.

This is the danger in having a one or two-trick economy. Boston needs to get a maintain-cost or get cheaper and also diversify it's industry if it wants to survive the 21st century.
Discuss.
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Old 02-05-2014, 11:26 AM   #2
Matthew
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

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Originally Posted by meddlepal
Basically what I am saying is I think we're all waiting for some highly respected, media-darling A-list CEO to try out the fully or almost-fully remote idea and make it wildly successful. Businesses are about the bottom-line usually so if they can make a big cut in staffing expenses that could be millions of dollars saved that can go towards other things which generate more money for the company.
Which is why, I think, if it were possible it would have happened already.
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Old 02-05-2014, 11:32 AM   #3
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

good call on moving the topic....

FWIW, here's my two cents. Boston needs increased density to satisfy the demand in housing. In order to higher housing density we need developers to build, and we need to make it easier for them to build without completely whoring out the city. Clean up the review process, relax the parking requirement, and allow developers to go tall, where it makes sense. In order to support this, the state must put a priority on public transit spending, we will never accommodate the increased density without some major upgrades to our transit system. The hang up lies in the rest of the state, nobody outside of 495 could give 2 sh*ts about the MBTA, so it makes it hard for funding to get approved, and we wind up in this kick the can down the road mentality, apply another band-aid here, duct tape an bubble gum over there.

If we don't spend on transit, this city will absolutely stagnate and fall into decline.
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Old 02-05-2014, 11:46 AM   #4
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

Quote:
Which is why, I think, if it were possible it would have happened already.
It hasn't been truly possible until recently. The final piece was getting reliable, high quality video-conferencing. That said there are companies that do mostly remote work. They're just not very visible for whatever reason.
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Old 02-05-2014, 11:54 AM   #5
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

Speaking of that, I do know of people who live in SF and only commute 2-3 times a week to SV, working remotely the rest of the time. So it's not entirely clear to me that a revolution in remote work would necessarily lead to an exodus of workers from places like Boston or SF.

The dream used to be that you could live on a mountaintop and telecommute to work, but now it seems to be that you can live in the Noe Valley and telecommute to work.
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Old 02-05-2014, 12:59 PM   #6
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

To really sell investing in the T, some way needs to be found to codify the economic benefits the rest of the state. Anyone looking to invest in anything wants a tangable path to get their return on investment.

So how can we say "if we pour X dollars into a massive subway expansion we will see Y more in taxes come in, and we guarantee Z of that amount will return to your outside 495 town."


The real amazing thing to me though is the state didn't used to need to do this. Boston built the Tremont, Washington, Boylston and Cambridge-Dorchester tunnels themselves via the Boston Transit Commission. Cambridge did similar on their end. Although I guess now in the days of unions (and OSHA to a lesser extent) you can't just put together a board of commissioners, give them an engineer, and then hire a hundred guys off the street for minimum wage to start digging. Which sucks, because I would totally go help dig the hole. I need a second job anyway.
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Old 02-05-2014, 01:17 PM   #7
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew View Post
Speaking of that, I do know of people who live in SF and only commute 2-3 times a week to SV, working remotely the rest of the time. So it's not entirely clear to me that a revolution in remote work would necessarily lead to an exodus of workers from places like Boston or SF.
This is the big problem here- nominally you might be able to have your employees work "from anywhere", but it turns out that if you want to hire the best workers, they often would rather live in the expensive locations. (This of course only holds for workers above a certain skill level who can be more difficult to replace)

Of course, if changing tastes means that changes, then yes, Boston will find itself in a predicament.
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Old 02-05-2014, 01:20 PM   #8
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

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The real amazing thing to me though is the state didn't used to need to do this. Boston built the Tremont, Washington, Boylston and Cambridge-Dorchester tunnels themselves via the Boston Transit Commission. Cambridge did similar on their end.
This is an excellent point, the MBTA is inefficiently run at the state level and it makes no sense to run on a city level. I think a more regional group needs to take command of the MBTA see that it gets the funding it needs to improve.

Side note, how about these on the silver line?


Article:
http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2012/...bus-hits-road/
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Old 02-05-2014, 01:20 PM   #9
BussesAin'tTrains
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
The real amazing thing to me though is the state didn't used to need to do this. Boston built the Tremont, Washington, Boylston and Cambridge-Dorchester tunnels themselves via the Boston Transit Commission. Cambridge did similar on their end. Although I guess now in the days of unions (and OSHA to a lesser extent) you can't just put together a board of commissioners, give them an engineer, and then hire a hundred guys off the street for minimum wage to start digging. Which sucks, because I would totally go help dig the hole. I need a second job anyway.
Aside from labor costs, engineering costs are higher in the 21st century than they were in the first half of the 20th. As cities age, their subterranean environs get more and more complex, which makes it more and more expensive to engineer new digs. Boston's geography exacerbates that problem.
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Old 02-05-2014, 01:44 PM   #10
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

Quote:
Originally Posted by bobthebuilder View Post

Side note, how about these on the silver line?


Article:
http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2012/...bus-hits-road/
Can't wait to see the idiotic MBTA dispatchers force one of those to "front door only" board and alight...
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Old 02-05-2014, 01:51 PM   #11
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

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Can't wait to see the idiotic MBTA dispatchers force one of those to "front door only" board and alight...
Areas below ground are not problem, but stops above ground could have these bus stops plopped down on the side walk. They have doors that line up with the doors on the bus.



You pay to enter, wait inside out of the elements, and I believe one end has a lift for those that can't use stairs.
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Old 02-05-2014, 01:55 PM   #12
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

^Ugly, but AWESOME concept!


Quote:
Originally Posted by BussesAin'tTrains View Post
Aside from labor costs, engineering costs are higher in the 21st century than they were in the first half of the 20th. As cities age, their subterranean environs get more and more complex, which makes it more and more expensive to engineer new digs. Boston's geography exacerbates that problem.
True, but they did manage to build the East Boston tunnel in 1904, which I forgot to mention above. Getting under the harbor was no small feat, nor was tunneling under Beacon Hill; all engineered with slide rules, compasses, and a minimal understanding of how to work with concrete.

Even so, the labor costs to do ANYTHING is outrageous. It doesn't take skilled labor to dig a hole, pour concrete, or hammer nails; I say this as someone who's done it. If the great depression happened today we couldn't even do WPA projects, because you can't just hire people off the street to do manual labor. It's absurd. Sure the costs to design a subway extension would be a lot, and talented engineers should be there supervising. But you should be able to hire people off the street, give them a quick course in how to build a form or dig a hole, and give them 40 hours a week.


--I would also like to add that the unskilled labor of the past managed to have far more refined craft; the walls of the boylston and tremont tunnels are nearly perfect (and in fact used to be whitewashed to show them off), compared to the horrid quality of the silver line, the red line extension, and the Kenmore rebuild.


Sorry, I'm ranting. It just pisses me off the costs associated with digging a hole.
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Old 02-05-2014, 02:07 PM   #13
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

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Originally Posted by bobthebuilder View Post
Areas below ground are not problem, but stops above ground could have these bus stops plopped down on the side walk. They have doors that line up with the doors on the bus.



You pay to enter, wait inside out of the elements, and I believe one end has a lift for those that can't use stairs.
That thing is way too short to serve for a bus like the Chinese one.

Also it has its own pedestrian circulation problems. Look how tight and constricted it is. We already have, widely deployed, a suitable pedestrian environment for waiting: it's called the street. Why pass that up for something expensive and constrictive?

Quote:
Even so, the labor costs to do ANYTHING is outrageous. It doesn't take skilled labor to dig a hole, pour concrete, or hammer nails; I say this as someone who's done it. If the great depression happened today we couldn't even do WPA projects, because you can't just hire people off the street to do manual labor. It's absurd. Sure the costs to design a subway extension would be a lot, and talented engineers should be there supervising. But you should be able to hire people off the street, give them a quick course in how to build a form or dig a hole, and give them 40 hours a week.
Well, we dig holes since the 1960s with machines, not with manual labor and pickaxes. We also have to pay people a lot more money than they used to do, that is the nature of the modern economy. Do more with less labor.

Also we don't really tolerate the kind of crazy safety problems they did. Digging the Tremont Street tunnel, there were all kinds of gas leaks going on all the time people reported, and one of them famously exploded underneath a streetcar. Workers were poisoned regularly. And that was with 19th century-only utilities.

Really, I think it's the utilities, and impacts, which pose the greatest cost. You are right: digging is easy, and we have amazing machines nowadays. TBMs are super cool, and the oil/gas companies have machines you can just set down somewhere and they will bore a (smaller) tube for you horizontally in no time flat, and lay pipe too.

But it's one thing to dig through a desolate piece of land, and quite another to dig through a maze of pipes, electrical lines, building foundations below people who will give you no end of trouble if you accidentally do something to their livelihood.
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Old 02-05-2014, 02:14 PM   #14
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

Speaking of future: if anyone wants to LOL at the stupid futurists: http://spectrum.mit.edu/articles/the-future-is-cities/
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Old 02-05-2014, 02:14 PM   #15
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew View Post
That thing is way too short to serve for a bus like the Chinese one.

Also it has its own pedestrian circulation problems. Look how tight and constricted it is. We already have, widely deployed, a suitable pedestrian environment for waiting: it's called the street. Why pass that up for something expensive and constrictive?
I posted that in rebuttal of your comment about front door loading only, by paying to enter this bubble you then obviously don't need to pay on board, meaning you can load every door at the same time, meaning you can load a lot faster.

And I think they could manage to build them long enough for whatever bus they need to be designed for, and could be more attractive.

Anyway, it was a half joking idea, I doubt there is really anywhere that we have the room to drop these down.
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Old 02-05-2014, 02:21 PM   #16
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

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Originally Posted by Matthew View Post
Well, we dig holes since the 1960s with machines, not with manual labor and pickaxes. We also have to pay people a lot more money than they used to do, that is the nature of the modern economy. Do more with less labor.
That's just it though, is it actually cheaper to bring in special machines, with trained operators, that require special procedures to be used versus paying a handful of guys to operate a spade? And someone with a shovel should make dirt bottom minimum wage, it takes less skill than flipping burgers.


Quote:
Also we don't really tolerate the kind of crazy safety problems they did. Digging the Tremont Street tunnel, there were all kinds of gas leaks going on all the time people reported, and one of them famously exploded underneath a streetcar. Workers were poisoned regularly. And that was with 19th century-only utilities.
I just don't see that being tolerated in this day and age. The workers knew it was unsafe, but worried about loosing their jobs. You just can't overwork people in dangerous conditions and threaten them with termination if they don't comply anymore.


Quote:
Really, I think it's the utilities, and impacts, which pose the greatest cost. You are right: digging is easy, and we have amazing machines nowadays. TBMs are super cool, and the oil/gas companies have machines you can just set down somewhere and they will bore a (smaller) tube for you horizontally in no time flat, and lay pipe too.

But it's one thing to dig through a desolate piece of land, and quite another to dig through a maze of pipes, electrical lines, building foundations below people who will give you no end of trouble if you accidentally do something to their livelihood.
Right, exactly why digging by hand might not only be more cost effective, but safer too. You aren't going to puncture a utility line with a shovel, and can easily dig around it. You're going to notice if anything shifts that may negatively impact a building before it has a chance to. Really, you hit the nail on the head: all of the remarkable technology we have developed was the result of building highways, airports, and massive buildings in desolate land. It works fucking amazing there. But in a crowded city with a maze of undocumented infrastructure, I don't think it's the best. I mean, an archaeologist wouldn't use a back hoe, so why are we doing so in very similar conditions?
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Old 02-05-2014, 02:50 PM   #17
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

The primary economic issue in Boston is the high cost of housing. Expensive housing makes the area less desirable to live in, and therefore reduces the supply of labor. The solution is more housing that is close (time-wise) to the city. That means higher density in Boston, and better (faster and more frequent) transit service in the suburbs currently out of reach of the T. Upgrading our commuter rail system to something more along the lines of an S-Bahn or RER would go a long way towards accomplishing this.

If it were possible to get from Salem, Reading, Winchester, Waltham, Needham, Dedham, etc. to Downtown in ~20 min at relatively short headways, it would effectively expand the area "close" to the city where higher-density development makes sense.
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Old 02-05-2014, 04:20 PM   #18
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

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Originally Posted by oyhimylm View Post
The primary economic issue in Boston is the high cost of housing. Expensive housing makes the area less desirable to live in, and therefore reduces the supply of labor. The solution is more housing that is close (time-wise) to the city. That means higher density in Boston, and better (faster and more frequent) transit service in the suburbs currently out of reach of the T. Upgrading our commuter rail system to something more along the lines of an S-Bahn or RER would go a long way towards accomplishing this.

If it were possible to get from Salem, Reading, Winchester, Waltham, Needham, Dedham, etc. to Downtown in ~20 min at relatively short headways, it would effectively expand the area "close" to the city where higher-density development makes sense.
That sounds like a recipe to avoid density, not create it. Transit is not just about connecting bedroom communities to downtown office towers, though that certainly is the role of the commuter rail. Transit is supposed to be the secondary mode of transportation (after walking) for urban residents. Magically giving shorter headways to a bunch of far-flung commuter rail stops is not going to stimulate the sort of urban environment that springs up along real rapid transit corridors with 1/2 to 1 mile stop spacing.



And to your first point, the high cost of housing doesn't seem to be impacting the desirability of Boston at all. This place is growing. Fast.

Does lack of affordable housing decrease the desirability of New York? Not in the least. The high cost of living prices out almost everyone, and yet there are more and more people cramming into New York year after year. There are plenty of people who will bear the high price, even if you personally aren't one of them. Same goes for Boston.
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Old 02-05-2014, 05:22 PM   #19
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

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Does lack of affordable housing decrease the desirability of New York? Not in the least. The high cost of living prices out almost everyone, and yet there are more and more people cramming into New York year after year. There are plenty of people who will bear the high price, even if you personally aren't one of them. Same goes for Boston.
And the main reason it works in NY is because of the access and availability of transit. People can easily get almost anywhere from almost anywhere, and most trips can be done in a two seat ride or less. Not to mention that the subway runs with pretty decent frequency 24hrs. The taxi system is better regulated and more useful. Plain and simple, you can easily live without a car in NYC. However in Boston, god forbid you want to go out for a night on the town, or you work the late shift, if you're out after the T is shut down, you're screwed, likely having to paying for a cab.

It all comes back to transit, we NEED to invests a ton of money in our public transit system. It also wouldn't hurt to have a metropolitan taxi authority, overseeing and regulating cabs in Brookline, Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, that way they could pick up and drop off anywhere.
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Old 02-05-2014, 05:33 PM   #20
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Re: Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy

I agree that we should focus on economic development within neighborhoods that are already within the "Boston walk shed" so to speak, although I do not mind if towns like Reading want to work on developing a nice walkable area around their train station.

A word about New York: it is much larger than Manhattan, and the outer boroughs are significantly cheaper. I remember walking in Astoria this past year, I looked at some real-estate listings posted on a shop window, and I was surprised to realize that it was very similar to a Boston neighborhood. I figured it would still be more expensive because it's a 25 minute ride from Midtown, and Astoria is pretty nice. If you look at that Kwelia chart for NYC you can see the broader trend there.

But places like Astoria, Flushing, Bushwick, Sunset Park... these started as railroad suburbs and were built up along what was then the "commuter trains" and the streetcars. Those commuter trains were pieced together into the rapid transit system that we know today as the NYC subway, over the course of the last century and some. If you look at pictures of Queens from a hundred years ago ... it's farmland with an elevated train running in the middle of it.

Boston didn't really build rapid transit like that. Streetcars, yes, but the rapid transit system was largely put together to serve existing communities that sprung up along streetcar lines.

That's not to say that going forward we can't do that (yay TOD). But while we should be cautious about railroad sprawl, if the alternative is automobile sprawl, then we're better off with the former. And prices going up and up, even if it's less than Manhattan, is not a good outcome even if people do still keep moving here.

In short, we need to reform zoning
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