Comment Letter on American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding focusing on the areas of Economic Development: Transportation/Arts & Tourism/Climate/ Infrastructure

Comment Letter on American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding focusing on the areas of Economic Development: Transportation/Arts & Tourism/Climate/ Infrastructure

September 9, 2021

Joint Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight

To: Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, Chair Shared with Erin Walsh at Erin.Walsh@mahouse.gov

RE: WalkBoston Comments on American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding focusing on the areas of Economic Development: Transportation/Arts & Tourism/Climate/ Infrastructure

Dear Senator Rodrigues and Committee Members:

WalkBoston is Massachusetts’ primary pedestrian advocacy organization, working across the Commonwealth to make it safer and easier for people to walk for all activities of daily living such as access to transit, school and jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic gave stark evidence that walkable neighborhoods and communities are critical to physical and mental health, to reducing isolation and to the resilience of all Massachusetts residents and their neighborhoods.

As recent research has shown, “Creating walkable environments with greenspace can help combat chronic and infectious disease pandemics” (L. Frank; Treating two pandemics for the price of one: Chronic and infectious disease impacts of the built and natural environment).

We urge the Senate to ensure that ARPA funds are used to help improve walkability and greenspace in communities and neighborhoods that were disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The key components of the transportation system that support walking include:

  • Speed management. We need measures to control, and often reduce, speeds on Commonwealth roadways so that they are safe for all roadway users. During the initial months of the pandemic, there was dangerous speeding on roadways across Massachusetts. MassDOT’s ongoing initiative to create tools and measures to set and manage safe speeds on all MassDOT roadways (other than limited access highways) needs the support and encouragement of the legislature to ensure its success, and then to provide the funds to bring those same measures to municipal roads as well.
  • Safe connections to transit. As we learned during the pandemic, essential workers are more dependent on transit than many others. We need fully accessible transit and bus stops throughout Massachusetts, including safe street crossings and sidewalk connections to adjacent neighborhoods. These are crucial to a transit system that works for everyone.
  • More local funding to repurpose public space. The overwhelmingly popular MassDOT Shared Streets and Spaces program that was introduced in response to the pandemic has demonstrated that municipalities are interested and ready to rethink how they use their streets to enable more and safer outdoor recreation, commerce, community activities, and mobility.
  • Chapter 90 and Complete Streets. Chapter 90 funds have been traditionally used to build and maintain municipal roads without requirements that sidewalks and crosswalks be included. We suggest that the Committee review this standard and consider including Complete Streets measures within Chapter 90, similar to those requirements set by the legislature for MassDOT roadways.
  • DCR Parkways. DCR’s recently released (and long delayed) Parkway Master Plan clearly demonstrates that immediate action is needed to vastly improve safety for people bicycling and walking. Parkways are cultural and historic landmarks and should remain fully integrated components of parks and open spaces, used and enjoyed by people for walking, rolling, and riding as originally intended. With a commitment to accelerated improvement in partnership with MassDOT, parkways should remain under DCR’s purview. We urge the legislature to set funding and regulatory standards for DCR as follows:
    • Adopt MassDOT’s Complete Streets guidelines as their default design standard for all parkways; ○ Utilize MassDOT crash portal data to implement quick-build improvements on the most dangerous parkway roads and intersections within the next 12 months;
    • Align its parkway speed limits with local speed limits, especially in municipalities where the default speed has been reduced to 25 miles/hour or less;
    • Provide DCR with the budget needed to complete the recommendations in the DCR Parkway Master Plan;
    • Require DCR to set measurable goals to reduce the number of serious and fatal crashes on DCR roadways and report publicly and annually on progress toward these goals; and
    • Require DCR to add analysis and recommendations for several key parkways currently missing from the plan.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Stacey Beuttell
Executive Director, WalkBoston