MassDOT seeks to triple transit, bike and walk share

By Eric Sundquist

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation last week announced a goal of tripling the share of trips in the state taken by transit, bike, and walking by 2030.

“I have news for you. We will build no more superhighways in this state. There is no room,” Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey said, according to the Springfield Republican newspaper.

“People talk about the Mass Pike getting backed up on Friday. If we don’t do something, that would be the scenario every Friday, not just on a holiday weekend.”

According to the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, 8.9 percent of Massachusetts residents used transit to get to work in 2011; 4.6 percent walked to work, and 0.7 percent biked, for a total of 14.3 percent not using single occupancy vehicles. These figures do not include non-work trips, and a MassDOT spokeswoman said the department has not yet released its baseline from which to track emerging mode shifts.

Strategies to achieve the growth in non-single-occupant-vehicle modes are still being considered; part of this week’s Moving Together conference in Boston will be devoted to the topic. It was at this conference a year ago that attendees suggested Davey pursue a program for shifting mode share.

Strategies under discussion include stronger consideration for non-auto modes in facility design and improved transit service, a MassDOT spokeswoman said.

The mode shift initiative will be incorporated in the department’s GreenDOT Implementation Plan — a “framework for embedding the sustainability principles of GreenDOT into the core business and culture of MassDOT.” That plan has been released in draft form and will soon be final.

If MassDOT can show progress toward its ambitious goals, it could provide best practices for peer agencies pursuing related policy ends. AASHTO’s board, for example, has set a goal of doubling transit ridership over 20 years. That goal was enacted in 2007, but in 2011 U.S. transit ridership had ticked up just 1.4 percent, according to APTA figures. There is still much progress to be made.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director at SSTI.