Sen. Brownsberger Discusses Transportation Priorities at NAAB Annual Meeting

The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) held their annual meeting on September 12, where members gathered to hear about the past year, distribute awards, and mingle.

Martyn Roetter, Chairman of NABB, delivered the “State of the NABB” address. “I would describe it as alive and kicking,” he said of the organization. “Our reputation and influences are good.”

He said that NABB has had to deal with several internal and external challenges over the past year, including the reviewing of the organization’s technological systems. “NABB has been operating with infrastructure and support systems that are now well past their sell-by date,” Roetter said. He said they are looking at more long-term solutions “that rely on more modern technologies.”

He said that within the organization itself, he believes there is a “greater need for joint decision making” between the different committees, and the Green Committee has come to the forefront with the increasing need to make sustainable choices.

“In considering how to tackle homelessness and drug addiction,” Roetter said, NABB supports the reopening of the Long Island Bridge.

Other things NABB worked on over the past year include short term rentals and Airbnb, the NABB Homelessness Forum, and were involved in several development projects, Roetter said. They are also involved in preserving the Commonwealth Avenue Mall with new lighting.

He added that the organization is interested in the city’s idea for a consumer choice energy auction, which allows residents to choose who supplies their utilities. “The idea is to get some longer-term stability and to encourage the greater use of renewable energy,” Roetter said.

“We base our advocacy on evidence, facts, and civilized discourse,” he said. “We try and address what is actually going on and what the outcome may be of alternative decisions.”

After Roetter’s speech was the presentation of Community Service Awards. This year’s Paul Prindle Community Leadership Award went to the Graffiti NABBers for their commitment to cleaning graffiti off of Back Bay’s historic buildings.

NABB member Steven Sayers, who introduced the award, said that the Back Bay “was being subjected to increasing attacks by graffiti vandals,” and explained the history of the Graffiti NABBers, which started with a graffiti forum at Fisher College in 2006.

What started as a small group of concerned residents has turned into a cohort of 42 NABBers who remove stickers, posters, flyers, no parking signs, and chewing gum, along with graffiti, from buildings and signs throughout the neighborhood.

“Graffiti NABBers developed and have continued to implement a long-term solution for this serious, perpetual problem,” Sayers said, adding that the group has cleaned hundreds of buildings throughout the Back Bay.

The recipient of the Mary Natale Citizenship award was Gail Laffer, who was honored for her service throughout the Back Bay and beyond, which includes tutoring children, being a Boston Public Library docent, and serving on the curriculum committee for the Beacon Hill Seminar. She also taught elementary school for 40 years.

“I am thrilled and honored to receive this award,” Laffer said. “For me, NABB has always been a very special organization. I love the sense of community I found in NABB.”

State Senator Will Brownsberger was the guest speaker, and he chose to focus his remarks on transportation. “I still have more questions than answers about the future of transportation in Boston,” he said.

He said some safety items that are at the top of his list are passing the cell phone ban, as this is a “big issue” for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as installing red light cameras. He said they are “very close” to passing the cell phone ban, but the cameras are a “longer term struggle that we’re working on,” he said.

He said that automated enforcements have pushback in two main categories: privacy and people fear that the technology will be abused or “clumsily implemented to squeeze money out of people.” He said that he’s going to keep talking about it but he acknowledges the concerns people have about it.

“I know we need to fix the T,” he said. “ I really think we are doing that.” He said that they have to dig out of a “deep hole,” as many pieces of the T system are over 100 years old. “It’s not a reliable setup,” Brownsberger said. “The pathway that we’re on is an investment in replacing all of that stuff—tracks, power, wires, and vehicles.”

He said that in five years, people will notice that the Red Line has improved, the same will be said for the Orange Line. “The Green Line is further behind,” he said. At the end of this year, he said they will most likely be ready to put a package out to bid for new Green Line cars.

“We have been underinvesting in transportation and transportation leadership,” he said. He added that more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation, so a strategy is needed for the reduction/elimination of greenhouse gases from transportation.

“The MBTA itself is not really a green mitigation strategy,” he said, adding that it is somewhat more efficient than cars but not enough to make a huge difference. “We have to think about electric vehicles and the roles they can play,” he said.

Congestion is another big transportation related issue, and getting people from the suburbs to the city. Brownsberger said that the T hasn’t really done a resiliency analysis in the way that it needs to—“that’s one of the things I’m watching most closely,” he said. 

When asked how he personally commutes to the State House every day, he said that he bikes from time to time, but biked everyday for ten years. He said that sometimes he runs, sometimes he takes the T. “From time to time I’ll drive,” he said, but “I kind of make it a point to vary it a lot and expose myself to what people are experiencing in the transportation system.”

A resident asked Brownsberger what he thinks about licensing bike riders, but he said he has not always been drawn to the idea. He said that while he recognizes that bicyclists can injure people, they’re “extremely much less likely than cars” to do so. “We don’t require cyclists to carry insurance,” he said. “I don’t think it’s impossible to regulate enforcing cyclists without licenses.”

After the meeting, NABB members mingled with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Several candidates for District 8 City Council were also in attendance.

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