By TFN Staff  

Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director of climate at the Barr Foundation and a member of the TFN Board of Directors, recently wrote an opinion piece in Commonwealth Magazine. The piece was timed to coincide with the International Mayors Climate Summit, which took place in Barr’s home city of Boston.

“Today, global and national mayors will convene in Boston to advance shared solutions around climate change. By 2030, more than 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Mayors will increasingly have more opportunity – and a deeper responsibility – to lead on climate change,” she writes.

“Luckily, transportation is one of the areas in which a mayor can have the greatest influence.”

She notes that Boston has made strides in “planning for a future that will most certainly include higher tides, hotter days, and more extreme weather.” Her call-to-action to the world’s mayors include four lessons gleaned from the work being done in Boston that can help them shape mobility-focused perspectives that can impact climate today:

“Reprioritize city streets. Streets are one of the largest land assets cities own, but many mayors cede this precious space almost entirely to private car use. Car-centric street design sends the message that driving alone to work, school, and appointments is a city’s preferred transportation option for residents. Many cities are seeing major upticks in traffic congestion as a result.

Cities can make simple fixes like adding dedicated bus lanes during peak commuting hours to greatly improve transit reliability and enable more people to choose the bus over their car. Everett, here in Massachusetts, has been a pioneer around street priority, setting up a now-permanent “pop-up” dedicated bus lane on one of their main commuting throughways. Boston followed with a dedicated lane pilot in the Roslindale neighborhood, and the Barr Foundation is proud to be partnering with Everett, Arlington, Cambridge, and Watertown on other projects promoting better buses. The goal is to move the region closer to designing true bus rapid transit routes—the gold standard in moving people efficiently and effectively on local roads.

Create better linkages between open spaces. Parks are a tried-and-true public health tool and will play an important role in resilience by reducing the “heat island effect” and mitigating climate change-induced flooding. Creating better linkages between park spaces takes driving out of the recreation equation. For example, Boston’s Green Links program is a city-wide plan to connect people in every neighborhood to Boston’s greenway network by installing new walking and bike paths, and safer road crossings. Programs like this encourage people to walk and bike more (the original low- and no-carbon modes of transportation). Green spaces are also a key part of making cities more resilient in the face of extreme weather related to climate change.

Promote greater density near transit. People in cities want to live near where they work and play. In Boston, we’ve heard this again and again from the major employers – including GE, Amazon, and Reebok – moving into our urban core. Mayors can attract new talent and new businesses by taking a close look at zoning policy near transit stations. Updating zoning can be a politically tough road, but building denser near transit encourages a city lifestyle that doesn’t require driving

Accelerate regional mobility solutions. As we’ve seen with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative around clean energy, states acting together are a force to be reckoned with. This multi-state effort has generated roughly $4 billion in net benefits to the region over nine years of implementation while reducing harmful emissions from power plants. Currently, 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (including Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia are working together on the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) — a regional collaboration that seeks to improve transportation, develop the clean energy economy, and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Mayors in these states can and should show strong support for this effort to move forward — and regions across the country can learn from this collaborative and bi-partisan model.”

Read the full  piece in Commonwealth Magazine here

About the Author

Mary Skelton Roberts is co-director for climate at the Barr Foundation, focusing on transportation and land use—two critical levers for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Her portfolio aims to modernize our transit systems and to help communities transform themselves into more walkable, connected places where all residents have attractive alternatives to driving and spend far less time and money traveling by car. Mary is a member of the TFN Board of Directors and an alumni of TFN’s PLACES Fellowship, a year-long learning experience focused on embedding equity and inclusion in philanthropic work. 



Featured image: Photo credit Boston Magazine