Friday, January 27, 2012

Vacant downtown land set for development

The city and state want to redevelop a huge area of unused land leftover after the Big Dig was completed. During the project, the land had been upturned to allow for construction of the tunnel beneath the surface. The area, owned by the state and located just south of Chinatown and the Leather District, is bound by I-90, I-93, Albany Street, and Kneeland Street and covers about 20 acres. 

It poses a huge opportunity for development as it is such a large, open space; something rarely found in Downtown Boston and especially next to one of its most densely populated neighborhoods. Not to mention, the area is also surrounded by several hubs of mass transit, being a 5 minute walk from South Station and other public transportation stations, in addition to being located at the intersection of I-93 and the Mass Pike. According to the Globe, officials envision the area to become an iconic new south entrance to the city for commuters driving through on the interstate, abutted by modernly designed high-rise buildings. The goal is to integrate up to 1,500 housing units, several outdoor parks, recreation facilities, and space for retailers and restaurants. Attempts to attract developers in the past have failed, so this time the city has decided to start from square one and focus on smaller areas at a time, designating five separate parcels. 

Aerial View of Parcel 25
MassDOT recently began the process of accepting proposals for Parcel 25, highlighted in white in the image above. The parcel covers 1.7 acres of land, with some open space that runs over the highway. Included in the terms of the proposal are the air rights to the parcel as well, which will allow developers to build over the highway. This poses many issues though and can tend to be very expensive, which could deter some companies who would otherwise be interested. 

The department decided to try something new with this project by requiring the proposals to include opportunities for women and/or minority business owners. This requirement will be part of the criteria to judge each proposal. MassDOT will be accepting proposals through March 7.

Already set for development in the Spring is Parcel 24, sitting right across the street from Parcel 25, and bound by Kneeland, Hudson, and Albany Streets. In the past this area used to be a bustling and vibrant residential neighborhood, home to many Chinese, Syrian, and Lebanese immigrants before 300 of its residents were displaced by the construction of the Central Artery in the 1960s. This project hopes to restore the area to its original glory by constructing a six story north building and a ten story south building, providing 345 residential housing units, including condos and rentals, 42% of which will be affordable and reserved for low income families. Also included in the project will be 13,600 square feet of green space, a parking garage with 125 spaces, and 5,500 square feet of ground floor retail. 700 construction jobs and 24 permanent jobs are expected to be created.

In October, Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino announced that the city and state would provide money for the $130 million development, using funding from a $64.5 million federal aid package. Asian Community Development Corporation will be footing the rest of the bill and is the one responsible for the project. ACDC is a nonprofit, community based organization founded in 1987 and is responsible for other developments like Oak Terrace and the Metropolitan tower. They hope that this project will help revitalize Chinatown. Construction is expected to be finished by 2014.

At the moment the other parcels are not up for bidding, and it will be several years before they are even open to do so. It will take a long time before this "southern gateway" is complete, but Bostonians will be able to look forward to a larger skyline on their way into the city in the future. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Liquor ads banned from the T

Announced on January 24th, 2012 the MBTA will officially ban all advertisement that display alcoholic beverages on MBTA property including subway cars, buses, and station signs. 
This comes at a time when the debt stricken agency is contemplating fare increases and service cuts. The MBTA needs to find all the revenue they can since they are currently facing an $180 Million shortfall for FY 2013. This is truly not a good time to be taking away revenue. According to the Boston Globe the T will lose around $1.5 Million in advertising revenue during the first year of the ban. 

Earlier Post:

 State Representative David Nangle (D-Lowell) is pushing to ban the advertisement of alcohol from state-owned property with his new bill. His bill would make it fully illegal for advertisements that display alcoholic beverages to appear on any state-owened property. The state entity that the legislation is targeting the most though is the MBTA. Those of you who ride the T on a daily basis know that ads that showcase beer and hard liquor are a very common occurrence on the side of subway cars, buses, and on platform billboards.

As of this year the MBTA and the New York City MTA are the only two transit authorities to still allow alcohol to be advertised on their public system. Chicago, L.A., Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington all prohibit this on their systems. Nangle's reasoning for creating this bill is because he thinks it is counterproductive. "We're always trying to teach our youth about the effects of alcohol but at the same time, you have college kids who are 17 or 18 riding the subway, and here we are promoting's kind of in their face, so to speak" said Nangle.

Green Line to Boston College 
One of the biggest questions that comes along with this bill is how it will affect the T. The MBTA, has an estimated debt of over $8 Billion, has been selling excessive amounts of advertising  in order to try and make up for the $180 Million shortfall in next year's budget. They have even started selling ad space on the Charlie Card and (The MBTA did announce the they WILL ban online alcohol ads). If the MBTA were to lose all of the revenue it makes from the hundreds of alcohol advertisements (267 according to researchers from Boston University) they might have to go back and start all over again. Nangle thinks differently though. He believes that even though the T makes a plentiful amount of revenue from companies who sell alcohol they can most definitely find other companies to take over the empty space.

Personally, I don't think this bill will pass. Nangle and Rep. Martin Walsh (D-Boston) have both filed similar bills in the past, but have failed to get them out of committee. Also, being underage, I don't fully feel that this will help keep kids and students who are underage from drinking. I see the same amount of advertising for liquor on a T ride that I see in a single issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Minors are exposed to advertisements for liquor everywhere, not just the T.

Source: The Lowell Sun

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Cost of Commuting: MBTA's Fare Proposals

©2011 Boston to a T

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you have probably heard about the service cuts and fare increase that theMBTA is proposing for their next fiscal year. This topic has not only been the center of many newscasts and newspaper articles but it has also taken to Twitter, Facebook, and many other social media platforms in the hope that the MBTA will listen to their riders.

The MBTA, the only transit authority in the United States to have a debt over $8 billion (including interest,) has come to the conclusion that they will have an over $180 million shortfall for next fiscal year (FY 2013). Due to this shortfall, (and the realization that all other revenue options have run dry,) the MBTA has been left no choice but to draft two scenarios that will drastically change MBTA service as we know it today.

You're probably wondering how on earth they racked up such a massive debt, but it wasn't all the MBTA's fault. It is true that some of the debt was added because of large projects and mismanagement, but the bulk of it was acquired after the turn of the millennium.
In 2000, the MBTA was "reborn", if you will. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a Forward Funding legislation which set aside 20% of the state's sales tax revenue to the MBTA. Along with this revenue stream, the Commonwealth also transferred around $3.3 billion worth of debt from the state's books over to the MBTA's books. This transfer also included around $1.8 billion in Big Dig-related debt.
Also, unlike the MBTA had hoped, the sales tax revenue has increased minimally since 2000. The tax, which was supposed to grow at a rate of 3% per year after 2000, has, on average, only grown about 1% per year, which created a sales tax revenue shortfall of $100 million in FY 2011, and a $375 million shortfall since the start of Forward Funding.

Over the past year, MBTA officials (Interim General Manager and CFO Jonathan Davis & MassDOT secretary Richard Davey) have been trying to close the expected budget gap with non-fare revenue and cost-cutting solutions. Some examples include advertising on and soon even the Charlie Card. The MBTA also opened an online store selling everything from shirts to vintage station signs for profit. They have also eliminated positions, reduced overtime spending, and changed employee health care providers all in the hope of finding a little bit of cash. The T had hoped that all of these savings would help close the shortfall, but as most of you know, it has not. For this reason, the MBTA is now looking at fare increases and severe service cuts to solve their problem.

The MBTA currently has two scenarios that are being proposed for service cuts and fare increases. Scenario 1 has a higher fare increase, but less impact on service and Scenario 2 has more service cuts with a lower fare increase. Here is a breakdown of the two scenarios:

Summary Impact of Proposed Changes    
Courtesy: MBTA

Scenario 1
Scenario 2
Overall Fare Increase(all fare media types)

Ridership Impact
% of total currentridership
34–48 million annual trips9 to 13%
53–64 million annual trips14 to 17%
Gain $161 million in annualrevenue (+34%)
$123.2m increase in farerevenue
$38.3m net operating savings
Gain $165 million in annualrevenue (+35%)
$86.8m increase in fare revenue$78.4m net operating savings

Scenario 1 will bump the cost of a one-way subway fare with a Charlie Card from $1.70 to $2.40 and bus fare from $1.25 to $1.75. Scenario 2 will be slightly less, with subway increased from $1.70 to $2.25 and bus fare increased from $1.25 to $1.50.

There are many service cuts proposed (full list of service cuts available here) but cuts causing the most controversy are the elimination of Green Line's "E" branch and the Mattapan High-Speed line on weekends, the elimination of Commuter Rail service on weekdays after 10pm and all weekends, and finally, the elimination of all ferry service.

Bostonians have been expressing their outrage about these proposals all over the online world and the topic itself is being tackled by hundreds of bloggers, journalists, and commuters all over the metro Boston area

Twitter has been at the front of this frenzy with thousands of users tweeting their comments to MBTA officials (@mbtaGM), State Officials (@MassGovernor ), or just out to the world of Twitter hoping that someone out there is listening. Several groups have also formed out of the frustration, such as  Occupy MBTA (@OccupyMBTA) a Twitter adopting the moniker of the Occupy Boston movement and Students Against T Cuts (@StudentsTCuts) a group that consists of college students from around Boston who believe that the proposed scenarios are a step backwards in the development of the city and its businesses, people, and institutions of higher education 

Each one of these groups and all those tweeting about the subject have different thoughts on what the MBTA needs to do to fix this problem. Some call for the Commonwealth to raise the gas tax or impose high tolls on people driving within the Metro Boston area to help give the MBTA more funding. While this will help bring the MBTA some much needed revenue, it still will not fully fix the financial crisis it is in.

The MBTA needs a fully reorganized financial structure. The underperformance of the sales tax as a principal financing source and too much debt are the true causes of the T's structural weaknesses. Until these factors are addressed, no amount of reorganization or reforms will keep the MBTA from having another budget shortfall in following fiscal years.

If you utilize the MBTA on an everyday rider or just the occasional commuter please "Join the 
Discussion". From this link you will find up to date guides that explain the proposed scenarios. You will also find the dates and times of 20 differnet MBTA Public Meetings. These meetings are being held so that the public can tell the MBTA how cuts in service and higher fares will affect them. If you can't make any of the meetings and you would still like to tell the MBTA how you feel, feel free to send them a message. You can email them at

It is hard to predict what will come of these current scenarios, but overall, they will definitely impose a great deal of change. On July 1st, when the proposals go into effect, Bostonians will no longer be paying $1.70 for the subway, the lowest transit fare in the United States, instead, they face reduced or eliminated routes and increased fares. But how exactly they will affect commuters on a day-to-day basis remains to be seen.

All MBTA financial information came directly from

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

San Francisco 2012!

As most of you know Aaron and I recently went on a five day trip to San Francisco! Dubbed as "Boston to a T goes to San Francisco" we traveled around the city live tweeting our adventure hoping someone out there was enjoying it as much as we were! The trip was filled with adventures that ranged from visiting historic landmarks to aimlessly riding public transit! Overall, we had the time of our lives!

We stayed at the Crescent San Francisco Hotel, located in Union Square. It was so easy to get to from the airport, as we just had to catch a BART train and take a half hour ride to Powell Street Station. The location was incredible, placed centrally in the upscale shopping district, right next to Chinatown, near the Financial District, North Beach, and SoMa. We got a great packaged deal together with airfare, thanks to Expedia, so it was well worth it! The decor was very nice and swanky and the building was very clean. The rooms were pretty small because it is a boutique hotel, but we had no problem with it, especially for the price. When it comes down to it, you don't really need a lot of space because the point of a visiting another city is to get out and see and do everything the city has to offer.

Getting around was really easy. The San Francisco Bay Area has a very sophisticated transportation network, featuring commuter rail, bus,  trackless trolley, subway, light rail, and of course the historic cable cars. Aaron and I were fortunate enough to have access to a majority of San Francisco's transportation network. We purchased a City Pass which gave us unlimited transportation on San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) (Including the Cable Cars) for all five days of our trip. It saved us a ton of money (Cable Car 1-way ride is $6 and bus is $2). 

Since they are the most popular lets start with the Cable Cars! SF MUNI operates three cable car lines that run on two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf, and a third route along California Street. The system is the world's last operational manually operated cable car system, is the only transportation system listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the only moving national monument. We visited the Cable Car Museum and learned all about how cable cars were originally conceived and how they actually work. It's really fascinating, and if you ever get a chance to read about them, we recommend it!

Inside a Milan Tram
The F-Market Line, which runs from Fisherman's Wharf to the Castro is also a popular mode of transport in the city! The entire fleet consists of historic re-built PCC trollies, streetcars, and trams that are from or painted in tribute to cities around the country and the world! It reminded Aaron and I a lot of the Mattapan-Ashmont High speed line, except much more extensive and diverse. The Line is operated by MUNI, but is maintained by Market St. Railway which is a nonprofit preservation partner of MUNI which aims to “Preserve Historic Transit in San Francisco.” Personally we feel that there should be an organization in Boston like this! The line is quite exciting as it allows you to get amazing views of the Wharf area as the cars travel down the Embarcadero. Although most of the F-Market line's fleet consists of PCC trolleys, some of the most exciting cars in the system are the 1920's trams from Milan, Italy. The railway boasts 11 of these restored beauties that still feature signage in Italian throughout the cars! One other cool feature that the railway offers is F-Line Live that shows you which GPS equipped streetcars are operating on the line at any given time! 

A back entrance
Clipper Card reader
Other than the two historic modes of transport in San Francisco, MUNI also offers an extensive trackless trolley, bus, and light rail network. The bus infrastructure is robustly developed and is extremely easy to navigate, with most lines running every several minutes. A majority of the buses are actually trackless trolleys, running on a catenary wire running above the street, a major contributing factor to San Francisco being one of the greenest cities in the country. The light rail system, although not as extensive as the MBTA's Green Line, is still very impressive, looking much more modern and clean. The MUNI Underground has a fleet that consists of Breda articulating LRV's very similar to our Type-8 LRV's. Their system also has GPS capabilities allowing real time data to be transmitted on monitors within stations and smart phone applications. One of the most interesting innovations that MUNI has initiated in their system is Smart Card readers for their Clipper Card (like our Charlie Card) at all entrances of their buses, light rail vehicles, and street cars. This not only helps to fight fair evasion, but also allows for more timely boarding. 

On our second day we decided to visit the Coit Tower, looking over the city atop of Telegraph Hill. The Tower was built at the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, after her death 1929. It costs $7 to ride the elevator to the top, but the cost is well worth it. Once you walk off of the elevator and climb up a small flight of stairs, you are treated to a 360 degree view of San Francisco. The views are truly unrivaled and provided some amazing photos.

Included in our CityPass was admission to five attractions in the city too! Also on our second day, we visited the historic Alcatraz Island. We took about a 15 minute boat ride across the Bay to reach the island. Once there, people are free to explore every part of the island that isn't fenced off. There was so much history on this one little island--it started out as a fort in the mid 1800s when the city was still very young and eventually became part of the United States Prison System. In 1969, after Alcatraz had been closed down, Native Americans seized the island and took it for their own, in order to occupy it as a demonstration against their historic oppression. The occupation lasted for 19 months. In 1986 the island was declared a National Historic Landmark and later was opened to the public for visitation. We took a guided audio tour throughout the prison and were able to learn so much. The prison has a real eerie presence to it, which was amplified through hearing the firsthand accounts of what life was like inside the prison on the audio tour. 

Another highlight of the vacation was visiting the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge, which is painted in international orange (not red), opened in 1937 and spans 1.28 miles across the Bay, connecting San Francisco to Marin County. We walked across on a beautiful day and were treated to amazing views of the skyline, Alcatraz, and the sailboats dotting the water. There wasn't a better feeling than having wind blow all around us and not having any obligations, it was truly an incredible experience! If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, this is a MUST DO!

In addition to all of our sight seeing and museum going, we also had our fair share of culinary adventure. We had heard beforehand that San Francisco has a huge variety of great food to choose from, and we didn't waste our chance to experience it. We went all over the city to lunch and dine (our hotel had continental breakfast, so we saved a few bucks that way!), and it was worth it. One of the highlights was a restaurant we visited on the second night we were in the city, called Le Charm French Bistro located in the SoMa neighborhood. They had a prix fixe menu for $32 per person that we ordered off of, which was a great deal. We both ordered a hearty French onion soup to begin with. Dan had steak frites for an entree and Aaron ordered coq au vin. To finish, Dan got a tarte tartin and Aaron had a flourless chocolate cake. The food was to die for and the service was excellent! 

On the opposite end of the culinary spectrum, we had our first In-N-Out Burger experience for lunch on our first day, and the food was equally as good! What it lacks in nutritional value, it makes up in taste. The burgers are huge and the fries are delicious. Be sure to order off of the secret menu.

We also of course had to try some Chinese food, seeing as we were in the city with the largest Chinatown in the United States. In addition to that, we ate a delicious muffuletta sandwich from Cafe Zoetrope located in the downtown area--we highly recommend trying it! We also had Mediterranean food from La Mediterranee in the Castro District, with an awesome deal called the Mediterranean Meza. For $16.95 per person, they will bring a smorgasbord of ten Mediterranean delicacies to share. These were just a few of the many places we ate at on our trip. 

The San Francisco City Pass was one of the best deals we purchased on this vacation! The pass which is available for over 10 different cities around the country and Canada and gives travelers the most bang for their buck while on vacation. With the pass we were able to gain admission to five different San Francisco attractions and, like we mentioned before, we received a 7-day MUNI and Cable Car pass. The attractions that were included were the Aquarium of the bay,California Academy of the Sciences, An Alcatraz cruise and tour, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Exploratorium
The Living roof of the
California Academy of the Sciences

Each attraction had something something that we both enjoyed. The Aquarium of the Bay allowed us to walk through two huge tunnels that were filled with 700,000 gallons of water and were home to over 20,000 sea animals including rays, sharks, and starfish. 

The California Academy of the Sciences, which was our favorite attraction, allowed us to step into an Aquarium that shelters 38,000 live animals from around the world, from more than 900 separate species. We were also able to step inside a living 4-story rainforest that has butterflies and birds floating about.The most interesting part about the academy however was its roof.The Academy’s living roof is a 2.5-acre expanse of native California plants. It was built as past of the museum’s green building strategy and has currently survived three winters! 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was also a great stop! SFMOMA’s internationally recognized permanent collection of modern and contemporary art includes more than 26,000 works! 

Inside the Exploratorium
The attraction where we had the most fun however was most defiantly The Exploratorium! We were able to head over the the Exploratorium for one of their 18+ nights (which they hold on the first Thursday of every month). We found it to be a Museum of Science for Adults! The "Museum" has over 475 participatory exhibits, all of them made onsite, that mix science and art. It also aims to promote museums as informal education centers!  In 2011, the Exploratorium actually received the National Science Boards 2011 Public Service Science Award for its contributions to public understanding of science and engineering!

Our last stop on the trip was to the SF MUNI Cable Car Museum! It's not like any transit museum we had been to before. Not only is the brick building, located on Nobb Hill, the home to this fantastic museum it is also home to the the cable car power house, which drives the cables, and the car shops and storage! This free attraction truly is a "working museum!" We were able to learn so much about the interesting history of the cable car and how they work in the short time we were there.

Overall, our trip was absolutely amazing and San Francisco holds a dear place in our hearts. If you ever get a chance to make it out there, DO IT! You won't be sorry.

We will leave you with this view of a California sunset from Ocean Beach! 

Thanks for following!

-Dan & Aaron

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Boston to a T goes to San Francisco!

Well the day has finally come! Aaron and I are heading to San Francisco tomorrow morning at 6am! 

This trip has been a few months in the making and we are really excited to head out to the West Coast.

Were going to be live Tweeting and blogging the entire trip so make sure you follow our Twitter account (@Boston_to_a_T). 

Of course transit will be a huge part of our trip and we will be traveling on the famous San Francisco Cable Cars , San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI), and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). We'll be touring Alcatraz Island, hitting up museums and the aquarium, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, and much, much, more!

We'll have a lot to write about and many pictures to share, so stay tuned!

-Dan & Aaron

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