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Mayor Walsh's 2019 remarks to the 2019 Boston Municipal Research Bureau

March 7, 2019

Mayor's Office

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Mayor's Office

Mayor Martin J. Walsh delivered his remarks at the annual meeting of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau on March 7.

Thank you, Marty [Jones]. Thank you Tom [Samoluk]. And congratulations, Sam [Tyler], on your well-deserved retirement, after nearly a half-century of service to the Bureau.

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, so it’s fitting that today, the Bureau has a new female chair and first female president. Congratulations, Pam [Kocher]. We look forward to building on the strong relationship between the City of Boston and the Research Bureau.

***

In my State of the City address in January, I reflected on our city’s progress over the last five years. We're proud of our achievements. But I also said, we're just getting started. So today, I’m not going to begin by talking about the last five years. I’m not even going to look back one year. I want to share some of what we’ve done in just the first nine weeks of 2019.

We broke ground on four housing renovations, in Roxbury, the South End, and South Boston, preserving or creating more than 900 deeply affordable homes. We released over $26 million in funds to create another 500 homes in seven neighborhoods. We added over 1,000 new homes to the development pipeline. We recommended, and the City Council approved, $34 million in new funding from the Community Preservation Act, for affordable housing, open space, and historic preservation in 56 projects across 20 neighborhoods.

We conducted our annual Homeless Census. We secured a $26 million grant for homeless services. And we grew the Boston's Way Home Fund, getting over halfway to our goal of $10 million to create 200 units of permanent supportive housing.

We launched Boston's first Economic Development Center, with workshops in Mattapan and Roxbury on city contracting and owning a business. And we graduated the first class of City Academy, to train local residents for City jobs.

I went to Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to discuss infrastructure needs and economic strategies in America’s cities. Back in Boston, we took action to defend Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault. And we raised awareness of commercial sexual exploitation, in an event co-hosted by the Boston Police Department, our Office of Women’s Advancement, and advocates.

I signed an Executive Order to ensure racial equity in City government. We’ll train city employees on how to design policy and deliver services that close racial gaps, from public health to business ownership. And we’ll measure our performance against equity goals.

In these same 9 weeks, we extended our record streak of AAA bond ratings to 6 years. We issued building permits for Amazon’s new location in the Seaport. It will employ over 2,000 workers and fund job training for residents. We permitted 700,000 square feet of innovation and community space at the former Boston Globe property in Dorchester. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of City Hall and previewed the next steps in our revitalization of City Hall Plaza.

And we capped it all off with a trade mission to Cape Verde, strengthening cultural connections in our neighborhoods and opening up trans-Atlantic opportunities for Boston businesses.

***

We are working hard for our hard-working city. But much of this time, the federal government was shut down. Dysfunction ruled, and people suffered.

We’re doing things differently in Boston. We work hard, we work smart, and we work together. And it’s the work that defines our vision for Boston. It’s a city of growing economic opportunity. It’s a city of equity, where everyone contributes and everyone benefits. And it’s a city of resilience, committed to leaving an even stronger Boston for the next generation.

That’s why we’ve taken on tough challenges.

A housing shortage developed over many years. So we created a Housing Plan. Now we’re building enough homes—and affordable homes—to house our growing population and preserve our existing neighborhoods.

Community-police relations is a national challenge. So we developed a national model, building trust and reducing crime every year.

Boston school buildings suffered decades of neglect. With over 100 community meetings and a $1 billion investment, our BuildBPS plan is creating 21st-century schools.

In each of these areas, long-term issues became present-day problems. So we engaged our communities. We created bold plans. And we turned the trends around. We’re improving life in our city now, and for years to come.

***

Today I want to talk about three issues where trends are coming to a head and testing our capacity for collective action. They are transportation, education, and climate change. And to put it simply: We can’t grow our economy, if we can’t move people where they want to go; we can’t share opportunity, if we don’t invest in the next generation; and we won’t have a future, if we’re underwater.

We’ve taken big steps forward in each of these areas. But there's more work to be done, and the stakes are high. So I’m going to talk about our plans and our progress. And I’m also going to highlight where we need strong partnerships, across every level of government and the private sector, if we are to keep thriving as a city and a region.

***

Transportation is a perfect example. Traffic is a sign of our success; but now it’s also a threat to our growth, our environment, and our quality of life.

That’s why we worked with the public to create a transportation plan for our city, Go Boston 2030. We are implementing its key recommendations, and they are making a difference.

Last year we installed a dedicated bus lane on Washington Street in Roslindale. On a route that sees 19,000 bus trips every day, it cut travel times by up to 25%.

We also advocated for more early-morning bus service, to help workers on the third shift. The T piloted this service and made it permanent.

To improve commutes, we re-timed dozens of traffic lights. Now we’re working with the state on a pilot for adaptive traffic signals that respond to real-time conditions. That will mean less waiting at red lights.

Two years ago, we increased parking meter rates in some of our most congested neighborhoods. As a result, double-parking violations dropped by 14%, and parking in loading zones fell by nearly 30%.

To improve access to cycling, we built protected bike lanes on Mass. Ave., Summer Street, Causeway Street, and Commercial Street, with more to come. And with the support of Blue Cross Blue Shield, we brought bike sharing to more neighborhoods across the city. Last year, Blue Bike use was up by 24% to a record 1.7 million rides.

Last month, a new water shuttle pilot launched, connecting North Station to the South Boston Waterfront. It serves 700 people a day and cuts commute times by over 10 minutes.

Most important, we’ve invested in safety on our streets. We’re redesigning high-risk intersections. We lowered the default speed limit to 25 miles per hour. And we’ve seen fatalities on our roads go down: from 21 in 2016, to 14 in 2017, to 10 last year.

But our policy is called Vision Zero. It means one tragedy is too many. So we are going to work with the City Council and the Legislature to lower the speed limit on neighborhood streets to 20 miles per hour. And, we’ll develop a citywide education campaign on road safety. We need everyone to be more mindful on our streets.

***

These steps, and many others, are working. But to build the future we want, we have to do more to transform our infrastructure: not just as a city, but as a region. We need our streets to work better and be safer for everyone. We need to invest in more frequent, more accessible, and more reliable public transit across our region. And we must make biking and walking more viable options for more people.

So we’re asking the Legislature for partnership. We have a bill that would require side guards on trucks, as we have done on city vehicles, to protect cyclists. We are seeking to allow photo enforcement to prevent vehicles from passing stopped school buses and endangering children; and to enforce “blocking the box” violations that cause gridlock. And we support the effort to reduce distracted driving by allowing only hands-free cell phone use.

We have also proposed legislation to manage the growth of rideshare services. Uber and Lyft have changed the way many people travel. They’ve provided convenience. But with 35 million trips a year in Boston alone, they’ve also increased congestion and confusion, especially during rush hour. We need to find ways to make rideshares work better.

We’re taking steps at the city level. This month, we’re launching a pilot program in the Fenway that will assign Uber and Lyft pickups to designated areas, similar to cab stands, to improve traffic flow.

But we need to go further. So our bill would update the surcharges already being assessed on rideshares, to better align with our transportation goals. We’d charge more for single-passenger trips, creating an incentive that will cut congestion and reduce emissions on our streets.

Finally, I want to discuss public transit. We need great transit for our region to thrive. It cuts congestion, reduces emissions, and expands opportunity. That’s why, last month, we launched the City’s first transit team, a staff dedicated to working with the MBTA on improving service. Building off the success of the bus lane in Roslindale, this year we will pilot new bus lanes: on Brighton Ave. in Allston and North Washington Street downtown. We’ll also start community outreach on how to deliver better bus service on Blue Hill Avenue.

Our goal is to expand access and increase equity. That’s why, starting next school year, we’ll provide a free T pass to every student from 7th to 12th grade in our city, whether they go to public, charter, private, or parochial schools. This will take cars off the road. It will open up the city to more of our young people. And, it will foster a new generation of transit riders and transit advocates.

I want to thank Steve Poftak, the new General Manager of the MBTA, for his partnership. Yesterday, I joined Steve and the Governor to celebrate the new Blue Hill Ave. station on the Fairmount Line in Mattapan. This station is already cutting some residents’ commutes by 20 minutes. It’s a good example of why we welcome the MBTA’s $8 billion investment over the next five years.

I understand there is a need for more revenue. I have long called for more investment in the T. But any funding plan must be equitable, transparent, and strategic. So I also need to address the proposed fare increase. I have concerns about the impact on seniors and young people, our most transit-dependent riders.

Furthermore, if you are going to raise fares you have to explain exactly how new revenue will improve service. The MBTA must show that the benefits to riders offset the negative impacts of higher fares.

That’s how we’ve approached the revenue challenge in Boston. We’ve raised parking meter rates and parking fines. These aren’t usually popular moves. But we took them because they moved us in the direction our residents want and need to go: less congestion, and new investments in better transportation. And we told them what we were doing.

People like to know what they’re getting, when they provide more revenue. That’s why we support legislation to enable regional ballot initiatives for transportation. With this tool, communities can choose to create a dedicated source of revenue to invest in specific projects. It’s been used successfully across the country, to bring better transit to cities like Denver and Indianapolis, and a whole new subway line to Los Angeles. I look forward to more conversation on this measure and other strategies for updating our infrastructure.

***

To be clear: what will cost us the most is doing nothing. If we don’t act, carbon emissions will pose a threat to both public health and economic growth. The good news is, we’ve made Boston a global leader on climate change and coastal resilience. And this year, we extended our leadership through the Carbon Free Boston report. It's a roadmap to our goal of being a 100% carbon neutral city by the year 2050.

The report shows that in order to reach our goal, we’ll need to drive less and use public transit more—investing in the MBTA is not a choice, it’s a necessity. We'll need to transition both our buildings and our vehicles to electric energy from renewable sources. We’ll need to send less waste to incinerators. And we’ll need to make all these changes in ways that are cost-effective and equitable. These are ambitious goals. But we are an innovative city. And we are moving forward in each of these areas.

On building retrofits, we have created the Renew Boston Trust, a financing model built on future energy savings. We'll be using it to fund solar panels, LED lights, insulation, and more, in our libraries, community centers, police stations, and firehouses. We’ll keep growing the program, and we’ll share our experience for private property owners to draw on, as well. We’re also launching stronger reporting requirements for large and medium sized buildings. This spring, we’ll ask for action plans as well as energy data.

On waste reduction, last year we set out to learn how we can reduce, recycle, or compost 90% of our solid waste by 2050. This month, we’ll get recommendations from our Zero Waste Advisory Committee on how to achieve this goal—in time to inform new contracts for yard waste and recycling.

On renewable energy, this year we’re taking a major step forward by launching our community choice policy. Residents will combine their purchasing power to make renewable energy our city’s affordable and sustainable choice. We convened a community conversation to begin the rollout.

We’re also supporting the growth of electric vehicles. We're going to install electric vehicle charging stations in municipal lots available to the public. We’ll make sure all new spaces in city parking garages support electric vehicles. And we’ll require that new private garages have chargers in 25% of their spaces, and 100% are wired for future capacity.

While reducing the emissions that drive climate change, we must also protect Boston from the flood risks caused by climate change. Last year, we launched Resilient Boston Harbor. It’s a plan for new open space, all along our waterfront, to protect our people, our homes, and our businesses. Already, we’ve completed resilience plans for East Boston, Charlestown, and South Boston. Now, planning for Downtown and the North End is underway -- with the first community open house next Tuesday. And this summer we’ll launch Climate Ready Dorchester. When it’s complete, we’ll have detailed resilience plans along almost our entire 47-mile coastline.

As well as planning, we’re investing. In our 2020 budget, we’ll meet our new target of 10% of all capital spending going to resilience projects. And we’re moving forward with implementation at key flood points.

At Fort Point Channel, in addition to city investments, we’ve applied for $10 million in FEMA funding. I want to thank the state for choosing our proposal to represent Massachusetts in this grant process.

In June, we’ll open Martin's Park, Boston’s newest public playground. It will welcome children of all abilities and provide the highest standards of flood protection. I thank the Martin Richard Foundation and our funders for their partnership.

This month we’ll present the Moakley Park Vision Plan to the residents of South Boston. We’ll work together to make this 60-acre waterfront park a welcoming and protective community asset. Similar upgrades to Langone Park and Puopolo Playground in the North End begin this spring.

We’re moving forward, but we have a long way to go. I want to thank the Governor, the Speaker, and the Senate President for making resilience funding a priority. A true statewide conversation is taking shape.

And once again, I invite property owners, business leaders, and philanthropists to engage with us, if you haven’t already. Climate action is the defining challenge of our time. Everyone’s future is at stake.

***

Making Boston better for the next generation is what it’s all about. So I need to conclude today by talking about education funding. In this year's budget, we propose to invest $1.14 Billion in the Boston Public Schools, the most in the city’s history.

New investments will sustain our progress toward universal pre-kindergarten, grow vocational programs and support at-risk high school students, expand engagement services that help families navigate the system, and strengthen science instruction. We’re also going to fund the important step of bringing the Exam School test into every student’s school in 6th grade. This will increase access and expand opportunity.

Overall, we’re proposing a $26 million increase that keeps us in the forefront of student spending both statewide and nationally. Since 2014, we have grown our investment by 25%, to over $20,000 per student. We’ve lengthened the school day, added 1,000 pre-kindergarten seats, strengthened the curriculum, and modernized facilities.

These investments have produced results. We have more high-performing schools than ever. Our graduation rate just reached a new record high. And we’re one of the few urban districts making consistent gains on national tests.

But progress takes more than investment. It takes reform. And we’ve spent five years untangling decades of systemic problems. Neglected facilities. Over 20 different grade configurations. Redundant programs and unaccountable spending.

These are problems that prevent some students from getting what they need. So we’ve gone hard at them. And to be perfectly honest, I’m not satisfied with the progress. It’s been strong in some areas, but too slow in others. So we’re going to keep working at it, and we’re going to keep putting students first.

But I also want to be clear what we’re asking our school communities to accomplish. Boston serves more high-needs students than any other district in the state. Twice the rate of economic disadvantage. Three times the rate of English language learners. And, if you take all the students, across Massachusetts, who have multiple challenges—who face poverty, language barriers, and disability at the same time—the Boston Public Schools serve 43% of those students.

For our state to be serious about closing achievement gaps, those students must be at the heart of the conversation. Yet, if nothing changes, in two years’ time our state education aid will fall to zero. And it’s not only Boston. Cities and towns across the state face a similar decline and a similar dilemma.

That’s why, this year, we’re joining mayors from Greater Boston, and over 100 legislators from across the state, to advocate for a solution. A solution that provides funding for every district in the Commonwealth. A solution that is affordable and does not require a new revenue source. And most important, a solution that would finally take politics out of the conversation, so we can stop pitting city against town and district against charter, and start meeting all our students’ needs.

Let me put it this way. The last major reform was in 1993. If we’re going to do this every 26 years—once a generation—then in this generation, we cannot leave out our most vulnerable students, whether in Boston or Brockton, Medford or Melrose, or anywhere else. Every young person deserves the same opportunity to learn, to dream, and to thrive.

In the meantime, our search for the next Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools is moving forward. Whoever we select, we’re going to charge them with driving deep reforms, to unlock our system and our students’ full potential. And we’re going to make sure they have the tools they need to succeed.

***

We have advanced bold solutions to meet the biggest challenges. That’s what it means for a city to work in the 21st century. We need every level of government, every industry, and every individual in our region, to move forward with us.

This work is about more than the plans, the policies, and the investments, as essential as they are. We do the work that we do to create opportunities and change people’s lives. We work to be that city where the kid with the toughest challenges gets a real chance; where the person who lived on the street finds compassion and a home; where a great job is just a train or bus ride away; and where hard-working families can create a bright future for their children in safe, healthy neighborhoods.

That’s the vision that calls us together. That’s the work we must keep doing, every day.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the City of Boston