Boston Beats NPC21

Get [t]here: Exploring Mobility Challenges in Gateway Cities

For years, activists have pointed out that not all residents of the Greater Boston region experience mobility the same way. In the past decade, numerous studies and reports have shown stark differences, often falling along racial and socio-economic lines, in how people get around in these gateway cities and the rest of the region.

In 2017, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) reported that, on average, Black passengers spend 64 more hours per year aboard Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) buses when compared to white riders. The State of Equity in Metro Boston report also found that Latinx passengers spend 10 more hours aboard than whites.

Despite current efforts by city agencies, community organizations, and others, the legacy of discriminatory community development policies and practices has left some cities scarred and incomplete. This legacy continues to influence the flow of capital and investments into the built environment, resulting in places where considerable challenges remain in how residents move freely, safely, and comfortably.

These inequities have been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. In Boston, as in other cities, the neighborhoods most impacted by COVID-19 are also those with the highest proportions of essential workers. Those residents also rely heavily on public transit to get to work.

These realities suggest an urgent need to map the intricacies of mobility choices and transit networks, to understand the quality and reliability of specific transit options, simulate predicted effects of alternative proposals, or make the case for where non-transit services and infrastructure are needed in specific communities.

With the support of the Barr Foundation, Sasaki and the Sasaki Foundation have created get [t]here, an online story map that explores mobility challenges and opportunities for equitable investment in gateway cities, specifically Lynn and Malden, two close-in cities to Boston.

Sasaki's story map get [t]here explores mobility in environmental justice communities. Courtesy of get [t]here.

Sasaki's story map get [t]here explores mobility in environmental justice communities. Courtesy of get [t]here.

Centered on environmental justice

With equity as the core value of this project, the team sought to focus on people and communities disproportionately harmed by their environment. We centered on environmental justice communities (EJCs) in our analysis, recognizing the impact of the built environment and other environments and the laws, policies, and practices that created them, is what causes harm. get [t]here explores and tries to understand how residents in EJCs currently access local amenities and essential services, as well as what their challenges are and what opportunities for equitable investment might exist.

"What and where are the opportunities to improve mobility choices?"

That was the team's key question.

They began with an interactive survey, using a combination of Sasaki's CoMap and CrowdGauge platforms. Community members spatialized their mobility needs and their specific commute challenges and also expressed their mobility priorities and suggested priority projects.

Our team then overlaid existing datasets to the online map to highlight potential strategies and opportunities for improvement. We pulled from common datasets like the American Community Survey (ACS), the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics' (LEHD), origin-destination employment statistics (LODES), and the GETMBTA, and added to this the mapped results from the interactive survey to bring a more nuanced and human element to the story.

A series of maps show the different experiences of residents of EJCs and those of other neighborhoods. Courtesy of get [t]here.

A series of maps show the different experiences of residents of EJCs and those of other neighborhoods. Courtesy of get [t]here.

Mobility is a complex and dynamic phenomenon, varying widely from one neighborhood to the next and from one person to another. Our focus on EJCs recognizes that communities are not all created equal, which leads to disparate experiences in how people freely, safely, and comfortably navigate their communities.

It is also important to acknowledge that where equity is a driving, core value, researchers must disaggregate data and explore the nuanced lived experiences of people. This is especially true when factoring how — and where — the pandemic has disrupted lives.

Boston Beats at NPC21

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Interested in reading about more of Boston's planning efforts? Check out other Boston Beats stories.

Top Image: Environmental justice is an important consideration when analyzing mobility in Boston's gateway cities. Photo courtesy Wendell Joseph and Kai Ying Lau.


About the author
Wendell Joseph is an associate planner at Sasaki and Kai Ying Lau, AICP Candidate, is a data analyst at the firm.

May 7, 2021