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MBTA’s Focus 40 Investment Plan

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WTS-Boston Luncheon – May 2018

By Lindsey Barbee, P.E. (GPI)

On May 24th, WTS-Boston hosted Jen Slesinger, Senior Planner with the MassDOT Office of Transportation Planning, at the Chapter’s monthly luncheon.  Ms. Slesinger serves as the Project Manager for Focus 40, the 25-year Investment Plan for the MBTA.  The goal of the plan is to position the MBTA to meet the needs of the Greater Boston Region in 2040.

Ms. Slesinger provided guests with an overview of her education and career background, which includes extensive experience in the areas of affordable housing and community development.  Admitting that she never considered transportation as one of her top career interests, it wasn’t long before she realized that transportation is at the hub of everything she was striving to focus her career on, including affordability and equity, quality of life, economic development, and environmental sustainability.  Now, as a Senior Planner, Ms. Slesinger has a resume that includes serving as Project Manager for the 2016 Everett Transit Action Plan, which resultedin the City of Everett instituting the first dedicated bus lane in the region outside of the Silver Line. She was also the MassDOT staff representative to the legislatively created Project Selection Advisory Council, which developed the criteria currently being used for prioritizing projects for the MassDOT/MBTA Capital Investment Plan (CIP). 

Ms. Slesinger opened her discussion by stating that Focus 40 is not about the MBTA, but rather about the critical elements that transportation connects, and how the MBTA can provide these connections.  In the transportation world today, there are a number of wildly uncertain trends that make planning for the future such a challenge.  Trends such as rising housing costs, ride sharing, bike sharing, and climate change are among the trends whose futures are uncertain.  Ms. Slesinger raised questions about these growing trends.  While the Millenials may move out of cities as they age – the next cohort of 25-34 year olds are not much smaller.  Preferences for cities have continued to grow for decades among that age range.  Where will these young people choose to live?  Will they move to the suburbs to raise families?  How does that impact the focus of the MBTA and the needs of the region?  With the trending rise in housing costs, how far from urban areas will homebuyers need to move?  Where will wealthy people live?  How does this affect lower income families who will need to move further away from urban centers and be less likely to reach transit hubs?  With ridesharing providing on the order of 65 million trips in the Commonwealth in the past year, how will that impact the MBTA? 

Ms. Slesinger made a point that given the amount of uncertainty for the future of transportation in the Commonwealth, Focus 40 cannot simply use traditional planning methods to put forward a long-term vision.  The principle of Focus 40 is not simply “picking a future,” but rather is focused on robust approaches that make sense no matter what the future may hold.  It focuses on being strategic, flexible, proactive, building partnerships, and achieving a vision.  Focus 40 is designed to adapt to change while keeping goals clear, rather than simply being a project list.

By investing in the areas where the MBTA has a competitive advantage and investing incrementally and in places where the need to improve transit is strong, Ms. Slesinger concluded that the Focus 40 method, through its unique approach, will help achieve the goals for the region.  She concluded by stating that as a planner, “you don’t necessarily need to build a tunnel and tell people to walk deep into the earth to be visionary.”  Strategic, proactive thinking is an implementable planning approach in the uncertainty of our transportation world today.

 

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