Last week, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit advocates gathered in Boston for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s annual Moving Together conference. Plenary speakers included the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Housing and Community Development, the Director of MassPort, and the Secretary of Energy and Environment. In all, it was a great opportunity for advocates and professionals to reconnect, learn about the most recent transportation initiatives in the state, and sharpen knowledge of cutting-edge best practices to further non-automotive transportation.
MassBike’s Program Associate Jimmy Pereira presented at the conference on the work MassBike is doing in the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities. His presentation, “Gateway Cities, Bikeway Cities” went over the projects in Springfield, Holyoke, and Barnstable (among others) that MassBike is undertaking to promote bicycling in these redeveloping communities.
Gateway Cities, as defined by MassInc, are older mid-sized communities in Massachusetts which have an industrial legacy and serve as regional centers outside of Boston. Importantly, many key indicators for these cities indicate a sharp decline in the post-war period. Rates of poverty, low educational attainment, increases in crime (property crime, in particular) and a straining of the tax base define the issues many of these communities face. However, these communities are also among the Commonwealth’s most diverse, and both long-time residents and newer arrivals in these communities have worked hard to keep them vibrant, despite these obstacles.
MassBike is committed to equitable investment in bicycle facilities around the state, not just in the Boston area. As Jimmy pointed out, the fundamental requirement for this work is that we help these communities realize their vision, not provide a vision for them. We firmly believe that our role as statewide advocates is to give local bike advocates tools to further their own priorities. In the end, this approach has been more sustainable, successful, and appropriate. Because the work of changing the built environment has a long timeline, significant community engagement is critical; the key to the long-term success of this work is having buy-in from the community.