Tag Archives: transit

Study says NH needs commuter rail–will the politicians agree?

Next stop: Manchester? - photo by matthrono
Next stop: Manchester? – photo by matthrono

We’ve written several times about the need for commuter rail between Manchester and Boston. In fact, LivableMHT’s very first post was about the Capitol Corridor study of passenger rail between Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Boston.

Two years ago, the Executive Council wisely permitted that study to go forward, and with the official results of due out soon, there are very promising preliminary results showing that commuter rail would be an economic boon to southern New Hampshire.

New Hampshire continues to lose young people to cities like Boston and New York, and the tech companies and startups that fill places like the Millyard have sounded the alarm that they are having difficulty attracting talented workers to the state. It’s clear that the “New Hampshire Advantage” of low taxes (unless you consider property taxes) and a low cost-of-living is no longer enough to convince the young, talented workers who drive the economy that New Hampshire, and more specifically Manchester, is a dynamic, interesting place to live. The State and the Queen City need to step up their game, and join with Nashua, in strongly advocating for a rail connection to Boston.

Manchester Regional Rail option from the Capitol Corridor study
Manchester Regional Rail option from the Capitol Corridor study

Commuter rail won’t solve all of the state’s problems, but with the study showing that the “Manchester Regional” option will lead to an additional 5,600 new jobs and 3,600 new housing units, with nearly 2,600 daily riders, there’s no question that the investment to build and operate passenger rail would be a plus for the state. Rail commuters in Nashua, many of whom now drive to Lowell to catch a train to Boston, would largely be heading south for work.

That will probably be the case in Manchester, too, but Gray Chynoweth, COO of Dyn, points out that passenger rail between Manchester and Boston would also make it easier for commuters to head north from the Hub to the Queen City. That would make jobs in Manchester more attractive to young people who want to live in a bigger city like Boston, and it would make tech companies and other businesses that rely on young workers more likely to stay and move to New Hampshire. Over time, some of those commuters heading north to Manchester might be attracted by the lower rent, access to the outdoors, and the city’s burgeoning dining scene, and decide to settle in the Queen City, knowing that they could still easily hop on a train down to Boston.

Continue reading Study says NH needs commuter rail–will the politicians agree?


Manchester needs a transportation plan for the 21st century

Forty years ago, traffic planners envisioned replacing now-vibrant neighborhoods with massive highway overpasses in Boston – photo from Cambridge Historical Society

This November marks forty years since Massachusetts Governor Francis Sargent cancelled all highway projects, notably the massive “Inner Belt,” within the 128/I-95 ring around Boston and replaced the cancelled highways with new transit projects. The results are unmistakable: 3,800 private homes were saved, there is a bustling innovation district at Kendall Square instead of a highway interchange, and Boston weathered the Great Recession better than almost anywhere else in the country, in large part by being a desirable urban place to live, work, study and visit.

Nothing as disruptive as the Inner Belt has ever been proposed in Manchester, and downtown Manchester is doing much better than the highway-scarred downtowns in Hartford, Springfield, Worcester and elsewhere in New England. But as the planning study for I-293 north of the new Granite Street interchange kicks off, it’s a good time to start thinking about transportation funding in New Hampshire, and the integration of transportation and planning in Manchester.

Does Manchester really need wider highways? Or with limited funds, would a better local and regional transit system better serve Manchester residents and spur more economic development? And when new transportation improvements are made like the recent interchange at Granite Street, shouldn’t zoning and planning be updated, so that the city gets something more than a suburban-style Dunkin Donuts at such a prominent urban gateway? Continue reading Manchester needs a transportation plan for the 21st century

Future MTA: Imagining a better bus system for Manchester

Manchester’s red, white and blue MTA buses with the iconic MTA logo.

If you’ve ever ridden the MBTA, known as the “T”, in Boston, you’re probably aware of its strengths–frequent and relatively cheap service, coverage of most of Boston and Cambridge’s densest neighborhoods and biggest sites, reasonable hours from early morning until late at night 365 days a year.

You’re probably also aware of some of its weaknesses, not least of which is its hub-and-spoke subway system–to get from Allston to Harvard Square by car or bike, you can simply cross a short bridge over the Charles River; to get there by subway, you’d have to take a Green Line trolley 3 1/2 miles into the heart of Boston, and switch to the Red Line for another 3 1/2 miles back out to Harvard Square.

For the past few years, FutureMBTA has compiled maps–of actual proposals and imagined ones–that show ways to improve the T system.

LivableMHT began after an initial, imagined proposal for a streetcar system in the Queen City, and we’ve been glad to see the MTA making big improvements within its modest budget, such as the free Green DASH bus, which follows a loop similar to the heart of our streetcar proposal. And a few months ago, we thought about some improvements that could be made to the current MTA system.

All that got us thinking–why not imagine a Future MTA–what would an ideal, but still realistic MTA bus system look like?

Burlington, VT’s handsome CCTA buses run more frequently and more extensive in a city barely a third the size of Manchester.

Portland and Burlington–the largest cities in Maine and Vermont–combined have fewer residents than Manchester. They are both farther from other mid-sized cities, such as Nashua, and major urban centers like Metro Boston. Yet, they both have more extensive transit systems, with longer hours and more frequent service. Burlington’s CCTA bus system is also cheaper to ride than the MTA and Portland’s METRO.

Based on experience using those systems, as well as the MTA and the T, LivableMHT has drawn up an imagined bus system that we think Manchester could support if it was funded more like the bus systems in Portland and Burlington.

Continue reading Future MTA: Imagining a better bus system for Manchester

NH near the bottom in transit & pedestrian funding

New Hampshire has topped a lot of good lists in the past several years–best state to raise a family in, healthiest state, safest state, and on and on.

But it’s also near the bottom–or in the case of funding for higher education, at the absolute bottom–on some other lists. It’s not surprising that editorial writers and politicians aren’t rushing out to tell us about the lists where New Hampshire isn’t near the top, but it’s important to know if we want to improve.

One such list is New Hampshire’s rank among the states in funding for transit, and pedestrian and bicycle projects, according to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).

New Hampshire ranks near the bottom–and far below the rest of New England–in transit funding. Chart from the Transport Politic.

In fact, just 10% of all state funding on all state transportation projects goes to transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects combined. That’s pathetically low compared to almost any state, but especially compared to all other New England states, including our much more rural neighbors in Maine and Vermont.

Continue reading NH near the bottom in transit & pedestrian funding

It’s time to rethink city buses

MTA bus with new bike racks

NPR’s Talk of the Nation is discussing ways to improve the lowly city bus today. In the segment, Will Doig discussed the piece he wrote on Salon about how buses are often overlooked compared to streetcars, subways and other transit options, and how easily the image and experience of the city bus could be improved.

Making people like the bus when not liking the bus is practically an American pastime essentially means making the bus act and feel more like a train. … When people say they don’t like the bus but they do like the train, what they really mean is they like those perks the train offers. But there’s no reason bus systems can’t simply incorporate most of them.

Much of Doig’s piece focuses on the benefits of bus rapid transit (BRT), but he also discusses improvements that smaller cities like Manchester can make to their bus transit systems, which should build ridership and offset costs. Still, he says frequency–something that is often mentioned as a desired improvement to the MTA bus system–is key.

“All the speed-it-up tweaks in the world won’t mean much on a bus route that runs twice an hour, however.”

Twice an hour sounds pretty good compared to the MTA routes, all of which run every hour with the exception of the much more frequent (and free) Green DASH downtown circulator.

With statewide budget cuts, a legislature that shows no interest in promoting public transit whatsoever, and the City issuing its first budget to comply with the recently enacted tax cap, now may not seem like a good time to look at improving the bus system in Manchester. But Doig explains that investing in transit can have payoffs in increased ridership, and increased transit ridership can lead to greater economic development and certainly a more livable city.

And in the last few years, the MTA has already been making some positive improvements despite the budget woes.

The MTA's free and frequent Green DASH downtown loop bus

Initiating the Green DASH service, which runs every 10 minutes during peak hours on a downtown loop, is probably the biggest improvement to the city’s public transit since the MTA became a city authority in 1973. Shortly after launching the Green DASH, the MTA began running the weekday #1 Healthcare Shuttle route, connecting the major hospitals and medical centers scattered across on the East Side for the first time that we’re aware of. And in an effort to connect Manchester with the other major cities of the Merrimack Valley, the MTA now runs four trips daily to Nashua and two to Concord.

Continue reading It’s time to rethink city buses

Livable: Dean Kamen proposes downtown rail loop

The Union Leader reported Sunday that Dean Kamen has revived a 20-year-old–but previously unknown to us–proposal for a rail loop through downtown and the Millyard. This is easily one of the most exciting ideas for Manchester in recent decades. And it’s especially exciting for LivableMHT as an ambitious envisioned streetcar system got this website started.

According to the Union Leader, Kamen first “proposed a small steam railroad that would bring visitors to and from Millyard parking lots and possibly up to Elm Street” two decades ago. Once again, he’s pitching the idea of a possible rail loop through the Millyard and Elm Street area.

Continue reading Livable: Dean Kamen proposes downtown rail loop

Finally there’s some good news in the ongoing budget battle at City Hall–and just in time, as a compromise on the budget must be reached by Thursday–the City has received $600,000 of unexpected revenue.  According to the Union Leader, Mayor Gatsas believes “the board will be able to avoid proposed cuts that would have reduced bus services and close the West Side Library” in addition to reducing the tax increase from 3.4% to roughly 3%.  Anyone who wants to ensure that funding for these services are restored should contact their aldermen and the mayor ahead of tomorrow night’s vote.

Here’s the full scoop from the Union Leader:

City budget drama nearing an end

by Tim Buckland

MANCHESTER — The city’s protracted and often contentious budget deliberations could come to an end at Tuesday’s budget meeting, Mayor Ted Gatsas said.

“I think there will be a budget that we’ll move through on Tuesday,” the mayor said.

The Board of Aldermen adopted a budget, but Gatsas vetoed it. If the city budget Gatsas proposed in March were to go into effect — aldermen have until Thursday to adopt an alternative budget, according to the charter — there could be up to 50 city layoffs and major cuts to programs and personnel. That plan also includes a 3.4 percent tax increase.

The city’s tax rate, which includes city, school and county taxes, of $17.81 per $1,000 of assessed value would increase to $18.41 per $1,000. Property taxes for the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 would increase $120, from $3,562 to $3,682.

So far, aldermen haven’t yet indicated they’d come up with a plan that would have the mayor’s blessing or the 10 votes necessary to override the mayor’s veto.

However, Gatsas said, he believes a compromise will be reached Tuesday to use $600,000 in unanticipated revenue to lower the projected tax increase.

“We might be getting to less than 3 percent,” he said. “I think there may be good news on Tuesday.”

But that plan, which calls for laying off as many as 15 firefighters, has some critics, including Alderman Betsi DeVries, a former city firefighter who has said the layoffs, particularly those in public safety, could be avoided with a minimal tax increase.

Gatsas said he believes the board will be able to avoid proposed cuts that would have reduced bus services and close the West Side Library, but said the firefighter layoffs are still on the table, though with the retirement of a firefighter, “we may be down to 14.”

The firefighters’ union has been critical of the mayor’s plans, saying he is using firefighters as political pawns. Last month, Fire Chief James Burkush said the proposed budget would mean he’d have to close fire stations periodically to account for the shortfall in staff.

With unfilled positions and the proposed layoffs, the department would be down more than 30 firefighters from its staff roster.

Gatsas also said next year’s budget for fiscal year 2013 will be even more difficult thanks to a projected shortfall between $19 million and $22 million.

“I think the drama is going to be very excruciating in the next budget,” he said.

(Union Leader staff writer Beth LaMontagne Hall contributed to this report.)

Great news from Concord today, Gov. John Lynch has vetoed the anti-urban, anti-livability, anti-economic growth bill to repeal the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority:

Gov. Lynch’s Veto Message Regarding HB 218

By the authority vested in me, pursuant to part II, Article 44 of the New Hampshire Constitution, on June 15, 2011, I vetoed HB 218, relative to the New Hampshire rail transit authority.

I am vetoing this legislation because business leaders, particularly in Nashua and Manchester, has clearly said that this bill will hurt their efforts to grow their businesses, to create jobs and to attract new companies to New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire business community has made a clear statement that it sees rail, in the words of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, as “a proven economic catalyst that will spur economic development and create jobs.”  Several major companies have made clear that they believe rail will improve their ability to attract workers, access their markets, attract additional customers and grow their businesses in New Hampshire.  In addition, the Manchester and Nashua chambers of commerce both believe that developing the state’s rail infrastructure will assist their efforts to attract new businesses and jobs to the state.  That is one reason both chambers have asked me to veto this legislation.  The Merrimack Town Council, the Bedford Town Council, and the Nashua Board of Aldermen have also passed resolutions expressing support for expanded rail service and the benefits it would bring to their communities.

The support of the business community is validated by an independent study that concluded that the development of rail in the capital corridor could result in more than $2.4 billion in new business sales and nearly 1,000 new jobs created and sustained in New Hampshire in the first twenty years of operation.

HB 218 makes substantial changes to New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority that will reduce its ability to fully consider all transit options for the state. New Hampshire businesses banded together to raise $120,000 to fund the Rail Authority’s grant application without any state funds because they believe a full consideration of rail is important to New Hampshire’s economic future. Going back on our commitment to the businesses who contributed funds to pay for grant applications sends the wrong signal to the private sector about state government’s willingness to stand by its commitments.  We should see the study through to its conclusion with a fully functioning Rail Authority so that we can make informed policy choices about the best way forward for our state.

Concerns about specific provisions in the Rail Authority statute could have been addressed through much more narrowly drafted language that would leave intact important functions of the rail authority.  As currently written, this legislation takes away the rail authority’s ability to enter into contracts with partner organizations, to accept gifts and to work with the private sector on economic development projects adjacent to potential rail sites.

Given the strong concerns among New Hampshire business leaders that this legislation will jeopardize their efforts to grow their businesses and create new jobs, I am vetoing House Bill 218.

Ken Stremsky: Buses & business in the Queen City

MTA bus with bike rack - photo by Will Stewart

Ken Stremsky is frequent MTA rider and has been an active transit advocate online and in the Manchester community for several years.  As the City faces budget difficulties, service cutbacks seem inevitable for the MTA, at least in the short-term.  Ken understands the importance of good public transit in Manchester, and in LivableMHT’s first guest contribution, he offers some practical ideas for helping to improve service and increase ridership:

I use Manchester Transit Authority buses.  If more people are able to save a lot of money on gasoline, they may have more money to spend on restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses.  Reduced bus service may reduce the sales and profits of many businesses.

More green businesses may decide to locate in Manchester if Manchester has better bus service.  More people may use Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in the future if Manchester has better bus service.  The bigger the business tax base is the better able Manchester’s government will be able to pay for schools, libraries, fire department, police department, Manchester Transit Authority, and other things.  The bigger the business tax base is the better able Manchester will be to lower property taxes on business properties and residential properties.

Continue reading Ken Stremsky: Buses & business in the Queen City