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Mayoral candidates talk about Boston transit alternatives

Sept12_MayoralBanner_WEBIn one of the last forums before the primary election on Sept. 24, mayoral candidates answered constituents’ questions about improving transportation, such as bike lanes and public transit, to create more livable communities in Boston.

Among the candidates were City Councilors Mike Ross, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, Charles Yancey, Community Organizer Bill Walczak, former Boston Public School committee member John Barros, TOUCH 106.1FM co-founder Charles Clemons and Mass. Rep. Martin Walsh.

Ross said the Boston Police Department should start enforcing traffic laws, and dangerous intersections need to be targeted and fixed to prevent accidents.

“I’ve called for a problem intersection task force, because what’s been happening in the city is that we wait for an accident to occur, and then we identify that intersection as a dangerous intersection,” he said. “That is horrible and we’re putting peoples lives at risk.”

Connolly said the city should be more proactive about safety measures for bicyclists.

“Let’s do everything from a proactive standpoint like having mandatory bike safety for all incoming freshmen at our universities,” Connolly said.

When it comes to transportation, Walczak said his top priority would be to encourage people to get out of their cars and use public transportation.

“My top transportation priority would be to change the culture of transportation … that includes the ability to bike and to walk,” he said. “If we have a top-notch transportation system, as opposed to one that is 17th out of 29 cities, we will be able to convince more people to leave their cars behind.”

Yancey said the public transportation system must be modernized to meet the needs of Boston citizens who work late hours.

“I want the public transportation system to move into the 21st century,” he said. “We have a much different lifestyle today than we did 50 years ago and we need to look at extended hours. We have many people who go to work at 3 a.m., yet they cannot access rapid transit. This is a huge problem.”

Arroyo said transportation, environment and health are all closely connected and more methods of transportation must be made accessible to residents.

“I recognize the relationship between the environment, transportation system and health,” he said. “Our high asthma rates are in neighborhoods with less access to public transportation like Mattapan, Dorchester [and] Roxbury. We have to have all four methods of transportation … walking, biking, public transit and cars. If we have all four, people will use their cars less.”

Clemons said when you listen to a community, you find out exactly what that community needs.

Some polls have the candidates in a tight race as they strive for one of the two spots in the November election. In a poll released by the Boston Globe on Thursday, Connolly is holding first place with 13 percent of votes. Behind him is former City Housing Chief Charlotte Golar Richie with nine percent of the vote. Walsh and Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley are tied for third with eight percent of the vote.

34 percent of the voters are still undecided about who they will choose to replace Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, according to the poll.

After the forum, several residents said some of the candidates surprised and impressed them with their responses.

Tobias Johnson, 44, resident of Jamaica Plain, said Arroyo was the best candidate to deal with transportation issues.

“Transportation equity is a critical interest to me, also the link between transportation and public health, so I was most impressed by Felix Arroyo and how he tied all those issues together,” he said.

Tracie Powers, 70, resident of Jamaica Plain, said she liked Ross’s and Walczak’s answers.

“I personally came in with a couple of people I was very enthusiastic about,” she said. “However, Mike Ross and Bill Walczak, by their points and their style, really impressed me, so I need to learn more about them. I want somebody in there that’s going to listen to all sides and be a leader.”

Scott Zadakis, 30, resident of Beacon Hill, said transportation was an important issue to him and that Connolly had an appropriate plan for the city.

“I feel like Boston has a lot to offer with all the talent and universities and research institutes, but we need to modernize,” he said. “John Connolly had more of a comprehensive approach with I think is what you need . . . you can’t have planning for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians all separate.”

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