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Baker announces transportation commission for the future of the Commonwealth

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker launched a new transportation commission Tuesday to help his administration with possible future demands and challenges.

The Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth, comprised of 18 transportation experts, will meet monthly to predict potential transportation challenges that could occur between 2020 and 2040. The unit will make recommendations by Dec. 1.

Jacquelyn Goddard, the director of communications for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, wrote in an email that the Commission will forecast future transportation policies they may need to enact by speaking with experts and stakeholders to discover societal trends.

“If the Commission hears that perhaps half the personal vehicles which may be on the roads in 2030 will be autonomous vehicles, then it would be wise, perhaps, for any traffic signals or pedestrian crosswalk equipment which is purchased and installed to take that into account, and perhaps have features that would adapt to that scenario,” Goddard wrote.

The Commission will emphasize five fundamental topics projected to have a vital impact on the future of transportation, including climate and resiliency, land use and demographic trends, and ride-sharing services, according to a press release from Baker’s office.

Peter Furth, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University, said he wishes Baker’s team had a wider vision for human-powered transportation.

“Bicycling is a pollution-free mode of transportation that is also ideal for public health because it involves exercise, something we sorely need,” Furth said. “Granted, bicycling can’t serve all trips — particularly long-distance trips or freight trips — but if safe bicycling infrastructure were provided, we could easily see 10 to 15 percent of all trips made by bicycle, and up to 30 percent in our more densely settled cities.”

The Committee, whose members are unpaid, will be chaired by Baker’s former chief of staff, Steven Kadish. The participants come from diverse backgrounds and skill sets.

Timothy McGourthy, executive director at the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, wrote in an email that it is wise to be thinking far ahead, as it may take decades to update the transportation system.

“Boston struggles to accommodate significant urban density and a major commuter population,” McGourthy wrote. “Technology, through both smart infrastructure and such advancements as self-driving automobiles, is quickly changing the potential of our current transportation system as well the needs of future networks.”

Karen Sawyer Conard, executive director at the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, wrote in an email that she hopes the Baker-Polito administration takes the group’s proposals into consideration.

“It would be my hope that the Commission brings meaningful change to the future of transportation here in the Commonwealth, and would be open to the suggestions made,” Conard wrote. “I would imagine that expansion and maximization of technology along with thoughtful capital planning and identification of funding sources would be among the many items discussed.”

Mark Melnik, director of economic and public policy research at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, wrote in an email that he hopes the group will not only provide the governor with a complete overview of potential transportation issues, but also real steps the administration can take to help residents.

“Transportation is a core quality of life issue anywhere and especially in Massachusetts,” Melnik wrote. “Obviously, these issues are complicated by a number of things including maintenance, investment, technological changes, demographic trends, etc.”  

Gretchen Effgen, vice president of the global partnerships and business team at Nutonomy, wrote in an email that Massachusetts will improve its transportation system because the state has a strong sense of technology and innovation.

“The City of Boston and the MA Department of Transportation have been very open to connecting with the mobility-centric entrepreneurial community,” Effgen wrote. “We’re all working towards the same goal — the efficient movement of people and goods– and my hope is that this commission will be a forum for regular engagement so that we can maximize all efforts to improve mobility in the Commonwealth.”

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