Rather than drive the 10 miles to his home in Lexington, one Kendall Square employee sometimes runs the distance, to avoid rush hour traffic. He says it takes the same time — about an hour and thirty minutes — and it’s a lot healthier.
While jogging versus sitting in traffic for 90 minutes is an extreme example, tough trade-offs plague Kendall commutes. Many of our community members have to ask — Do I take the first (or second or third) sardine-packed subway car? Will I safely make it to work on my bike? And then, there’s the perennial: “How early should I leave home to make that 9 AM meeting?” Meanwhile, most of us miss breakfast or dinner (or both) with our families because we’re trapped inside interminable commutes.
The transportation problem is much larger than Kendall Square — Massachusetts ranks an abysmal 47th nationally for commuting times and Boston recently earned the distinction of having the worst rush-hour congestion in the country. In June of this year, our transportation crisis hit its peak as a Red Line derailment sent our transportation system into a tailspin. Kendall companies led the business community in calling for increased funding dedicated to fixing and expanding our transportation.
Kendall Square organizations like Google, CIC, MIT, and Biogen must figure this out: the future of innovation is at stake. Our workforce should be focused on nanotechnology breakthroughs, improving the internet, and finding cures for rare diseases — not on dreading their commutes. Bottom line: you can’t find the cure for cancer while sitting in traffic.
At stake are also important issues of equity and inclusion. Long commutes hurt everyone, but they disproportionately affect low-income workers. Speaking out for a better transportation system is not just about safeguarding our creative and economic success; it’s also about making sure we make it as fair and accessible as possible for all the workers who make their livelihoods and contribute to our economy, including line cooks, waiters, janitors, and other hourly employees.
The KSA’s Track Record of Transportation Success
Improving our transportation system has been one of the Kendall Square Association’s core priorities since our founding 10 years ago. We meet regularly with the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to monitor their work and to push for progress. We collaborate closely with leading advocacy groups like T4MA and A Better City so we can align and advocate for the best solutions.
In recent years, the KSA and its Transportation Committee have successfully advocated for improved driving, biking and walking infrastructure on the new Longfellow Bridge. Our President, C.A. Webb, has spoken at the State House in support of Regional Ballot Initiatives that will enable local decision-making over transit issues. Currently, we’re working to turn Allston’s future West Station into a transit hub that would provide transit connectivity to Kendall Square from Newton, Worcester and beyond, along the existing rail line that passes through Cambridge.
Just this summer we released the Transport Kendall Report: Actions to Transform Mobility. This report is the culmination of three years of work in partnership with the City of Cambridge and the MassDOT to identify the transportation investments that are key to our ongoing success and growth.
Now the KSA is announcing the launch of Transportation ADVANCE, a campaign the empowers Kendall businesses to lead on transportation through action. With a $150,000 grant from the Barr Foundation, ADVANCE will use an experimental model, that engages and empowers employees to ease short term pain while exploring long term solutions for our transportation system.
How Will the KSA’s Transportation ADVANCE Improve People’s Commutes?
Ultimately, the purpose of Transportation ADVANCE is to get Kendall’s employers deeply engaged and fired up to speak with a united, forceful voice on transit issues. While employers know how difficult these problems are to solve, they don’t always realize how well-placed they are to create the change they imagine.
Our Initiative aims to educate and to empower. We also think we’ll have a lot of fun along the way.
Step 1 — The Power of Play: Getting Kendall’s Attention
Our strategy has to appeal to Kendall’s early-adopter, tech-savvy, future-forward crowd, from C-suite decision-makers to employees with a problem-solving “hacker” mentality.
So we thought we’d begin not by getting the traffic to flow — but by shutting it down. Last fall we shut down Kendall Street for our “Future of Transportation Showcase.”
The Showcase was about making the future of transportation tangible, interactive and fun. The bleeding edge of innovation was well-represented: autonomous vehicles, traffic-predicting AI, sharing-economy electric scooters.
Step 2 — The Power of Experimentation: Piloting Transportation Ideas
The Showcase left Kendall inspired, excited and dreaming big. Now it’s time to delve deeper and empower Kendall employees to explore a wide variety of tools to improve their commutes. Companies who join the ADVANCE will have the opportunity to participate in data-driven experiments and pilot programs. Theses experiments will embrace technology, push to make our city streets smarter, and explore our own best practices.
Step 3 — The Power of Experience: Telling the Story
Transportation ADVANCE will culminate in a Transportation Summit in 2021.
By that point, we know that Kendall employers will have a better sense of the problems their employees face (and the cost of those problems to their bottom lines). In addition, Kendall employers and employees alike will have a better sense of what is within their power to solve — and where they need to look outside the Square to effectuate change.
More importantly, we hope that Kendall as a community will have begun to develop a sense of its collective power to address one of its greatest threats, and of its responsibility to address the equity issues involved.
Our vision for the Summit is a radical transformation. We see Kendall Square going from tinkerer on these issues, to assuming fully its role as a major player in transportation best practices globally.
We don’t have any time to lose.
Improving commutes is about supporting our economy and creating innovation. The ability of scientists, researchers, engineers, and other talented people to get to their labs and desks is about speeding the rate at which researchers can deliver the next scientific breakthrough, or invent a life-saving drug. It’s about increasing the time tech workers can focus on improving everything from national security to cybersecurity.
Improving our transportation system is about building the inclusive, sustainable innovation district of the future. Our transportation system impacts every Kendall employee in every industry. Through this work we have the ability to connect people to the jobs they depend on while facing the realities of climate change.
Together we can build the future we deserve, and make sure everyone enjoys its benefits.