Starts & Stops

After three years on the beat, Starts and Stops columnist bids farewell

A note of farewell, from my predecessor on the Starts and Stops column, Eric Moskowitz:

After three years covering transportation, I’m proud to hand over the beat to Martine Powers – and to see what a capable job she’s done just since February, when we quietly made this transition. I’ve returned to general-assignment reporting and feature writing, with a share of the Globe’s higher education coverage.

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When I assumed the reins of the beat – or the wheel, or the handlebars, or the CharlieCard; take your pick – back in 2010, my predecessor, Noah Bierman, signed off with a grim assessment of the state’s transit and transportation systems and their finances, critical but politically difficult problems that lawmakers had avoided for years. That’s a story tied partly to the legacy of the Big Dig, and one that animated the beat during my thousand-plus days, especially during last year’s highly contentious MBTA fare-increase process, which helped galvanize the public and raise awareness both of the system’s physical and financial shortcomings and its vital importance to the region. Martine takes over just as Beacon Hill appears poised to finally address the problems of the transit and highway systems in a robust way, if not quite as substantially as the governor and many advocates had hoped.

But as much as the beat is about the politics and finance of transportation, it’s really about something that touches the lives of every Globe reader and nearly everyone in Greater Boston. Whether we get around as drivers, passengers, riders, pedestrians, or a combination, it occupies a significant chunk of our days, and we almost all wish we could do it faster, smoother, and more easily than we do now. It’s also a subject that can be rich in lore and drama, humanity and humor. Among the many stories that have stayed with me, I’ll never forget the Kendall band, the Paul Matisse sound sculpture beloved by transit riders and restored by MIT students; the massive pothole that ripped open on 128, precipitating the engineering feat known as the Fast 14 project; Oscar Epstein, the highway engineer still working at 89; or Edward Rowe, the veteran MBTA employee who crashed through plywood where a manhole cover should have been and fell 30 feet to the bottom of a shaft at Charles/MGH. I also narrowly avoided scraping a T bus against a parked car.

Starting a few days before Rich Davey became T general manager, my time on the beat overlapped with four GMs – two interim, two permanent – and two transportation secretaries, and it included the launch of Boston’s Hubway bike share program, an MBTA fare increase, and ongoing work on the Route 128 Add-a-Lane project, which has spanned a generation. In my first Starts column, Davey optimistically predicted that the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford might be done by the time he was 40. It won’t – he turned 40 last month – but construction on the long-planned-if-not-exactly-funded transit extension has finally begun.

Noah ended his sign-off by including my email address, opening a spigot that never quite turned off, and that underscored just how much transportation – commuting problems, especially, but also transportation lore and history – matters to people. I took up scores of those questions in Starts & Stops, but I just scratched the surface. To everyone who read and to everyone who wrote in, thanks for doing, and please keep reading and sending questions to Martine. Good luck out there.

- ERIC MOSKOWITZ

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