Putting on my bike advocacy hat as a member of the steering committee for Bike Newton, and not having heard any major objections from the V14 blogger braintrust, I here announce, to our knowledge, Newton’s first ever virtual Aldermanic candidate’s forum, on Transportation Sustainability in Newton, to commence later today and run right up to election day.

This idea came to the Bike Newton Steering Committee when it proved almost impossible to herd all 15 aldermanic candidate cats into an available venue on a single date and time.  Thus was hatched plan B described here, to be executed in a follow-on blog post.  For now, the background:

First, we’ll provide some context for this forum in terms of transportation issues facing Newton. Next we’ll lay out the ground rules for this forum and how we’ve communicated them to aldermanic candidates in contested races.  Finally, in a follow-up we’ll post the questions and an invitation for candidates to respond.

Context: Newton has the dubious distinction of being the top-ranked city in the Commonwealth, with a population greater than 50,000, of automobile ownership (Taunton is a close 2nd). Newton leads the Commonwealth with 1.7 motor vehicles per household and six tenths of a car per person.  Newton has more cars per square mile than Los Angeles, by far (2,982 cars/mi^2 vs 2,161 cars/mi^2 in LA). 1.9 million miles a day are driven in Newton. The transportation sector in the Commonwealth is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and makes up nearly a third of Newton’s estimated emissions.  For brevity, I won’t go into the costs of lost time due to congestion and the respiratory health issues.

Newton doesn’t have the luxury to punt on transportation sustainability issues, with ongoing and planned intersection reconstructions and projects like Austin Street pending.  Choices have to be made, and these choices either encourage more traffic volume, or choices of transportation alternatives.

How do we move the dial on transportation sustainability in Newton?  What role does non-motorized transportation play, and what are Newton’s challenges and opportunities to grow a more sustainable transportation system?  These are the key questions to which we want to hear responses from our Aldermanic candidates in contested races.

To prepare candidates in contested Aldermanic races, we attempted to email or otherwise reach all 15 candidates in the various contested wards.  We were able to arrange face-to-face meetings or have phone calls with seven.  Some of the other candidates did not respond, or responded quickly and repeatedly, but were unable to meet with us, in some cases because of our schedules, not theirs.  This has to made clear from the start because candidates who respond to our questions will do so having varying degrees of mental preparation which may not reflect their level of interest or engagement.  They are of course free to make that clear.

Ground Rules:  The blog post you are reading now is open for comments by anyone.  However, in a follow-up blog post, three questions will be put specifically and only to candidates in contested races for Alderman.  These questions originated with and were vetted by the Bike Newton Steering Committee. None of the candidates have been given the questions yet, although we have emphasized a theme of Complete Streets to those with whom we talked.  We ask that only aldermanic candidates in contested races respond to the questions.  After election day, we’ll open the blog post up for reflections/reactions/responses by the community at large.

Some candidates felt comfortable responding directly to the V14 blog; some didn’t.  Some felt that they simply have run out of time to respond and asked if they could simply share general perspectives over the phone.  We’ve tried to accommodate the variety of comfort levels and schedules by offering to post responses on behalf of candidates if they prefer that approach over blogging directly.  I plan to post perspectives of two candidates based on their perspectives shared from our phone conversations.  They may follow up with blog clarifications/expansions, or not.  Other candidates are free to take me up on the offer to talk and have me write up and post responses over the weekend and through Monday, by emailing me at [email protected].

Unlike this blog post, we encourage brevity, and a response to even one or two of the three questions is infinitely better than no response.  Thank you to all the candidates for the considerable time and effort they are spending to improve Newton and its transportation sustainability!