This is a copy of a letter to the editor published in the Brookline Tab print ediiton December 5, 2019 and online on December 7.
I appreciated your recent article “Despite traffic, more Brookline commuters choose cars over public transportation” which provided information about the proportion of Brookline’s commuters who drive, bike, walk, and take public transit. While we certainly have room to increase access and use of safer and greener transportation, the article did not emphasize the extent to which Brookliners are far less dependent on cars than most Americans. According to the American Community Survey, about 85 percent of Americans drive to work; in Brookline, that number is just 40 percent. Six times as many Brookliners take public transportation (31 percent vs. 5 percent), five times as many walk to work (16 percent vs. 3 percent) and a whopping ten-times as many bike (5 percent vs 0.5 percent).
Why are Brookliners so much less dependent on cars? Because so many of us live in dense neighborhoods near amenities, public transit, and our employers. I live in Coolidge Corner. In 10 minutes, I can walk from my apartment to restaurants, banks, dry cleaners, cafes, bars, religious institutions, a grocery store, dentist, movie theatre, bookstore, liquor store and soon, a marijuana dispensary. There’s a bus stop for the 66 bus that I take to my work in Harvard Square (a braver soul might bike) and the Green Line, which I use to access downtown Boston. In short, the density of Coolidge Corner – and much of Brookline – is what makes it so vibrant.
There are a few Warrant Articles yet to be voted on that help preserve and enrich this vibrancy. Article 15 removes onerous commercial parking requirements that stifle new businesses and impose uncharacteristic car-centric demands on our neighborhoods (almost all existing commercial spaces are non-conforming). Article 19, which makes so-called “Accessory Dwelling Units” (in-law suites and garage apartments) legal with certain restrictions, would provide some additional housing on single-family properties without changing their appearance. Article 20, which makes “microstudio” developments legal in Coolidge Corner, would provide a less expensive housing choice for young professionals and other childless adults, and also support our local businesses.
I encourage Town Meeting to support these Articles as important first steps. Much work remains to improve our zoning and infrastructure to keep our neighborhoods affordable, vibrant, walkable, and dense – and help more of Brookline’s drivers kick the habit.
Michael Zoorob, member of Brookline for Everyone, a local zoning-reform group