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LivableStreets Alliance accelerates transportation solutions in Boston

Learn how a five-person advocacy team moved three successful initiatives forward and helped drive a $5 million increase to Boston’s transportation budget.

By Jane St. John

metrics

  • 3
  • initiatives
  • 200
  • miles
  • $5mm
  • budget increase

When visiting LivableStreets Alliance’s website and looking at all they’ve accomplished over the last few years, it’s easy to assume that their thriving initiatives are powered by at least a dozen full-time employees. Executive Director Stacy Thompson says, “I’m always sort of blown away—[occasionally] someone will say something to me along the lines of, ‘so you’re up to like 15 staff now, right?’” To which she laughs, and asserts that though they’re a lean team of five, they “have lots of great volunteers and try to be strategic about the campaigns that [they] select so [they] can win the ones that have the largest impact.”

Thompson oversees the programs, staff, and overall efforts of LivableStreets, an advocacy organization pursuing equitable and innovative transportation solutions within the metro Boston area—promoting things like walking, biking, and improving the public transit system, all in service of better using street space. At any given time, they might engage with an ecosystem of ten or more municipalities, multiple state agencies, and a host of other nonprofits to pursue their goals. “We have those standard nonprofit constraints,” Thompson says, “and we find, given the complexity of the issues, our constituents are often frustrated by the pace of change. [They wonder] why can’t we get more active transportation solutions on the ground more quickly? As the population grows in Boston, people are really feeling the crunch of not having enough walking, biking, and transit resources in their communities.”

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To tackle these complex issues, LivableStreets takes a three-pronged approach. There’s the Emerald Network, a plan for a 200-mile seamless greenway system throughout metro Boston; Better Buses, a program pushing for improvements to the area’s infrastructure like dedicated bus lanes and signal priority; and the ambitious Vision Zero, a coalition to reduce the number of serious crashes and fatalities on Boston streets to zero through measures like lowering speed limits and redesigning enforcement efforts. Each of these momentum-building initiatives is helmed by the same lean team, who run their operations through three NationBuilder-powered sites under the LivableStreets umbrella. “We’re basically able to create the perception that we’re much larger than we actually are through using NationBuilder. For us, it helps with campaign identity, organizational identity, and working [day-to-day] through our websites, using those three identities to email separate groups,” Thompson says.

Having a clear channel of communication and sophisticated options for targeting and field organizing has allowed Thompson and team to rally Boston residents in key areas at the moments when it matters most. For instance, they once used an email campaign to assemble [200] people to attend a budget hearing on behalf of the Vision Zero coalition—an unusually large turnout that helped put pressure on the City Council to ask the Mayor for an additional million dollars for new Vision Zero projects in the city of Boston.

“We were very proud of that accomplishment because it [was] tangible, and it was clear that we were using our online organizing skills to move that forward. We built on that momentum and, since then, have leveraged several neighborhood-specific campaigns. Because our work is so location-based, [if we’re working on] a particular street, [we can] turf-cut around that area. Or if there’s a forum and it’s not in one particular zipcode or neighborhood, we can [identify] who the ideal group is and send an email telling them where to go. We’ve done a lot of that work around our neighborhood and street-specific projects to get targeted information out to the right groups of people.”

Earlier this year, the city of Boston announced an addition of five million dollars to its transportation budget, providing for 20 new staff positions that will include a new unit for Vision Zero as well as a new transit team to work on Better Buses. The fact that the city has committed to invest more seriously in walking, biking, and transit is a testament to the organization’s success on the ground, and its momentum can only grow with even more power behind it.

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