FRAMINGHAM – On Monday night, the Framingham Strategic Initiatives and Financial Oversight Committee held its second public forum.
The topics discussed included education, public safety, transportation and traffic, and environment and sustainability.
The topics on which the public had the most to say were traffic and the environment.
As pointed out at the SIFOC meeting, a large part of the traffic problem in the city stems from the train station.
However, there is no simple solution to this problem.
According to Vice Chair Mary Kate Feeney, the train station has existed since the 1880s. Therefore, Framingham has been dealing with related traffic issues since this time.
“Traffic and transportation affects every inch of our lives in Framingham,” she said.
District 6 School Committee Member Geoffrey Epstein, who grew up in Sydney, Australia said he had never seen a train interacting with traffic until he came to Framingham.
The overarching question of the night regarding transportation was how can we make Framingham more accessible for all forms of transportation, while also being more environmentally friendly.
Aimee Powelka, of Sustainable Framingham, believes the city should look to other states for inspiration. For example, some cities in the north and mid-Atlantic are looking at capping their emissions and changing their electric vehicle infrastructure. According to Powelka, “transportation is going to change a lot,” and Framingham needs to account for that.
Other concerns included the need for bike lanes and better/more frequent bus services.
Framingham resident Amy Finstein described the Framingham community as currently being “auto-dependant,” especially in the more suburban areas. She believes we must re-think if a certain situation really requires us to get in a car, or if there is a transportation alternative. Finstein also encouraged community members to get creative. For example, she suggested neighbors coming together and creating a “walking carpool” that may encourage more students within walking distance to their school to make that walk.
District 5 resident Caraline Levy mentioned the GPS app Waze has a “carpool” option for users. Once they click on it, they will prompted to say whether they want to be the driver or a passenger. The driver will receive payment from passengers, an incentive for more people to carpool. In addition, the app tells you how far away from your route the potential passengers are (5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.).
Levy suggested that the city could create a Framingham community Waze carpool. She also mentioned the potential of a frequent, quick bus service from Framingham to North or South Station, similar to the Logan Express. Chair Robert Case added that looking into expanding Framingham’s current cross-town buses could also help get more cars off of the streets.
Community members made clear, however, that there is more that needs to be done to save the environment than just getting more cars across the road.
Framingham environmentalist Larry Stoodt expressed concern over not seeing the sense of urgency that there should be regarding climate change. He said that the problem is only going to accelerate in the years to come.
Vice-Chair Feeney asked Stoodt to list the top five things he feels need to be done to address the issue.
Stoodt said that there should be a mandate that all municipal buildings have some form of renewable energy source (such as solar panels), the city government should ask state legislators to put more money into public transportation, schools should teach all children what is really happening with the environment, the community should be more responsible with its use of water, and members of the community should think about their role in helping the environment.
Another topic discussed at the public hearing last night, October 7, was public safety.
Specifically, SIFOC mentioned that there are staffing issues at the police department. This may be related to national trends that show fewer and fewer people are going into the law enforcement field.
District 1 resident Gerry Bloomfield said “public safety is right up top for quality of life.” He feels that law enforcement officers are not necessarily getting the support that they need. He also noted a lack of resources regarding public health, such as for EEE. Bloomfield believes that public safety and public health should be considered basic elements of a successful and well-balanced community.
SIFOC member Darlene Umina said this reinforced that this is a matter as important to the public as it is to SIFOC.
Regarding the topic of education, SIFOC Chair Robert Case said Framingham is looking at adding more childhood education.
Case said that when SIFOC was established, its first conversation was with Framingham Public Schools Superintendent Robert Tremblay regarding this matter.
Case said there is a chance of a partnership with Framingham State University.
Additionally, Bloomfield and Epstein voiced concerns over the school system budget and the city’s growing population.
Bloomfield said that the city must look at where it is now and where we are going.
With the two public hearings complete, SIFOC’s next step is to present its concerns to the City Council, the Mayor, and the School Committee.
According to SIFOC Vice Chair Feeney, the Committee will address the top 20-25 issues from these hearings.
Chair Case said he is pleased that the public has shared their opinions with SIFOC at these hearings and that they can contribute to the long-range vision for the city.
He is “looking forward to continuing the work of SIFOC and producing a robust list of recommendations for the city’s long-range strategic plan.”
Framingham is a community of more than 65,000 residents. Less than five dozen individuals attended the two public hearings.
There is no set date yet for when SIFOC will present its findings.
Photo by SOURCE intern Shauna Golden, a Boston University graduate student.