Transit and Equity Advocate Stephanie Pollack to Lead MassDOT

Stephanie Pollack was one of the first transportation experts who made a serious impression on me. A few weeks after I started working at Streetsblog, at my first Rail~volution conference, she gave a presentation on the complex relationship between transit, gentrification, and car ownership. Her energy, intellectual rigor, and passion for social justice were apparent in her nuanced work exploring the reasons why car ownership rates tend to rise in neighborhoods with new transit services — and how it hurts not just the transportation system and the environment, but the poor.

Stephanie Pollack, a thought leader on how housing and transportation policy impacts minorities and low-income people, will be the new secretary of MassDOT. Photo: ##http://www.northeastern.edu/news/faculty-experts/stephanie-pollack/##Northeastern##
Stephanie Pollack, a thought leader on how housing and transportation policy affects minorities and low-income people, will be the new secretary of MassDOT. Photo: Northeastern

The person who opened a Rail~volution session on transit and equity with, “I spent a couple of decades as a transit and equity advocate before I went into academia,” has just been named the director of a state department of transportation.

By a Republican governor.

When Streetsblog fretted about what a Charlie Baker victory over Democrat Martha Coakley could mean for transportation, naming such a firebrand as his transportation secretary seemed unthinkable. But perhaps Baker will continue the legacy of moderate Republican Massachusetts governors who care about smart growth.

Or perhaps he was simply impressed by Pollack’s résumé, including her leadership at Northeastern University’s Kitty & Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and her service on numerous teams and panels to help design city- and statewide public transportation and housing policy.

The Boston Globe’s headline yesterday about Pollack’s nomination read, “Baker names gas tax advocate as transit chief,” noting that “Baker has said he does not plan to raise taxes.” But Pollack’s history is much more interesting than her position on the gas tax.

Her research focuses on the intersection between transportation and equity. How can planners bring transit services into a neighborhood without bringing gentrification along with it? Are all communities equally consulted in the lead-up to major transportation changes? Are higher gas taxes “elitist or equitable”? (You can guess by that Globe headline which side she comes down on. Actually, don’t just guess — this short presentation of her conclusions is worth perusing.)

Pollack speaks passionately about investing in transit to upgrade and update Boston’s aging system — on behalf of the economically vulnerable and everyone else — and helped lead the city’s Climate Action Plan. She has defended the federal tax benefit for transit riders and sounded the alarm about racial disparities in commuting habits. She recently told a gathering of HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative, “Messing up land use within a half mile of transit should be a felony.” Plus, she’s a frequent re-tweeter of Streetsblog stories. What’s not to love?

Pollack steps into a position with a recent history of forward-looking transportation policy. Her predecessor, Richard Davey, launched a “mode shift” campaign with the goal of tripling the share of trips taken by non-automotive modes. “I have news for you,” Davey said in 2012. “We will build no more superhighways in this state.” 

Right now, the commonwealth of Massachusetts needs smart leadership on transportation. Just two months ago, voters repealed the automatic indexing of the gas tax to inflation, leaving MassDOT in the same cash-strapped fiscal position as many other transportation agencies. Pollack’s boss, Governor Baker, has not only nixed the idea of a gas tax hike, he’s also against higher tolls. And meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic Committee has chosen Boston as the U.S. contender to host the 2024 games.

52 thoughts on Transit and Equity Advocate Stephanie Pollack to Lead MassDOT

  1. Stephanie Pollack does have some good attributes, but see isn’t the glowing figure portrayed by Ms. Snyder. She’s been lobbying for this position since ’06. Governor Deval Patrick turned her down. Although she is passionate, her fact checking is sometimes off. However, her biggest downside, known across GB, is that she does not work well with others. I’ve seen it first hand, individuals being verbally torn into for mentioning an idea that Pollack personally doesn’t like. Hopefully this position teaches her, if anything. to talk, not scream, at others

  2. Unfortunately, too true. She can crank up the decibels. I remember one young guy making a point about new vehicles adaption, and before he could finish Pollack was screaming at him. It turns out, the guy was right, and Steph was wrong. Unless she changes her ways, I give Pollack a year, tops, before she’s forced to resign.

  3. Geez, if I had nine years to campaign for a political appt. I too could become a Mass Secretary. Money definitely exchanged hands here. Sorry to say, although I love Stephanie, she knows very little about transportation. She has a passion for transportation, but that’s it. This reminds me of a legacy student being slipped in after the main group has been assembled.

  4. I have no direct knowledge about Ms. Pollack (nor much about Governor Baker), but might I suggest that we tone down the partisan sniping a bit (by Ms. Snyder, not by my fellow commenters). Republicans aren’t the enemy here. I can name plenty of villains in the Streetsblog universe that wouldn’t be caught dead voting for the GOP (Iris Weinshall, anyone?). Streetsblog hero JSK was appointed by someone who was at least nominally a Republican. I get the feeling that it is nearly impossible for Ms. Snyder to imagine that someone she assumes must be opposed to her entire worldview could ever have any common ground with her. Turns out that’s not true. With any luck this appointment will show that there isn’t a Republican or a Democrat way to work on transportation issues, just ways that are smarter or less sensible.

  5. Is this the partisan sniping you mean? “But perhaps Baker will continue the legacy of moderate Republican Massachusetts governors who care about smart growth.” Because that’s the only mention of political parties, aside from the fact that Pollack was nominated by a Republican governor.

  6. If its of any reassurance, Republicans and Democrats alike have come together to share one collective WTF over the Pollack nom. Even liberal democrats and transit planners are questioning the pick. In the mix, Harriet Miers has been brought up, but it goes way beyond that. Stephanie Pollack is an unemployed lawyer of nine years who likes transportation, thats it, she has no training, public-sector experience, ceritifications, nothing, she just likes transportation. If I look at a transit plan and read an article, I have as much transportation experience as Ms. Pollack. The only difference is, I don’t have the nerve to call myself a transportation expert. As a Republican, I applaud our past Democratic Governor for passing on Pollack since ’06. For Governor Baker, I hope he walks this one back, sooner rather than later

  7. Stephanie Pollack Family Money strikes again. A cabinet position should never be for sale, period. Every Boston group that took Pollack family money in exchange for lecture slots, report roles, etc. don’t know what to do. After having lunch with one of the directors today, it was summed up in one phrase, “We have created a monster”

  8. How about the snarky dramatic pause

    around the fact that

    (pause)

    she was appointed by

    (are you ready to be shocked?)

    … a Republican [!!!!!! implied]

    That kind of sniping.

    All the same, it looks like other people who know more about local politics have more substantive issues with both Pollack and the way you presented her. It’s not the first time I’ve had to resort to reading the comments to get the bigger picture on a Streetsblog story.

  9. As Gov Baker mentioned on Boston Public Radio, he’s already received a ton of grief for the Pollack pick…and it will likely worsen. However, I don’t blame Baker for the pick. Pollack speaks with such force and drive, it gives the impression that she knows what she’s talking about. After a few weeks of actual work, it becomes apparent that she’s in over her head. Pollack is much like an applicant that has a shiny resume and nails the interview, but bombs during probabtion. Transportation is her hobby, not her profession. Termination is inevitable, money will just delay it.

  10. Dear Streetsblog, your heroine Stephanie Pollack botched her first major task on her first official day. There are already calls for her removal (get your “exit interview” article outline ready). Also, if you try to generate a rosy “Pollack gets Mass through Juno” piece, please be reminded that Frank DePaola, the actual acting MassDOT secretary at the time and now MassDOT COO (because Stephie is already on the way out) did the work, not Pollack.

  11. And botched her first radio interview. Apparently the Orange Line is now the Red Line (and BTW, a Red Line train is disabled, filled with smoke, nurses pulling passengers out of the windows: the entire subway line is shut down, and she has time to a give a radio interview !?!?!. WTH!! Its very apparent..she’s less secretary and more spokesperson. Plus, she’s an obese women who’s eating herself to death, yet advocates for people to ride bikes, almost like Dr. Phil diet tips. For her health and our safety, just hand over the reigns to DePaola and let Gov Baker move foward.

  12. Pollack was caught again floating an editorial…and was kindly asked to leave! Time will tell I guess. She had the brilliant idea to work as an intermediate between the Governor and Boston’s transit agency. Google around…pure disaster. She also told the Gov to pinpoint a privately funded $23 million rail improvement project as the root of Boston’s problems instead of $4 billion in pending Dukakis projects. The region has its fingers crossed

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/02/12/mbta-needs-leader-who-has-baker-full-confidence/UlCKjGR820AF5wqYB8RUTM/story.html

  13. The Boston Globe generated an excellent piece detailing how Pollack’s past proposals, Forward Funding and Conservation Law Big Dig litigation, generated the massive transit debt Boston has today. Maybe it was a reaction to Pollack’s editorial submissions. Either way, looking forward to the termination

  14. Breaking News. Pollack has been officially sidelined!!. MassDOT COO Frank DePaola was named Interim GM with Beverly Scott. They’re the team going forward. DePaola is a licensed engineer with decades of transportation experience. Pollack? an unqualified suspended lawyer.

  15. Dear SB, Let me help you out with the anger that Bostonians have for Stephanie Pollack. To put it in simple terms, Pollack wants dessert and nothing else. She wants to chat about transportation, debate transportation, but not work in transportation. This past Friday, the state needed to submit its final application for federal emergency funding after our terrible winter. It should have been Pollack’s main priority. Instead, she was giving yet another puff presentation, this time at the Lincoln Institute for journalists. The third non-essential presentation in three days. This is why Bostonians cannot stand her and why there are calls to fire her. She wants all of the glory without doing any of the heavy lifting. Frank DePaola and Beverly Scott have been doing the heavy lifting while Pollack chats away.

  16. Breaking. Mass Governor Baker’s first major political loss (rejected transit legislation) caused by Stephanie Pollack (report with fake numbers) In the aftermath, Pollack was passed over for the MassDOT chair position. Pollack’s husband will have to write a huge check to keep her employed

  17. Stephanie Pollack contradicted herself not one, not twice, but six times over the course of three meetings yesterday. People are getting used to their ears bleeding. They’re starting to pick up on her actual words. Just like her math, a little off.

  18. I hope that Stephanie Pollack can step up to the plate? Will She
    address the MBTA Sub-Contractor, Greater Lynn Senior Services and the
    many shortcomings associated with very Late Pick Ups and Drop offs.
    This company ignores customer service and shows no concern for hiring
    dispatchers whom have the skill sets to implement Great Performance and
    Stellar Customer Service. They have fallen short on T expectations and
    that of the Public to whom they serve. Handicapped, Disabled, Medical
    and the Elderly should not be treated as second class citizens, just
    because they have no choice but to choose public transportation.
    Can
    Stephanie Pollack cut through the Politics and rid the Service of the
    political hacks, same ole same ole good ole boy network? Steve Epps of
    Greater Lynn Senior Services has been with the MBTA for over twenty five
    years and now has a Cushy appointment with Greater Lynn Senior
    Services, this Nepotism and Glass Ceiling environment needs to come to
    an end.
    The MBTA should take back control over this Service, but do it in a way where existing, The Ride, Drivers will not lose their jobs, as they are good drivers.

  19. Stephanie Pollack screwed up royally on Radio Boston. Apparently, the state no longer has to remove the Big Dig debt from the MBTA, a major flip flop from her past screaming on Beacon Hill. Kudos to the Radio Boston host. She did an excellent job of softening Pollack up and then hitting her with key questions. You left Pollack grasping for words. Please have Round 2

  20. Pollack’s incorrect MBTA numbers were revised by the Baker Adminsitation. The Governor pushed for the change after Greaton Boston’s Commonwealth Magazine outlined Pollack’s mistakes.

  21. Despite Boston’s transit agency debt ($8 billion +), Stephanie Pollack has proposed over $1 billion in state funds for her pet project: a 4 mile trolley through gentrified neighborhoods northwest of Boston; similar to her upscale hometown of Newton. In the same legislation, she proposed rail extensions for a ski resort and the Buzzards Bay / Cape Cod area, but removed $200 million in funding for rail service improvements across Boston’s communities of color. The move has sparked outraged from her former supporters and friends. Despite calls to funnel all federal transportation funding into maintenance and transit equity, Pollack has decided to go ahead with a pointless $2 billion pet project

  22. Stephanie Pollack, in light of the Roxbury-Dorchester-Mattapan backlash, has ordered her top minority hires and consultants to praise her funding decisions on social media. None of her hires are from RDM or even Boston. The reaction has been swift, with calls echoing 1987; the year when Boston’s Orange Line rail corridor was shifted out of Roxbury by Governor Dukakis without providing equal rail service in its place.

  23. I don’t know why this article comment spread has become Pollack Wikileaks, but it isn’t needed. Pollack has screwed up so many times, the press has finally caught on. Spend your time doing more productive things. If you think Pollack will actually pull off the Green Line Extension, think again. One aspect Pollack failed to comprehend when putting a marker to a map is that the GLX past Washington St will disrupt (demolish, replace tracks) any and all Lowell MBTA service, Haverhill/Lawrence MBTA service via Wildcat, and any and all Downeaster Amtrak service. Close down the tracks, everyone from Medford to Maine will protest, keep one track open, the project will last well into the mid 2020s. In addition, Amtrak ROW is another Pandora’s Box. At that same time, there isn’t a bypass route for the traffic, Malden-Medford’s Commuter/Orange tracks are already jammed and the Wildcat route can only shift traffic from the Haverhill line southbound but not vice versa. All of these elements…Pollack failed to consider…as usual. Thus, spend your time on better things. The Pollack disasters (and termination) are already in the pipeline. Your comments are moot.

  24. There have been multiple accounts of screaming Pollack tantrums in Newton since the Green Line Extension fallout. Pollack’s rich husband tried to soften it with another “Pollack is wonderful’ article in the Boston Globe, but a majority is now calling bullspit. Pollack’s multiple firings are now well known alongside her lack of transportation expertise. I personally supported Pollack after yet another termination. She pleaded for another chance, and we gave her one. Now she’s back to her old ways, screaming at the top of lungs about matters she knows very little about. When she’s fired again, she can’t come back pleading for another job.

  25. Journalism Alert. Stephanie Pollack and her husband are funding a series of pro-Green Line Extension articles in the Boston Globe. The same Globe team that was tasked with putting a positive spin on Boston 2024, the now failed Boston Olympic bids) have been put in charge of the Pollack-GLX spin.

  26. Massachusetts’ Green Line Extension is dead in the water, and so is Stephanie Pollack’s term as transportation secretary. Maryland’s 14 Mile Red Line light rail project running through Baltimore (pop. 600,000) was cancelled after reaching a pricetag of $2.9 Billion ($200 Million per Mile) The 4.7 Mile Green Line Extension light rail project running through Somerville, Mass (pop. 75,000) has reached $3.3 Billion ($700 Million per Mile!!!)

  27. POLLACK BAD MATH ALERT. In the latest Green Line Extension (GLX) language floated by Stephanie Pollack. she tried to claim that the GLX cost (3.3 Billion) was below ongoing Los Angeles and San Francisco light rail projects. In reality. The light projects in LA and SF are much lower, including the Central Subway in SF, an underground light rail extension ($1.5 Billion). The closest project price-tag to the GLX is LA’s Purple Line subway extension ($2.8 Billion) and that’s a full fledge heavy rail underground subway extension. Fire Pollack today

  28. If its any solace. Pollack was called out at Harvard yesterday for making loose precedent comparisons with other cities. I think her transportation “depth” depends on what the NYT decides to cover that week. She was terrible

  29. The Pollack blowback is already starting. She panned Boston BRT and DMU proposals before, during, and after her Harvard K School scream-fest. Now she’s back-tracking, or in her case, back-screaming. What’s ironic about the Pollack screaming is that MassDOT needs both BRT and DMU lines to Correct Pollack’s CLF screwups. Just like the delicious irony of the CLF GLX, where Pollack failed to consider the cost of cramming a trolley within an active rail corridor, she also forced the state to add stations every few blocks along the Farimount Commuter Line without thinking things through. The problem: Pollack failed to realize that MassDOT’s current commuter locomotives were not designed to start and stop every few blocks. The locomotives are now breaking apart at an alarming rate. DMUs, smaller start and stop rail vehicles on heavy track, are required to fix Pollack’s existing screwups (mindblow)

  30. Pollack Scream: BRT & DMU Bad. Pollack Translation: I don’t want to do any work…whaaaa! Pollack’s entire Green Line Extension is a carbon-copy retread of Boston’s Orange Line Southwest Corridor project, everything from rail reconstruction planning to sound wall design circa 1987. In her mind, all she has to do is copy Southwest to produce GLX (don’t mind the 25+ year gap). BRT and DMU means applying systems that Pollack can’t copy from past Boston projects (ie actual, tangible work). And as we all know in GB, Pollack is allergic to actual, tangible work

  31. Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) would also match the current ridership on the Fairmount Line. The corridor needs vehicles closer to the scale of Boston’s Green Line Electrified Trolley, but seeing as the Fairmount Line isn’t electrified, DMUs are the best bet. The maintenance facility/yard for the Fairmount DMUs is being covered by the private sector. That aspect isn’t tripping up the project. nor is Pollack’s argument that modern DMUs don’t exist/operate in North America. Take a look at Austin, Toronto, Dallas, The SF Bay Area, etc. Ultimately, The project requires some heavy-lifting by Stephanie Pollack. If Pollack did some work……….oh dear……we’re screwed.

  32. Certain DMUs are now FRA-complaint for mixed traffic, meaning they can simultaneously run on the same tracks as traditional commuter and freight rail. With the Fairmount Line, Both DMUs and Franklin/Providence commuter trains can run on the same tracks at the same time. Its a fact Pollack tries to suppress at every turn. DMU and BRT projects in Boston would be efficient and cost-effective. However, they’re not “Pollack projects”. The Green Line Extension is Pollack’s pet project, her $3 Billion baby. Green Line Trolleys cannot run simultaneously on the same tracks as commuter-freight rail, thus the need for new rail ROWs, and hence the outrageous $3 Billion pricetag. A mixture of BRT and DMU service could replace the GLX, and bring down the pending cost by Billions.

  33. Stephanie Pollack lectured me last night that to be successful in transportation, ie to become sec. of transportation in Mass, you need not formally study or work in transportation. Instead, you just need to talk to people and think about transportation. This line was relayed to a room of people who work in transportation. To Pollack..my response..you are full of it…you also forgot a key element that led to your “success”…A RICH HUSBAND WITH POLITICAL INFLUENCE! You have set women back 50 years Sec. Pollack. You’re not the independent renegade you claim to be. You’re a dependent housewife who needed something to do…and thus my field and gender have to suffer

  34. Hear Hear. The Pollack BS is running thin. + how the heck does she have so much time for multiple puff presentations in one day? Does she even work?

  35. Brava! Right on the mark! Turns out, a former Mass Governor recommended Pollack to Governor Charlie Baker..without even meeting her!! holi! Spend 5 minutes with Pollack and you’ll realize she doesn’t know a thing about transportation.

  36. Screaming Stephanie Pollack is the worst. Alongside being horrible at her job (hence why she’s been fired from every position she’s ever held) Pollack is a huge hypocrite. Pollack just went to an expensive conference junket in Dallas, TX. called “Rail-Volution” Beverly Scott (former MBTA GM) went to the same conference a few years back and was blasted by Pollack for attending the quote “puff conference”. Yet now, Pollack has no problem going to the same puff conference.

  37. I only wish I could call into Boston Public Radio to give Pollack a piece of my mind, but the program is midday. Hopefully the Pollack termination comes soon

  38. I just heard your transportation secretary stephanie pollack for the first time today. can someone answer, why is she the secretary? her transportation knowledge was clearly lacking, yet she’s the top director?

  39. Pollack, do us all a favor this holiday season. Resign, now, today, asap. You are a rich housewife, not a transportation planner. Get it through your head. The Green Line Extension is a horribly designed project, You’re trying to push a trolley line through an active Amtrak corridor. first 2 billion, then 3 billion, soon to be 4 Billion. By 2020 10 Billion +

  40. You nailed it. Thanks for the outside analysis. Everyone in MA goes stir crazy over this. As of today, a rich housewife with too much time on her hands runs the state’s transportation network

  41. wow, how did this ditzy housefly get that job. oh, patronage appointment. there has to be someone better than pollack out there to run things i hope or we are all doomed.

  42. Scream she will. and at this point I think she is starting to believe her own hype. Boston Magazine, known for publishing “solicited hyperbole” (wink) had the following to say about Pollack

    For more than 25 years, Pollack was Boston’s brightest and most respected public transportation advocate, earning her stripes as an environmental lawyer for the prestigious Conservation Law Foundation and then as a professor at Northeastern

    Suffice to say, it gave my office a big laugh. Pollack was let go from CLF due to performance issues. Her husband acquired a fluff spot at Northeastern’s Dukakis Big Dig Debt Center for her screaming housewife, the end.

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