How multimodal city councilor Michelle Wu gets around Boston

How do Americans move through their cities? Here at Curbed, we’re super curious about the transportation habits of regular folks. So, using a diary format, we’re asking real people to track their multimodal journeys for a week and report back with the highs and lows of what it takes to get around town.

During her two years as a Boston city councilor, Michelle Wu has become one of the city’s more outspoken transportation advocates. She’s helped usher in a culture change by pushing for safe, efficient transit infrastructure—from separated cycle tracks for bikes to dedicated lanes for buses.

She’s also a mom to two young kids, with whom she commutes every day, documenting it all on Twitter at @WuTrain. In fact, she created a specific hashtag challenging her fellow elected officials—and all Bostonians—to take public transit to work. Follow along to experience Wu’s dizzying schedule, which takes her all over Boston—from City Hall to the suburbs—on bus, train, bike, car, foot, and her beloved double stroller.

Sunday, April 8

My week starts with a send-off for cycling advocate Jonathan Fertig—@Rightlegpegged—and his wife Helen Silver as they relocate to Denver.

Jonathan has been an outspoken advocate for safer bike infrastructure across the city, and has helped organize several tactical urbanism projects including flower lanes and even a people-protected bike lane. He’s a big part of the reason why I started riding a bike again, and I’m far from the only one he’s mentored about city cycling.

The party is a who’s who of transit advocacy in Boston: local clergy, professors, teachers, advocates from the Boston Cyclists Union, Boston Bike Divas, Boston Bike Party, Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, and friends.

Everyone signs a road cone as we enjoy the delicious food at home.stead bakery & cafe in Dorchester—a small business started by fellow bike advocates Vivian Girard, Elsa Girard, and Jack Wu, who are some of the original founders of the neighborhood cycling group, DotBike.

Commuting with transit companions nine-month-old Cass and three-year-old Blaise.
Michelle Wu

I’m there with my family: my husband Conor works at a local bank, and we go everywhere with our two little guys, three-year-old Blaise and nine-month-old Cass.

As a one-car family living in one of the neighborhoods further from downtown, our first choice is to always take transit. But on a Sunday, the drive from our house to the bakery is 18 minutes by car versus an hour on the T, which would require taking a bus to the subway all the way downtown, then another line all the way back out to Dorchester. So we drive there and back.

Monday, April 9

Today I get dropped off at work by car because Conor has a meeting close to City Hall. I decide to bring some heavy bags of books and documents I’d been wanting to take to my office for a while.

We also pack the stroller so I can keep it at work and get the kids home with me at night. I’m lucky that my little guys can go to child care right at City Hall so they make the commute with me. I’d personally prefer to bike everywhere, but I don’t feel safe riding with the kids down busy Washington Street.

My first meeting on Monday is a briefing with the city’s transportation department on a dedicated bus lane pilot on the Washington Street corridor from Roslindale Square to Forest Hills. This is one of the most congested stretches in the city and also the first part of my daily commute.

Then I take the Green Line and walk to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) board meeting at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation building. Today I’m testifying about fare inequity on the commuter rail line—more on that later in the week. They agree to put this on the agenda for a May meeting. Then it’s a walk back to the Green Line for a hearing at City Hall on my proposed free petition ordinance that would let residents have a way to shape the council agenda directly.

I pick up my kids from City Hall child care, and we take the Orange Line to the last stop at Forest Hills Station, then a crowded bus to Roslindale Square, then walk the rest of the way home.

Tuesday, April 10

Today I’m taking both kids with me to stop at a meeting in Dorchester before heading down to City Hall. We get so much use out of our stroller, a Joovy Caboose Ultralight, which has a seat in front for the baby and a space behind for his active big brother to stand or sit. It’s narrow enough to fit down a train aisle, light enough to maneuver easily, and has a sun/rain shield as well as plenty of pockets for water bottles, snacks, books, and extra clothes.

When I used to commute with just one kid, I never used a stroller because it was easier to just carry him up and down stairs when needed rather than depend on elevators. But with two, I need it to keep everyone corralled and to hold all our stuff.

We start with a short walk from home to the bus stop. The 35 bus passes us because the buses are bunched up so it doesn’t stop, but we just catch the 36 bus. We arrive at Forest Hills Station after a smooth ride and follow our fellow stroller users because we all need to take the elevator to transfer to our next bus on the lower platform.

A quick bus transfer means running with other strollers users to the elevators.
Michelle Wu

I feel like it’s my lucky day because the next 16 bus pulls up minutes after we get to the platform, but, just kidding, the driver turns off the bus for a break. Bus goes out of service. Ten minutes later, the bus leaves with a new driver. We creep along, stuck behind two school buses that are trying to turn left. This bus needs a dedicated lane!

We attend the Black Ministerial Alliance meeting in Dorchester. Afterwards we need to get to City Hall which involves making some quick choices. The 16 bus back to Forest Hills passes us but we don’t want to go backwards even if Google Maps says it’s two minutes faster—you never know when the next Orange Line connection would come. So I wait for a bus going the other way, towards downtown. Although maybe this is a bad decision, because my app now says the other bus is delayed. We dip into the afternoon snacks to keep everyone happy while waiting.

Finally we get the 16 bus to Andrew Station. We take the elevator to the mezzanine level fare gates and then another elevator to the platform. The Red Line train arrives right away. The signs showing how much time until the next train are so key!

We change trains at Park Street, where we have to get out in the middle to take the elevator up, then two other elevators to catch the Green Line going the right direction. We don’t have to wait long. Blaise loves sitting in the part of the trolley where two cars connect and he can swivel around. We get off at Government Center, and take the elevator to the street. Six elevators total on this trip!

This morning we’re hosting an awards ceremony for winners in the Green Streets Walk/Ride Day initiative for healthier commutes. The program encourages culture change by asking participating companies’ employees to log how they got to work one day each month. We see each year that even the simple act of tracking commutes as part of a friendly competition results in more commutes by public transportation, bike, and walking. It’s inspiring to see the city’s major employers coming together in support of healthier switches.

Afterwards I take the Hubway bike share (recently renamed Blue Bikes) to my meeting in the Seaport. There’s really no other good way to get there. The only public transit is the Silver Line, a bus line that gets caught in the awful traffic. Many of the companies in the area have started their own private shuttles for their employees. Some have even suggested a gondola to fly people over the traffic. Or we could invest in more protected cycle tracks—and a dedicated bus lane!

Hopping on Boston’s Hubway bike share to head to a meeting.
Michelle Wu

It’s not the most stress-free ride to cross Atlantic Avenue near the onramp to the interstate, but there is one stretch of protected track. I love that when I ride, I can stop and see things. On the way back, a section of my route is blocked off—apparently Vice President Mike Pence is in town for a fundraiser and the city is gearing up for protests. I run into the downtown district police captain Ken Fong and take a selfie.

Around 4:00 p.m. I walk to Haymarket Station to get the train so I can go to three events in Roxbury with a staff member, Kristen Halbert. My sister picks up Blaise from daycare and takes him home. I keep baby Cass with me because he’s still breastfeeding so I can’t be away from him for too long.

As we maneuver the stroller on the Orange Line to Ruggles station, Kristen asks how I can be patient all the time having to wait for all these elevators. We run to catch the next 23 bus and make it on, but the bus gets stuck at a left turn for three light cycles. We need transit signal priority.

We finally arrive at Twelfth Baptist Church for a Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts talk on teacher diversity. We then walk to the Bolling Building with the stroller for a city council hearing on supporting local small businesses—Cass sits on my lap and then gets passed around to other officials during the hearing. After the first panel, we leave the hearing and walk to the bus station. This is a big hub, and it’s hard to find the right place to catch our specific bus, but we eventually do.

We catch the 44 bus to the Crispus Attucks House for a presentation on safe road design for the Garrison Trotter neighborhood in Roxbury, a partnership between local community members and a team of civil engineering students from Northeastern University. It’s been a long day, so when the meeting ends, my husband picks me up for the 15-minute drive home—it would have been another 40 minutes on transit.

Wednesday, April 11

This morning my husband drops us off at the commuter rail station. We rarely take the commuter rail in the morning because it’s expensive. My colleagues and I have been fighting this fare inequity issue for a few years and neighbors are ramping up advocacy.

Commuter rail fares are priced by zones, with Zone 1A fares of $2.25 for most of the city. But three of Boston’s 22 neighborhoods are outside this zone—and these neighborhoods are also the ones not served by subway. That means if my neighbors and I want to choose commuter rail instead of bus to get to the Orange Line, it’s $6.75 to go a little over a mile to Forest Hills, then an additional subway fare. It’s more predictable than buses, which can get stuck in traffic, but too costly to take daily.

Today I need to get to the mayor’s budget meeting with the city council at 8:30 a.m. so I go for commuter rail. We are running late in the morning and would probably miss it walking to the station so my husband drops us off. There’s only a small elevated platform here. The 8 a.m. commuter rail train is already running five minutes behind schedule by the time we get to Back Bay station. We take two elevators to get to the Orange Line platform, which is really crowded—it’s not looking good.

Blaise thinks it’s funny that there are so many people we can’t squeeze on the first train. People are left off at every door. Mom is less amused. There’s already a crowd forming to make the second train, and I really don’t want to be delayed even further so we squeeze right to the front. We make it on the second train. But we get to City Hall late. I’m the last one to the meeting.

Long lines and crowded cars on Boston’s commuter rail, which is far more expensive than the subway.
Michelle Wu

After the budget meeting, we have a Vision Zero briefing from the coalition of community groups, with leaders from Livable Streets, WalkBoston, and the Boston Cyclists Union. Vision Zero refers to the city’s commitment to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and serious injuries from crashes with cars. It’s about the principle that our infrastructure choices directly determine how safe it is to get around the city.

The briefing focuses on equity needs—bus service is still congested and unpredictable, but it’s the only affordable option for many of our residents, particularly in communities of color. We can and must do more at the city level to prioritize bus service and improve multimodal options. Mayor Marty Walsh made a big investment in this year’s proposed budget for staffing and resources to improve infrastructure and transit. We all can’t wait to see these passed and implemented! Then it’s time for our weekly council session.

At 5 p.m. I walk to the Omni Parker House where I’m giving a keynote address at the Friends of the Public Garden annual meeting. This nonprofit organization takes care of the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall, from tree care and irrigating the grass, to maintaining the monuments and fountains. We need to band together even more given the federal government’s retreat on open space and parks funding.

I hand off the kids to Conor, who takes them to get a quick dinner while I’m speaking. They pick me up in the car when I’m done for the drive to Arlington for an Emerge Massachusetts event to support training women to run for office. We drive home.

Thursday, April 12

It’s cold out this morning! I grab the boys’ hats and a blanket. Cold or rain can make every minute waiting for the bus a little more stressful. I’ll change it up to stay underground more, even if it involves waiting for more connections.

At 7:55 a.m, we leave the house and just miss both the 34E and 51 bus. Clumped! When we finally catch one, we have a good view of how little space there is for cyclists in the painted bike lane down this busy major road. Extreme dooring risk. That’s another reason why the dedicated bus lane here will be so important.

We get to Forest Hills Station. Then we need to wait for the elevator down to the platform. We get on the 8:20 a.m. Orange Line train, which gets stuck with a delay at Back Bay Station.

After dropping the kids at City Hall, I walk to a meeting in the North End. I’m late after those train delays, but I remember to grab my helmet so I can ride the bike share back. But after the meeting, when I go to get a Hubway bike, there are no more left. So I walk back.

My luck is better later in the afternoon when I grab a bike to go to the Museum of African American History. Except, of course, for a parked car blocking the bike lane—unfortunately that’s a fairly regular occurence.

At the museum, my interns Nandi and Susy and I get a tour of the powerful Frederick Douglass exhibit with director Marita Rivero. I ride Hubway back to City Hall.

Tonight I have an evening event in Chinatown so I drop the kids at home with my husband first. We walk to South Station to ride commuter rail. It’s longer to walk this way but it’s fairly nice out and it means we can get a seat. The train gets pretty crowded by Back Bay Station. Plus, we don’t have to get on and off the train at Ruggles to line up with the elevated platform at Roslindale. We walk all the way to the end of the train.

My favorite part of taking the commuter rail home is that our walk home takes us right by the Boston Cheese Cellar in the neighborhood business district. We stop by our local cheese shop.

After the kids are all settled, I hop on the train to South Station, and walk to the Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts annual banquet at Hei La Moon restaurant. I watch the clock because I know I have to leave to catch an 8:50 p.m. train or else I’ll have to wait for another hour. I get back at 9:10 p.m. and it’s raining. I walk home in the rain.

Friday, April 13

Because I end up walking so much between commuting and getting from meeting to meeting, I have to put a little extra thought into my footwear choices—what to wear in the morning, what to bring, what to keep at work.

Today, for example, I’m giving a lunch presentation and wanted to wear heels with my dress. I can bike in heels and walk around the office just fine, but commuting involves going longer distances and often carrying one or both kids, which ruins heels and feet. That means this morning I’m wearing my commuting shoes! These are Ahnu walking shoes from REI and they’re so comfortable.

At 8:00 a.m., as we’re walking to the stop, I can see a bus coming and that it’s bunched together with two others, so I have to catch one of these three or wait a long time. We run across the street! The bus to Forest Hills is a smooth trip even if it’s crowded. We miss the first elevator but catch the train.

We ride the Orange Line to State Street. There’s a very long delay at one of the stops. But it’s all worth it for the view of the Old State House when we get out, complete with people dressed up in Revolutionary War attire commuting to work—looks like they’re still boycotting tea and have switched to morning coffee.

The view of the Old State House just outside the Orange Line subway station.
Michelle Wu

I’m headed to Google for a talk so instead of taking the Green Line at Government Center outside City Hall to the Red Line, I walk directly to Park Street Station where I just miss the first Red Line train but catch the next one nine minutes later. I speak at the Alliance for Business Leadership’s conference about transportation infrastructure ideas for economic mobility, then ride the T back.

One of my favorite views of the city is when the Red Line crosses the Longfellow Bridge into Boston—the leafy Esplanade behind a sparkling Charles River, set against the Boston skyline. The train moves slowly across the bridge as it’s been under renovation for years, set to reopen in May with better access for pedestrians and protected cycling infrastructure. The Vision Zero coalition has been pushing to make sure the bike infrastructure is wide enough to be safe all the way across.

I pick up the kids from child care and we meet my sister, then walk together to the Boston Children’s Museum for their $1 Friday nights. We see wild turkeys hanging out in Post Office Square park on our way. After taking in some dinosaur exhibits, we walk from the museum to South Station, take the commuter rail to Roslindale Village Station and walk home.

Saturday, April 14

We drive to Bellevue Hill Park with the scooter and stroller for a walk and roll with the kids, then to pick up takeout for lunch and head home. The park is about a mile from where we live, but there’s not convenient transit in between—we could take a bus for a short part of the trip, but certain routes come only every 25 to 30 minutes on the weekend and it’d still be so much walking to get to and from each stop that we’d be scooter-ed out by the time we got there. Plus there’s no food right nearby and we’re on the clock before the kids get hangry and tired for naps.

At night I need to get to the Korean American Citizens League dinner at the Lexington Elks Lodge outside the city. This is one of those trips that would require a two-hour transit trip with multiple buses, train lines, and then 20 minutes of walking. It’s 50 minutes in the car, and I don’t have to worry as much about traffic on the weekend.

So I drive, but have to stop and get gas along the way. I don’t like driving and I hate getting gas! The sense of watching the price tick up with each drop of fossil fuel that will turn into unhealthy emissions makes me cringe. Each time I vow to do what I can to make it easier for people who don’t want to drive to choose another alternative.

Commuting with kids requires planning, packing snacks and books, and patience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I’m grateful everyday that then-Mayor Ray Flynn opened an onsite child care facility for city employees 30 years ago, because it means I get to spend an extra hour to and from work with my boys.

Sure, it takes longer with the stroller and there’s nothing so humbling as trying to pick up a toddler throwing a tantrum on the floor of a crowded train, but I treasure these moments of reading together, practicing words by pointing things out through the window, or watching them have funny conversations with kind fellow commuters.

It’s been fun to track my transit this week, but I’m also looking forward to getting back to just commuting with Blaise and Cass. As I look up from taking a picture and typing some notes on my phone, I see one of them has spilled puffs all over the train.