Will Longer, Later Hours Make Boston A 'World Class City'?

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What are you doing tonight? If it's in Boston, it probably won't be happening too late — because Boston isn't known as an all-night town.

Even so, the city is exploring ways to promote more late-night activity by experimenting with late-night food trucks, MBTA service and more. Mayor Marty Walsh's late night task force is looking at a program that would allow some bars and restaurants to stay open past 2 a.m. The mayor — and proponents — see this as a way to make the city more attractive to younger people and foreign visitors.

But not everybody agrees. Just this week, a Senate budget amendment that would have given the green light to a pilot a program to keep bars and restaurants open until 4 a.m. failed to pass.

This is not the nail in the coffin for late-night Boston, however. An email sent out Monday by the mayor’s press secretary said there are still a number of ways the city can get closer to a 4 a.m. closing time for bars and restaurants, including filing legislation in January.


Rep. Michael Moran, Democratic state representative and second division chair in the House of Representatives.

Edward Glaeser, professor of economics at Harvard University and director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. He tweets @triumphofcity.

Dr. Timothy Naimi, epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center and associate professor at Boston University's Schools of Medicine and Public Health.


On 4 a.m. licenses in Allston-Brighton:
Rep. Michael Moran: "I'm representing my community by advocating for them and saying that we do not want 4 a.m. licenses in our community... Because we don't think it enhances the quality of life of the people that live here, first and foremost. And secondly, I just don't buy the argument that two hours later on a last call makes us a world-class city."

On the problems with serving alcohol late:
MM: "If you live near or, in my case, represent a community that has as many liquor licenses as we do, you see how it drains your public safety dollars and... public safety for the residents that live in those communities. You also are fearful that this is going to bring problems, because we don't know how it's going to be implemented. If you do 1 a.m. or 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. last calls in our community, you're going to have surrounding communities of Watertown [and] Newton rushing into our community to get a last call at 4 a.m. Obviously, that means driving... which I'm very fearful of. So, there's just a lot of issues that are surrounding the 4 a.m. last call that haven't been ironed out... I think [they] can only be ironed out in a process where everybody has a voice at the table."

On the possible benefits of serving alcohol late:
Edward Glaeser: "Potentially, it adds to the general buzz of the place... Much of what I take away from this I garnered when I was chairing the Citizens' Committee [On Boston's Future] two or three years ago, and I was amazed by the number of people in their 20s who complained over and over again about how they were paying New York City-level prices without having New York City-level fun. Now, I'm the parent of three small kids. I don't see the far side of 10 p.m. very often, so this is certainly not an issue with which I'm deeply acquainted. But I was amazed by how often this issue came up... When [I saw] it coming forward again in the legislative process, I [had] a lot of concerns about what can go wrong... but I think it is an area in which it makes sense to potentially experiment and, potentially, learn what those costs will be."

EG: "This is coming in the wake of the MBTA's night owl service. What's great about what the MBTA did is they didn't start out by thinking they knew the right answer. They said, 'Let's try it for a while. Let's look at how many people take the service when we run it, and then we'll make a final decision later.' I cannot emphasize what a tremendous positive step this is for government — that we start, not by thinking we know the answer, but thinking that what we're going to do is we're going to gather evidence, so we're actually going to have fact-based government, which is just a great step forward. So, in the case of late-night service — and, I should say, I'm piggy-backing on the idea that there already was this... late night task force, which I have nothing to do with... I can't tell you how sympathetic I am with what Rep. Moran just said — if you're going to have an experiment, then you should have an experiment that delivers information. You shouldn't try to just put the late-night service in whatever area is safest or whatever area is politically convenient. You should try to do it in a way so that we actually learn... whether or not the latening of the hours actually really does create substantial neighborhood nuisances, does create potential risks of a variety of form. And the plan that I put forward is, take some narrow area of the city — an area that's very far from key residential districts, that has abundant access to public transportation — and then cut it up into sub-areas and give some of the sub-areas late-night licenses and the other areas not, temporarily, just to see how it works."

Dr. Timothy Naimi: "I support Ed's call for science, and I'm a researcher, and my area of expertise, in addition to being a physician, is in the area of alcohol policy. So, just in general, I'm happy and in favor of doing research on things when they change, but I think what's been lacking — and Rep. Moran alluded to this — is that we actually know a lot about this topic already... Before we do an experiment, let's all be cognizant of what we already know. And when I worked for the Centers for Disease Control on their alcohol team there, we did one of the comprehensive reviews of all the studies from developed countries about what happens when you extend so-called on-premises — meaning bar and restaurant serving hours of alcohol. And, not surprisingly, there's... very robust [international] evidence from developed countries — including from the U.S. — that the results are quite predictable... That is, increases in problems — problems in the nature of emergency room visits and drunk driving and assaults and those types of things. So that, for each two hours you delay the closing times, it corresponds to about a 15 percent increase in those types of problems. So, again, if there are changes, I'm not against the idea of further studying them because, of course, the context. It might be different in different cities or in which areas it's implemented, but I think we already know enough to know what's going to happen, so I guess as somebody's who's concerned about public health I would say if we should do experiments we should try restricting hours of sale and actually enforcing the alcohol laws that we do have on the book in order to find out how we might change things in a safer way without sacrificing the health and well-being of the citizens of Boston."


The Boston Globe: Better Nightlife Through Experimentation

  • "As Boston considers how to promote more late-night activity, the city shouldn’t play it safe — nor should it expect to get every policy right on the first try. The MBTA is once again testing out late-night service, Boston is piloting late-night food trucks, and Mayor Walsh’s Late Night Task Force is designing a trial program to allow some bars and restaurants to stay open after 2 a.m. These initiatives are delightful, but they raise a thornier question: Where should all this activity in the wee hours be allowed?"

The Boston Globe: Call To Study Effects Of Later Nightlife Is Dangerous, Misguided

  • "It is scientifically unethical to perform randomized experiments that are 'testing' bad outcomes, such as the car crashes, vandalism, and alcohol-related assaults and rapes that would be the unfortunate consequence of extending bar hours in a city with plenty of alcohol problems already."

This article was originally published on July 02, 2014.

This segment aired on July 2, 2014.


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