The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (“MBTA”) spider-map has been praised and replicated in countries around the world, but it only takes one short look at the transit map to realize one obvious missing link: the Red Line and the Blue Line are the only two of Boston’s rapid transit lines that do not intersect. Six governors, over more than two decades, have legally committed the Commonwealth to fix this obvious problem. Earlier this week, however, the Patrick Administration decided to buck this trend by seeking permission to permanently and completely remove the legal obligation to finish the final design of the Red/Blue Line Connector, without proposing to substitute any other project for it.
The Red/Blue Line Connector was originally supposed to be completed by December 31 of this year. Less than five years ago, the Commonwealth had reaffirmed that it would at least design the connector by the same date. Part way through the design, the Commonwealth is throwing in the towel, stating that it is unrealistic to expect that construction of this project will be funded, although it has never really asked the state legislature or the federal government to fund this critical transit project and has not considered any more affordable options to accomplish the same goal. This is a symptom of the chronic underfunding of our transportation system. Instead of pushing forward and advocating for increased revenue, the State is now entering a dangerous trajectory of just giving up on beneficial projects.
As a result of this missing link, transit riders traveling from points along the Blue Line to the Red Line, or the other way round, must transfer twice by using either the Green or Orange Line, reducing ridership and unnecessarily increasing congestion at downtown Boston stations including Government Center, Park Street, State and Downtown Crossing. The need to transfer twice restricts access to jobs, such as those at the academic and medical institutions along the Red Line, particularly for residents of East Boston, Revere, Winthrop and Lynn, for whom the Blue Line is the only accessible subway route. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) projected that the Red/Blue Line Connector would more than double daily boardings, from 10,050 to 22,390, at the Charles/MGH Station alone.
The absence of a direct connection between the Red and Blue Lines makes travel far more difficult than necessary and often discourages the use of public transit. For example, coming home from Cambridge, an East Boston resident has to wait on three different platforms for three trains. This can take particularly long for people who work at night, as many do, since the MBTA Rapid Transit lines’ arrival and departure times at Park Street, Government Center, Downtown Crossing and State Street are not coordinated and the trains are frequently delayed. Even if on schedule, at 9:00 p.m. on a weekday, a trip from Harvard Square to Maverick Station involves 28 minutes of waiting time alone. By contrast, the route can be driven in only 16 minutes, resulting in a clear disincentive to use public transportation and contravening the State’s policy, articulated in the Global Warming Solutions Act and elsewhere, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.
Many people, however, do not have the choice between driving and taking public transportation. The Blue Line, more than any other MBTA rapid transit line, serves almost exclusively communities where a large percentage of residents depend on mass transit. At the same time, residents of these communities are also in need of greater access to jobs. Likewise, many Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) patients need to travel from Revere, where MGH has a satellite clinic, to the hospital’s main campus in Boston’s West End. Taking public transportation under the current circumstances is not a simple trek for the infirm.
The Department of Environmental Protection now gets to decide whether the Commonwealth can proceed to request a revision of the State Implementation Plan under the Clean Air Act from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Let’s hope that someone in the process that lies ahead has the vision to create not only a praiseworthy map but a good underlying public transportation system.