JP A to Z: O is for Orange Line #AtoZChallenge #JamaicaPlain


O is for Orange Line

The Orange Line is the life line for Jamaica Plain, allowing JP residents a direct rapid transit commute to Downtown Boston and connections to other communities beyond.  The Orange Line in Jamaica Plain was originally the Elevated over Washington Street (more on that in a future JP A to Z post) but the El was torn down in 1987, replaced by the Southwest Corridor.  There are four Orange Line stops in Jamaica Plain: Jackson Square, Stony Brook, Green Street, and the terminus of the Orange Line in Forest Hills.

Each of the MBTA’s lines has its own personality.  I don’t ride the Blue Line much so I can’t speak to that.  But the Green Line tends to be dominated by college students and young adults.  By day it’s like a study hall, by night it’s like a cocktail party.  The Red Line is more for professionals, people in suits going to the Financial District or medical professionals in scrubs going to a hospital.  And the Orange Line?  To paraphrase James Joyce “Here comes everybody!”  Passengers are diverse in ethnic and social backgrounds, and it seems the line where I most often see children commuting with their parents.  In fact, for several years I took my son to childcare on the T and I was always impressed by how Orange Line riders would help out – offering a seat, clearing a space, helping carry the stroller, and entertaining a cranky toddler.  That’s why I contend that the Orange Line in its own quiet way is the friendliest line of the MBTA system.

Post for “O” in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

Click to see more “Blogging A to Z” posts.

Salem


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Susan, Peter & I took a daytrip by commuter rail to Salem a week ago Sunday.  It was a fun adventure, especially for our three-year old train fanatic who looked out the window and narrated our journey all the from North Station to Salem.

Our first stop was lunch at Reds Sandwich Shop where the friendly waitresses (and customers) doted on Peter and the plates were full of tasty food.   Next stop was the Peabody Essex Museum.    After getting admonished by a guard for standing too close to the maritime art we went to the family-friendly, hands-on Art & Nature gallery.  Here there was the art of optical illusions, toys, puzzles, books, and a build your own bird station among other treats.  I was able to explore some of the other galleries and was impressed by the mix of American and Asian fine arts and decorative pieces, deliberately overlapping to show the cross-pollination of cultures in Salem’s history.  Particularly impressive was the FreePort [No. 001] exhibit in the East India Marine Hall where a staid gallery of ship’s models and figureheads is transformed by animations projected on all surfaces.  The video below should give the essence of the experience but one really needs to walk into the room for the full effect.

The PEM is an impressive museum and there was a lot more to see – including a special exhibit of Dutch art – but we were all pretty tired by then.  As a special treat for good behavior in the museum I took Peter to Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company, reputedly America’s oldest candy story.  Peter picked out a package of gummy fish and we ate them on the wharf overlooking historic houses and ships.  Salem is a charming town and has a quite to bit to offer especially if you can avoid the cheezy witchcraft exploitation industry.

We had a light supper and then caught a double-decker commuter train back to Boston which made it double exciting.

Earlier journeys in-and-around Boston:

Photopost: Providence


Today I took my toddler son Peter on a day trip to Providence, RI.  The main appeal of the outing was for Peter to finally get a chance to ride the double-decker commuter rail trains but I’ve been wanting to explore Providence for some time.  Despite living a combined 27-years in the neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts I’ve not given much attention to Rhode Island.  I’ve driven through Providence past the giant termite, I went to a basketball camp at Providence College 20 years ago when I was in high school, I’ve been to a couple of Providence Bruins games, and … and that’s about it.

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The Providence railroad station is centrally located right next to the Rhode Island State House.  For the smallest state, Rhode Island really has an enormous capitol complete with gleaming white marble, neoclassical facades, and a looming hilltop presence.  I didn’t have any destination in mind, just wanted to get out and  explore. Peter & I strolled through Waterplace Park an attractive urban development of recent vintage which apparently replaced railroad tracks that once covered the river.  Then we visited City Hall Park where Peter chased after many, many pigeons.

While I would be content to study the attractive architecture of Providence, Peter wanted a playground and not being able to find one, we made our way to the Providence Children’s Museum.  The museum is located in the Jewelery District which actually looked like a district of unoccupied industrial buildings which was a little creepy.  The area around the museum was friendly and the museum itself was great – smaller but also less intimidating than the Boston Children’s Museum.   On our way back to the railroad station we walked through another part of downtown.  It feels someone how more urban than Boston and very different architecturally.  I will have to return to explore more when my attention is not so focused on a toddler.

The Best Dam Walking Tour in Boston


I promote a lot of tours on this blog, but if there’s one tour you must take this summer it’s the Exploring the Charles River Basin tour offered by Boston By Foot guides (including myself).  The tour steps off at 2 pm on Sunday, June 27th from Nashua Street Park just opposite the exit from the Science Park MBTA station (exit to the right, not toward the Museum of Science).  Admission for this tour is $15/person and $5 for card-carrying members of Boston By Foot.  A great excuse for getting a membership now!

Not to frighten anyone off but this tour covers about two-miles of some-times rough ground with little protection from the elements.  So come prepared with appropriate clothing and fresh liquids.  The tour lasts approximately 2 hours but you can duck out pretty easily at the 90-minute mark if you need to.

While Exploring the Charles River Basin,  you will:

  • discover three brand-new parks that most people don’t know exist.
  • history of the Charles River and its ever-encroaching banks
  • hear mellifluous words like bascule, freshet, and sluiceway and find out what they mean too
  • cross not one but two dams
  • see the only city jail with a waterfront view and a park across the street
  • ponder our litigious society
  • find what remains of Miller’s River
  • get a new perspective on the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge
  • and without fail you’ll see all manner of transportation, roads, railways, bridges, and waterways

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Charles River Basin Walking Tour


I promote a lot of tours on this blog, but if there’s one tour you must take this summer it’s the Exploring the Charles River Basin tour offered by Boston By Foot guides (including myself).  The tour steps off at 2 pm on Sunday, July 26th from Nashua Street Park just opposite the exit from the Science Park MBTA station (exit away from the way to the Museum of Science.  Admission for this tour is $15/person and $5 for card-carrying members of Boston By Foot.  A great excuse for getting a membership now!

Not to frighten anyone off but this tour covers about two-miles of some-times rough ground with little protection from the elements.  So come prepared with appropriate clothing and fresh liquids.  The tour lasts approximately 2 hours but you can duck out pretty easily at the 90-minute mark.

While Exploring the Charles River Basin,  you will:

  • discover three brand-new parks that most people don’t know exist.
  • history of the Charles River and its ever-encroaching banks
  • hear mellifluous words like bascule, freshet, and sluiceway and find out what they mean too
  • cross not one but two dams
  • see the only city jail with a waterfront view and a park across the street
  • ponder our litigious society
  • find what remains of Miller’s River
  • get a new perspective on the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge
  • and without fail you’ll see all manner of transportation, roads, railways, bridges, and waterways

Come join us by the banks of the Charles River!
Come join us by the banks of the Charles River and find the Lost Half Mile!

Seashore Trolley Museum


As a Father’s Day treat, Susan & Peter took me to the Seashore Trolley Museum in Arundel, ME.  Admission was free for Dads with their children and Peter was free himself by virtue of being under five.

Click for complete gallery of Seashore Trolley Museum photos.

There are two surprising things about the Museum that stand out.  First, despite being a museum of mass transit the museum is located in a relatively remote and wooded area.  And yet, as we would soon learn, during the golden age of trolleys even this part of Maine had a trolley line.  Second, on first view the Museum has kind of a “cluttered attic” look to it with various vehicles parked all over an open yard, some of them in rather decrepit condition.  Again we would learn that restoration of these trollies is a long and laborious process which is a labor of love by the Museum’s volunteers.  It is to their credit that they save so many vehicles from becoming scrap and making the available for visitors to see.

Right upon arrival we boarded a restored Third Avenue Railway streetcar from New York City (which later did a stint in Vienna, Austria after WWII) for a ride along a restored portion of the Atlantic Shore Line Railway.  A conductor punched our tickets, and Peter & I enjoyed looking out the window and playing on the seats.

The conductor punches our ticket
The conductor punches our ticket

After returning to the Museum proper, we took another ride on the Shuttle – a Dallas Railway & Terminal Co. car – to the Riverside barn. One of the volunteers gave us an excellent walk through of the trolleys on exhibit. From that point we were pretty much on our own to wander around and explore the trolleys and other vehicles on display and dodge rain drops. Not only are there passenger trolleys but work cars, freight cars, mail cars, and even a prison car!

Twin Cities Railway Company Gate Car
Twin Cities Railway Company "Gate Car"

Some of our favorites include:

  • Glasgow Corporation Transport #1274 – a double decker with plush upholstered seats on the first floor and leather seats on the upper deck because that was the smoking area.  Peter enjoyed climbing up the steep narrow staircase.
  • City of Manchester parlor car – an elegantly decorated and detailed car used by railway officials and dignitaries in Manchester, NH.
  • State of the Art Cars (S.O.A.C.) – rapid transit cars designed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and tested in five cities – including Boston – in the 1970’s.  Peter particularly enjoyed exploring this train.
  • Twin Cities Rapid Transit #1267 – these homemade “gate cars” worked the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul with the large platform and gates allowing for quick boarding by large numbers of passengers.
  • West End Railway Co. #396 – a “Boston Special” wooden streetcar from the early part of the 20th century
  • Cleveland Railway #1227 – The conductor/volunteer (in the photo above) snuck us in the center-car entrance of this trolley which was undergoing renovation for 20-years to get to its current lovely condition.
Boston Special streetcar
"Boston Special" streetcar

Although there are trolleys from around the world, I particularly liked the relics from Boston’s public transit. These include signs from when the Charlestown elevated and Washington Street elevated closed down. The biggest piece of Boston transit history sits in the parking lot surrounded by weeds. Northampton station once was elevated over Washington Street near Massachusetts avenue but was torn down after the Orange Line was rerouted in 1987.

Northampton station from the Washington Street Elevated in Boston
Northampton station from the Washington Street Elevated in Boston

I had a great time and would love to visit again to explore this large collection of transit history.

Commuting with kids in Boston


I’ve hesitated to write anything on this blog from a parenting perspective since I’m such a novice parent, but after 17 months as Daddy I think there’s one issue I can write about and maybe actually be helpful:  commuting with kids.  Or one child at least.  My son Peter has been riding the T since he was three weeks old and for the past seven months he & I have made the daily commute from Jamaica Plain to Allston where he goes to child care and I go to work.

Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurence.
Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurrence.

Riding the subway to bring Peter to child care has many obvious advantages: save money, save gas, reduce auto exhaust pollution, et al.  Developmentally I think it is also much more interesting for Peter.  He could sit in a car seat in the back of a car (facing backward before he turned one) and have not much to do for half an hour, or ride the subway for 45 minutes where he gets to watch and interact with numerous people and read books and play with toys with Dad.   Turns out, Peter loves the T.  He loves to wave and say hi to people, and especially has fun making faces at other children on the T.  I find myself in conversations more often with my fellow passengers as well, who often seem delighted by a little boy in this grown-up world of commuters.  In fact, if I were a single dad I don’t think I’d be one for long because Peter particularly likes to flirt with women. Mostly, I enjoy the company.  It’s a lovely way to begin and end each work day spending time with my little boy.

Stroller vs. Carrier

One of the first things to consider when taking children on public transportation is how to carry the child.  A carrier of some sort – a sling, frontpack or backpack – can be a good option.  On a crowded subway it’s definitely the sleeker option less likely to create a hindrance for other passengers.  Plus one can take full advantage of the stairs and escalators instead of looking for the often hidden, sometimes broken elevators.

When Peter was very little my wife and I carried him in a Maya sling and it worked quite well.  When he got bigger I tried a backpack and liked it for all the reasons mentioned above.  One day I noticed women taking pictures of us with our cellphone as I stood hanging on to a strap with Peter on my back.  I turned my head and saw that Peter was also holding a strap which made us so photogenic.  Unfortunately there were downsides to the backpack as well.  Peter was constantly losing his hats, gloves, and shoes or his nose would get runny or some other problem that was difficult to address without taking off the pack.  And taking off and putting on the pack on a moving train is not a safe or easy thing to do.  I was also constantly afraid I was going to whack some other passenger and/or Peter when moving in tight spaces.  Throw in some back problems and the back pack was not for me.  A front pack of some sort may make a better option and will definitely be something to look into for a future child.

So I use a stroller, a sturdy not overly-large MacLaren.  The stroller takes a load off my back and makes it easier to see that Peter is all put-together as well as interact to play with toys, read books or just hold hands when we’re tired.  Unfortunately, the stroller can be a bit bulky and get in people’s way, and I’m afraid I’ve run over more than one set of toes trying to steer it in tight spaces.  Sometimes on the Red Line in the morning I have to let a train (or two!) pass by because they are just too crowded for me and a stroller to fit.  This is why I loved the Big Red seatless cars but apparently they’re not running them anymore.

Riding the elevators adds a bit of time to the commute and they’re  not always in the most intuitive locations.  For example, if riding the Red Line toward Ashmont/Braintree and wanting to transfer to the Orange Line to Forest Hills, one must get off at Park Street and walk down the pedestrian tunnel to the Orange Line platform at Downtown Crossing.  Heading the other way, one must exit the turnstiles at Downtown Crossing, walk down the Winter Street Concourse, reenter the turnstiles at the other end and take the elevator down to the Red Line (makes me wonder if a person in a wheelchair who doesn’t have a Charlie Card link pass to have to pay to get back in, which doesn’t seem to fair).  This actually isn’t all that inconvenient just not the most obvious route to make a transfer.

Overall, once I’ve learned where all the elevators are and the best spots in the car to go with the stroller (all the way at the end so I don’t get in the way of aisle) I think the stroller has been very positive for me and for Peter.  As I mentioned above most of the other passengers seem to be very welcoming to an infant on the T, and often people offer me a seat.  That’s one courtesy I never expected anyone to share with burly, 6’1″ man in the pink of health!

Problems and Potential Pitfalls

While my commuting experience with Peter has been overwhelmingly positive there are a few problems to watch out for:

  • Other passengers – My greatest fear going into this is that I would encounter people who would find Peter too noisy, too distracting, or otherwise too bothersome to their commute and they would let me know about it in no uncertain terms.  Blessedly this has not happen as people have been mostly friendly and helpful or at least hold their tongue.  One grandmotherly type actually read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to Peter and a young man told me Peter was the highlight of his day. There was one occasion when Peter was five months old when a woman told me that T was too dangerous and I should get a car (which defies logic since automobile crashes are a leading cause of death in the US).  Even though that was upsetting, she actually said it in a way that made it seem that she thought she was being helpful.  I’ve yet to meet the truly nasty person on the T which makes me more trustful of my fellow humans.  Still, I worry because of
  • Meltdowns – For whatever reason – because he likes other people, hanging out with Dad, or the soothing rhythm of the rails – Peter is usually pretty happy when we’re on the T.  But he has his bad days.  He particularly doesn’t like it when the subway car gets overly crowded and like many a commuter he complains when there are delays.  One morning he had a complete meltdown while we were stuck for an interminable amount of time between Central and Harvard and I had to contend with trying to soothe him and worrying about how he was affecting the other passengers.  Stressful to say the least. All babies cry, and there’s no foolproof way to prevent this, but I believe distraction is the key – have toys, teething rings, books, or anything the child loves on hand.  Sometimes with Peter it’s as simple as turning the stroller in a different direction so he has someone else to look.  Again, other passengers are my friends offering a silly face or a tissue during my times of need.
  • Buses – The subway is very workable for commuting with a stroller but I’ve all but given up on the bus.  The narrow aisle on the newer models leaves nowhere to put a stroller out of the way, and folding up the stroller and holding Peter isn’t very feasible either.  Perhaps with a less active child that might work.  Route 66 especially is a nightmare.  Route 39 has a nice spot for strollers in the bendy section, but there’s no guarantee that you can actually get down the aisle to that point when it’s crowded.

So that is my experience commuting with a child on the T.  I hope the suggestions are useful to any other parents out there.  If you’re thinking about taking the T with your own children and wondering if it’s worth the hassle, I say go for it.  I find it rewarding in ways I never imagined.  If you have any questions or suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments or email me at liamothemts AT gmail DOT com.  I’d particularly like to hear from parents about their experiences with an older child or with multiple children on the T.

Riding Big Red


Last month, Boston’s transit authority the MBTA introduced a new “high-capacity car” on the Red Line which they call Big Red. Basically during rush hours a couple of car without any seats are placed at the center of the train. As an experienced commuter, I’ve long become accustomed to the limited circulation within MBTA subway cars. This is especially true for people in wheelchairs, people with bikes, luggage, or other bulky items, and people like myself who travel with children in strollers. Even when it’s just human bodies, it can get pretty tight in the subway car. So I found this an excellent idea and having recently had a chance to ride the Big Red (with my son in his stroller) found it much more convenient to board, get into the center of the car, and find a place to ride in peace without getting in anyone else’s way.

While Big Red is promoted as a high-capacity car, I think it’s real advantage is in improving the circulation of passengers within the cars which will contribute greatly to speeding up boarding times at the station. In a normal subway car, the ride is often slowed down by:

  • People who start boarding while other people are trying to get out of the train
  • Passengers who stand in front of the door while other people are trying to board and unload.
  • Passengers who completely block the aisle w/ their bodies and/or accouterments.
  • Passengers who refuse to move into the center of the car (of course w/ other passengers blocking the aisles can often be blamed for this)
  • People who insist on squishing into an already crowded train even when it’s been announced that another train is approaching.

I’ve only had a chance to ride a Big Red car once, but I did find that a lot of these problems were alleviated by the more spacious interior of the seatless cars. The MBTA has received a lot of harsh criticism for Big Red – most noticeably from that bastion of fair & balanced journalism the Boston Herald which pictured a subway car full of heifers under the headline CATTLE CAR. I personally applaud the MBTA for thinking creatively, and even if Big Red flops, I hope they continue to try out new ideas that may improve the rider experience on the T.

I’ve travelled on transit systems in other cities that have spring-loaded seats that can be flipped down when needed by the riders.  I think this is something the MBTA should consider to make the interiors of the subway cars more flexible.  On the U-Bahn in Munich, I was also impressed that at the stations in the center city all the passengers would exit out one side of the train while boarding passengers would enter from the other side of the train, greatly decreasing the amount of time the train has to spend at the station.  I think the MBTA should try this at Park Street station by having passengers board the train from the side platforms and exit onto the center platform (although since the elevator is on the center platform, anyone needing the elevator would still have to board from the center platform).

I’ve submitted my comments to the MBTA through their Big Red survey on their website.  Let’s hope they keep trying things out to make getting around our great city all the more pleasurable

South Station & Greenway Inaugural


Today, my son Peter & I took a tour of South Station, a continuing education for members of Boston By Foot (one of the reasons why you should become a member).  I love railroad stations so it was fun to poke around and see old artifacts, granite pilings, and even the exclusive Acela waiting room.

Unfortunately, railway stations are crowded, noisy places so I didn’t learn much to report back.  South Station is also difficult to photograph.  There are so many people and iPod ads in the way. The highlight of the tour for me was a story from a BBF docent who remembers riding in his friend’s aunt’s private train to go to New York for Mets’ games (the aunt of course was Joan Payson).  There’s a good history of the building online at the South Station website.

I thought about catching the commuter train to Forest Hills, but just missed it.  Instead we walked along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway and enjoyed the Greenway’s ignagural event.  It strikes me that the Greenway makes an excellent location for a street fair, so I hope other events like this will be held in the future.  Peter enjoyed boogieing in the grass to the Jewish-Cuban sounds of Odessa Havana.  After that we went home for a nap.

Previously:

Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Trolley Line


I arrived early for a tour in Ashmont and with nothing better to do, I got my geek on and rode the Mattapan-Ashmont High Speed Trolley Line. I’ve lived in Boston for nearly ten years and have wanted to ride this special trolley line for almost as long.  Granted, the previous time I tried the line was closed for the day, and it was closed completely for renovation for a couple of years, but I’ve been delinquent regardless.

What makes the line special to transit geeks like myself is that it uses PCC Streetcars, a sturdy design manufactured from the 1920’s-1950’s.  It also has an exclusive right-of-way, hence the “high speed” designation.

The ride was a joy.  The PCC Streetcars seem to have a more spacious interior and run more smoothly than the Green Line light-rail vehicles (although a couple of time the car jerked violently from side-to-side). The ride is scenic passing through a cemetery, along a Neponset River wetlands, past old warehouses in Milton and through many backyards (I’d love to have a trolley line in my backyard).  The trolley drivers don’t come to a full-stop at the stations unless someone requests it, but they do a kind of rolling stop.  I was amused when the trolley operator stopped to talk with the driver of the car coming from the opposite direction.

The viaduct turn-around at Ashmont reminds me of a roller coaster at an amusement park.

I thought the MBTA logo looked old-fashioned but the route maps are pretty much up-to-date.

The trolley at the Mattapan terminus

Two off-duty trolleys at the Mattapan yard.

More on the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Trolley Line at NYC Subways.

Previously: Mattapan Trolley Returns

Panorama of the Mountains Fashion Report


I don’t usually report on fashion, and any of you who have ever seen me know that I lack anything fashionable in my wardrobe and usually look like a rumpled mess (and thanks to Peter, usually covered in spitup as well!). Today however I want to pay tribute to a style that has persevered while many other fads and fashions have come and gone: teenage boys in baggy pants. This is inspired by the large group of teenagers on the Orange Line this morning, mostly boys, wearing jeans the ubiquitous overly large garments. It’s almost as if it’s a contest to see how much extra fabric one can have miraculously hanging down below one’s knees.

It occurs to me that teenage boys started dressing like this when I was in high school, and I graduated in 1991! Granted I went to Catholic school so I would never be able to dress like this for school as a teen, nor was I hip enough (or had enough hip?) to wear jeans this baggy on my own time. Still it’s quite fascinating to think that the teens of today playing with their cellphone cameras and sidekicks are connected with the teens of nearly 20 years ago who only had Gameboys and Walkmans. The connection crosses cultural divides as well from the black and Hispanic urban young men I saw today to the privileged suburbanite frat boys at our nation’s colleges.

So, I have to give credit to the baggy pants which although they often look ridiculous and even uncomfortable, have stood the test of time. At least they’re better than the acid wash and pre-torn jean styles that preceded them in the late 80’s.

No Kicks on Route 66


This morning while riding the MBTA 66 bus, a stylish woman boarded the bus in Coolidge Corner pushing an extremely large stroller, kind of a hybrid between a Victorian-era pram and a monster truck.  She didn’t get far though as passengers standing in the aisle would not budge even though there was plenty room for them for them to stand further back in the bus.  They seemed to be acting as if they wanted her to somehow get around them and go to the back of the bus herself.  So she and her stroller were stuck at the front of the bus next to the driver for a few stops and people getting on and off just squeezed by her (even though it may have been easier for a lot off the passengers getting off to use the rear door).

I wavered between who I found more annoying:  the woman who brought a ginormous stroller on public transportation or the passengers who steadfastly refused to let her in thus creating a dangerous bottleneck.  Luckily, after a few stops things cleared up and the woman with the stroller moved over to the handicap seats, flipped them up and stood with the stroller out of the way.  This was a good thing because as we passed through Allston we picked up more and more passengers until people were squished in like sardines.  Altogether and ugly and unpleasant ride.

I came to the following conclusions on how various individuals could improve the bus-riding experience for everyone:

  • Parents: Babies are small, so they don’t need SUV-sized strollers.  A small stroller or sling is more appropriate if you plan to use public transportation.
  • Passengers: Move to the rear of the bus and exit the rear door whenever possible.  It really does make things more comfortable and efficient for everyone.  Really! Oh, and if you’re one of those people who sits on the aisle with an empty space by the window, knock it off already, that’s totally selfish!
  • The MBTA: In my experience, more often than not the 66 bus gets packed with passengers, forcing people to stand in the stairwells and otherwise having no room to breathe. This should be a clue that perhaps buses should run more frequently and/or double-length buses (like the ones used on route 39) should be used on this route.  In my dreams, I’d actually like to see this bus replaced by a trolley or rapid transit, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

America’s First Subway


The first subway in the United States headed underground (or “off the earth” as newspaper headlines of the time exclaimed) 110 years ago right here in beautiful Boston, Massachusetts. A lot of people at this point would quip something about how the subway hasn’t been upgraded since 1897, but I won’t, because deep inside, I really love the T.

Speaking of public transportation, I recently cleaned out my wallet which was becoming a museum for rapid transit passes.

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Here you can see my Charlie Card along with an MTA MetroCard from New York, and a Washington, DC Metro pass, plus day passes for the San Diego MTS trolley and the Los Angeles Metro. I got rid of the day passes, but kept all the ones that still have money on them. They might just work.

If I ruled the world (part 1)


I love this post on Universal Hub called Shut Storrow Drive! I’ve long thought that the Esplanade and the Paul Dudley White Bikepath are shining stars in the galaxy of beautiful sites in Boston. And yet they are pressed into a small piece of riverfront by the glaring eyesore of Storrow Drive. I’m all for getting rid of Storrow and reclaiming the riverfront. After all, that was James J. Storrow’s vision and civic authorities added the highway after his death despite his widow’s protests.

Better yet, it would provide an opportunity to improve public transit by restoring the A Branch of the MBTA Green Line. This line to Watertown was disbanded in 1969 although tracks were still on the streets until a few years ago. My new A Branch would start at North Station, follow the riverfront where Storrow Drive is now and after passing the BU Bridge would use air-rights on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The trolley would either be elevated over the highway, run down the median, and/or run alongside the highway as far as Newton Corner. Then the last leg of the A Branch would go down Galen Street to Watertown Square. There could also be a spur go through the Harvard’s new Allston development and connect to the Red Line and buses at Harvard Square.

And while I’m at it, I’d think an F Branch running from North Station to South Station along the Greenway would be a great idea. This would be similar to what they did in San Francisco to replace an elevated highway with trolley lines. Instead of having these new parks surrounded by 2-3 lanes of cars on each side how about dedicating one side to trolley tracks (and a bike path)? This trolley would be useful for tourists wanting to visit the North End, Fanueil Hall, Aquarium, Rowe’s Wharf, and the Children’s Museum. Business people taking commuter trains into North and South Stations can be whisked to their offices. And while not replacing a much needed North/South rail link, it would provide a useful shuttle between the two stations.

That’s my dream anyway.

Walking Washington Street


A few years back, I read Snowshoeing through Sewers by Michael Aaron Rockland where the author participates in several urban outdoor adventures in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. This includes walking the length of Broadway in Manhattan which I duplicated in 2005. I wanted to conduct a similar outing in Boston and could think of no better road than Washington Street. This historic corridor was the only street connecting colonial Boston to the mainland in Roxbury via the narrow Neck. In 1788 the road was renamed in honor of George Washington. In tribute to the general and president, streets that cross Washington Street tend to change their names as they cross, with a few exceptions such as Massachusetts Avenue. I believe it is the longest street in Boston’s city limits or at least the longest street without a name change. Beyond Boston, Washington Street continues onwards to Providence, RI. In colonial times it served as part of the Boston Post Road and in the early twentieth century it was part of Massachusetts’ first state highway.

More photos from the walk online at Othemts.com!

It turns out that in my life I’ve actually walked most of Washington Street at some point with the exception of two sections. The first leg from the Dedham border to Roslindale was entirely new to me as I’ve never even been to West Roxbury. The section between Egleston Square and Dudley Square was also new territory to me and not coincidentally this was the most run down and desolate section of Washington Street. It’s great to follow a street like this for its entire length and experience the disparate and historic neighborhoods it passes through. A walk on Washington Street takes one through West Roxbury, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, the South End, Chinatown, the Theater District, and downtown Boston’s historic core.

Independence Day seemed as good a day as any to walk the length of a road named for an American patriot. Susan and I took the Orange Line to Forest Hills and the 34 bus down Washington Street from there to the Dedham line. The bus actually said “Dedham Line” as it’s destination, but the bus driver didn’t kick everyone off where we got off so maybe it actually goes on to the other end of Dedham. So we got off the bus and walked back the way we came. Not too long into our journey we passed one of the famed Boston landmarks, a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. We counted 9 Dunkin’ Donuts along the 8.8 mile walk which seems actually surprisingly few for Boston, especially since 2 or 3 of them while visible from Washington did not actually front the street itself. The first leg of the walk featured auto repair shops and car dealerships with a sprinkling of strip malls. Yet parts of the walk felt surprisingly rural. Off Washington were some barely-paved dead end streets with rustic wood frame houses and part of the street is framed by the wilds of Stony Brook State Reservation.

Entering Roslindale we passed children playing on a large inflatable water slide on their driveway. A friendly neighbor greeted us and asked about our plans for the Fourth. Many Bostonians seemed to spend the day doing home repairs such as painting and bricklaying as opposed to the traditional Independence Day grilling. Descending a hill we had our first view of Boston’s skyline in the distance. At Roslindale Square we stopped for very satisfying slices of pizza, properly spiced with a crispy crust. The pizza joint mysteriously has an autographed photo of Ty Cobb. Further along we came upon the Puritan Ice Cream factory but could not figure out where to buy some ice cream, if the general public can actually get some there.

The next leg of the journey begins at Forest Hills, where we boarded a bus about an hour or so earlier. Washington Street is actually split here and we walked along a stretch of road called New Washington Street under the Arborway overpass where the old terminus of the Green Line E Branch still seems to wait for a trolley to roll in. A large MBTA bus yard dominates when we rejoin Washington Street, but eventually we pass it and enter into the mix residential and commercial neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. We’ve been here a lot lately since we’ve been looking to buy a home here so it’s feels like familiar territory. Jamaica Plain haunts like Doyle’s Cafe and Canto 6 are quickly becoming my favorite pub and bakery. Jamaica Plain historically served as the center of brewing in Boston. One massive building on our walk that houses a personal storage rental place, and looked to me like a former armory, was marked as the home of Franklin Brewing Co., 1894.

Entering Roxbury, we walked along a stretch of road with low-income housing, abandoned buildings, rusty chain-link fences and most eerily of all, very few people in site. It was a pleasure to arrive at the bustle of Dudley Square, the commercial and social hub of Roxbury. We took in the landmarks such as the Haley House Bakery Cafe, an old furniture department store with faded advertisements painted on its exterior, and the building where Susan’s co-worker lives over a tattoo parlor (cool pictures in the window of the tats). We took a break in the box seats at Jim Rice Field, a recreational baseball field modeled after Fenway Park. A man on the field asked us how far we thought a mile would be if he ran around the entire field. We all agreed that about five times would do it and he set off to chug around the grounds in the summer sun and dust.

Things became decidedly more upscale as we entered the South End. We were impressed by the large brownstone mansion known as the Allen House. I was also pleased that the TV repair shop with it’s gaudy signs is still in business across the street. I remember reading in the Boston Globe several years back that haughty South End newcomers wanted to close this old store because it didn’t fit in their Yuppified plans for the neighborhood. On a side street we saw a small park with a lot of sprinklers, but sadly we could not run through as it was gated and locked. We were reminded of the date by the frequent lighting of firecrackers in the Franklin Park area. They echoed off the stone and brick in a cacophony of explosions. To Susan’s delight, we also passed a large cookout, so at least some people realize that you don’t spend the holiday repairing your house.

The last part of the walk was less remarkable, probably because we walk around downtown quite often. I took photos of a lot of the landmarks in the area but they were less of a revelation than the rest of the walk. We did find a nice tiered park by Tufts-New England Medicine Center to rest our dogs a bit and watch pigeons do their mating dance. One nice thing to think of as we walked through the throngs of shoppers and tourists is that likely none of these people had walked from Dedham nor did they know that we came that way by foot. We spent the last few blocks trying to find a restroom and a place to get refreshment with no success, so our walk ended rather anti-climatically at the toilets in the National Park Service Visitors Center. We weren’t up to continuing past City Hall to North Washington Street, but instead had a nice lunch at the Kinsale while listening to the rock and roll performances at the Cape Verde Independence Day celebrations across the street.

Next up: walking Massachusetts Avenue from Lexington to Dorchester!

An Assemblage of Assorted Articles


Once again I’ve read and collected news articles and blog posts that are worth sharing but have absolutely nothing to connect them together except maybe that they teach us something interesting. Enjoy!

11 Reasons to ride underground…and one reason not to


Virgin Vacations has named the 11 Top Underground Transit Systems Throughout the World. The T, of course, is # 12. Meanwhile, On The Road With Cindy & Jeff shows evidence that driving through Boston’s new Central Artery tunnels has changed a lot but not all for the better.

In my life, I’ve had the pleasure of riding four of these systems: London, Paris, New York, and Montreal. Some other rapid transit systems I like include Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco, Munich, and Dublin.

In other transit news, Charlie on the MBTA reports that Mayor Menino wants to combine my loves of public transit and libraries by renaming the Copley Square stop after the Boston Public Library.

Urban Transit Round-Up


Suggestions are floating around the blogosphere that public transit systems should be free. Environmentalist Theodore W. Kheel made the suggestion at a conference in New York as documented by Streetsblog.

Why make the subway free? First, Kheel said it would save the city money overall. (He didn’t elaborate on how, but I imagine that savings would come in terms of reduced costs for road maintenance, fewer vehicle accidents and hence emergency services, reduced asthma cases, etc.) Second, the city is in the habit of offering public goods for free. Fire and police protection come at no cost to their beneficiaries, for example. Why should safe, efficient transportation?

Phillip Greenspun makes a similar suggestion for the MBTA in Boston on his blog (albeit with a snarky comment about MBTA bus driver salaries. Why shouldn’t bus drivers be paid well and have good benefits? If private industry offers less, shame on them).

The deeper question for me is why the subway and bus system in congested Boston charges riders at all. Anyone who rides the subway instead of driving is doing the rest of society a huge favor by reducing pollution, global warming, and traffic congestion.

Free public transit makes sense to me. Both public transit and roads for motor vehicles are both heavily subsidized by the government, but except for some toll roads, one rarely pays to drive. Tolls seem to be coming fewer and fewer and are a source of outrage where they persist. Yet paying fares for subways, trains, and buses are rarely questioned.

In my experience the only place I know of that has free public transit is Portland, OR where part of downtown is known as the Fareless Square. In Munich, there is a fare on the U-Bahn, trams and buses, but they’ve cut costs by not having any turnstiles and pretty much operating on the honor system. This being Germany people value their public transit highly and comply with paying even though no one may every check. I remember buying a week long Isar Card, sticking it in my wallet, and enjoying the satisfaction of boarding the subways and trains all week.

On the other end of the problem, as suggested by both Kheel and Greenspun there is the idea of charging motorists to drive in dense cities. This is already occurring in places like London where drivers must pay a congestion fee to drive in the center city at certain times of day. Manhattan would be a good place to try this both due to the benefits of limiting congestion as well as the bridges and tunnels that serve as natural access points. Boston would be harder, but what a great benefit it would be to America’s walking city.

The way to make things work best for everyone — public transit, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists — is through good urban design and planning. Newton Streets and Sidewalks recently published this great quote from Allen Jacobs as a thought for the day:

The reason great intersections work is because of the creation of a pedestrian realm where the cars know this. When streets become unsafe, it is almost always when the pedestrian realm does not exist.

In the history of urban planning New York City’s Robert Moses is everyone’s favorite villain for his emphasis on highways over aesthetics and dense, historic neighborhoods. Alex Marshall writes an article in rebutal to an exhibit of Moses’ models currently touring New York. Two interesting segments:

f Moses had had his way, Manhattan would be crisscrossed with freeways and studded with new parking lots and garages. Which not only would have destroyed many people’s homes and businesses, it would have made the city less prosperous, and ultimately put less money in both private and public pocketbooks.

It all comes down to capacity. Like many people of his generation, I’m convinced, Moses essentially didn’t understand the different capabilities of different modes of transportation, despite his learning and education. A freeway at top capacity can move only a few thousand vehicles per hour, and all those vehicles have to be put somewhere once they arrive where they’re going. That means many lanes of freeways and many parking lots and garages chewing up prime real estate.

By comparison, a subway or commuter train can move tens of thousands of people per hour, and they all arrive without the need to store a vehicle. This essential fact is why Manhattan can have dozens of skyscrapers, which not incidentally produce millions in salaries, profits and taxes, crammed right next to each other without any parking lots.

and

Moses thought he was modernizing Manhattan and the boroughs by adjusting them to accommodate the car and the highway. It’s true that on a conceptual level, he was acting similarly to those of the 19th century, who had put in train lines into New York and other cities, adjusting them to that then new mode of transportation.

But what Moses apparently didn’t see is that the car and the highway operate by different rules than modes of transportation past. Despite its behemoth-like size, a highway is actually a low-capacity mode of transportation, particularly when compared to trains.

Moses can’t be forgiven his intellectual errors by the observation that “everyone was doing it.” For one thing, everyone wasn’t. Lewis Mumford, who in the 1950s was a prominent and respected critic, laid out in painstaking fashion just exactly why plowing freeways into cities would not improve overall transportation, even while destroying so much of what was worthwhile in urban centers.

Secondly, Moses was not just part of the pack; he led the pack. Before World War II, the general plan was to put freeways beside major cities, not through them. Moses helped convince the federal government otherwise.

Finally, an effort to reduce driving fatalities. Not by making stricter safety standards for cars, but by addressing the root cause of most crashes: the drivers. The effort to improve driver behavior originated in the Netherlands and is now spreading to the United States.

The “traffic justice” initiative in the US, which is fueled by local groups, aims to shift the national discussion from “car accidents” to “car crashes,” says Mr. Chauncey. Americans accept limitations on personal freedoms in exchange for airplane safety, he says. “Now we expect just conduct from all players in the road transportation system: the planners, the engineers, the drivers, and the car companies.”

Safe travels everyone!

Book Review: Subway Style by the New York Transit Museum


Just before Christmas Susan & I met up with our friend Craig at Rodney’s Bookstore in Cambridge. The plan was that we’d split up and each buy a book for each other person in our trio that we thought the other person should read and then give them to one another across the street at The Field pub. I don’t know how well I did in my picks. I gave Craig a book about the Bulger brothers to help him write his folk ballad about Whitey Bulger. For Susan, I picked out a book about people living on the Falkland Islands among penguins to help her overcome her fear of penguins.

If my giving wasn’t so great, my receiving was bountiful. Susan being the perfect wife gave me the perfect book, Subway Style: 100 Years of Architecture & Design in the New York City Subway. This coffee table book is full of pictures from a century of New York City’s greatest public work. While there is a bit of historical text, the book mainly focuses on the design associated with the subways. There are chapters on stations, ceramics, metalwork and lighting, furnishings, fare collection, signage, maps, advertising, and the design of the subway cars themselves. Mostly this book is great for the many large photographs that take one on a trip through history underneath New York.

This book has been my bedtime reading for the past month. Now I may have to just start all over again from the first page. Or maybe the chaper on maps.

This is as good a place as any to promote one of my favorite web pages NYCSubway.org which contains a large collection of articles, history and images of the New York City rapid transit. Lest Bostonians feel unappreciated there is the similar New England Transportation Site although it doesn’t seem to have been updated lately.