How to extend the Blue Line to Charles/MGH: Do it above ground

Ari floats the idea of a short elevated atop Cambridge Street to complete the fabled Red/Blue connector - an idea currently gathering dust on some state shelf due to its cost.

Key to his plan: A portal, filled in decades ago, that once let trolleys go into a tunnel that ultimately led to another tunnel under the harbor to East Boston: The portal, several blocks past the current Bowdoin station, could probably be easily dug out, and an elevated to Charles would eliminate all the years of digging and trenching and shoring upping and car diverting that the state's tunnel plan would involve, he writes. He adds:

Charles Station could be built to serve the Blue Line with no added mechanical equipment, and minimal changes to the station. There are already wide stairwells, escalators and elevators in Charles Station which bring passengers from street level to the Red Line.




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    ...they already have one. In the form of the existing Red Line tracks. Besides, elevated train tracks are old-timey!

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    An elevated train that's

    An elevated train that's going to bring poor(er) people from East Boston to their tony enclave?

    Not in this century.

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    I don't see how this is politically more likely than a short subway extension. It's one of the few places downtown where tunnelling isn't stupidly difficult to engineer, just build the tunnel.

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    Practical solution, if El fear is conquered

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    Building a Cambridge Street El to connect the Blue and Red Lines is a very practical solution. The infrastructure (tunnel, portal) remains from when the Blue Line was a streetcar tunnel, and building an El would take a much shorter time than building a subway, meaning less traffic disruption caused by construction. Not to mention that a cross-platform transfer could be built between the Blue and Red Lines, making the station much more ADA-accomodating. The El could even be built as a Washington Street El replica, with the new Blue Line Station being built in the same theme as the old El stations, paying tribute to the Els that once ran above Causeway Street, North Washington Street, Washington Street and Atlantic Avenue.

    The main obstacle that must be overcome is Bostonians' fear of Els. The Els of the past cast dark shadows upon the streets below, and many Bostonians, particularly in the Beacon Hill neighborhood the Cambridge Street El would run through, will not be particularly receptive to the idea of an El running by their neighborhoods. However, the Cambridge Street El would be only two blocks long and would run through an area that is already plagued with traffic and that already has an elevated train station, Charles/MGH, not to mention busy Storrow Drive. People must realize that the Cambridge Street El will be a much cheaper and easier solution to build than a subway and that it will not darken a significant stretch of street, and then the El can be built in due course, bringing a Red/Blue Connector to Boston and making the T much easier to use without pushing the MBTA into further debt, which would only lead to fare increases and service disruptions.

    Gil from
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    Even easier solution

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    If State and Downtown Crossing Stations were interconnected, it would allow access to all four subway lines within the same paid fare area. The Red/Blue Connector would be accomplished by connecting the Blue Line at State to the Red Line at Downtown Crossing. All it would take to accomplish this would be to carve out a pedestrian tunnel through the basement of the Woolworth Building located at Washington and Franklin Streets (currently H&M). Way cheaper than any other option and produces the same results.

    Check the screen grab from Google Maps:

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    Uh, just how is that gonna be done...

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    Just how is that gonna be done with a small area? Even if you close Bowdoin, the area between the new Government Center (in 2016, same location) and Charles/MGH does not have enough room to make an el, I don't think? Also, we took town all els so this would be counter productive, I think. And we can't rip out the old Blue line and turn it into an el for the same reason (els are deprecated). The ONLY possible connection at Charles/MGH that I know of is the proposed one that got NIMBY'd (or was it just indefinitely postponed?), which is through past Bowdoin toward Charles/MGH under the existing station (or at least that's how I understood it). I think the station was supposed to be top floor = Red Line, ground floor = mezzanine, underground = Blue Line.

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    not a bad idea

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    This isn't a bad idea at all. Seems like it would cost less and might help with the 'blasting/foundation cracking' thing that beacon hill residents seem to say this is the reason why the can't have a Blue-Red Connector tunnel.

    The only problem is if the residents of beacon hill would want an elevated blue line instead. Magic 8 Ball says no.

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    Tack and elevated dog park

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    Tack and elevated dog park onto it and the Beacon Hill gentry's love for their doggehs will cause them to roll over and bark in approval.

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    Beachmont, Science Park, Malden Center, Fields Corner, Wollaston

    "Also, we took town all els so this would be counter productive, I think."

    Counter-productive in what sense, exactly? When did we decide that elevated lines were primitive?

    " And we can't rip out the old Blue line and turn it into an el for the same reason (els are deprecated)."

    ...have you ever been to Beachmont? Seems pretty el to me.

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    Those are not in Boston.

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    I meant in Boston itself. They took down the els in Boston. Of course there are still els outside of Boston.

    Of course, all I'm saying is that I don't know if we are ever going to get a Red/Blue connector, despite the fact that we need one badly.

    Also, why didn't they just make it so the SL1 actually went to Airport Station instead of just the loop? That's pretty annoying too, seeing that the Massport shuttle was intended for Logan customers and not for commuters. Although it is nice of them to be providing a commuter shuttle for us during the Government Center construction too.

    You're probably wondering why the hell did I bring up the Silver Line? Despite the round-about way, it could have been another option to get from Red to Blue. But things are done. That's all she wrote.

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    Ok, Dorchester and Science Park

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    are both parts of Boston, but otherwise my point stands.

    As for ripping out the underground line and putting it above ground, we don't have enough funds. It would be very expensive to rip them out, and then to build the el to reroute the tracks and all that. It would have been less expensive and easier IMHO to just dig beyond Bowdoin and extend the tracks that way. I mean, with the loop, you are, what? 1/3 to 1/2 way there already?

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    Responses from the OP

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    Well, not Adam, but the linked article's author:

    Re: NIMBYism. Obviously an issue. But a) Beacon Hill (the residents, not the metonym) should not have veto power over the statewide transportation network. And I made these points in the piece, but there are a few logical reasons why this facility would have a minimal impact on Beacon Hill (although with Beacon Hill residents, logic rarely comes in to play):

    • Cambridge Street was widened in the 1920s
    • Most of the buildings between Joy Street and Charles Circle are not historic. From Charles Station west, I see: new construction, old, gas station (perhaps a colonial-era gas station, who knows), old, an entire block of new, two blocks of old, a firehouse, and a parking lot.
    • Any shadows cast by the elevated line would be cast to the north, which is all MGH or West End. None is historic.

    Re: Tunneling isn't that hard here relative to other tunnels. This may be true, but tunneling is inherently much harder than building an elevated. If the current tunnel had originally been built with bellmouths allowing it to extend, it would be a little easier (although a station at Charles would still necessitate digging up the entire street), but the fact that there is currently a ramp there makes it easy to build a ramp to an elevated. The topography of the neighborhood helps, too: Government Center is about 40 feet higher than Charles Station, so a tunnel would have to descent quite a bit under Cambridge Street. The el is probably a flatter solution.

    Re: The idea of repurposing an old el station. Great idea! However, at issue might be the amount of light it would block; a glass-and-steel station would let much more light through and not cast as much of Cambridge Street and MGH in to shadows.

    Re: Connecting State and DTX. This is a worthy idea but I think it fails for two reasons. One, it doesn't siphon off any traffic between Charles and Downtown Crossing. Allowing Red-to-Blue transfers to be made at Charles frees up capacity which is necessary for passengers getting on and off at Park, allowing better operation there. Two, it's a pretty long walk between Downtown Crossing and State Street. The stations are near each other, but that's mainly because of the staggered nature of the Orange Line platforms beneath the narrow Washington Street. It's twice the distance from Park to DTX, about 300m. Additionally, the stairs from the Red Line to the Orange Line are very narrow and congested, and asking people to make this transfer by climbing two flights of stairs and walking a quarter of a mile (all told) is a burden. It also adds a lot of congestion to the already congested Orange Line platform there. It might be useful to connect these stations, but it would not serve the purpose of a Red-Blue connector.

    Re: We can't rip out the Blue Line and put in els. Uh, okay. a) There's no ripping out of the Blue Line involved. We use the existing tail tracks and tunnel. b) The subway-to-el transition would be almost identical to what was built from North Station to the Lechmere viaduct about 10 years ago. The station was probably built with the Blue Line underground in mind, but could easily (and, I argue in the piece) better serve the connection above grade. Subway-to-elevated transfers (like at Clark and Lake in Chicago, or 161st St/Yankee Stadium, Court Square and others in NYC) are quite complex in comparison.

    Re: Reading the linked article is cool and fun. Thanks!

    Re: Beacon Hill would hate it. Yes, but they hate everything. It's time for the 99% to take back some sanity from them.

    Re: There are no els in Boston. What do you think the Lechmere Viaduct is? What do you think the section of the Red Line from the Longfellow in to Beacon Hill is?

    And, I think Cambridge will survive the Reveyah invasion. It will still require a transfer and a passport check at the border.

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