If you read the Boston Globe, you might have come across this article on Monday about what the T could have been. The crux of it centers on a map published by the paper in April 1947 showcasing planners’ proposals for an expansion of Boston’s T network. Looking at it now, knowing that so little of this has actually come to be, is a little bit heartbreaking.
It’s worth noting that this map is still imperfect. For one, it falls for the trap that Boston’s transit network has fallen for pretty much since its inception: a heavy focus on commuting. The map still emphasizes, more than anything, the transportation of people from outside the city into the urban core rather than moving people around the city. Where this map still improves on the current map is the Green Line with its very interesting loop-like design. But even there, the loop would cover only a small part of the city, with most of the line covering suburbs like Newton and Brookline and with no other similar service connecting neighborhoods without having to go through the urban core.
Another big flaw with this map is how it only expands existing lines rather than creating new service to communities within Boston itself that don’t get train service. There is a large geographical gap between those existing Orange and Red lines that omits basically all of Dorchester and Roxbury from T service. Today, these neighborhoods are among the most diverse and populous in the city — surely they deserve T service even more than suburbs like Newton or Lexington that are far less dense. Today, we have bus service doing most of the work in that sphere, but of course, train service would be preferable to that. The map can thus be seen as a remarkably ambitious but frustratingly unimaginative proposal.
To give the T credit, too, we have seen expansions of the network since then — throughout the T’s history, the Green Line added the D branch, the Red Line got extended up and down,the Orange Line was lengthened to north of Boston, the Blue Line was extended into Revere, and of course, we are on the cusp of getting the wonderful new Green Line extension into our community. But looking at the kinds of plans we had even 75 years ago and how little of it we have actually achieved is, admittedly, painful.
Our transit map is getting better, though. Certainly, with the Green Line on track to open the Union Square branch next week, there is reason to get excited. Baby steps! Except in our case, in addition to taking very small steps, the baby takes so few steps that I would be surprised if they ever learned to walk. We’ll get there soon, and with luck, it will be before our train network is swallowed by the ocean.