The Red-Blue Connector and the Importance of Connectivity

The Boston rapid transit network has the shape of the hex symbol, #. In Downtown Boston, the two north-south legs are the Green Line on the west and the Orange Line on the east, and the two east-west legs are the Red Line on the south and the Blue Line on the north. The Orange and Green Lines meet farther north, but the Red and Blue Lines do not. The main impact of this gap in systemwide connectivity is that it’s really hard to get between areas only served by the Blue Line, i.e. East Boston, and ones only served by the Red Line, i.e. Cambridge, Dorchester, and Quincy. However, there is a second impact: people who do transfer between the Red and Blue Lines overload one central transfer point at Park Street, where the Red and Green Lines meet. This way, the weak connectivity of the Boston rapid transit network creates crowding at the center even though none of the individual lines is particularly crowded in the center. The topic of this post is then how crowding at transfer points can result from poor systemwide connectivity.

The current situation in Boston

Connecting between the Blue and Red Lines requires a three-seat ride, with a single-stop leg on either the Orange or Green Line. In practice, passengers mostly use the Green Line, because the Orange Line has longer transfer corridors.

Travel volumes between East Boston and Cambridge are small. Only 1,800 people commute from East Boston, Winthrop, and the parts of Revere near the Blue Line to Cambridge, and only 500 commute in the other direction. I don’t have data on non-work travel, but anecdotally, none of the scores of Cantabrigians I know travels to the Blue Line’s service area except the airport, and to the airport they drive or take the Silver Line, and moreover, only two people moved from Cambridge or Somerville to the area, a couple that subsequently left the region for Bellingham. Travel volumes between East Boston and the southern legs of the Red Line are barely larger: 1,200 from East Boston to Dorchester, Mattapan, and Quincy, 1,600 in the other direction, most likely not taking public transit since cars are a good option using the Big Dig.

Nonetheless, this small travel volume, together with connections between East Boston and South Station or Dorchester, is funneled through Park Street. According to the 2014 Blue Book, which relies in 2012 data, transfer volumes at Park Street are 29,000 in each direction (PDF-p. 16), ahead of the Red/Orange connection at Downtown Crossing, where 25,000 people transfer in each direction every weekday. Riders connecting between the Blue and Red Lines are a noticeable proportion of this volume – the East Boston-Cambridge connection, where I believe the transit mode share is high, is around 8% of the total, and then the East Boston-Dorchester connection would add a few more percentage points.

Why Soviet triangles exist

In a number of metro networks, especially ones built in the communist bloc, there are three lines meeting in a triangle, without a central transfer point. This is almost true of the first three subway lines in Boston, omitting the Red Line: they meet in a triangle, but the Green and Orange Lines do not cross, whereas in true Soviet triangles lines meet and cross.

The reason for this typology rather than for the less common one in which all three lines meet at one station, as in Stockholm, is that it spreads transfer loads. Stockholm’s transfer point, T-Centralen, has 184,000 daily boardings (source, PDF-p. 13), almost as many as Times Square, which is served by 14 inbound tracks to T-Centralen’s 5 and is in a city with 5.6 million weekday trips to Stockholm’s 1.1 million. Urban transit networks should avoid such situations, which lead to central crowding that is very difficult to alleviate. Adding pedestrian circulation is always possible, but is more expensive at a multilevel central station than at a simple two-line crossing.

The triangle is just a convenient way of building three lines. As the number of lines grows beyond three, more connectivity is needed. Moscow’s fourth line, Line 5, is a circle, constructed explicitly to decongest the central transfer station between the first three lines. More commonly, additional lines are radials, especially in cities with water constraints that make circles difficult, like Boston and New York; but those should meet all the older radii, ideally away from existing transfer stations in order to reduce congestion. When they miss connections, either by crossing without interchange or by not crossing at all, they instead funnel more cross-city traffic through the existing transfer points, increasing ridership without increasing the capacity required to absorb it.

The way out

The situation is usually hard to fix. It’s much harder to fix missed connections, or parallel lines that diverge in both directions, than to connect two parallel lines when one of these lines terminates in city center, which Boston’s Blue Line does. The one saving grace is that cities with many missed connections, led by New York and Tokyo, also have very expansive networks with so many transfer points that individual interchanges do not become overloaded.

In large cities that do have problems with overcrowded transfer points, including London and Paris, the solution is to keep building out the network with many connections. London tries to weaken the network by reducing transfer opportunities: thus, Crossrail has no connection to Oxford Circus, the single busiest non-mainline Underground station, in order to prevent it from becoming any more crowded, and the Battersea extension of the Northern line deliberately misses a connection to the Victoria line. Paris has a better solution – it invests in circumferential transit, in the form of Metro Line 15 ringing the city at close distance, as well as extensions to Tramway Line 3, just inside city limits.

While the solution always involves investing more in the transit network, its precise nature depends on the city’s peculiar geography. In Paris, a compact city on a narrow river, adding more circles is an option, as is adding more RER lines so that people would be able to avoid difficult Metro-to-RER transfers. In London, the population density is too low and the construction costs are too high for a greenfield circle; the existing circle, the Overground, is cobbled together from freight bypasses and is replete with missed radial Underground connections. Thus, the solution in London has to come from radials that offer alternatives to the congestion of the Victoria line.

In Boston, a much smaller city, the Red-Blue Connector is easier since the Red and Blue Lines almost touch. It only takes about 600 meters of cut-and-cover tunnel under a wide road to continue the Blue Line beyond its current terminus in Downtown Boston and meet the Red Line at Charles-MGH; to first order, it should cost not much more than $100 million. The transfer would not be easy, since the Red Line is elevated there and the Blue Line would be underground, but it would still be better than the three-seat ride involving the Green Line. A competent state government with interest in improving transportation connectivity for its residents – that is, a government that is nothing like the one Massachusetts has – would fix this problem within a few years. Boston is fortunate in not needing painful deep tunneling under a medieval city center like London or hundreds of kilometers of inner suburban tunneling like Paris – it only needs to kick out the political bums, unfortunately a much harder task.


  1. TunnelVision

    1800ft of cut and cover in the middle of Boston for $100m???? The utility relocations would cost that much plus the groundwater tables high there so open cut would be hideously expensive as you would either need to make the walls watertight=expensive and deep to avoid the water coming up from the invert or excavate in the wet and use divers to fix the invert rebar. OR dewater the open cut and apply compensation grouting to the all the structures along the route to avoid structural damage when you lower the groundwater to excavate the cut and cover. Add in the noise and dust restrictions and the unions that $100m is looking more like $400m.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes? I’m relying on Canada Line costs, in a city where bored tunnel isn’t much cheaper than in Boston (and now I know why, before the cost overrun was published, TransLink didn’t answer my emails about why their construction costs were low). Cut-and-cover is cheeeeeap.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        The one cost wrinkle with Red-Blue is that Bowdoin Loop has to be demolished by punching a straighter bore through the middle of it connecting to the tail tracks, which also entails demolishing the western end of Bowdoin Station (which would survive only as an emergency exit). That eliminates a crippling speed restriction around three-quarters of the extremely tight ex-trolley loop, and also lifts the Blue Line’s primary dimensional constraint requiring it to use shrunken 48’6″ long/35-seat cars instead of minimally-modified Orange Line-dimension 65′ long/58-seat cars. The speed restriction is enough of a chokepoint for amped-up future headways that it’s not worth excising from the Red-Blue project for the sake of saving one-time capital cost or shoehorning preservation of very minor Bowdoin Station. It needs to be done for the sake of future throughput.

        There were online pics posted by a T employee of the tunnel beyond Bowdoin showing the loop area from the vantage point of the tail tracks looking back towards the station, but the photo album appears to have been taken down. It’s a pretty solid mass of concrete they have to punch through and do tidy-up structural underpinning around, so that is one project chore worth 8 figures of cost. However, it’s only a single-point structural mod and the only surface surface structures sitting above it are the station headhouse and Cardinal Cushing Park…so it should not incur any major cost blowouts or be a make-it/break-it charge for the project.

          • Tysons2

            Agree that Bowdoin is nearly useless based on any ridership metric right now. But would rebuilding Bowdoin at Staniford St be a good future-proofing decision? Development in Boston is trending northwards from downtown, and the Charles River Park/1960’s era Urban Renewal buildings are beginning to crumble.

            Blue Line provides access from some of the most affordable areas in Greater Boston to downtown. This stop would serve many government offices (including a quick walk up Temple street to the State House) and could provide a one-seat alternative to crowded orange/green line plus transfer for Bullfinch Triangle workers living on the North Shore.

            I know… one more thing for the T to spend money on studying, but I don’t think it’s wise to dismiss it out of hand due solely to present day ridership counts.

          • F-Line to Dudley

            Alon: Bowdoin would be required to be closed as part of the loop demolition to straighten the tunnel, because that blasts clear through the main exit and greater than a car’s length of the west tip of the platform. They benchmarked some project alts. that attempted to save the station, but all of them flunked hard on cost-benefit so pretty much all possible project permutations remaining under consideration sacrifice that stop.

            Tysons2: A new headhouse on Staniford wouldn’t work as a ploy for saving Bowdoin because that’s right at ground zero of the demolition zone. To save the station you’d have to extend the platform east towards Government Center to offset the platform length that has to get demolished on the west tip by the loop, and in addition to being a lot of load-bearing concrete work in itself that does ridership no favors by putting the revised headhouse more towards the New Sudbury St. block in ever more useless proximity to Government Ctr.

            The offset for closing Bowdoin is opening up a Blue Line-only egress at Government Center near the JFK Federal Building via what’s now an emergency exit: That was a full-service entrance in its own right back in the Scollay Square days, and the recent GC renovation project was originally slated to create a second mini-headhouse here. The T deleted it to pare costs for shafting of elevators, but they can easily go back and finish the job to open that up as an unstaffed fare-gated entrance (similar to the Green Line-only Boston Common entrance to Park St.). At only 600 ft. from the Bowdoin entrance this second GC egress would be a fairly effective replacement. As well as offer a little load relief for the main entrance since this one would only touch the Blue level.

  2. Eric

    London is also working on circumferential lines, i.e. the Overground, which has grown substantially in the last decade or so.

    • Michael James

      Alon does mention London Overground:

      In London …. the Overground, is cobbled together from freight bypasses and is replete with missed radial Underground connections.

      I have never paid attention to this but when I looked, I found that–on the north side (and LO is mostly on the northside of the river)–it connects with 4 radial LU lines but misses 5 or 6 others. From east-to-west, the outer ring connects with the District, then misses the Central, connects to Victoria, then misses Piccadilly and then misses both branches of the Northern, connects to Jubilee, misses the Metropolitan, then connects to Bakerloo. In the west where it turns south to pass over the Central (again) and over the Piccadilly and District, but connects with the southern (Richmond) branch of the District line. There are some branches of the Overground that do connect with some of these LU lines but the (unclear) transfers required don’t look convenient.
      As Alun wrote this reflects the fact that the Overground was cobbled together from freight lines with the usual British cost containment. Apparently because most of the Overground is built on high brick viaducts this makes it expensive to engineer platforms and interchange. This would appear to be a serious deficiency and yet there seems no plan to correct it.

      • Alon Levy

        It’s not exactly British cost containment. The issue is that London doesn’t have the density that Paris has, which allows so much greenfield tunneling even in the suburbs. M15 will ring the city at a distance of 6.5-10 km from Chatelet. Draw a circle of a radius in that range, say 7.5 km, around Charing Cross. It’ll hit Canary Wharf, which is nice, but the other places at that radius are Balham, Wandsworth, and Hammersmith – all town centers with rowhouse density. On the northeast there’s Stoke Newington, but even that’s not particularly dense by the standards of Saint-Denis, Bobigny, Val de Fontenay, Villejuif, Arcueil, or Saint-Cloud.

        • Michael James

          I understand the density thing but I don’t think that is the reason–after all those LU lines go deep into the suburbs. And London Overground in total gets 200m riders per year (though on its 8 “lines” so a bit hard to compare with other things like Metro or RER) which at the least is respectable. Even without high ridership one would still want to connect to all those radial lines. I can’t see why some were connected and others not but perhaps there was pre-existing structure or it was easier for some reason. Except that there isn’t a station on either the LO or the LU so …
          BTW, the thing about the brick arches is from the Wiki (which could just be LO spin).
          Oh, and it runs 24hrs the same as that part of the Underground does, so it makes even more sense it is properly connected.
          No, I think it is safe to assume it is the usual Brit half-arsed half-funded transit project.

      • Matt Hutton

        Finchley Road and Fognal and Finchley Road are pretty close. So the north London line (London overground) doesn’t entirely miss the metropolitan line.

        • Michael James

          Matt Hutton, 2018/12/31 – 07:48
          Finchley Road and Fognal and Finchley Road are pretty close.

          But isn’t a miss as good as a mile? Especially from a ticketting p.o.v. and especially from a British ticketting p.o.v. Somehow I doubt they have the kind of deal like the Paris Metro with its virtual links between some close but not physically-linked stations/lines, ie. where you have to exit one station and walk a 50-100m down the street to enter another, and it still counts as the same journey.

          • Alon Levy

            London is full of out-of-system interchanges (OSIs) that the ticketing system is supposed to respect. I did it at Tower Hill/Tower Gateway; it was nice to stare at one of the few non-hideous buildings in London, but from a commuter’s point of view it seemed worse than Chatelet.

          • Michael James

            AL: “London is full of out-of-system interchanges (OSIs) that the ticketing system is supposed to respect. ”

            So the rumours I keep hearing must be true: they really have removed some of the immensely irritating nickel-and-dimeing of the LU ticketing system. All by itself that was enough to make me hate using it. Meanwhile, if I understand correctly, in Paris a weekly Navigo card at about €22, now gives you zone-free travel across the system, ie. including the far reaches of the RER? I have long argued for something similar, in that penalising PT users who live in the outer zones is counter-productive. This makes even more sense as they build out GPX.

          • Michael James

            Oops, forgot to add Bonne Année. (I think Paris has caught up with my side of the world which rang in the new year 5 hours ago.) I see that the celebrations this year are centred around the Arc de Triomphe, instead of the more usual (?) Eiffel Tower, which I interpret as a political signal … One suspects that, around the world, the recent years (decades) of bad karma, and bad politics, is about to explode this coming year. I wonder if Macron has cauterised the French wounds enough? (Probably not enough. Probably not possible, because it is a pandemic for which there is no vaccine.)

            I did it at Tower Hill/Tower Gateway; it was nice to stare at one of the few non-hideous buildings in London, but from a commuter’s point of view it seemed worse than Chatelet.

            I happen to be reading a critique of London by Richard Rogers (details below) and in fact of the whole British habit of non-planning. This was published in 1992 (I stumbled across it on AbeBooks) and not sure how I missed it all these years. But interesting to read 37 years later. Not sure what he thinks today but presumably he would be even more shocked at how some things have turned out, especially from the laissez-faire Boris’ years. Rogers complains bitterly about the mess of Canary’s Wharf, and how it was left entirely to private capital and thus became a sterile big-biz desert with no provision for (any, but especially affordable) housing, and instead of La Defense’s RER, Metro and Tramway, it got a toy rail in DLR which didn’t even connect to London Underground. Eventually private capital built houses but mostly extremely expensive apartments with river-views and mostly owned by loose capital floating around the world looking for a safe deposit.

            Of course Rogers might have some bias since he came to fame by being chosen to design the Pompidou Centre (which then gave “permission” for the stuffed shirts in the City of London for him to design Lloyds of London). This was by open competition which is one of his big points: he enumerates how all the new (mostly Grand) Projets of Paris were by open competition and with only a few exceptions (Jean Nouvel) were won by non-French architects; which he attributes to the system-wide reinvigoration of French architecture, the public’s acceptance of such, and planning.
            On top of that, Rogers is at least partly culturally Italian (born there and lived there as a child) which I reckon is why I (with my foreign eyes and sensibilities) find his analyses concordant with my own.

            FWIW, I don’t think it is necessarily that all the new hi-rise in London is so “ugly” as that it is so out of context and with zero planning. Ever since I lived there, and especially my second prison term (U Oxford, 1995-2000), I just couldn’t believe they were not fully developing east London with its vast potential for a new city. I even suggested that my then patron, Wellcome Trust (then the world’s biggest private biomedical research funder), instead of building new institutes at old universities (like my then brand-new institute) it could build something of great significance in East London which was crying out for a new university plus associated institutions (medical school, res. institutes etc). But that would of necessity involve government planning. Like sex, the Brits just don’t do it (allegedly).

            A New London
            by Richard Rogers, Mark Fisher. – May 3, 1992
            ISBN-13 978-0140157949
            London is in crisis. It no longer has a cohesive sense of identity, its infrastructure has drastically declined and, most crucially, it has a totally fragmented planning policy. It is dirty, overcrowded, increasingly polarized between rich and poor, North and South. The condition of London reflects a larger crisis, affecting all our cities – that of how we live our lives and use our resources. Other European cities, such as Paris, Barcelona and Frankfurt, have similar problems but are tackling them more vigorously and imaginatively. Richard Rogers, architect of the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyds building in London, and Mark Fisher, Shadow Minister for the Arts and Media, present their arguments for the rebirth of London – one that involves architecture, planning and the development of London’s under-used resources, such as its river.

            I think that, for all the bling in the world, his 3 decade-old judgement remains essentially true.

          • Alon Levy

            If you have a weekly or a monthly, then yes. If you don’t, the fare system is still zonal and has weird seams like no free RER-Metro-RER transfers (Metro-RER-Metro is fine, RER-Metro-RER isn’t for some reason) or mode-dependent fares to La Defense.

            Re affordable housing: La Defense really doesn’t have it either. There are lawsuits against communes in Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines for not providing enough affordable housing. The French toffs aren’t any less snobbish than the British ones.

          • Michael James

            Perhaps that RER-Metro-RER thing is to do with an RATP versus SNCF thing?

            Re La Defense, first, they did build some affordable housing in the original development–the ten storey apartment buildings right on the front de la Seine. In fact they are in the process of demolishing them to make way for more hi-rise commercial buildings (it’s taken years and of course is causing a fuss because of the usual . Second, the ’70s Tours Aillaud has 1700 apartments right next door. Yes, very 70s, very Corbusian but it was something, for >6,000 residents.
            Third, the situation is completely different to Canary Wharf in that La Defense was well situated for both the Masters of the Universe types who live in Neuilly, Boulogne-Billancourt, St Cloud or further west in Visinet and the more middle-class Puteaux, Suresnes etc even closer.
            But, fourth, more significant is that from the beginning they built excellent transport links, M1 extension, RER-A and of course roads (later T2, soon RER-E extension), which meant that where its workers lived wasn’t really an issue. The problem with Canary Wharf is that its workers didn’t live anywhere near, and didn’t want to, and there were lousy transport links. Like you said, “the toffs” in East London! It has taken 3 decades for all that bling to be acceptable (and it has been done with and for foreign money interests), though actually it was all totally obvious to anyone with a brain. In fact London was creeping eastwards as evidenced by the likes of Rogers architectural fiirm, and Channel 4 basing themselves in Limehouse, and Rupert relocating his operations (overnight, in secret!) from Fleet Street to Wapping–all in the 80s. It really wouldn’t have taken too much government effort to promote some serious housing development around there to speed things up and thus also justify better transport links. However as we all know, Thatcherism was in full flight and no such “grandiose” plans would be tolerated and certainly no public money. It was at that time, early 90s (IIRC or late 80s), that Michael Heseltine, in his early scouting for a better Eurostar route, took a helicopter flight over the East London docks and was amazed at the huge potential to build a new London, one fit for the future. But he butted heads with Thatcher and resigned over her intransigence (on almost everything–to this day I don’t think people understand how awful and vision-free she was) and he didn’t come back into a senior portfolio until Major replaced her, and he still had a huge job to get the HS1 project off the ground (thru East London of course).
            And fifth, the next stage in the evolution is underway: Les Groues, adjoining La Defense’s north-western side, which is planned as a mixed-use district to be served by the new RER-E (as early as next year, ie. 2020) and a few years later M15 (they will share a station at Nanterre-la-Folie). Further, Nanterre to the next bank of the Seine (“Seine Arche”) has been considerably upgraded over the years relative to its original down-at-heel status. Of course there are always pressures on, and complaints about, affordable housing but I think it is obvious that they have done, and are doing, far more than the kind of hands-off approach in London. It is why La Defense has grown much much more than envisaged and is going to continue to expand. Meanwhile the Thatcherite toxic endpoint is approaching in Brexit and a likely Brexodus if it actually happens.

  3. Richard Layman

    600 meters is a “long distance” but what about a way to walk/bike share etc. from one station to the other as an interim measure? The distance is much shorter, but eventually WMATA in DC enabled the ability to walk from/to the Farragut North (red) to/from Farragut West (orange/blue/silver) above ground.

    • The Economist

      I do not believe that there is any previous example of such out-of-system transfer in Boston. Also 600m is just too long to walk for most people going to/from work. Bike share also seems more involved that simply using the green line. How popular is that out-of-system transfer in DC?

      • Michael Whelan

        DC resident here. The out-of-system transfer at Farragut is pretty popular for a certain subset of trips, but it only requires a 150 meter walk along a single city block. If it were even just one block longer, I suspect most people would just change at Metro Center. A 600 meter transfer would be four times as long as the Farragut crossing.

      • Matthew

        There’s an old machine in Back Bay station that used to sit by the entrance. I was told it spat out of system transfer tickets for people to get the 39 bus, at some point in the past, maybe when they originally ‘temporarily’ cut back the Arborway line. I don’t have any further info, sorry. Probably F-line knows.

      • Alon Levy

        Yeah, 600 meters is insane. In 2010, I timed how long it took me to walk between the RER platforms and the Metro Line 7 platforms at Chatelet, the station’s longest transfer given where the other Metro lines’ platforms were. It took 8 minutes, in-system. 600 meters is in theory a 6-minute walk, but in practice probably 7 or 8 with an additional out-of-system penalty.

        The comparison to Chatelet might seem neat, but it’s a well-known nightmare to the Parisian as well as to the frequent tourist. I picked my apartment location near the RER specifically to avoid having to connect Metro RER at Chatelet back when I thought I’d be commuting down to Bures-sur-Yvette for the entire academic year.

        • Michael James

          In the realms of transit nightmares, I’d say that the M7-RER transfer is hardly high on the list, at least in global crimes against the commuter. You didn’t mention that a lot of it is by travellator (2 different travellators each about 150m; the failed variable-speed one at Montparnasse—Bienvenüe is 180m.). It does turn into a bit of bore if either is out of order because then you have to walk with all those hordes and it means the slowest pace wins out.
          And as I have pointed out before, it’s better than nothing; think of that 600m walk on the surface in the worst part of winter (or worse, when it begins thawing). A walkway, even without travellators, protected from the elements is a good start. As it would be a ROW it would take 6 minutes which is hardly something anyone using public transit is going to have conniptions over.
          The other thing that I keep returning to when these kind of problems of local connections come up, is that there are new tech solutions at hand: ThyssenKrupp’s mag-lev travellators which solves the speed problem with travellators (ie. that they don’t speed things up much over walking; once again the fastest tolerable pace being determined by the slowest or feeblest walkers; only a bit faster than average walking speed). Incidentally it should also solve the distance issue, in that current travellators have less reliability the longer they get (due to the endless-loop, whether rubber or steel) while this system has a moving “platform” and being mag-lev it can accelerate/decelerate at whatever speed is desired, and will have vastly higher reliability than the old-tech (which are the main reasons travellators aren’t deployed much in transit connections, the exception being airports). And yes, it is doubtless where Musk got his e-sled “idea”. One could also call this system “on demand”.

          Finally, these solutions are vastly less costly than modifications to the Metro tunnels or stations.

    • Harald

      They have added BlueBikes stations at Park St and Government Center fairly recently. I did some quick counts of trip data and there are very, very few trips between the stations. Which probably isn’t a surprise given that there is little bike infrastructure and bike share users have to deal with busy one-way streets.

    • Matthew

      The street between them, Cambridge Street, was one of the first to be widened in the nascent urban renewal era. I think the destruction wreaked by that terrible decision ultimately snowballed into the wholesale destruction of the West End and Scollay Square.

      In the present day, it would be tough to get more people to cycle on the wide, fast, four lane road with crazy Boston drivers and no cycling provision whatever. Of course that should be fixed ASAP however then you get to fight the horrible NIMBYs of Beacon Hill. Cheers!

  4. Dr Thomas Schmidt

    I was in the situation of needing to get from the Blue Line to South Station, located on the Red Line, and also on Silver Line 3. There are several options:
    Blue line to SL3.
    Blue Line to Green/Orange Line to Red Line.
    Blue Line to Orange Line to Back Bay Station
    blue Line to State Street and walk.

    I tried the SL3, getting off at Airport stop for the scheduled SL3 (which runs every 15 minutes, supposedly). It did not arrive for 18 minutes after I arrived at the bus stop, with several people obviously waiting before I got there for a number of minutes; I got off the BL at about 4:50, traveling to South Station for a 5:30 bus. The bus Transits the Ted Williams tunnel, so it of course is subject to all the delays of cars; with an 18 minute scheduled travel time to South Station from Airport, I could possibly have arrived at 5:26 and made my bus. The driver was incompetent and later wedged his bus in the lane to South Station, blocking EVERY silver line bus and making me comically late for my bus, which departed without me.

    Lessons: never get off a moving rail transit vehicle to switch to a bus. Never trust bus rapid transit that does not have its own exclusive right of way. Do not trust published schedules of MBTA bus lines.

    The walk to South Station is about 12 minutes to the train terminal, and 17 to the bus terminal, from State Street, where one can catch the Orange Line. I wound up taking this walk more often than not, since a blue Line train at Airport at 4:55 will almost certainly Make State Street by 5:10. The blue Line is the least-delayed of the 4transit lines in Boston, in my experience, excepting in blizzards.

    The transfer to the Orange Line southbound at State from the blue Line involves a walk of about 5 minutes. A pain with a bag. I did it once; by going to Back Bay, you add 5 minutes extra departure time on a train. To get that, you have about a 5 minute walking transfer from blue to orange line, and then a maximum latency of about 8 minutes on the Orange Line. Travel time is about 5 minutes, and the connection at Back Bay is better than the red line at south station. The one time I took it, the Orange Line came within one minute, so I got several minutes ahead of my train versus walking. I wound up getting off at Back Bay for theOL back to the Blue Line, since the northbound/eastbound connection is very short.

    Given the time delay of the three-way transfer, I never did it, since my goal was always time-bound. The transfer to the green line makes more sense because the frequency offsets the extra two stops time penalty. But it would always take longer, in my estimation, than just walking from State.

    The larger volume seems to travel from south to East each day than from Northwest to East. If I had been going to Quincy, I would have joined the volume at Park Street, which is overloaded.

    My suggested solution, in light of volumes: 1) out of system walking transfer from State to Downtown crossing. 2) Barring 1, which should easily work with a Charlie Card, extend the walkway from SB OL at State to Downtown Crossing so Blue Line passengers can walk an extra 3 minutes and get on the Red Line. That’s gotta cost only an additional 5-7 million dollars, even with elevators. 3) moving walkway to accomplish 2.

  5. chip0

    Cycling on Cambridge St is insane, and I used to bike commute in Boston regularly. And the problem with both cycling and walking as a way to do the transfer is that it’s uphill from Charles to Bowdoin, and a lot of people going that way are going to the airport and therefore have luggage.

  6. Stephen Bauman

    There used to be a track connection between the Red and Blue lines until 1952. It was for non-revenue service. When the Blue line was converted from streetcars to high level service, the line lacked any storage tracks. A remnant of the connection existed through July 2015, according to Google’s Streetview. The connection wasn’t at Charles St but on the Cambridge side, just before the Kendall Square portal.

      • Stephen Bauman

        No. There was a portal from Bowdin Square that opened onto Cambridge St at Joy St. Tracks under trolley wire continued at the surface along Cambridge St and over the Longfellow Bridge. The Cambridge-Dorchester Line operates at the surface at the top of the Kendall Sq. portal. The tracks are fenced off and block cross traffic. However, there used to be a sliding gate and and switches joined these tracks to what’s now the Red Line. There was trolley wire, as well as third rail ran clear through to the yards beyond Harvard. The north side sliding gate remained in existence through the July 2015 Google Streetsview, for the amusement of those who knew it purpose.

        Here’s a link to a photo of the Atlantic Ave station that was a transfer point to yesterday’s Orange Line.

        Here’s a link to the Kendall Sq. portal showing both third rail and trolley wire.

        Here’s a link to the Joy St portal onto Cambridge St.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        As Stephen notes the Blue Line rapid transit fleet was serviced out of Harvard from 1924-1952 when Orient Heights Yard opened on the new Revere extension.

        Originally, Boston Elevated Railway had visions of forking service at Charles Circle: into the Beacon Hill Tunnel on the current Red Line, and on a short El off the Longfellow feeding into the Joy St. portal. Charles did not actually have a station built there until 1932, as the original plan would’ve had all that space taken up by the El junction. So indeed there was a real plan to bridge the Charles-Bowdoin gap by running Kendall-Park St. and Kendall-Bowdoin branches.

        Plans got all snagged as BERy was late doing the rapid transit conversion to the East Boston Tunnel, with that date slipping to 1924 while the Camridge tunnel opened on-time in 1912. The date mismatch meant there was no measurements available for speccing one-size-fits-all rolling stock they could order to fit both the very spacious Cambridge tunnel and the very cramped trolley-conversion East Boston tunnel in run-thru service. So they ended up ordering Cambridge tunnel -sized stock with platforms set accordingly to those floor heights, ending right there any chances of connecting the two lines at Charles.

        The trolley wire for the streetcars that ran in the left traffic lanes of the Longfellow Bridge were just repurposed for the non-revenue equipment shuffles between Harvard and Bowdoin, and the Cambridge St. El was obviously never built as the trolley tracks were “good enough” for that one limited task.

    • Jacob Manaker

      I’ve always been somewhat surprised that nobody proposes to build a Red-Blue track connection, rather than just a transfer station. Even at peak, the Red Line trunk runs ~13tph, which is about half of the capacity of a branched two-track line, so the Blue could interline across the Charles. As-is, a connection would be a reverse-branch, but there’s a decent alignment for a branch from Harvard Square along Mt. Auburn St. to the former Watertown Loop, and then the connection would be a branch in the right direction.

      • chip0

        I’ve heard that proposed; problem is the Blue Line’s lower platform height due to the low clearances in the cross-harbor tunnel. And tunneling under Mt Auburn St all the way to Watertown would be seriously expensive (and disruptive, if it was cut and cover).

        • F-Line to Dudley

          Correct about Red & Blue dimensions. That’s the biggest discrepancy in car sizes on the whole system, because Blue from GC-Maverick was originally built as a trolley tunnel and when Red was built 10 years later BERy had settled on that as their standardized dimension (regardless of what size cars were used) for all new-construction tunneling going forward. As mentioned earlier, reverse-branch interlining *was* proposed @ Charles Circle originally for Red’s 1912 debut but BERy missed its target for converting Blue to heavy rail and speccing car dimensions for that conversion by a full dozen years…so the window of opportunity was closed when they had to go ahead and place the order for bigger-dimension Red rolling stock.

          East Watertown under Mt. Auburn St. was indeed the preferred route for the Red Line’s Alewife extension from its first proposed iteration in 1945 to the mid-1970’s. That build would’ve been cheaper and allowed for retaining the old Harvard station and complete old tunnel alignment to Brattle Sq., while saving Harvard Square from a disruptive spell of cut-and-cover tunneling. At East Watertown (Mt. Auburn St. @ split with Belmont St.) the line would’ve taken a turn east on the Watertown Branch ROW and gone to Alewife via Fresh Pond. No Porter or Davis Squares were the obvious downsides to that build, however, so it fell out of favor on final scoring vs. the Mass Ave. alignment to North Cambridge.

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