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6 Boston transportation projects that should happen before an aerial gondola

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North-South link, anyone?

The news that a proposal for a 1-mile-long aerial gondola from South Station to the Seaport was still very much alive got us to thinking: Such a system is all well and good—especially given that a private developer is willing to bear the brunt of the cost for a wider public benefit—but aren’t there more pressing transportation projects in the region?

There are.


Directly link North Station and South Station already

Indeed, such a link would create an unbroken rail route from Maine to D.C.

There does seem to be some movement on what’s called the North South Rail Link after decades of what-ifs and maybes. In March 2017, the state started soliciting bids to study building a nearly three-mile tunnel to connect the stations.

That study has yet to be completed. Until then, the direct connection seems tantalizingly out of reach.


Roll that Red Line past Alewife

Amanda Hall/robertharding

Back in the 1980s, it was assumed that the Red Line would keep going after Alewife, perhaps as far out as Route 128. Thanks largely to locally based federal bigwigs such as House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Sen. Ted Kennedy, there was enough money for at least stations at Arlington Center and Arlington Heights.

Local opposition doomed the plan.

Given the ever-escalating cost of housing the closer one slouches toward Boston proper, a Red Line running out to less expensive areas would be a real game-changer (we think—this is all predicated on the T running well year-round).

As it stands now, the Red Line beyond Alewife is pretty much a pipe dream, with no serious planning or work underway.


And run the Blue Line to Lynn already

Mass. Office of Travel & Tourism

It turns out that the original plan for the Blue Line had it going well beyond its northeastern terminus at Wonderland—beyond Revere and into Lynn, in fact.

Logistical and financing problems got in the way; and the plan was dropped long ago.

It may have new life in former Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who as part of his gubernatorial campaign is proposing extending the Blue Line 4.5 miles into Lynn.

The election is not until November, and, even then, the extension would still face financing and logistical challenges.


While we’re at it, let’s directly connect the Red and the Blue

Alexa/Flickr

A direct connection between the Blue and the Red lines—most likely at the Charles/MGH stop—has been on the burner since at least the early 1970s.

It was, in fact, part of a deal to mitigate traffic tied to the Big Dig. Yet, somewhere along the way, state officials downgraded and downplayed the plan; and it has just never happened.

Were it to, it would seriously smooth the commutes of thousands of people daily.

Right now, Blue and Red riders have to exit their respective trains if they wish to connect one with the other; and then take either the Orange or the Green line, depending on where they’re headed, or exit the T altogether to simply walk to the next Blue or Red stop. Got that?

The 2016 reopening of a refurbished Government Center station, which re-connected the Blue and the Green lines, raised the issue of a Blue-Red link again. But, again, don’t hold your breath.


Significantly boost Inner-Harbor ferry service

ericodeg/Flickr

This one seems like a no-brainer given the Boston region’s geography—water, water everything, etc.

About six years ago, it looked like commuter-ferry service in the Inner Harbor, particularly between East Boston and downtown Boston, was due to get a serious shot in the funding-slash-frequency arm.

That’s because then-Mayor Tom Menino wanted to remake parts of the Eastie waterfront and to encourage a migration of tech companies to the area. A big part of that was a commitment to more and more frequent ferries.

And then nothing happened. There is Inner Harbor ferry service, to be sure, but it’s not frequent nor cheap enough to really foster a large number of regular commutes.

That may change. There have been studies since 2015 to analyze the feasibility of increased service—in particular, to see if a ferry ride can be as relatively inexpensive as a subway or a bus fare. And New York City recently expanded its commuter-ferry service, with fares comparable to subway rides.

Such increased service in Boston probably couldn’t come soon enough. New projects continue to open on the Eastie waterfront amid blistering demand. Case in point: The 80-unit Slip65 sold out last year.


Come up with one Charlie Card to rule them all

aphotostory/Shutterstock

The MBTA plans to switch to an all-electronic fare-collection system by 2020 to speed up commutes.

How? Riders will just tap a credit card or a smart-phone app to a new kind of fare reader—no more paying with cash on trolleys and buses. Those buses and trolleys, too, would have fare readers by other doors than just the front ones to allow for all-door boarding.

An all-electronic fare-collection system, similar to what London has now, will also help the MBTA analyze ridership data better and then theoretically improve service based on it.

But what about taking it a step further: A one-stop Charlie Card—or something like it—that not only handles public transit, but private options, too, such as Zipcar? It’s a theoretical possibility at this point, but wouldn’t that be grand?


What other ones are we missing? More protected bike lanes? A viable form of congestion pricing, perhaps, to dissuade people from driving into downtown Boston during rush hour? Sound off in the comments section below.