The Sliver Line is the newest line to the MBTA, so new in fact that it is not yet complete. When finished it will offer a one seat ride form Dudley Square in Roxbury to Logan Airport. Sounds nice eh? Well not so fast. The Silver Line is steeped in controversy. But I am getting ahead of myself. Lets start at the beginning.
In the beginning, there was BERy, or Boston Elevated Railroad. From around where today is the New England Medical Center rose out of the central subway the Orange Line. The Orange Line originally went along Washington St., through Dudley Square, and on to Forest Hills, on elevated track. If you have been to New York or Chicago, it looked like that. It only made a few stops (Dover, Northampton, Dudley, Egleston, Green, and Forest Hills). This elevated track was loud, dirty, and unsightly. There had been plans for a while to tear it down but the problem was where to reroute the Orange Line. In the 1970s there was supposed to be a freeway built right through Roxbury. Buildings were demolished but after intense opposition to the freeway, it was scrapped. What was left was a nice, free, open path to reroute the Orange Line. It even ended at Forest Hills! So in the early 1980’s the Orange Line as it it today was built. Then in 1987 the old elevated track came down and Washington St. could breath again. But that was just the beginning.
After the Orange Line came down the MBTA promised to replace the elevated rail with "equal or better service". A bus line, #49, was installed to temporarily fix the transit situation. Now here comes the fun part. The people of the South End, whom the new Orange Line route most avoided, decided to replace the elevated rail with light rail running down to Dudley and possibly beyond. What made this an even better idea was that there was an abandoned spur from the Green Line that ran from Boylston to Tremont St in the South End that was covered up by a park. Simple right? Wrong.
The MBTA decided to go above the community and try something called Bus Rapid Transit. This is basically a bus that runs in its own dedicated lane. After years, 15 to be exact, the MBTA finally installed the first phase of the Silver Line form Dudley to downtown. The full plan is for it to go underground near Boylston, in a tunnel and then over to Chinatown, and South Station where it will link up with phase 2 (which is currently being built) that runs underground form South Station, to the Federal Courthouse, and then over to the World Trade
Center. It will then come above ground, head over to the new Boston Convention Center, then through the Ted Williams Tunnel to Logan Airport.
Now here is my position on all this. First off, that tunnel where the bus will enter to Boylston already exists. The MBTA wants to dig it up and build a new tunnel! Not only that but the new tunnel will require digging up a large part of Boston Common for the bus to turn around in. Light Rail would be better here because 1) it already has a perfectly good tunnel to use, and 2) it doesn’t require a huge amount of room to turn in. Secondly, the whole bus over bail thing is, in my humble opinion, pure transit racism. The section of Boston that the Silver Line runs through is the most heavily populated area of the city, and one of the most racially diverse. Thirdly, the new buses will burn Compressed Natural Gas.& That is great for the environment, but 100% electric light rail would be even better (yes, even though the power will probably come from a polluting power plant). Fourthly, the whole idea of Bus Rapid Transit is that it is just like rail, only with tires! BRT became notable because poorer cities that boomed needed a cheap and effective public transit program. Buses worked great for them but we are not poor….well, not that poor in relation to those cities. We in Boston have a great history of light rail…and unfortunately a great history of replacing it with buses.
These are just a few of the problems with BRT and the Silver Line. The hard fact is that the Silver Line SHOULD be light rail. The MBTA says that it is designing it so that one day it could be upgraded. But wouldn’t it be cheaper just to build a full light rail system in the first place?
Silver Line Phase II
Silver Line Phase II opened December 17th 2004 and is the newest subway line to open in Boston since the Orange Line relocation in 1987. It starts at South Station above the Red Line and below the newly finished concourse. This means that construction at South Station is FINALLY over (I lived in Boston for 6 years and South Station was one of the first places I went to and back then it was nothing but concrete blocks). New tiles and a refurbished "South Station Under" sign found under layers of old renovations finally gives the station some respect, however the Red Line platforms are still covered in black soot.
After a short drive (really long because the buses aren’t on a track so the drivers can only go about 15 mph) you get to Courthouse station. This is the jewel of the system. The platform level is interesting because the is no fence between the bus ways, just storage space. When you go up the escalators you get to the main concourse which is this beautiful silver and purple "room". Interestingly there is no free crossover but this was probably done because of intended foot traffic crossing under New Congress St once the South Boston Waterfront becomes developed with commercial, hotels, and residences. An interesting fact is that the walls are all designed so that adds can be projected on them digitally (think Times Square in a subway station).
The last underground station is World Trade Center. This station has been finished for the longest out of the three. At the top a stairway/elevator connect to the elevated road and is only a few hundred yards from the Boston Convention and Entertainment Center. If you aren’t lazy you can get off here and walk, taking the immense size of the building in as you go. Right after this station the buses ascend to the surface and cross at D St. This is probably the only really stupid thing in the otherwise well designed Silver Line Phase II. The buses have to wait at a traffic light to cross but there is no software telling the light to let the buses go when they come up.
After WTC the buses go under the Manulife building to Silver Line Way (name of the "station" and road). This station is no more than a large bus stop but what happens when the buses get here is the cool feature of the Silver Line. The buses convert from using electricity through overhead wires and go to diesel. From here the buses go to Black Falcon Pier, City Point, and Logan Airport.
Plans call for the extension south of the Silver Line from Dudley to Grove Hall and then to Mattapan and Ashmont. This is a great idea seeing that that is a huge area of Boston not served by Rapid Transit. Because it is a bus it would be cheap and easy.
More ideas are that the Silver Line could be extended west to Kenmore and then branch off to Brighton and Longwood Medical Area. This, to me, is somewhat stupid. The Green Line already serves this area and having 60 foot buses running through the streets of Boston in mixed traffic would almost certainly go against one of the basic principles of BRT.
Back Bay Tunnel
However, long range transit plans for Boston do require that a new subway tunnel be built through Back Bay. The original plans for the Silver Line were for it to connect to the Green Line at Boylston St so people could get to the offices, Hynes Convention Center, and hotels of the Back Bay. A new tunnel from Boylston to Kenmore along Stewart St and then the Mass Pike would connect the two areas while alleviating traffic on the Green Line.
An idea I whipped up would that the D line be changed to the Silver Line. The line would follow the normal D line route and could have a spur to Needham which is being talked about in Upper Falls in Newton (see map). This would then allow the commuter rail to go to Millis instead of making a new branch off the Needham line. Another Silver Line branch could follow the Mass Pike through Newton and meet up at Riverside, forming a loop. This would serve more people and take pressure off the Green Line. Also, because the tunnel would be light rail, no new upgrades would need to be done for a converted D line (besides any branches). By taking traffic out of the Green Line the Washington St section of the Silver Line could then be converted to light rail and run into the central subway. Also, more trains could run for the remaining B, C, and E lines. This would then make it easier to extend the Green Line to Union Sq in Somerville and West Medford or a restored A line to Oak Sq in Brighton.