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What do you get for $400 million in transit improvements?
In 1995, Boston opened a new $160 million basketball arena, now called TD Banknorth Garden, with a major commuter rail station, North Station, on the ground floor. In 2003, Boston’s MBTA spent $325 million to completely rebuild the subway station that serves the commuter rail station and the arena. And in 2007, MBTA enlarged and improved the commuter rail station’s waiting room.
So what is it like to transfer from the subway to commuter rail? You get off in a spacious, well-lit station. You follow signs to commuter rail, up an escalator and through a mezzanine. And then … you end up outdoors, puzzled. There’s a building to your left, 60 feet down the sidewalk. It’s labeled “TD Banknorth Garden.” There’s no mention of commuter rail. But it turns out that’s where you want to go. So, if you are in the know, you walk 60 feet down an unshaded concrete path alongside a loading dock driveway and then you’re at the entrance to the commuter rail station.
How much would it have cost to add a sign below the “Garden” sign saying “North Station MBTA commuter rail”? Perhaps several hundred dollars.
How much would it have cost to build a enclosed, air conditioned walkway from the subway to the arena? $100,000, $200,000 at most, increasing the project cost by 0.05%.
Boston is not a Mediterranean climate. It gets hot in the summer. It gets cold in the winter. It rains. That 60 foot walk is bearable, but it’s not necessarily pleasant. And that part of the experience colors everything else — it tends to cancel out the nice subway station, and the new waiting area, and as you’re walking that bit through the snow you think “maybe I should drive.” And if you’re not a regularly commuter, that minute — or ten minutes — of confusion looking for the train station is even worse.
Some transit planner sits in their office and thinks, “we rebuilt the subway station, and elimated the ugly El over Causeway Street, and created an easy cross-platform transfer between the Orange and Green lines.” And I say, “You did, and that’s great. But you forgot about the experience, and you got one detail wrong, and now 10,000 riders a day are living with it every day.”