During the years I lived in Boston and worked in Somerville, I often took the red line train home in the late afternoon. You would emerge from underground at the Kendall Square station onto the Longfellow Bridge and a spectacular panoramic view of the Charles River and the Boston skyline. Often there were boats sailing. You might see rowers, a Duck Boat Tour, and in the winter, ice forming on the edges of the shore. The view rarely failed to make me feel better about the day.
But the bridge is now falling apart and a discussion has begun about how to redesign it. The bridge will not be widened and there will still be room for inbound and outbound red line trains.
But the rebuilding of the Longfellow is about more than saving it from collapse. It comes at a time when key policy makers, from Boston’s mayor to the Obama administration, have pledged to rethink transportation and pull back from decades of favoring drivers and cars over bicycles and walkers.
As a result, the Longfellow has emerged as a touchstone and test case in the debate over urban transportation, with officials, highway engineers, civic leaders, and community advocates grappling over whether to reclaim some of the pavement used by automobiles to make more room for everybody else. It is a thorny issue that remains unresolved even as construction begins on a bridge that is both a treasure to preservationists and a lifeline for thousands who traverse it each day by subway, car, bicycle, and foot.
This is the proposal from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation
Then the Liveable Streets proposal
You can also see the existing configuration.
Advocates [for the liveable streets alternative] say such a plan would honor a raft of recent policy changes and public pronouncements from leading officials. On his blog in March, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared “the end of favoring motorized transportation.’’ Mayor Thomas M. Menino, at a bicycle summit, announced to cheers that “the car is no longer king.’’
The advocates note that car traffic on the Longfellow has been steadily declining for a decade, coinciding largely with the opening of the nearby Zakim Bridge. And they point out that traffic adjusted when the Longfellow Bridge’s travel lanes were temporarily closed for safety reasons. Now they see an ideal, highly visible opportunity for permanently taking some of that pavement to encourage more bikers and walkers.
I love the idea of cutting down on car traffic and benches on the walks. This is a chance to really change the urban environment.
The Longfellow is named for a pedestrian: poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who regularly walked the earlier West Boston Bridge over the Charles during his long and turbulent courtship of the daughter of a Beacon Hill industrialist. In 1845 he published a poem inspired by those crossings, “The Bridge.’’