Rebuilding the Longfellow Bridge

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.

Longfellow Bridge

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. 

Eric Moskowitz wrote in the Boston Globe on July 25

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.

A shot of the Longfellow Bridge on a foggy night in January, 1919.

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.’’

7 thoughts on “Rebuilding the Longfellow Bridge

  1. Pingback: The Longfellow Bridge, Part 3 or we don’t build the way we used to build | FortLeft

  2. Pingback: Rebuilding the Longfellow Bridge, Part 2 | FortLeft

  3. The Livable Streets proposal is clearly a solution looking for a problem. I consider the Massdot proposed configuration to be pretty adequate. Maybe throw a mini bike barrier up between the bike and car lanes, but no need to take space from cars for no reason. (Even if you don’t drive, you might have to take a cab some day!)

  4. Your comment is anti-logic and anti-economics “Henry Longfellow”. Cars are uneconomical and bicyclists already traverse through the “convoluted intersections” every day. Heck, you know why those intersections are convoluted? Because there’s too many car paths. You live in Boston, it’s a walking city. Drop the car and get walking/biking/Ting. If you love the car so much, move to LA.

    Cars are communist.

  5. I think it’s funny that you think removing auto lanes are going to cut down on car traffic. It would be wall to wall car traffic since the amount of cars won’t decrease, just the space for them. Your beautiful river view will be marred by the exhaust of idling cars as they slowly inch towards their destination.

    • I agree with Adam Pieiazek and Somervillian on the whole car thing. The idea promoted by Henry Longfellow, that walkers and bikers would get off the bridge into a snarl of traffic is not true. There are ways to connect the bike and walking parths to the Espanade and avoid traffic. We need to be innovative and encourage transportation other than cars.

      I like to walk myself.

  6. What’s the point of giving more space to the red line? It’s not like adding a few extra feet will let more trains go through. There are two tracks; that’s it.

    There’s also no point to adding a broad bike lane when any bicyclist trying to go through the convoluted intersections at either end of the bridge would likely be killed by automobile traffic before he reached the bridge.

    The livable streets alliance is clearly both anti-car and anti-common sense.

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