Monday, May 16, 2005


The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority isn’t coming off too well these days, struggling and dazed to keep up with its legacy and expectations — think Charlie Gordon toward the end of “Flowers for Algernon.”

Its Web site today, for example, features an “online poll” that asks “Which stations will be the first to offer the new automated fare collection and customer service enhancement systems?” One of four possibilities can be selected, including “Park Street & Downtown Crossing,” “North Station & Haymarket,” “Airport & Aquarium” and “Government Center & Kenmore.”

Is this really a poll? If so, it should ask “Which stations should be the first,” not “will be,” phrasing that turns this into a mere guessing game. Whatever it was, 792 people answered as of shortly after noon, with a majority of 44.44 percent guessing Park Street and Downtown Crossing would be “enhanced” first.

Nope! Airport and Aquarium will be first. Thanks for playing ... or guessing ... or telling us what the majority wants and won’t get.

To top off the absurdity and mystery, the question was numbered, making it No. 1 in a one-question poll.

It’s no surprise to find that the proposed expansion of the green line through Somerville and into Medford is just as muddled. The prospect of a spur to Union Square has been raised — a one-stop detour while Lechmere branches off to Washington Street, Gilman Square, Lowell Street, Ball and Magoun squares, College Avenue, Winthrop Street and so on.

Somerville’s mayor, Joseph A. Curtatone, says “Any expansion of the Green Line must include a stop in Union Square,” so the authority — legally obliged to build some extension — might as well listen. But does a one-stop spur make any sense? At the other end, the four green lines go for miles, as do the red line splits to Ashmont and Braintree. If Curtatone insists on a Union Square stop, state officials are likely to offer their usual panacea: bus service.

If the green line connects to Porter Square, though, you finally get a Cambridge T system that makes sense. No more going to Park Street to come back to Lechmere — something that’s going to matter even more when Lechmere becomes the gateway to the 45 acres of housing, office and residential space soon to be known as North Point.

At least the authority could fall back on its old plan to link the green line to Harvard Square via Union. But a Union spur on its own is as limited in sense and appeal as it is in distance.

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