The Meaning of Beantown

A few days in another town: Boston, the least happy place on the planet when the Lakers win the championship. It’s also the US city that began a new era in mass transit nearly 50 years ago, when, in the same year that Los Angeles was scrapping its last Red Cars, it created America’s first new major trolley line since way before WW II. Making it the first US city to realize that the urban transportation future didn’t just belong to the automobile.

That 1960 Riverside line is now connected to the vast MBTA Green Line light rail network, whose original 1897 downtown segment was the first US subway line. After 1900, the old Boston MTA, of the famous folk song, also built several different heavy rail subway-elevated systems, each with incompatible equipment— a possible tribute to long-ago City Hall corruption. It also has portions that are dauntingly weird. Take the Silver Line, a hybrid bus system that runs partly underground and looks like it want to be on rails…

On the whole, though, the MBTA works just fine. Though it now looks pretty beat up—the notorious Big Dig having reportedly sucked up squillions of transit dollars that might otherwise have gone into maintenance. And of course there are service cuts in the offing.

Some say that Boston built the nation’s first big rapid transit system simply because it has the nation’s worst drivers. I’d rather not go there. Although the Boston Merge, whereby cars entering a busy roadway simply speed up and hope someone will brake to admit them, can be pretty scary. Yes, people still drive a lot in Boston, if not too well. But the thing is, you don’t have to. Point to point, rapid rail will get you to most places in the East Coast’s Bay Area quicker than driving; at least it will if you access the online timetables and plan accordingly.

That seems like the most and the least you can expect from a rapid transit system anywhere. It’s what we ought to have in LA, but then we’re over 80 years behind Bean Town in putting ours together. Guess we better hurry up.

That 1960 Riverside line is now connected to the vast MBTA Green Line light rail network, whose original 1897 downtown segment was the first US subway line. After 1900, the old Boston MTA, of the famous folk song, also built several different heavy rail subway-elevated systems, each with incompatible equipment— a possible tribute to long-ago City Hall corruption. It also has portions that are dauntingly weird. Take the Silver Line, a hybrid bus system that runs partly underground and looks like it want to be on rails.

On the whole, though, the MBTA works just fine. Though it now looks pretty beat up—the notorious Big Dig having reportedly sucked up squillions of transit dollars that might otherwise have gone into maintenance. And of course there are service cuts in the offing.

Some say that Boston built the nation’s first big rapid transit system simply because it has the nation’s worst drivers. I’d rather not go there. Although the Boston Merge, whereby cars entering a busy roadway simply speed up and hope someone will brake to admit them, can be pretty scary. Yes, people still drive a lot in Boston, if not too well. But the thing is, you don’t have to. Point to point, rapid rail will get you to most places in the East Coast’s Bay Area quicker than driving; at least it will if you access the online timetables and plan accordingly.

That seems like the most and the least you can expect from a rapid transit system anywhere. It’s what we ought to have in LA, but then we’re over 80 years behind Bean Town in putting ours together. Guess we better hurry up.