This week we’re talking about roads, rails and powerlines — and the lives we live with them. Our Boston staff and radio listeners are mostly hearty New Englanders, but this winter of discontent has exposed all kinds of shortcomings in the underpinnings of our great city.
The roads are a mess, and the MBTA won’t be up and running fully until one month after the last snow. We spoke to commuters on the Charles/MGH platform whose fingers are cold and nerves are shot — and they told us that the T had been mismanaged, the governor needed to step in, and that (finally) we all had to take responsibility for building a tougher, better transit system.
Meanwhile, Fred Salvucci and Gov. Michael Dukakis remind us that our hometown’s got a proud tradition of public transporation: from streetcars and smooth-roads legislation to the Tremont Street Subway, the oldest in North America. Boston is a pre-car city wondering how to become a post-car city — in time for the Olympics, if we’re lucky!
But we’re seeing here, as everywhere, how the big American building craze has gotten complicated. As infrastructure improvements shrink in the budgets and the keystone projects of the last century show their age: subways flood, bridges crumble, and highways fall apart. We’re not quite boosters for our own Olympics bid yet — but it would make for a real opportunity to futurize our 400-year-old hometown. And opportunities like that are hard to come by in an moment of debt, climate change and patching up potholes.
How did it get this way? How do we break a cycle of disappointment and decay? And if the state of American infrastructure is an index for the state of American civic life, what does it say when the train breaks down?
The Sound of the Subway
Our producer Conor Gillies spoke with Paul Matisse, grandson to the great painter and draughtsman, poignantly looking on to his installation, The Kendall Band. It’s a now-famous series of swingable chimes hanging between Red Line rails at the Kendall Square stop — and like other parts of the MBTA, it’s broken.
Peeking Over the Snowbanks
And, if you need something to look forward to, check out Pat Tomaino’s round-up of our favorite infrastructure ideas for a new century — from shovel-ready, to prototypes, to sci-fi. Which ones would get you buying infrastructure bonds?