I think by now it’s time to address the elephant in the station — and I don’t mean Jumbo’s flattened corpse. Let’s talk about the Green Line Extension, or GLX: What is its history, what will it bring, why did we spend $2 million to name one station, I mean seriously, who on Earth thought that was a good idea?
Anyways, calls for the GLX — a subway line following the Lowell commuter rail line through central Somerville — have been made as early as 1922 — and again in 1926, 1947 and 1990. In the end, other subway extensions (including the Red Line to Alewife) received higher priority, and it wasn’t until 2005 that planning officially began.
Sixteen years later, it’s nearing completion. The Union Square branch will open in October, carrying “D” branch trains from Union Square to Riverside. The Medford branch will open in December, carrying “E” branch trains from Medford/Tufts to Heath Street via the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. In total, there will be seven new stations (including a rebuilt Lechmere) and a new storage yard to support a new fleet of modern trains.
The GLX, now in its fourth reboot, has unsurprisingly diverged significantly from the source material. Original plans called for service from Tufts all the way to Woburn, but track upgrades in the 1950s precluded any extension north of West Medford. Service between West Medford and Tufts was dropped after enough bureaucratic bickering to fill a TCU Senate meeting.
Central to the debate has been the question of how the GLX will affect affordability and gentrification within Somerville, a highly complex topic on which the Daily has published an excellent podcast episode. And of course, the project’s no stranger to cost and schedule overruns, like the Big Dig for which it was coincidentally designed to help offset pollution.
The GLX has seen its fair share of rightful criticism, and its true effects perhaps won’t be known for several decades (at which point it’ll be really clear what we should’ve done instead!) But we do know that today, Somerville is the densest city in New England, and it’s only growing. It’s built by design to be walkable and transit-oriented, a boon to low-income and immigrant residents. Despite this, it’s only served by two “T” stops at its periphery, and huge swathes of the city depend on buses for transit, with their delays and unreliability.
There’s no question that Somerville, and communities like it all over Boston, deserves reliable, efficient transit like the GLX — the question is if we’re up for it. It’ll mean confrontations and compromise. It’ll also mean catching up, at rates only seen in a student four weeks behind on lectures during finals month. But in the end, it’ll mean taking the steps toward making our cities truly inclusive, sustainable and livable places to reside.
The GLX is not perfect — far from it — and there are surely lessons to be learned. But if nothing else, it’s a bold step forward, and it’s up to us to keep that momentum.