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What’s the deal with South Station’s closed staircase?

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

We humans are creatures of habit. And when our habits, however minor, are interrupted — well, we send angry e-mails.

A temporarily closed stairway between the South Station commuter rail terminal and the platforms for the Red and Silver lines has provoked ire among commuters, many of whom say they received little or no advance warning that their transfer between transit modes would require them to take the outdoor stairs from Feb. 1 to March 31.

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“Main internal stairs and escalator closed for nearly two months??? In winter? Are they crazy??” wrote longtime commuter rail rider Joe A. of Norwood.

Julia Tanen, spokeswoman for Equity Office, the company that holds a 30-year lease for the commercial space in South Station, said construction crews had to close the stairwell in order to install a new escalator between the subway fare gates and the station atrium.

Signs have been posted to guide commuters to the alternate stairway and the MBTA has posted staff to assist travelers during rush hour.

The new escalator is part of a package of improvements coming to South Station: Along with the recent debut of Starbucks and Tavern in the Square (which opened Monday), workers are installing a two-story CVS pharmacy and a decidedly more upscale set of restrooms.

“The bathrooms will be more modernized, more of an airport-quality bathroom, rather than what they are now, which — well, we know what they are now,” Tanen said.

But the promise of South Station’s forthcoming metamorphosis didn’t stop commuters from expressing consternation about the stairway closure. The trek up an alternate stairway and an extra 12 seconds spent outdoors wasn’t the end of the world, they admitted — and the stairs are kept clear of snow and ice — but it was annoying just the same.

Mark Reagan of Norwell said in an e-mail that the alternate route into the South Station atrium has mostly affected his evening commute.

“At rush hour in the evening, if you are rushing for a train you might as well forget about making your train,” Reagan said. “The mass of people trying to get up the small stairway to the surface is crazy.”

Reagan said he first heard about the imminent closure on Jan. 31, and wished he’d had more of a heads up.

“Seems like more than a day’s notice would have been nice for people who use the commuter rail and the subway from South Station,” Reagan said.

Tanen insisted that commuters have known for months that South Station is undergoing a major renovation, and she’s right — for months, news articles and signs inside of the station have alerted travelers to coming station improvements.

But what about notice that the stairway would be closed? Few seemed to hear about it before the Friday preceding the closure. The Equity Office notice about the detour dates back to Jan. 24, about a week before the stairs closed up.

Tanen said officials had known for some time that closing the stairway temporarily would be necessary, but weren’t sure how quickly construction would proceed and didn’t know exactly when they would need to begin detouring commuters.

“We didn’t know how long it would be before we got to the point where we were working on the stairs,” Tanen said. “Sometimes closures like this are just an unavoidable side effect from doing a wonderful construction project.”

Glitch or gag?

Making fun of the Boston accent is perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit of the comedic world. And the jokes don’t get more hackneyed than mocking the dropped R in “Harvard” — as in “pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd.”

But sometimes, as evidenced on this electronic sign near Memorial Drive and River Street in Cambridge, that joke is just so easy you can’t pass it up. The sign alerts drivers to construction work on “HAVARD” Bridge.

Typo? Intentional abbreviation? A gentle jab at our favorite Massachusetts idiosyncracy? We may never know.

(A hat tip to former state representative John A. Businger, who possesses an eagle eye when it comes to all manner of infrastructural typo and incongruity.)

Hubway in the winter

This season’s onslaught of snowfall may elicit groans from public works departments and state transportation officials, but there’s one organization benefiting from each wintry blast: Hubway.

“It’s been an opportunity for us to experiment every time we’ve had a snowstorm this winter,” said Emily Stapleton, general manager of the bike-share program.

November’s announcement that Hubway would try its hand at operating Cambridge’s 26 bike stations straight through the winter prompted some trepidation. Who would want to bike in the snow? And what would happen to the bikes when clouds inevitably dumped heavy snow on the region?

Stapleton said Tuesday that Hubway staff members have learned to deal with snow and ice, refining their strategy for protecting the approximately 250 bikes in circulation from becoming damaged by the elements. When the National Weather Service announces a winter storm warning, Hubway officials enact a temporary system shutdown, which locks the bikes in place and prevents people from using keys to remove them from the docks.

But when it comes to deciding what happens to the bikes during the storm, the answer is less clear.

Sometimes, Stapleton said, Hubway staff members have removed all the bikes from the streets and stored them inside a warehouse to ride out the storm, using custom-made canvas covers to protect some of the docks.

But other times, they’ve left some of the bikes out in the elements — so far, she said, with no ill effects. Keeping the bikes parked in their spots on sidewalks and curbs can also prevent ice from becoming lodged in the docks.

Usually, it takes four to five hours for the Hubway staff to remove all the bikes, though it can take longer if the approaching storm coincides with afternoon rush hour, prompting a mass exodus from Cambridge.

“We’ve been perfecting that lead time,” Stapleton said.

And when it comes to snow removal, she said, Hubway staff members have been able to handle minor flurries by themselves, hiring outside contractors to help plow after more significant winter storms. Stapleton said Hubway has been communicating with public works departments to ensure that the bike-share stations don’t end up as a dumping ground for plowed snow.

“Where possible, we’ve tried to be mindful of one another, so we’re not creating more work for the other person,” Stapleton said.

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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