Starts & Stops

Swatch test finds new Longfellow Bridge color

Sections of the Longfellow Bridge railing were painted different colors to determine the historically accurate hue.
Essdras m suarez/Globe Staff
Sections of the Longfellow Bridge railing were painted different colors to determine the historically accurate hue.

No home improvement project would be complete without splashing some paint samples on the wall to see what looks good.

That’s the thinking behind the psychedelic colors that have appeared on the sidewalk railings on the Boston side of Longfellow Bridge, which (haven’t you heard?) is in the midst of a three-year, $255 million construction project.

On most of the bridge, the railing remains the same green-tinged rust that we’ve seen for years. But close to the southeastern end of the bridge, stretches of the rail have received a new coat of paint, specifically, FS 24165, FS 33105, FS 33440, and FS 33245.


It turns out that, for decades, the federal government has had its own system of paint swatches, known as “Federal Standard 595” — that’s where the “FS” comes from.

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During World War II, the US government ran into trouble when equipment subcontractors on the other side of the world struggled to get the exact right color. (It wasn’t cool to have a formation of fighter planes flying in 12 different shades of olive.) The federal government came up with a system of color swatches and matching reference numbers, which they distributed to manufacturers.

The same system is still used today for government construction projects.

Officials have been working to figure out exactly which color in the federal system matches the original paint that covered the steel, riblike arches underneath the bridge and the ornamental ironwork above the bridge.

The decision was made jointly by a slew of hue-minded observers: the state historic preservation officer, Boston Landmarks Commission, Cambridge Historical Commission, Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Federal Highway Administration, and MassDOT.


That’s a lot of people looking at paint.

For the steel arches under the bridge, officials chose FS 24165, gray with just a tiny tint of green.

And for the iron sidewalk railings and sidewalk streetlight poles, the winning color was FS 33105, a bronze color that skewed more brown and less mustard than its competing counterparts.

Walsh transition team thinks way beyond the box

A city-run bus system? Parking meter prices that fluctuate by the hour?

They may sound pie-in-the-sky, but those are some of the recommendations that have landed on Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s desk.


Walsh’s transportation transition team released a report this month on how to improve the city’s transportation system. Most of the conclusions were unsurprising: encourage more people to bike, walk, take public transit; continue Hubway; crack down on double-parking. And there were lots of wonky policy recommendations, such as “establish culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate mechanisms for accountability and public engagement in decision making” and “create and appoint a transportation advisory committee.”

The transition advisers want Walsh to lower the speed limit on some roads to 25 miles per hour, or to have the power to change it.

But sprinkled through the 21-page report — compiled by a host of transportation advocacy groups chosen by Walsh’s staff, along with a former state transportation secretary and the current heads of the MBTA and the Registry of Motor Vehicles — are some pretty unconventional ideas that could ruffle a few feathers.

1. Point-to-point car-sharing service: The transition team wants Walsh to request proposals for a car-sharing service that would allow drivers to leave their rental cars in city-owned parking spots around the city. Currently, Zipcar blankets Boston, but each vehicle has a particular home where the it must be returned, great for errands or day trips, but not helpful for one-way journeys. (This week, however, Zipcar executives announced they are looking to roll out one-way service in Greater Boston by September.) Point-to-point car sharing already exists in Washington, D.C.; rental cars can be ditched at most any on-street parking spot, where the next driver can pick it up. Members are charged 41 cents per minute of use.

2. Real-time parking spot vacancy signs at parking garages: The report suggests installing real-time digital signs outside city parking garages indicating the number of available spaces, technology that could help drivers avoid circling aimlessly for a garage with space. It’s big in Europe.

3. Street rankings for plowing and pothole repairs: The transition team proposed that City Hall staff rank streets on a scale of A to E to help public utilities crews prioritize necessary work. “This will foster increased transparency and allow residents to have an understanding of when their street will be paved, plowed, or repaired,” the group wrote in its report. The idea could be controversial: If you live on an A-rated street, it will be plowed, like, yesterday. But live on an E street and you might be waiting a while.

4. Peak-hour metered parking rates: The report asks Walsh to examine parking policies and consider implementing variable parking rates for on-street meters, which would increase during high-
demand hours. In downtown Los Angeles, hourly parking meter rates fluctuate from 50 cents to $6, depending on the time of day.

5. Lower speed limits: The transition advisers want Walsh to lower the speed limit on some roads to 25 miles per hour, or at least they want him to have the power to change it. Speed limits in business districts are automatically set at 30 miles per hour by state statute. The team advises Walsh to lobby the Legislature to give cities more flexibility to decide for themselves.

6. A city-managed bus service: The state operates MBTA buses, and some companies and universities charter their own shuttle buses for employees. Walsh’s transportation transition advisers think the city should consider operating its own bus service to supplement the T. Stephanie Pollack of Northeastern, one of the members of the team, outlined her vision for this bus service in the Globe last year:

“It’s almost hard to remember the days before shiny blue-and-gold HUBuses crisscrossed the streets, when Boston’s only public transportation was run by the MBTA. . . . It doesn’t replace the MBTA, just supplements it with more flexible, responsive transit that pulls the city together.

“Buses “talk” to traffic signals so that the green light lingers to let them through; most fares are collected via smartphone app. So the buses actually run on time! And the city’s new bus lanes are shared by any public transit, so the T buses are running better, too. Like the Circulator in Washington, the buses run every 10 minutes and cost only $1; as with Los Angeles’s DASH system, there are both downtown and neighborhood routes, quickly connecting residents to T stations.

7. Signal prioritization for Green Line trolleys and buses: Many transit advocates believe that buses and light-rail trains should have automatic right-of-way at intersections, in order to make the route faster and to encourage more people to take public transit. Peter Furth, a civil engineering professor at Northeastern University, has studied the possibilities for signal prioritizarion at the Ruggles Station bus depot; if implemented, it could cut the rate of delays for the station’s outgoing buses in half. “If we can put a man on the moon,” Furth said at a recent campus presentation, “we should be able to get buses through the green light without messing up any of the other traffic.”

Martine Powers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.