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The Orange Line shutdown’s silver lining

With every crisis comes an opportunity, and what’s happening with the T is no exception.

Passengers board an Orange Line train at the Forest Hills Station. Final Day of the Orange line MBTA that will be closed for next 30 days while under repairs.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

There is no sugarcoating it: The 30-day Orange Line shutdown, which took effect Friday night, will be a nightmare. State and local officials have warned that it will cause severe traffic congestion. They’ve discouraged people from driving anywhere near Boston. And they’ve pleaded with employers to not penalize employees for inevitably being late to work. It’s clear that the Orange Line shutdown will not only affect the subway route’s 100,000 daily riders; it’s going to hinder people’s mobility across the entire region.

But with every crisis comes an opportunity, and what’s happening with the T is no exception. As residents look for alternative ways to get around the city, Boston should pay close attention to what works well at moving people around and what doesn’t. The MBTA and the city, for example, will begin offering more modes of transportation to make up for the Orange Line’s temporary paralysis — including new bus and shuttle routes outfitted with makeshift bus lanes, as well as free Bluebike passes and pop-up bike lanes — and officials should keep an eye on which of these infrastructure changes ought to be made permanent.


This “transportation emergency,” as some officials have put it, has forced Greater Boston to make its roads less friendly to cars in order to minimize the region’s traffic, which is already among the worst in the nation. But while changing road patterns will be infuriating to some drivers, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Some city streets, for example, will be entirely closed to general traffic so that buses can move through them in a more timely fashion, and parking will be restricted on others to make room for bus lanes. If buses are able to operate on these streets on a relatively reliable schedule — which is, admittedly, a big if — that may actually create enough incentive for many residents to leave their cars at home and hop on a bus.


For some regular car commuters, that could be the start of a new routine that encourages them to take public transit even after the Orange Line shutdown. And for pedestrians, the peace that comes with the lack of car horns and revving engines might provide a newfound appreciation for walking around certain parts of town.

It’s also not just new bus lanes that could encourage people to ditch their cars or Uber rides. Boston has long been an unfriendly city for cyclists. (While it fares relatively well compared to other US cities when it comes to bike safety, that is an extremely low bar.) But the Orange Line closure has pushed the city to make biking a more appealing commute, even if only temporarily. Providing people with free access to Bluebikes, for example, and installing new bike racks across town is a good start to nudge people to make a change from four wheels to two. Building new bike lanes that ensure cyclists’ safety is even better.

These are all promising infrastructure changes that the city is making. Together, they outline what the foundation of a more mobile and environmentally friendly Boston would look like — with a government that uses all of its might to get people to use a variety of public transit options and reduce their reliance on cars.


This, of course, doesn’t mean that the next month will go smoothly by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, the Orange Line shutdown will impose a huge burden on many residents, particularly those with the least means. But there is a silver lining to all of this: The effort that’s going into providing alternative modes of transportation is an opportunity for Boston to reimagine its streets well beyond this specific disruption. And the region would be better served in the long run if many of these initiatives — from street closures to dedicated bus and bike lanes — are carefully studied, perfected, and made permanent.

It took a transit crisis to remind city planners that roads don’t always have to be built for cars. They shouldn’t forget that when the Orange Line comes back.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.