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Starts & Stops

Gold lights on Zakim Bridge come with a personal story

The Zakim Bridge was illuminated last week by gold lights for National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
The Zakim Bridge was illuminated last week by gold lights for National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

It’s been just over a year since the state Department of Transportation decided to install new lights on the Leonard P. Zakim Bridge, allowing one of Boston’s newest landmarks to shine a brighter blue — and, on special occasions, to transform colors.

Since then, the lights have been in regular use. In addition to celebrating holidays and cheering on playoff runs by the Celtics, Patriots, and Bruins, they have brought awareness to issues like autism, eco-friendliness, and gun violence — and offered blue and yellow rays of comfort after this year’s Boston Marathon.

But if you drove on the bridge this past week, you may have noticed a new shade illuminating the bridge’s cables: gold.


Tony Stoddard, a resident of Sandown, N.H., contacted MassDOT a few months ago, asking if the bridge lights could shine gold from Sept. 1 to 7, in honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Stoddard, 51, is trying to raise awareness in memory of his son Cole, who died last year at the age of 5 after being diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that primarily affects children.

The tumor started in Cole’s abdomen, and spread through his nerves and bones, which made for lengthier and lengthier stays at Tufts Medical Center as doctors tried to keep the disease at bay.

And during those tough times, he said, the sight of Zakim Bridge caused his stomach to sink.

“We’d make trips to Boston, and crossing over the bridge, we knew our son was going to be in the hospital for a week, or two weeks, or a month,” Stoddard said. “It just hurt me to see the bridge.”

Since Cole’s death, he said, that sinking feeling hasn’t gone away.

“Every time I’d watch TV, I’d see the news and they’d show a shot of Zakim Bridge or the Prudential Center,” a view he often saw from the hospital window, Stoddard said. “And every time, it broke my heart.”


“They were painful symbols,” he continued, “and I wanted to turn it into something more positive.”

Stoddard said little is known about the disease that killed his son, largely because it’s such a rare form of cancer that receives only a tiny share of federal cancer research funding. Bringing gold to streets, buildings, clothes, and banners, he said, is his way of rallying for more research funding.

Apparently booking light time on the Zakim is as easy as an e-mail: Stoddard sent a message to MassDOT about the possibility of changing the bridge’s color to honor his son and other children with cancer, and agency officials immediately said yes.

MassDOT spokeswoman Sara Lavoie said officials have been receiving an increasing number of requests for special Zakim lighting nights. In just the next few weeks, the bridge will shine red for blood cancer awareness, teal for ovarian cancer awareness and the Facial Pain Research Foundation, and pink for breast cancer awareness.

“We have been able to accommodate these requests as best as possible and on a first-come basis,” Lavoie said. “We find that the requesters are very gracious as we do our best to work around any overlap.”

Stoddard, his wife, and their two surviving children came to Boston last Sunday to see the lights. This time, he said, crossing the Zakim “felt like seeing two beacons of hope.”


“A week before my son passed away, he looked at me and he said he wasn’t going to be growing up,” Stoddard recalled. “And I said, ‘Someday, you’re going to do something big.’ ”

Stoddard continued, “This is the big thing I’m doing for him.”

Repairs set on I-93 in Wilmington and Woburn

A couple weeks ago, Starts & Stops readers responded with excitement when they learned that the bridge deck on Interstate 93 southbound from Somerville into Boston was going to be repaved — even if that meant a temporary removal of the barrier that protected the highway’s HOV lane.

Since then, I have received a swell of e-mails from folks clamoring for answers on when other sections of the highway are slated to receive a makeover.

Mark your calendars, people: The project to resurface both directions of I-93 in Wilmington and Woburn was just awarded to a contractor last week. The 6-mile stretch of road extends from a point just north of the I-95 interchange, north just past the bridge over the Haverhill commuter rail overpass.

A bit of the construction on the 6-mile stretch may start this fall, but the bulk of the work will take place in 2014 and 2015. Bridge decks along this stretch will also be repaired and upgraded. It may cause some traffic interruptions, said MassDOT spokesman Mike Verseckes, but those will likely occur late at night from Sunday to Thursday each week.

“This is common for interstate maintenance as closing lanes during daylight or during peak commuting hours has the potential to substantially impact traffic,” Verseckes said.


Who has a better transit rap: Boston or Atlanta?

You may have heard the news: On Wednesday, the MBTA premiered its brand-spanking-new safety music video, “The Safety Bounce,” which features a dancing Charlie mascot, a catchy African drumbeat, and an assortment of stellar lyrics, such as:

Charlie recently did a star turn in a new MBTA safety video.
Charlie recently did a star turn in a new MBTA safety video.MBTA

So you’re running late when you finally catch the train,

And those doors start to shut — bam! — dead in your face again.

Don’t be a fool and get hurt today,

When you know that train is on the way.

Just bounce, when you ride it out.

Pretty fabulous stuff, right? But, as it turns out, this isn’t the first time the T’s general manager, Beverly A. Scott, has brought a hip-hop-inspired safety music video to a transit agency, as pointed out in a tweet from @TransitMatters.

Before Scott came to the T, she was general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. And before there was “The Safety Bounce,” there was “The Safety Slide.”

The video, which was released last November, features a cheerleader and mascot for the Atlanta WNBA team, as well as catchy lyrics like:

Look, look, look before taking a step,

Slide to the right, slide to the left.

Back it up, back it up, so we can make room,

Hold on tight, ‘cause we’ll be moving soon,

Do the MARTA Slide.

Transit Matters pointed out that Atlanta’s video may be slightly less “cringe-inducing” than the MBTA’s. But decide for yourself: Which video takes the cake?


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