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Starts & Stops

State Street’s dreary pedestrian conditions could get a big upgrade

The Boston Public Works Department is considering a significant revamp of heavily traveled State Street. Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Welcome to State Street, an iconic thoroughfare in the heart of America’s walking city. Please enjoy the faded crosswalks, the three lanes seemingly always jammed with cars and trucks, and beaten down sidewalks that are so narrow in places that pedestrians dodge each other during rush hour.

It’s not a great look for one of the most popular streets for tourists in Boston, bordering busy Faneuil Hall and linking the Old State House and Orange Line to the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the New England Aquarium.

Nor is it particularly pleasant for the thousands of commuters who work in the office buildings that line the street (including, it should be noted, those at the Globe). In November, an 86-year-old pedestrian suffered life-threatening injuries when she was struck by a vehicle at a State Street intersection.


So the Boston Public Works Department is considering a significant revamp of the road in the near future. Although the plans are still in the early stages, officials say there’s one primary goal: to make State Street much better for walking. That’s not just a matter of urban idealism: State Street is overwhelmingly used by pedestrians, with more than 29,000 each day compared with about 10,700 cars and trucks.

“We want to make sure the roadway has a better balance for the people who are actually using it,” said Ashley Biggins, a city engineer. “We want to make sure pedestrians don’t feel like second-class citizens when they’re the majority of roadway users.”

The city is circulating a survey online that shows some of the potential options for the road: wider sidewalks, bike lanes, better crosswalks, public art and landscaping, and more seating for dining or just leisure.

And then there is the most provocative suggestion the city put out: banning cars from the road altogether, which is used as a major access point for commercial traffic heading into downtown. It’s unclear how serious that option is; for now, Biggins said, the city is only gathering feedback. But officials hope to finish a redesign of State Street this year and begin work in 2021.


If they’re not shut out entirely, drivers could also benefit from the changes. State Street is the site of near-constant double parking by delivery trucks and ride-hail drivers. Biggins said there have been early discussions in City Hall about potentially using State Street as a testing ground for new parking rules as part of a national pilot program the city was selected for last year, meant to better manage curb space to cut down on congestion.

Going off-track

The MBTA returned one of two new Orange Line cars to service on Tuesday, saying it solved a structural issue that had taken it off the rails for two months. The second six-car train should join it before the end of January.

While officials insisted it was normal for new trains to encounter problems as they enter service, the removal of the Orange Line trains alarmed frustrated commuters who have long awaited them.

So imagine the feelings in New York, another city with a worn-out subway and palpable commuter frustration, after nearly 300 recently-delivered new cars were suddenly pulled from service last week.

The issue, according to The New York Times, was a concern that doors could open while trains were moving. Actually, that sounds familiar: the T’s new Orange Line cars were briefly taken out of service last year to fix the doors.


Boston is, of course, a tiny hamlet compared with New York, and the 300 cars pulled off the subway there are a fraction of its 6,000-car fleet.

The Big Apple’s trains were built by Canadian industrial giant Bombardier. This latest issue isn’t the first for the new fleet: the delivery was delayed, several cars were pulled from service for software issues last year, and New York’s comptroller issued a harsh report faulting the Metropolitan Transit Authority for not managing the contract well, according to the Times.

In Boston, the 404 new cars slated to join the Orange and Red lines over the next few years are being assembled by the Chinese company CRRC at a Springfield factory. The T has put a silver lining on its problems with the Orange Line cars, arguing that it’s better to catch issues early in the delivery, so fixes can be incorporated as the rest of the fleet is being built.

More weekend shutdowns

Meanwhile, that new Orange Line train won’t be around much on weekends this winter — nor will many other trains on the line, for that matter.

The T will shutter train service between Sullivan Square and Tufts Medical Center stations almost every weekend through Feb. 16, starting next week. (One exception: the line will continue to operate the weekend of Jan. 31-Feb. 2.)


Shuttle buses will run along the closed portion of the line during this period, though they won’t stop at Downtown Crossing, State Street, or Chinatown. Instead, the T says riders trying to arrive at those stops should instead travel from Haymarket or North Station to nearby Green Line stations.

The shutdowns will start Friday nights at 8:45 p.m., with service resuming Monday mornings.

The T will use the weekends to quickly replace more than 1,000 feet of track, mostly around North Station, and complete other work elsewhere along the line.

With commuters desperate for improvement, the T has said it is better to take on the work in sprints, rather than spread it out over longer periods of time; the agency hasn’t ruled out potential shutdowns during the week.

The Red Line is also scheduled for shutdowns between Harvard and Alewife most weekends through April to continue work on the line’s track bed.

Both the Red and Orange lines had similar weekend track work in late 2019.

Once the trains return, officials are warning they will likely run slower for a short period because of speed restrictions in place to allow the new track to settle — an inconvenience commuters faced after the fall shutdowns, too.

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.