Light rail for Cambridge

A modest proposal for the next phase of transit expansion in Cambridge…

(scroll down for interactive map)

  • Streetcar light rail lines
    • Major corridors, largely replacing major bus lines and feeding T stations
    • Frequent stops
    • Replaces inbound vehicle trips from the western towns to/through Cambridge, while provide hyper-local light transit
  • Grand Junction light rail loop
    • One-seat routes from West Station to North Station, and West Station to the Airport
    • Stops in Cambridgeport, Kendall Square, Sullivan Square, Assembly Square, Everett, and Chelsea
  • Red Line Extension to Arlington/Lexington/beyond
    • Route 2 median branch/supplemental commuter line?
    • Greatly reduces demand for vehicle travel on Mass. Ave./western Parkways

The light rail lines could have very frequent stops and service and function like (greatly) enhanced bus routes, as light rail tends to do.

The red line extension would of course be a major project. Using the Route 2 corridor seems easier technically speaking, though it’s questionable whether it would have a significant level of service without being some kind of development corridor. The commuter rail alternative for that corridor would recognize the lower level of service while still providing service to the residents and businesses in that corridor – with the idea of reducing SOV use on Route 2.

The Red Line extension proper (Arlington-Lexington) would be a state-level project serving multiple municipalities. It has been talked about for decades, and was initially intended to be part of the Red Line extension from Harvard to Alewife, but was met with fervent opposition at the time in Arlington. Surely, Arlington of today would be of the opposite attitude.

I think it’s possible that streetcar lines on major Cambridge streets (with links to Allston, Belmont, Watertown, Arlington, and Somerville) could be endeavors between towns and private enterprises, with the state only where necessary (ROW issues, partial funding source) — maybe.

Of course, this is limited to lines that would run through or terminate in Cambridge. Almost any town you go to in any direction, streetcar lines would bring a lot of social and economic value, and for the most part, could go where streetcars historically went.

This would be a rather radical revisioning of all these corridors. The idea is that it could be a mix of dedicated corridor and Euro-style (or, more aptly, Green Line E-line style) with cars and trains mixing — tracks in the street. Either way, a significant replacement of driving and parking space will be necessary.

Streetcars — in streets — are rolling out in cities across the country. They have persisted and are integral to cities all across the world. Streetcars historically served American towns large and small. I’m not trying to reinvent any wheels.

I’m not an engineer and of course there are many unstated details and obstacles, better route alternatives, the necessity of priorities, etc. — however, we should be working backwards from an extensive, interconnected, complete transit network.

We should be thinking big and ending up somewhere in between here and there.

Light rail for Cambridge