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The Silver Line

The highways that are built to sustain our sprawling suburbs add to our pollution and energy problems, and increase our dependence on an auto-centric way of life which is unhealthy, anti-social, and unsustainable. The Sierra Club encourages public transit and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly neighborhoods.

Silver Line - or Silver Lie?

The Silver Line is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's (MBTA's) so-called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, running in two, unconnected sections, from Dudley Square in Roxbury to downtown Boston, Massachusetts and from South Station to several points in South Boston and to Logan Airport in East Boston. The Silver Line is planned to be built in three phases; only phase I and part of phase II have been completed. Phase III, a connection between the two sections, is planned for some time after 2014. Silver Line buses are wheelchair ramp equipped using a kneeling bus and a flip-out ramp. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Click on the map to enlarge it
But no matter what color you paint a bus, it still gets stuck in traffic. Over 15 years ago, the MBTA – after tearing down the elevated Orange Line – promised equal or better service. For 15 years, that service was a dirty diesel bus that contributed to residents' suffering asthma rates six times higher than the state average. Now the MBTA has unveiled its equal or better plans: building an elaborate tunnel system underneath downtown Boston so buses can turn around. Otherwise known as the "Silver Line Phase III," this plan will cost millions more than using existing tunnels and restoring light rail service on Washington Street. Even MBTA studies showed using the existing tunnel for Green Line-type service is only a matter of new lights and tracks, a substantial savings.

What's wrong with the Silver Line?

  • A rail tunnel already exists that can serve Washington Street and the Roxbury community, tying them directly into the Green Line to Downtown and the rest of the MBTA’s subway system.
  • Light rail will cost hundreds of millions of dollars less to implement than a new bus system.
  • A new bus tunnel will require tearing up the newly refurbished YMCA, large swaths of Chinatown, the Theater District, and the Boston Common.
  • A new bus tunnel will require tearing up large swaths of Chinatown, the Theater District, Bay Village, and the Boston Common. Construction of a portal will entail massive disruption to the abutting neighborhood, whatever location is finally chosen for it. Possible locations include in front of the fire house on Columbus Avenue at Berkeley Street, beside the Tufts New England Medical Center, and in front of the Mass Pike Towers apartment complex—possibly requiring the demolition of several residential buildings. Most of the tunnel will be constructed through filled land, endangering groundwater levels and the stability of the many nineteenth century buildings along its route. Whatever the portal location is finally chosen, the buses will be emerging from the tunnel into a congested urban environment, turning on their diesel engines immediately adjacent to thousands of neighborhood residents and hospital patients.

In times of fiscal crisis, the MBTA should look at ways to do more for less. Since the MBTA already stated that rail service would increase ridership by 2 to 2.5 times that of a bus and cost $800 million less, we should make the switch to light rail.

More information

Get Involved!

More more information about the Sierra Club's work on the Silver Line, contact John Kyper. See contacts page.

See Also
Massachusetts Sierra Club Transportation Network

MBTA's Silver Line - Taxpayers Get Less for More, Comprehensive Report on the Silver Line

Chinatown is Not a Dumpster, South End News 10/26/2006

Light Rail Makes More Sense for Washington St. Corridor, An Op-Ed from the Sierra Club and the Washington St Corridor Coalition.

MBTA's Silver Line Website

Silver Line Alignment Illustration

Sierra Club Position on the Silver Line

Sierra Club Comments on SL Phase III Project Change




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