Red Line Addition: Tunnel Vision

Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) descriptions of the extension of the Red Line are artfully simple: "...five years of blasting, drilling, scooping and building will become another ten minutes of commuting." That will be in the spring of 1984, when the first Red Line cars venture beyond the Harvard Square station to Porter and Davis squares and to the Alewife area, bringing subterranean transit to the edge of the city.

But while MBTA officials see the construction mainly in terms of decking, slurry walls and 33 different contracts, Cantabrigians are looking at the benefits and bugbears of adding subway lines. The suits surrounding the construction of the extension itself have quieted down, but many residents are leery about a subway that ends in Alewife, an old and lonely industrial site where a huge parking lot is planned. "Wherever a transit system terminates, it has a negative effect," City Councilor Thomas W. Danehy says. He adds that the parking lot "attracts car thieves and pickpockets, and where you have that, occasionally you get into crimes against persons."

Danehy also says the Red Line extension will cause a deterioration of public transportation in the northern section of the city, because fewer buses will run. "If you didn't want to wait for a bus, you'd have to walk to the subway station," he adds.

But Porter Square merchants say the extension will probably improve their business. "The Red Line has created a focus on the area that didn't exist before," says Simon E. Shapiro, chairman of Mercants on the Line, a businessman's association formed through the MBTA two years ago. The increased public transportation to the square will ease the ongoing expansion of North Cambridge, Shapiro says, adding, "This market is really an expansion of Harvard Square and the congestion there." In fact, Tags True Value Hardware, Shapiro's workplace, is eventually planning to expand to three times its present size, he adds.

Peter Pilat, manager of Kresge's in Porter Square, agrees that the subway may bring financial benefits to the area, though he warns that the merchants' dreams could backfire if local residents use the subway system to travel into Boston to shop. "Right now the subway is hindering business because of the blasting," he says.


Furthermore, Porter Square doesn't have much more room to develop commercially, and the development that is planned--mostly offices and apartments--would probably happen regardless of Red Line expansion, Danehy says. Cambridge merchants are "interested in increasing business, and not looking at other factors," he adds.

Danehy adds he cannot speculate on the economic changes the subway will bring to Alewife, since legislation to attract industry to the area is now bottled up in City Council. "With amendments, it will probably pass," Danehy says.

But J. Henry Quinn of the Red Line Alert, a citizen's coalition opposed to the expansion to Alewife, says Cambridge will not benefit from the extension because the subway will serve only to bring in suburban commuters. "Why should we be the grandest, biggest parking lot that ever existed?" he asks, responding, "That's what will happen to us if we don't do something."

The Red Line Alert sought to have the subway line extended to Route 128 so suburbanites' cars would not crowd into the city. He cites numerous developments planned in the Alewife and Porter Square areas, each, he says, without adequate parking facilities.

"There was backward thinking in the whole project, so little good can come from it," Quinn says. But he adds that any $600 million project is bound to bring some benefits, and equal amounts of grief to those who are uprooted by it.