1945 Transit Plan

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1945 Transit Plan

Postby joshg1 » Tue Jul 31, 2012 10:04 pm

The formal title is the "Report of the Metropolitan transit recess commission, appointed under chapter fifty-six of the Resolves of nineteen hundred and forty-three to investigate and study relative to rapid transit in the Boston metropolitan area." Frequently referred to as the BERy, MTA, or BTC plan it was a commission authorized by the legislature. In addition to expansion this plan recommended a public entity to cut costs and unify transit around Boston.

I know some in this forum have read it because they have written about it knowledgeably, but most haven't, and as I was curious I read it at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington. There is a further 1947 report, but as the only copy on the east coast is at Harvard Law and the general public can't get in, I'm not likely to read it. Anyway, I was more interested in the methodology behind the plan than the proposed routes and services. I took notes and will answer any question I can, but there is too much to post all at once. Here are some of what I consider highlights.

The passenger figures were derived from a February 1941 survey of all buses, transit, and steam commuter trains. The plan's authors consider this conservative- that there would be postwar economic growth not seen in the Boston area since the previous war, and that better transit would bring in even more passengers.

The routes were determined by a combination of following railroad lines and population growth as well as convenient places for feeder bus lines. No mention of 128 is made, but I'm sure the authors knew it was going to resume after the war. Newton to Braintree was built as 3-4 lane ordinary road and Lynnfield through Danvers as divided limited access, the coming thing. It's important to remember Boston was the first large city to have more populous suburbs (1930), although this can be overstated when you consider most suburbs were industrial towns to start with- example Cambridge. 120,000 residents but not "suburban" in the sense of Wayland. Freight service was to be maintained on all routes paralleled or partly taken over by transit.
Desired by the plan's authors was "…the elimination of the streetcars, a most advantageous achievement."

And a quote I found funny, "The central Somerville area will be afforded the advantages of rapid transit." Someday Somerville, someday.

There was an expectation that the Old Colony commuter service would soon be abandoned (another New Haven re-orginization) and the future MTA should be allowed to buy the Old Colony lines for scrap value.

There are color plates of the proposed cars, all articulated. Two section,three truck high platform (as in Red, Orange lines) and PCC cars, a forerunner of the current Green Line cars. The Lynn line (now Blue), was to have trains made of three short sections. Estimated prices (before postwar inflation): PCC cars, $22k ea.; "Red" line cars, $28k; "Orange", $35k; "Blue" $24k; buses and trolleybuses, $12k. It's worth mention my grandfather had a quality, smallish cape on a double lot in Worcester built from scratch for $10k in 1950.

Some mention is made over the superiority of transit over highways. No concrete plans were yet made for urban highways- the first big plan didn't come out until 1948. At the peak hour 97,000 commuters came into the city. If they came in autos at a rate of an optimistic 1.7/car, that would mean 55,000 cars, which would require 300 acres to park. The Common and Public Garden are 70 acres. The transit proposal was estimated to cost $35million, (up from $33.6 at the start of the report); to build the same capacity as four lane highways would cost $169m (again prewar/1945 prices).

Some of the advantages of public ownership are the end of dividend payments, $600k/annum income tax, property tax, and the end of tunnel rents. Did rent end? Were the tunnels not yet paid off, paid off or written off? Some lines would be profitable, some run at a loss to provide a comprehensive network, for an annual profit of $700,000.

My two cents is that the expansion would have been a success in terms of ridership, and that the steam railroads could have been convinced to give up commuter traffic closest to the city. But I think they would have fought like hell for sky high right of way prices, maybe even leases. I think, knowing that inflation took off after 1945, that the cost estimates are hopelessly optimistic- there is no way the MTA would ever turn a profit, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think the expansion would have spurred redevelopment, or urban renewal, earlier, and maybe more. It would not have stopped urban highways, but fewer people would be driving in. I think some of the expanded network would have been bustitued (Arlington, Needham), and that the infrastructure would have been more difficult to maintain, as there would be more of it.

And if you read through all this you deserve a major award, a Brass Figlagee with bronze oak leaf palm.
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Re: 1945 Transit Plan

Postby MarkB » Wed Aug 01, 2012 1:15 pm

With the end of the war and the huge ramp-up of defense work, public transport ridership in Boston dropped significantly. And with the improved economy - the Depression didn't end until after the war - people had more money to buy cars. And money to buy houses in the suburbs. The simple fact is that the people didn't want improved public transportation - they wanted to get out of the city and drive their cars as much as they could.
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Re: 1945 Transit Plan

Postby joshg1 » Wed Aug 01, 2012 8:30 pm

I don't know about Boston, but in the New York suburbs commuter train passenger levels rose right after the war with the suburban boom, before the highways came in. My assumptions about Boston and this plan are that it would have been a spur to downtown development which would draw traffic because of the lack of parking. The plan does not address suburb to suburb travel, and I doubt the authors even considered this- it was out of their remit if nothing else.
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Re: 1945 Transit Plan

Postby Adams_Umass_Boston » Wed Aug 01, 2012 9:27 pm

I am a librarian. Could you tell me the full or close to full title of the 1947 report? I can see if in fact Harvard is the only library around town to own it. I am assuming a search was done in Worldcat. As of this year, most library holdings are no longer found in Worldcat. You have to pay to have that feature now. So Libraries like mine, and the Boston Public Library's holdings are no longer found in it. However, I have access to a better database at work that would tell me everyone that has a holding in the world. Also if there is electronic access for the public. Please let me know.

Thank you.
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Re: 1945 Transit Plan

Postby joshg1 » Wed Aug 01, 2012 9:56 pm

I received an email from someone who works in the Harvard GSD and they have it and are apparently more liberal with access. My correspondent also suggests the Park Sq transportation library might have it- forgot about them, they didn't show up in Google. Anyway you want the title, but here is the citation:
Author : Massachusetts. General Court. Metropolitan transit recess
Title : Report of the Metropolitan transit recess commission, appointed
under chapter 56 of the Resolves of 1943, to investigate and study relative
to rapid transit in the Boston metropolitan area.
Published : [Boston, Printed by Anchor linotype printing co.] 1947.
62 p. front. (fold. map) illus. 28 cm.
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Re: 1945 Transit Plan

Postby joshg1 » Wed Aug 22, 2012 12:33 am

Or should I say 1947 plan? I was allowed access to the Loeb Library at Harvard's GSD which has a treasure trove of transit and highway (another interest) material. I'll start by saying both reports were the work of UNpaid commissions, as opposed to overpaid consultants today, and the 1947 edition is the result of public hearings held after the 1945 report. The New Haven was churning through bankruptcy court and the commission expected the judge to discontinue Old Colony service aaany day now. They mention Boston Elevated had one million passengers a day and that buses from the suburbs had become a traffic problem downtown.

There are a few instances of minor changes to accommodate local conditions, such as moving the "Red Line" terminus to South Braintree so commuter buses wouldn't clog downtown. And the northern course of that line was changed to follow its current route to Alewife because Memorial Drive was extended over the original proposal's route (also acres of parking). But- most of the changes are the result of "hey, what about me?" testimony, so the proposed system was expanded, which along with postwar inflation, boosted the cost from $39 million to 73 million. Example: Lexington wants transit, so extend the PCC cars up the Bedford branch. The other extensions were to East Dedham (more parking), Forest Hills to Readville, North Woburn, Bird's Hill Needham and to Waltham with PCC cars on a track parallel to the Central Mass. Also a PCC rapid transit route to Medford Square, featuring a gantlet track for freight and only running freight at night.

There are a number of ifs and maybes, the biggest being a new route to replace the elevated- a subway to Forest Hills via Dudley and under North Station to Sullivan. Or- over the Charles River draw then elevated over the B&M yards. There are vague mentions of rapid transit (high platform/heavy rail, or low/PCC?) to Plymouth, Greenbush, and Middleboro (maybe just Brockton), which form a familiar trio. In addition are sample legislation for creating the MTA and taking over the BeRY (I have financial details on request), a $8.5 million authorization to extend the subway to Lynn, and resolves. I'm not sure what a resolve means in concrete terms, but they include a double deck highway/transit/railroad viaduct from Atlantic Ave to Salem and beyond, a rapid transit line to Chelsea over the not yet started high level Mystic River Bridge, and a 14 mile subway loop: Boston-Everett-Medford-Somerville-Cambridge-Boston for $91million. The only resolve not recommended was a transit branch from Orient to Point of Pines.

I have 3 maps on flickr- the bigger you can enlarge them the better. They aren't the best images:

I don't know how much access I can get during the academic year- August 15th and there were already a dozen students researching- but if you have any questions, I'll try to find the answers.
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