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North Station may shut for parley

By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff, 3/3/2004

Citing security concerns, MBTA officials want to shut down North Station to all commuter rail and subway traffic during the Democratic National Convention at the FleetCenter, several officials involved in the planning effort say, potentially snarling downtown traffic as convention-goers descend on Boston in July.

The move would force North Station's 25,000 weekday rail commuters to change trains north of the city and connect with subways or buses, according to officials from four agencies and organizations involved in planning the convention, which takes place July 26 to 29. Subway trains would bypass the North Station stops on the Green and Orange lines, they said.

Combined with the decision to limit traffic in the new southbound Expressway tunnel to two lanes for 10 months beginning this spring, the North Station closure could tie the area's transportation network in knots, as thousands more commuters drive to Boston, exacerbating traffic and parking problems throughout the city. There is also a possibility that Interstate 93 -- which runs just feet from the FleetCenter -- will be closed, a move that would generate more commuting headaches.

The officials said they made the decision in part because even if they elected to keep North Station open, a security problem during the convention, such as a bomb threat or violent protest, could compel the Secret Service to shut it down, causing commuter chaos. In addition, they said closing North Station will mean commuters won't have to jockey with tens of thousands of convention-goers throughout the week of the event.

"You don't want to have to walk between 30,000 convention political types," one of the officials said. "It's probably better to keep the commuters out. They will prefer it, to stay totally away."

Final plans for the area around the FleetCenter are still being worked out by convention organizers, but the closure of North Station is all but a certainty because of the risks of keeping a subterranean transit hub open while a high-security event takes place in the arena above it, the officials said. North Station lies directly beneath the FleetCenter. Ann Roman, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, said no final decisions have been made on the fate of North Station or I-93, saying, "The Secret Service, along with federal, state, and local agencies involved, will take into consideration the concerns of all affected and will attempt to minimize disruptions."

Convention organizers had considered a plan for building temporary platforms for commuter trains a few hundred yards north of the station. But that proposal would have cost at least $1 million, and possibly twice that, the officials said.

Under the new plan, riders on the Fitchburg commuter rail line would probably be required to disembark at the Porter Square stop in Cambridge and transfer to the Red Line. Riders on the Haverhill line would change to the Orange Line at the Malden Center stop. Those taking the Lowell train would be required to transfer to a bus at the Anderson regional transportation center in Woburn. And riders on the Rockport/Newburyport branch would probably have to switch to a bus in Lynn.

So far, nearly all of the agencies meeting to hash out a security plan for the convention are on board with the MBTA's strategy, the officials said, although all have been reluctant to deliver the unwelcome news to the public until the Secret Service has given its final approval.

At a press conference yesterday, Julie Burns, executive director of Boston 2004, said the organization is committed to coming up with a transportation plan that will balance the concerns of commuters and convention-goers alike, but did not acknowledge the MBTA's recommendation.

Seth Gitell, Mayor Thomas M. Menino's spokesman, said the mayor still considers the matter open for discussion, and added that Menino has "been working hard with the MBTA to come up with the right plan to minimize the inconvenience for commuters when the convention comes to town, but that optimizes public safety."

"Obviously, the mayor will abide by whatever public safety determination is created," he said.

A senior official in Governor Mitt Romney's administration said the state will embark on "a massive public communications effort so people can plan their lives that week" if the Secret Service OKs the closing of North Station.

Business leaders say they will work with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and security planners to ensure that the convention is a safe event, but they also want to make sure that businesses can continue to function throughout the week.

"The DNC coming to Boston is a wonderful opportunity . . .," said Richard A. Dimino, CEO of the Artery Business Committee. "Challenges relate directly to security and our transportation system, and security issues take the lead. Everybody understands that."

From The Boston Globe

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Its amazing how far the Democrats will go to accomidate themselves. Speed up Big Dig demolition, stop work on Cambridge Street, threaten to close the Central Artery and now this...

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Someone needs to remind me what the benefits of landing this convention were for the city. :unsure:

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Interestingly in NYC penn station under mad sq garden will remain open during the republican convention. That's the place I would be more concerned about.

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Commuters, irritated and resentful, plan their strategies

By Raphael Lewis and Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff

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MBTA head says no to delegation's request for free convention trains

By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, 5/28/2004 16:55

BOSTON (AP) The head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority quickly rejected a request by the state's congressional delegation to provide free subway service during the Democratic National Convention.

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and the state's 10 congressmen all Democrats made the request in a letter sent Friday to MBTA general manager Michael Mulhern and Boston 2004 president David Passafaro, asking them to make subways free in downtown Boston during the four-day convention in July.

Mulhern said he was ''very disappointed'' in the request.

''It's indicative of the lack of appreciation or understanding of how significant a financial strain the DNC is placing on the public transport agency,'' he said.

Mulhern said the MBTA will be saturated with riders during the convention, regardless of whether fares are free. He said the agency is already absorbing a minimum of $5 million in convention costs and would lose another $1 million each day it gave free rides.

''We will make it a successful event,'' he said, ''but in doing so, we're not going to run the agency into financial collapse.''

Boston 2004 spokeswoman Karen Grant declined to comment on the MBTA's decision. But she said organizers believe offering free fares is ''an interesting idea the delegation has come up with and does deserve full consideration by the MBTA.''

''Clearly, we'd like to do anything to lessen the impact on commuters that week,'' she added.

A spokesman for John Kerry's presidential campaign said the presumptive Democratic nominee suggested the free rides on Tuesday and was pleased the congressional delegation supported it. Campaign spokesman Michael Meehan said that though Mulhern rejected the request, ''It's still a good idea.''

''The city has done it for other big events,'' Meehan said.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency has suspended fares for a few hours during the city's New Year's Eve celebration to encourage people to use public transportation.

Rep. Barney Frank said in a statement that eliminating fares during the convention ''makes good sense in dealing with the flow of people. It will benefit not only the people attending the convention but also the citizens who are being inconvenienced during the convention week.''

Convention road and transit closings are sure to bring major traffic headaches to the Boston area. North Station, a rail hub under the FleetCenter, will be shut down, and subway trains will not stop there. In addition, several major roads will be closed at different times, including Interstate 93.

From The Boston Globe

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New York Democrats send out olive branch to Boston counterparts

By Associated Press

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I-93 loses 3d lane to convention

Planners hope flexibility will avert gridlock

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff | July 14, 2004

Transportation planners, worried about gridlock during the Democratic National Convention, plan new restrictions on Interstate 93 as part of an effort to persuade drivers to use Route 128 instead.

Planners had already announced that the 6-mile stretch of I-93 that snakes through downtown past the FleetCenter will be closed from approximately 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. each day during the convention. Under the restrictions detailed yesterday, only two lanes of traffic will be allowed on the portions of the interstate north and south of the city that will remain open.

In addition, if the congestion gets too heavy, a longer stretch of the interstate will be shut down altogether.

"We're restricting it down to two lanes because if, God forbid, nobody pays attention to us and that road turns into a parking lot, we'll have fewer cars to worry about," said State Police Major Michael Mucci, who is coordinating the convention-related road closures that have been prompted by security concerns.

The restrictions could set off more anxiety, as commuters and planners alike worry about logjams that could result during the four-day party gala, which begins July 26. The traffic closures are among the most controversial of the security measures adopted for the convention, with some residents calling them an overreaction and others confused by the detours and changes and fearful that traffic in the region will be overwhelming.

Transportation planners say their goal is to reduce by half the volume of cars and trucks on I-93, which typically carries some 8,500 vehicles an hour. But officials are also trying to prevent local roads, especially around Medford, from being overwhelmed by traffic exiting I-93 at the last possible departure points closest to Boston. Mayors in the close-in communities have expressed concern that their streets will be so clogged by drivers exiting I-93 that emergency vehicles won't be able to get through.

Mariellen Burns, spokeswoman for the convention planning group coordinating security and transportation, said, "We're not going to let any community get gridlocked."

Travel was already going to be more difficult for commuters on I-93 during the convention, because one lane north and south of the city will be limited to emergency and bus travel.

In addition, from about 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. on convention days, State Police said yesterday, they will reduce traffic on I-93 southbound from three lanes to two along a 5-mile stretch from Route 128 in Woburn to Medford -- the last operative exit, where southbound traffic will be diverted from the highway.

During those same hours, traffic on I-93 northbound from Route 128 in Braintree to the Frontage Road-Massachusetts Turnpike exit in Boston will also be squeezed from three lanes into two. If bottlenecks develop at the final exits, State Police may force cars to exit I-93 farther from Boston.

"The volume of the traffic is the key to the whole thing," Mucci said. "We have the basic structure of the plan, but there's a lot of fluidity to it. If people think it's just another Monday, and they do everything they normally do on any Monday, we're in a lot of trouble."

South of the city, Mucci said, State Police will be monitoring traffic flow at Exit 20, where drivers can go either east or west on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Interstate 90), or take Frontage Road to downtown. If gridlock develops, troopers will divert traffic off I-93 further south, possibly at Columbia Road, where drivers can be turned around and sent back southbound on I-93, Mucci said.

North of the city, planners are setting up another release valve, so that Route 60 in Medford is not overrun. Officials have long planned to divert all traffic at Exit 32 in Medford, where drivers have the option of going east or west on Route 60. To relieve some pressure there, local traffic will be allowed to travel in one lane to Exit 31 at Route 16, a modification made at the request of Medford officials.

Similarly, if Route 60 east or west becomes gridlocked and local emergency vehicles can't circulate, Medford officials will be authorized to shut down the diversion at Exit 32. In that case, traffic will be forced off I-93 one exit north, at Exit 33 at Roosevelt Circle.

The traffic will be carefully monitored by the Operations Control Center for the Big Dig in South Boston. Police will use cameras, but will also count on hundreds of state troopers, "who will be able to see one another, they will be so evenly spaced," Mucci said. "We will have instant information to make all decisions."

Mayor Michael J. McGlynn of Medford said he was relieved there would be lane restrictions on I-93 and flexibility built into the traffic-diversion plans.

"What this does is, it eliminates the gridlock, which is the big fear that I have had," said McGlynn, who met with State Police yesterday. "With gridlock, you have problems dispatching public safety vehicles."

McGlynn said he was confident that State Police, in coordination with the Massachusetts Highway Department, would monitor traffic carefully starting at 4 p.m., and close exits and options if the situation deterioates.

"They're going to have a command center, and they will have the ability to shut down a ramp that's creating gridlock, and that's what we have sought all along," he said. "They are going to have 165 troopers from other states and put them 400 yards apart, and additional troopers will be posted throughout the city. Now we have a plan that will be successful for all of us."

Mucci said the ultimate impact of the revised plan is twofold: to give drivers more options, but to take those options away if there are huge traffic jams. Allowing local access to Route 16, for example, relieves pressure on Route 60. But if that option gets overused, it will be taken away.

The plan calls for Medford officials to watch for gridlock in Medford Square, as drivers take Route 60 west. If an unmanageable traffic jam develops, drivers will be barred from traveling west on Route 60 and will have to take Route 60 east. If Route 60 east backs up, drivers will be sent back onto I-93 north.

"If both ways on Route 60 get gridlocked, we'll close off [i-93] at Roosevelt Circle," Mucci said.

Mucci said he was hoping traffic volume during convention week would be about 50 percent of the usual volume and that 40 percent would be even better.

He said police will monitor the road closings very carefully, and if less time is needed to clear the highway in front of the FleetCenter by 7 p.m., the closures may all start a little later in the day.

"We're going to hold off the closures for as long as possible," he said.

From The Boston Globe

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To a significant extent this is a media created story. Commuting to Boston is never easy. I'd rather go during the DNC than after a big accident on the lower deck of I-93 or a snowstorm. There will still be trains and additional busses as well.

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T quietly ran trains for delegates

Move is defended as safety measure

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff | July 30, 2004

The MBTA quietly provided special Orange Line trains for people exiting the FleetCenter on all four nights of the Democratic National Convention, opening the otherwise closed North Station so that some 3,200 delegates, journalists, and others with convention credentials could be whisked to Back Bay Station, free of charge.

Five to six of the special trains were swept for bombs at a railyard and then pulled into North Station, starting at about 10:30 each night. The trains departed regularly, and each made an express run to Back Bay until about midnight, primarily as a security measure to clear the FleetCenter area quickly, said Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Regular trains ran in between the special trains, so there was ''no impact on service," Pesaturo said. People on the platforms at the five stations between the FleetCenter and Back Bay ''saw a train full of people go by, but there was a train right behind it" to pick them up, he said.

Still, word of the special service did not sit well with T riders who have had to put up with baggage inspections and forced transfers to shuttle buses.

''It seems like they've overlooked the people of Boston and regular commuters," said Susan McLay, 23, of Billerica, who takes commuter rail and the Orange Line to the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in Charlestown. North Station has been closed to everyone but the conventioneers, she said, which has caused major disruptions in daily routines.

''That doesn't smell very good to me," said Julianne Ture, an Orange Line rider who took the week off. ''The whole convention has been such a fiasco."

Pesaturo staunchly defended the special trains and scoffed at the idea that regular riders were given short shrift.

''Anyone who understands public safety wouldn't be critical of this," he said. ''We did this to move people safely and quickly from the high-security zone to their hotels. We were pleased to offer it and pleased that our offer was accepted. We're a public agency, and if we could make a contribution to enhance security, we'll do it."

MBTA General Manager Michael Mulhern came up with the idea more than two months ago, and convention organizers readily agreed to it, Pesaturo said. The special service probably would have been canceled if word got out about it, he said, because a train full of delegates would have made too tempting a target for terrorists.

There was a dearth of information offered about the plan. Mulhern replied ''no, nothing" when asked by a reporter Monday if there were any special plans for the Orange Line.

The T came in for criticism in the weeks prior to the convention for not providing more services for delegates. The Massachusetts congressional delegation had asked Mulhern to provide free weekly passes to delegates, but Mulhern said no. The T also backed away from an early promise to provide shuttle buses for delegates.

Pesaturo said the special service did not cost extra because the Orange Line was ''running at rush-hour levels anyway." No extra personnel was put on the schedule for the service, he said.

The T did miss out on collecting fares from the estimated 3,250 people who took advantage of the special trains -- 750 Monday night, 900 Tuesday night, 1,300 Wednesday night, and another 1,300 expected last night -- which adds up to more than $4,000. But Pesaturo said that many of the delegates and others with credentials had purchased weekly passes, at a cost of $16.50.

''You can't put a price on safety," Pesaturo said. ''And no one's trip was delayed as a result of this service."

Jeremy Marin, a member of the Rider Oversight Committee, a watchdog panel of T customers, said he thought it was a good thing that the conventioneers were put on a train, because the alternative was to pile into shuttle buses, taxis, and limousines, which add to congestion and pollution.

But Marin said the T should be going out of its way for all its 1.1 million daily riders, making permanent the service improvements instituted for the convention, such as clearer signs.

''People who use the T every day want the best service possible, and that's not going to end tonight," he said. ''People want top-notch service, not just during the convention, but 365 days a year."

From The Boston Globe

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North Station was only closed during the Democratic National Convention for security purposes.

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North Station, which serves the Orange Line, Green Line, 5 commuter rail lines, and Amtrak's Downeaster, closed on Friday night, July 23 at 8:05 pm.

The Orange and Green Line part reopened at 5 am on Friday, July 30. The commuter rail part reopened around 12:30 pm that day, and Amtrak Downeaster service resumed on August 1.

I don't have any problem with the T running these special shuttle trains for delegates. It's much more environmentally friendly than shuttling them on buses!

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