MBTA increases Cambridge disconnect

mbtamapb111405As wonderful as it is that the green line has returned to Lechmere, there’s no getting around the fact that for Cambridge as a community, the T’s green line makes no sense whatsoever. Getting Lechmere back in the system doesn’t much change that.

This will be even more obvious when 45 acres of industrial wasteland in East Cambridge becomes NorthPoint over the next couple of decades and an entire community finds it easier to go to Boston or Somerville than anywhere in Cambridge.

In fact, developers plan to move the Lechmere T stop even farther east, to the other side of Monsignor O’Brien Highway. This will make it more difficult for the rest of Cambridge to get to the shopping, restaurants, hotels and water-based activities of East Cambridge, and more unlikely that the several thousand anticipated NorthPoint residents will bother to make the reverse trip.

Some may make it to the CambridgeSide Galleria. There’s not much impetus to go to Central or Harvard squares, though, when the green line can carry you to Copley Square or Newbury Street as fast as you can walk to Kendall.

In the early days of the proposal, boosters were excited to note that upon completion NorthPoint would automatically become the 250th-largest community in Massachusetts. That point has receded — because the inevitable conclusion is that NorthPoint truly will be a community of its own, disconnected from Cambridge and more alien to it than, say, Alewife is to Harvard now.

“Historically, East Cambridge has been sort of its own neighborhood with a unique personality compared with the rest of Cambridge,” said Terrence F. Smith, director of government affairs for the city’s chamber of commerce. “Look at a map of Cambridge — it looked like different communities.

“If you’re going to buy or rent in East Cambridge, you’ve already figured out that East Cambridge is harder to get to than Riverside, mid-Cambridge or North Cambridge.”

By extension, those eager to move to the NorthPoint enclave will be more interested in being NorthPoint residents than Cambridge residents, even East Cambridge residents.

Two years ago the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority created the latest in its long-range visions for the area, a “financially unconstrained” exercise, according to authority spokeswoman Lydia M. Rivera, that drew about 400 proposals. Among them was connecting the green line to the red line at Harvard Square. The idea didn’t survive, although a two-spur green line extension to Somerville and West Medford did.

“Concerning the possible connection between the red and green lines at Harvard Square, this idea was raised … but was screened out,” Rivera said in an e-mail. “The MBTA felt that there was not sufficient demand for this service, and other proposed projects in the area would meet any potential demand.”

Harvard Square is the geographic heart of Cambridge and can make a claim to being the city’s emotional heart. To get to it from Lechmere — and, eventually, from NorthPoint — can easily take more than a half-hour by T. And the areas are only about two and a half miles apart.

If there’s not sufficient demand for Cambridge to be a cohesive, sensible city in terms of transportation, the MBTA is correct: There’ll be no more demand when NorthPoint fills up.

Because NorthPoint may very well be part of Cambridge in name only, and made so by nonsensical transportation.

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