The cost of mass transit

Boston has been considering linking the two halves of its weird bus/subway hybrid Silver Line for a while now. The so-called Phase III project has gone through several designs and redesigns, one of which called for a 0.6-mile long tunnel for a cost of $780 million ($1.3B per mile). More recent proposals were saner and cheaper, but people who live downtown complain about the added traffic and noise of articulated buses that hardly anyone uses anyway.

But that got me thinking: That’s just a bus tunnel. How does that cost (nearly a quarter-million dollars per foot!) compare to historical Boston subway projects? The red line was extended in the early 80’s from Harvard Square to Alewife. That 3.2 mile extension cost $579 million, including three new stations. In today’s dollars, that’d be about $459 million per mile, or about one third the price of that Silver Line plan. Sure, a tunnel through downtown would be a more complex project, but that seems extreme.

And for the anti-drivers in the audience, for the cost of the Big Dig ($14.6 billion, and it’s not yet done), Boston could have built 31.8 miles of subway including 30 new stations. That’d reach to Nashua.

Dear Plutor of the future

Dear Plutor of the future: I know that the crumbling economy, skyrocketing gas prices, and warming climate trend has likely made the world of 2008 a bleak Mad Maxian landscape. If the grocery stores are even open anymore, the selection is likely poor – jicama and tomatillos being among the very few surviving produce. But I have good news for you. I know of a place where, ideally in August, you can pick and eat delicious ripe blackberries until you explode. I will leave the task of fashioning a boat out of household materials to you[1] – I’m certain that as the world spun towards chaos, the last issue of Make Magazine was particularly helpful. You’ll need to boat straight out from the end of South Boston to Spectacle Island. Once there, hope that the trails have not yet been completely overgrown, and follow them to the north drumlin. Along the path, you’ll see the plants, but the mother lode is just before you get to the hilltop, on the left.

Bring a few containers. And good luck.

[1] - I don’t envy you this task. In 2007, there was a Ferry that you could pay $12 to bring you to Spectacle Island and the many other harbor islands. It was fun for a number of reasons other than the fruitful bounty.

Toxic waste garden

Memorial Day weekend is a somewhat-traditional planting weekend in the Northeast. This spring, even USDA hardiness zone 6a[1] has been experiencing some quite balmy temperature, so we’ve actually had our sprouts outside for almost all of May. But this weekend, we couldn’t buck tradition, and we went ahead and planted the majority of them, and took a trip out to Milton (a.k.a. the city that got beat up in middle school) to visit some nurseries. We came home with a butterfly bush to help screen our yard from the neighbor’s. The directions on the bush said to dig a hole twice as deep and thrice as wide as the root ball.

Eight inches down, I hit a layer of something weird. It was hard, and kind of looked like paint chips. And there were a bunch of them. Under the paint chips, there were plastic bags. (Wonder Bread! Doritos!) Under the bags were cans of Schlitz (!) and empty bottles of Nair (!!). Eventually, we passed through the garbage and emerged into some nice-looking dark organic soil. Shove the bush in the hole and run. But wait.. paint chips? The Schlitz can was clearly an old-style removable pull tab. According to the Wikipedia article, the new style was invented in 1975, and was almost universally adopted by the early 1980’s. And lead paint wasn’t banned for sale in the US until 1978.

Although plants don’t take up much lead, we should definitely clean all of our vegetables thoroughly, and probably get a testing kit.

[1] Boston is in zone 6a under the official (but relatively old) 1990 hardiness zone map. But it’s been placed in zone 7 under the 2003 draft of updated hardiness zones and other more recent drafts based on new climate data.

Music coming to Boston

Ever since we took a trip to see OK Go in Providence earlier this month, I’ve realized how much I miss going to shows. They really put on a great concert. They did an acoustic couple of songs in the center of the crowd, and a couple of excellent covers, too. (And Providence is really surprisingly convenient for an evening show.) So I’ve started looking at who’s coming to the area, and there’s a lot of good stuff showing up in the next month or so. The problem is going to be what to go to; I can’t see everything!

How do I decide? I’m almost definitely going to see The Decemberists, but besides that..

Trivia in the Boston Area

We’re trying to find a new location for trivia night that’s a little more central than the current destination in way-north Somerville. So I whipped together my very first Google Maps mashup. It includes all of the Stump trivia locations as well as the T subway lines and stops.

Water main mess

Last night around 9, our water cut out. I spoke to a couple neighbors and they had no water, either. There was nothing about it on TV, and the Boston Water hotline was completely busy. We went to bed, and when we got up this morning, it was working again. We thought it was nothing big. We were wrong.

M says that Mass Ave near BMC was still closed when she got in this morning, and their ER was evacuated and closed overnight. And I think she said it still is. Bad for patients, but good for her: it means she probably won’t have to admit any patients today.

Plutor, Homeowner

For those who aren’t aware[1], M and I are now homeowners and Massachusetts residents. Friday evening we closed on a condo in South Boston, and with the help of a dozen strong friends and family we moved in on Saturday. There are only a handful of pre-move photos up so far, since we don’t yet have Internet access. More are pending!

Update 23 May: Most of Brian's photos taken on the 20th and the 21st plus my dad's from the 20th are of the move and related activities.

[1]: I realize this is a set which is almost certainly mutually exclusive with the readers of this blog.