The silver lining of the orange line closure



There’s no sweetening: The Orange Line’s 30-day shutdown, which took effect Friday night, will be a nightmare. State and local authorities have warned that this will lead to severe traffic jams. They have discouraged people driving anywhere near Boston. And they have pleaded with employers so as not to penalize employees who inevitably arrive late for work. It is clear that the closure of the orange line will not only affect the 100,000 daily metro users; this will hamper the mobility of people throughout the region.

But with every crisis comes an opportunity, and what’s happening with the T is no exception. As residents look for alternative ways to get around the city, Boston should pay close attention to what works well for getting people around and what doesn’t. The MBTA and the city, for example, will start offering more modes of transport to compensate for the temporary crippling of the Orange line – including new bus and shuttle routes equipped with makeshift bus lanes, as well as free Bluebike passes and ephemeral cycle paths – and those responsible should keep an eye on which of these infrastructures the changes need to be made permanent.

This “transportation emergency,” as some officials put it, has forced Greater Boston to make its roads less car-friendly to minimize the area’s traffic, which is already among the worst in the country. But while changing road patterns will be infuriating for some drivers, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Some city streets, for example, will be completely closed to general traffic so buses can pass through them faster, and parking will be restricted on others to make room for dedicated bus lanes. If buses are able to run these streets on a relatively reliable schedule — which is, admittedly, a big if — it may actually create enough incentive for many residents to leave their cars at home and jump into a bus.

For some regular car commuters, this could be the start of a new routine that encourages them to take public transport even after the Orange Line closes. And for pedestrians, the tranquility that comes with the absence of horns and revving engines can provide a new appreciation for strolling through certain parts of the city.

It’s not just new bus lanes that could encourage people to ditch their cars or Uber rides. Boston has long been a hostile city for cyclists. (While he prices relatively well compared to other U.S. cities for bike safety, that’s an extremely low bar.) But the Orange Line’s closure has spurred the city to make biking a more attractive ride, albeit only temporarily . Giving people free access to Bluebikes, for example, and installing new bike racks throughout the city is a great start to getting people to switch from four wheels to two. Building new bike paths that keep cyclists safe is even better.

These are all promising infrastructure changes the city is making. Together, they describe what the foundation of a more mobile and eco-friendly Boston would look like — with a government using all its might to get people to use a variety of public transit options and to reduce their dependence on cars.

That, of course, doesn’t mean the next month will go smoothly by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, the closure of the Orange Line will place a huge burden on many residents, especially those with the least means. But there’s a silver lining to all of this: the push to provide alternative modes of transportation is an opportunity for Boston to reinvent its streets far beyond this specific disruption. And the region would be better served in the long run if many of these initiatives — from street closures to bus and bike lanes — were carefully considered, refined, and made permanent.

It took a public transit crisis to remind city planners that roads don’t always have to be built for cars. They shouldn’t forget it when the orange line comes back.

Editorials represent the opinions of the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.

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