On PBS tonight, the American Experience series will be featuring a new documentary that chronicles how Boston became the first city in the United States to construct a subway system. The first chapter of The Race Underground can be viewed here:
It is always striking to see how much opposition infrastructure projects like this engender, particularly when balanced against how important they are to our modern lives. We must confess to being mass-transit boosters, but has anybody really wished there were less convenient transportation options? In any case, the documentary describes how traffic congestion led to the construction of the Tremont Street Subway, which eventually became the Green Line. Construction began in the spring of 1895 and the first sections opened on September 1, 1897.
For the theatergoers of Boston, the new subway was particularly noticeable insomuch that it alleviated nightly traffic problems by removing streetcars from Termont and Boylston Streets and curtailing the crush of carriages that crowded downtown when the shows let out. Unfortunately, the subway proved so popular that the theater crowds were soon facing what the Boston Globe described as an “underground crush” in the subway. This entertaining article noted that the station just after the theaters let out was “a great time and place to observe people actuated by their more primitive impulses and instincts; for there, possessed solely by the desire of getting home as quickly as possible…men and women in rich and immaculate attire struggle and push with the meanest raiment, and almost every face is an index to an anxious, disappointed or angry state of mind.” And so, as it goes, solving one problem created several new ones.