The Symphony Station Transformation

MBTA workers. Photo by: Nikita Sampath / BU News Service

By Anna Guaracao 
Boston University News Service

BOSTON — If all goes according to plan, by early 2025, MBTA riders will have access to four new elevators, upgraded lighting, new bathrooms, raised platforms, improved stairs and braille signs at the Green Line’s Symphony Station.

“The Symphony Station project will not only improve accessibility and safety for all riders but will also improve the overall quality of service,” said Angel Peña, the MBTA’s chief of Green Line Transformation, during a virtual public meeting in late October.

Peña explained that the station, built in the 1950s, lacks two major step-free elements — elevator access and raised platforms for accessible boarding. 

“This station has fixed narrow staircases leading from the street level,” Peña said. “These stairs are a hindrance for all riders and specifically impact senior citizens living at the Symphony Towers who must navigate a series of ramps and staircases before entering the platform.”

The Symphony Station improvement plan is one element of an overall upgrade of the Green Line. Begun in July 2018, the $8 billion, five-year investment plan includes four components: safety and repair, accessibility, new trains with increased capacity. 

Serving the E Line at Massachusetts and Huntington Avenue, Symphony Station is one of the T’s busiest stops. Currently, the station does not have emergency egress, functioning restrooms, ventilation and modern security systems. 

“First, the presence of an elevator head house on each corner of the intersection, each with a large ‘T’ logo, will make it clear to pedestrians in the arts district where the T station is,” said Benjamin Frison, senior director of the GLT project. “The station will have two entrances with new wayfinding including braille signage that will be clear and easy to locate throughout the station.”

Frison also announced new station improvements like upgraded lighting, countdown clocks, a new PA system, the possibility of contemporary artwork, and 225-feet-long platforms lined with yellow warning strips for longer trains. 

“We view this project as not only an accessibility but an entire remodeling of the interior space of the station,” Frison said. 

Through an accelerated approach, construction will begin in the summer of 2022, with one year of nighttime utility work. Excavations and platform reconstruction will follow in 2023, requiring a closure of the station until 2025. 

Symphony riders will be able to use Northeastern, Prudential, Massachusetts Avenue, bus 39, or bus 1. An accessible shuttle will also run between Prudential, Symphony, and Northeastern stations. 

Short posts will be placed along the section of Massachusetts Avenue in front of Symphony Station to protect new elevators and head houses from vehicles, pushing bike lanes further out towards traffic. The posts will be removable for a future redesign of the city’s bike lanes.

Peña said the GLT team would implement methods to maintain access and minimize the noise in the surrounding area through trading noisy pile-driven equipment for drill piles and vibration sensors. 

“Crews will workday shifts to limit overnight work, and other additional measures will be taken such as sound barriers,” Peña said. 

The construction plan will also coordinate around significant events to avoid disruption in the area. 

Attendees of the Oct. 21 meeting agreed with the crucial need for Symphony to be transformed and accessible but expressed concerns about safety during the meeting’s Q&A. 

“I think we have an unsafe condition at a really busy intersection,” said Boston District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok, highlighting the major north-south bike corridor on Massachusetts Avenue.

“Given the scope, scale, and time of this project, it feels to me like bumping out the curb and creating a patch of bike lane on the northbound and southbound sides in the project area accomplishes some of what you’re trying to accomplish with separating the traffic from elevators … but I think it would be a missed opportunity,” Bok said.

Bok added that the GLT should coordinate with Boston officials regarding bike lane renovation and emphasized that government agencies should not pursue these projects separately.

She said that the temporarily changed bike lane might seem very small in the project’s scope, but that it was still vital to align pedestrian, transit, rider and bicyclist safety goals in the Massachusetts Avenue and Huntington Avenue intersection. 

Bok also mentioned the need to promote language access for using the temporary shuttle service during construction, especially for residents of the Symphony Towers — a retirement home for people who speak primarily Russian, Chinese and Spanish. 

In response, Peña stressed the importance of public meetings to work together for an efficiently designed station area. 

“We hear your comments and thoughts and will definitely take it back with us as we continue to progress this project,” Peña said. “This is the intent of these public meetings — to take this feedback and then be able to progress and engage in getting to a more unified way to do this.”

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