Prescient to a T

James Michael Curley spent six decades in Massachusetts’ public eye, including four terms in Congress, four as mayor of Boston, and one as governor. In that time, he became known for a lot of things—including going to jail twice—but never for serving as a “master builder.” He should have been, say local historians C. J. Doyle and Larry Overlan, who are writing a book on Curley. They argue that the politician, who died 50 years ago this month, had more influence in shaping Boston’s public transportation system than anyone in the city’s history. But when he left office in January 1950, other pols and transit planners ignored his vision and pushed for endless expansion into the suburbs. With gas prices and commuter fatigue on the rise, Curley is now more relevant than ever. Here, Doyle and Overlan describe his failed plans that the city would do well to resurrect today.


Today, Huntington Avenue’s E Line west of Northeastern is a streetcar route, but if Curley had gotten his way, the line would have stayed underground to South Huntington Avenue (or even beyond), making for a faster commute and preventing countless car-on-trolley accidents. Curley also would have put the B Line, which slogs its way through Commonwealth Avenue traffic, below ground either to the BU Bridge or out to Packard’s Corner in Allston, thus saving BU students—and the people forced to share trolley space with them—untold travel hours.


In 1933, Mayor Curley wanted to put light rail under Stuart Street, from Huntington to Tremont. And in 1948, he pushed unsuccessfully for a second tunnel between Park Street and Government Center. This would have doubled the Green Line’s capacity, giving it four tracks from North Station to Copley Square. The most contentious issues involving the Green Line today (from the fate of the former A Line to Watertown to the MBTA’s decision to give the South End the Silver Line) have revolved around this very question of subway capacity.


Everyone knows the Silver Line is a joke, which is what makes Governor Curley’s 1935 proposal so intriguing: He wanted the Orange Line to go underground from Sullivan Square in Charlestown to Dudley Street in Roxbury. Curley’s plan called for a subway under either Washington Street or nearby Shawmut Avenue—a move that would have spared South Enders from ever having to complain about getting stuck with those Silver Line buses all the way to Dudley Square.