Citing Structural Hazards, T Shuts Down Critical Access Point to JFK/UMass Station
8:15 AM EST on November 23, 2022
The discovery of "a critical structural finding" on the pedestrian bridge that connects Columbia Road to the JFK/UMass Red Line station has effectively shut out ADA-accessible routes between the station and its surrounding neighborhoods in Dorchester.
"The MBTA determined that closing the entrance was in the best interest of public safety," wrote MBTA spokesperson Lisa Battinson in response to an inquiry from StreetsblogMASS on Tuesday afternoon. "The closure will require pedestrians to divert to the pedestrian bridge connection from the busway ramp."
This closure affects the pedestrian bridge that connects Columbia Road to the upper-level station concourse above the Braintree Branch (eastern) platform. Riders are still able to exit from the station to Columbia Road via the stairs and escalator that lead up from the Ashmont (western) platform.
When we visited the station on Tuesday afternoon, an MBTA transit ambassador was opening up those exit doors to let riders inside rather than make the long detour to the lower-level entrance.
Battison told StreetsblogMASS that starting on Wednesday, these gates would be opened up for everyone to allow able-bodied riders into the station from Columbia Road.
She added that repairs will take "at least 4-5 weeks before the concourse can be re-opened... The MBTA will continue to inspect the pedestrian concourse and surrounding structures, and depending on the results of those inspections, the MBTA may identify additional areas that may need to be closed and secured."
Riders first noticed that a chain-link fence had been put up to block the Columbia Road entrance on Sunday evening. With that entrance locked, riders had to walk a circuitous and dangerous 1/3-mile detour around Koscuiszko Circle and down to the alternative busway entrance, or – if they are able to climb a tall stairway – retrace their steps back across Interstate 93 to enter the station from the Sydney Street stairs (pictured at left).
A second exit-only stairway to Sydney Street at the southern end of the station's platforms was also blocked off with a chain-link fence on Tuesday afternoon.
While the T cites rider safety in their decision to close the Columbia Road entrance, the state's transportation and parks agencies aren't giving similar consideration for riders' safety on the high-speed, multi-lane roadways that surround the JFK/UMass station.
According to MassDOT's crash database, since 2019, there have been at least 9 crashes that have injured a pedestrian or a bike rider around Koscuiszko Circle or in the crosswalks at the intersection of Old Colony and Morrissey Boulevard, near the lower-level JFK/UMass station entrance.
One of those crashes, in June 2021, killed an 84 year-old victim who was attempting to cross Koscuiszko Circle on foot.
In early 2021, multiple state agencies and the City of Boston announced a major study to redesign the rotary and Morrissey Boulevard. But there's been no news of that study's progress in the 20 months since then.
With the closure of the Columbia Road gate, the lower-level busway is now the only ADA-accessible entry point to the JFK/UMass station.
But for riders who live in the residential neighborhoods of Dorchester west of I-93, the only route to that entrance – over Columbia Road and around the edge of Koscuiszko Circle – does not meet federal accessibility standards.
The sidewalks around Koscuiszko Circle and adjacent roadways, most of which fall under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, are broken and potholed. All of the curb ramps at crosswalks lack tactile warning surfaces, and the crosswalks themselves cross multiple lanes of traffic without any signals to stop traffic.
When StreetsblogMASS asked the on-site transit ambassador at the gated Columbia Road entrance how someone with a wheelchair would access the station, the ambassador explained that he would call for a shuttle bus to ferry riders down to the lower-level entrance. Battiston later confirmed this arrangement.
The closed station entrance on Columbia Road is also just steps away from the location of a broken staircase where Boston University professor David Jones of Milton died in September 2021.
MassDOT demolished that staircase instead of repairing it a few weeks after Jones died there. In the year since then, pedestrians trying to get from the elevated Columbia Road overpass to the JFK/UMass bus stop, Boston College High School, and other destinations east of I-93 have trampled out a steep, eroded goat path on the embankment between Columbia Road and Old Colony Avenue: