When I lived in and around Washington, DC, I spent more than my fair share of time using Rosslyn, the western split of the Blue and Orange Lines and the first station in Virginia for both lines. For a heavily standardized system such as the Washington Metro, it is somewhat unique with its stacked platforms and escalators emptying onto the inbound platform. Obviously, someone in the MBTA was inspired by Rosslyn when they planned Porter Square station on the Red Line.
Rosslyn was a familiar stop during my time in DC – it was the home station of my now-wife for two years – so the first thing I thought of when I first set foot in Porter was “This feels like Rosslyn in an alternate universe.” The stations have similar depths, were built in similar ways, and have the same basic setup with the inbound platform stacked atop the outbound with the long escalator to the mezzinene emptying out onto the inbound platform. Even the station vaults look very similar to the ones that WMATA transitioned to by Porter’s 1984 opening (though Rosslyn has the original “waffle” vaults). Put someone who is familiar with Washington in Porter and they’ll feel like they ended up in some parallel universe.
I passed through Porter a few times in the past but actually visiting the station while doing some mundane errands I discovered that Porter is more “Rosslyn 2.0” on the inside and “Rosslyn if People Gave a Darn” on the outside. In terms of design, Porter adds some features that both make it more pleasant and a lot more functional than its kindred spirit right outside the Nation’s Capital and the first one is the infamous staircase that runs parallel to the escalators; the longest staircase in Massachusetts in fact. Having walked up and down broken escalators at Rosslyn too many times, it looks a lot more hospitable for those who dare go up and it works as a backup for those that dare use it. The art installations throughout the station ranging from the hand sculptures between the escalators and the iconic bird sculpture outside make the surroundings a lot more pleasant than the darkness down south. Add in the general fact that MBTA stations are better lit and (debatably) better designed than their WMATA brethren and it’s a good combination.
Go outside into Porter Square and the differences become more stark. Exiting Porter Station, you’ll find yourself surrounded by restaurants, bars, and a shopping center that is quite pedestrian friendly and there are a good amount of residences within viable walking distance. In fact, it was said shopping center and an engagement elsewhere in Cambridge that brought me there. Outside special events such as the Marine Corps Marathon, Rosslyn is dead nights and weekends and even during the workday it’s heavily rush-hour oriented. The list of connections at Porter also are plenty including the 77(A) trolleybus short-turns and the Fitchburg Line of the Commuter Rail that runs above the tunnel.
For a local viewpoint of Porter’s prototype on the Potomac, the review of it on Metro-Venture is worth the read.
Station: Porter Square. Rating (1-10): 7
Ridership: In terms of early rush hour when I visited, lots of commuters either heading home to North Cambridge/Somerville, transferring to the Fitchburg Line, or reverse commuters coming from points north getting off. For a non-key station, it was quite busy.
Pros: It’s functional, relatively modern (by MBTA standards), multi-modal, and it’s spurred growth in the areas surrounding the station. This is what transit is supposed to do and it does it well.
Cons: Porter Falls. The ever-expanding waterfall just north of the station – a byproduct of aging materials from building deep underground – is a key reason why it and all stations north are in the midst of weekend closures at the time of this writing. The starkness of the Commuter Rail platform is also a bit of a minus.