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The Mass Media

JFK/UMass Station is still a deathtrap

A+student+walks+down+the+ramp+of+the+JFK%2FUMass+MBTA+Station.
Het Patel
A student walks down the ramp of the JFK/UMass MBTA Station. Photo by Het Patel / Contributor

During another Red Line shutdown last week, I noticed something almost as disturbing as the fatal situation that stopped the trains. The steps leading down from the elevated walkway at JFK/UMass Station—which had been closed off for weeks, up to that very morning—were opened to crowds of people funneling from the stopped trains to the shuttle pickup area. If you know anything about JFK/UMass, you probably know the horrible condition of the entire place, and why I find this new development so disturbing. But let me put the situation in perspective.
I’m sure many of you will remember when David K. Jones, a professor at Boston University, tragically fell to his death a year ago at JFK/UMass. It was awful; the staircase he fell from was crumbling and rusted, and he apparently fell through a gap of missing steps as he ran up to the road bridge as part of his typical daily run. The staircase was further blocked off after the fall, eventually being torn down. The gap in the fence along the road bridge was quickly stitched together with a patch of new fencing.
Here’s the kicker, though—the stairs were sufficiently blocked off from both ends within just a day or two and completely removed a short time later. Before the incident, the staircase had been closed for over a year and only sported signage and temporary barriers. This despite years of external and internal repair reports and warnings even prior to it being closed off, according to an article by Elizabeth Koh of The Boston Globe. Even after its condemnation, the staircase remained by far the most convenient way to get up to the sidewalk on the bridge.
Angry questions about why the stairs weren’t completely blocked off or torn down immediately after condemnation—seeing as they were an obvious hazard—abounded after Jones fell to his death. Nobody should have been able to access the bridge from the bottom of the staircase at all, warnings or not. Jones may have made a conscious, reckless choice, but he did not deserve to die. Plus, the staircase easily could have posed a danger to kids performing typically risky behavior and anyone suffering from impaired judgment.
The problems haven’t gone away with the stairs, however. Even before Jones fell, I remember thinking about how bad the condition of the station in general was—particularly the staircase down from the elevated walkway over the tracks. There was constantly water pooling on them, the concrete was crumbling and the steel bits were rusting and cracking the steps apart. The MBTA clearly understood how bad the steps were; they blocked off access to the undercroft and tacked up nets to catch the crumbling bits of structure. It got to the point where I was legitimately nervous to even use them, so I began walking up and down the ramp instead.
Coming to school this semester, I had already planned to write a piece about the state of the steps and the rest of the station, which seems to be similarly crumbling. But, as if to simply prove my point, I found them finally blocked off after stepping off the Red Line for the first time—a full year, minus about a week, since Professor Jones fell to his death not 500 feet away.
If you aren’t quite getting what I’m trying to say, I’ll just come out and say it plainly. The MBTA, and by extension the city of Boston, doesn’t care about our lives and bodies. It waited a whole year after an eerily similar situation, within sight of the steps that killed a man, to close off a crumbing staircase to high traffic. And, though I don’t know the details of this, it seems like the UMass Boston administration never really cared enough to make a stink about it either.
And now, the stairs are open again. I was going to write about how I felt I couldn’t even trust the ramps, seeing how the MBTA hadn’t properly taken action on the steps and the condition of the rest of the station. Just the other day, I took a peek at the poured concrete foundations and saw that the stay bolts, which secure the ramp to them, are actively splitting them apart. But now I’m even more focused on those darn steps. A day after the Red Line shutdown, during which I discovered the staircase was open again, I saw an MBTA worker in orange hi-vis gingerly testing the steps near the bottom of the stairs. The space under the flights was still blocked off by fences and nets were still in place to catch falling debris—another worrying sign. Honestly, the fact that they have not torn down the entire thing and rebuilt it from the ground up is extremely troubling. That thing was nearly dissolving before our eyes; I can’t imagine it has any great structural integrity left.
I think we all need to start slamming the MBTA about this and making this a priority issue with our administration. I believe that UMass Boston has the clout to, if they make a stink about it, force the city and/or the MBTA to properly assess those steps and likely rebuild them. I think it should go even further. The entire station needs to be seriously evaluated, as evidenced by the disturbing state of the ramp foundations. Even the elevated walkway itself seems to be crumbling. According to the aforementioned Boston Globe article, engineering firms had found a number of issues at JFK/UMass involving steps prior to Jones’ death—only matched by two other stations. This is ridiculous. JFK/UMass is an extremely high-traffic station, and the level of neglect shown by the MBTA is unconscionable.
The MBTA has apparently been slower to respond to Tweets as of late, but even so, I think a flood of complaints might be in order. Organizing to show concern over the issue at school is certainly a great idea as well. In the meantime, though, David Jones’ family is still suffering emotionally and financially—he leaves behind a wife and three young children—and they have a GoFundMe page that anyone who has the means to do so should donate to. You can find it by Googling “BUSPH GoFundMe for the Sacuto-Jones Family”.
Let’s not be quiet on this. The city of Boston is obviously prepared to wait until the station crumbles apart right under a huge crowd of us before taking any action. Are we?

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor