Starts & Stops

10 Boston subway rides you should consider skipping

It takes less than three minutes to walk between the MBTA Park Street and Downtown Crossing stations and less than six minutes between the Park Street and Boylston stations. It takes less than three minutes to walk between the MBTA Park Street and Downtown Crossing stations and less than six minutes between the Park Street and Boylston stations. (Wendy Maeda/ Globe Staff)
By Martin Finucane
Globe Staff / October 18, 2009

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Ever find yourself standing on a downtown Boston subway platform wondering if you should just get out and walk? Maybe you should.

A number of the downtown stations are cheek-by-jowl to one another. Take Park Street and Downtown Crossing, on the Red Line. The Park Street kiosk and the Downtown Crossing station entrance are only about 600 feet apart down busy Winter Street. At about 240 paces, that’s a walk of less than three minutes. And if you start from Park, it’s downhill.

Or Park Street and Boylston on the Green Line. The Park Street kiosk is visible up Tremont Street, steps away from the Boylston kiosk. They’re 1,500 feet apart, a walk of less than six minutes. Pick a new song on your iPod, and you’re halfway there.

Even more reasons to walk?

■ You might be waiting on the station platform longer for that train than it would take you to walk.

■ If your destination is just short of the next station, the distance you would walk is even shorter than you might think.

■ You want to get some exercise rather than simply shift your weight on the station platform.

A no-brainer? Perhaps. But it’s this kind of cool reflection that doesn’t come easily in the shrieking, clanging, subterranean world of the subway.

Making wise choices can be especially tough for newcomers, who haven’t yet learned the ropes. A reader recently wrote to that a visitor from New York had been beguiled into taking that ride from Park to Downtown Crossing.

Bad decisions can be abetted by the T’s system maps, which are not drawn to scale and bear only a passing resemblance to the world above, as the Globe’s Noah Bierman recently reported in this column. A system map posted on the T website, for example, suggests that Park Street and nearby Downtown Crossing are separated by the same distance separating the Central Square and Harvard Square stations, which are nearly a mile apart.

So you couldn’t blame that clueless New Yorker who didn’t want to walk a mile.

Why are the downtown stations so close together?

Joe McKendry, author of “Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America’s First Subway,’’ said the profusion of stations served a city that, at the turn of the 20th century, was an “extremely dense commercial hub.’’

Bradley Clarke, president of the Boston Street Railway Association, said the stations were placed in commercial centers to make it convenient for shoppers and commuters from outlying areas to reach stores and other businesses.

“You built a station where there was a reason for it. You didn’t build it on speculation,’’ he said. “Show me where the money is; it’s very much that principle,’’ he said.

In defense of short subway rides, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that such meager distances between stations are seen in other older cities.

Citing a joke by offbeat comedian Steven Wright, Pesaturo quipped, “Everything is within walking distance, if you’ve got the time.’’

Pesaturo also suggested several reasons people might want to take short subway rides, saying they might want to avoid the blazing heat of summer, pouring rain, or the biting cold, snow, and slippery ice of winter; they might have packages; or they might have an injury or some other mobility problem.

At night, he said, “Some people may be more comfortable in the subway environment with lights,’’ surveillance cameras, T workers, and police around.

“At $1.70, the T is the best deal in town,’’ he said.

Still, walking is free.

People who emerge from the subway can “get out and see the city,’’ said Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston, a nonprofit pro-walking group. “Downtown Boston has a lot of great walking environments.’’

“It’s a great way to add to your daily activity,’’ said Landman, whose group produces a map that shows a number of walks between downtown T stations, ranging from three to six minutes. “In some of the places we’re talking about, it’s wildly more efficient.’’

The list

Here’s a random selection of subway rides, some simple and some more elaborate, that you might think twice about taking.

■ Park to Downtown Crossing - a short walk down Winter Street, and you’re there.

■ Park to Government Center - a short walk down Tremont Street.

■ Park to Boylston - a short walk along the edge of the Common.

■ Boylston to Arlington - another short walk along the edge of the Common and Public Garden.

■ Park to Boylston to Arlington - a longer walk but a beautiful one - cut through the Common and then through the Public Garden.

■ Arlington to Copley - a pleasant walk through a bustling city street.

■ Boylston to Park to Downtown Crossing to Chinatown - the Boylston station is actually only a block from the Chinatown station.

■ Charles to Park to Government Center to Bowdoin - it’s hard to argue that this trip, which uses the Red, Green, and Blue Lines, would be quicker than a brief walk up Cambridge Street to Bowdoin.

■ Copley to Park to Downtown Crossing to Back Bay Station - Copley is a quick walk, but a long and involved subway ride, from Back Bay Station.

■ Any one-stop - and even some two-stop rides - on the B branch of the Green Line near Boston University.