Before the 1850s, the South End was underwater as the South Bay. The city of Boston created the South End to be a large city neighborhood that would relieve overcrowding in the downtown and Beacon Hill neighborhoods. The filling in of the bay began in 1849 and continued into the 1870s. The functionality of this area was purely residential, with row houses and small parks dominating the streets.
As Tremont was being developed, electric streetcars were becoming a popular mode of public transport in the United States. The street was built to be wide enough for two streetcar and two autocar lanes. The picture below is of Tremont Street in the 1930s with its electric streetcars. So from the beginning, Tremont has been serving the function of a neighborhood collector road, but not a main arterial.
Once cars were gaining in popularity and started competing with streetcars, transportation companies started trading out their streetcars for cheaper, more flexible buses. In the 30s and 40s Boston streetcars were being replaced with bus service, and Tremont still serves the 43 bus today.
The map shown below is of the area surrounding Tremont in 1950. The red lines along Columbus and Massachusetts Avenue means that they are heavy duty roads with more than two lanes. This also means that these roads were also designed to have medians because having four crowded and fast moving traffic should be separated to reduce cars drifting over into another lane. Tremont is only classified as an improved light duty road, meaning that while it can hold local traffic it shouldn’t be used as a main thoroughfare.
In the 70s and 80s, car-centric thinking began to sweep across the western world. Maximum car throughput in city streets became the primary planning goal. To make this car vision possible, many smaller roads were retrofitted to carry larger volumes of traffic. By 1987, Tremont was converted from a light duty road to a secondary highway. At this point, Tremont was already widened from two to the current four lanes of traffic. Despite the promotion of Tremont, it didn’t receive a center median like Columbus and Massachusetts Avenues which showcases how Tremont was never supposed to support four lanes of traffic.
Boston Landmarks Commision. (1998). South End & St. Botolph: Exploring Boston’s Neighborhoods[Brochure]. Author. Retrieved from https://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/SouthEnd_St.Botolph_brochure_tcm3-19125.pdf
Dawid, I. (2015, May 12). The Real Story Behind the Death of Streetcars in the United States. Planetizen. Retrieved from https://www.planetizen.com/node/76622
Public Works Department photograph collection. Tremont Street opposite Upton Street [Photograph]. (circa 1930s). Collection 5000.009, City of Boston Archives, Boston. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/QPhKnE
United States Geological Survey, & Army Map Service. (n.d.). Boston South, Massachusetts [Map]. In USGS Library(2nd ed., AMS, p. 54). Reston, VA. Retrieved from https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/img4/ht_icons/Browse/MA/MA_Boston%20South_350874_1954_25000.jpg
United States Geological Survey, & Massachusetts Department of Public Works. (1987). Boston South, Massachusetts [Map]. Denver, CO: U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved from https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/img4/ht_icons/Browse/MA/MA_Boston%20South_350872_1987_25000.jpg