MBTA Bus & BRT

The EGE

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Back in December, MassDOT announced some grant awards. Several are relevant to / sponsored by the MBTA:
  • The MBTA, in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, received $170,000 to construct a new crosswalk, median, curb ramps, flashing safety beacon, signage, and pavement markings on Park Drive in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston to provide safe and accessible connections between MBTA bus service and the MBTA Green Line.

    This will finally eliminate the ridiculous need to go to Beacon Street or the Riverway rotary to connect from the southbound 47/CT2 to Fenway station. Fenway badly needs new stairs on the west side of the overpass, and elevators on both sides, but this is a good start.

  • The MBTA, in partnership with the City of Boston, received $468,630.80 to enhance existing bus/bike lanes in the Roslindale neighborhood with new bus shelters, two curb-extended bus stops, and all-day bus lanes on South Street, Corinth Street, and Washington Street.

    I believe this is an already-announced project.

  • The MBTA, in partnership with the City of Boston, received $123,200 to install a dedicated bus lane on the northbound side of Cross Street/North Washington in the North End neighborhood, from Sudbury Street to Causeway Street. The bus stop at Thatcher Street will move to a safer, improved location, closer to crosswalks and away from vehicles. The existing dedicated bicycle lanes will be maintained.

    Same here, although this seems to extend the lane a bit further south than previously implied.

  • The MBTA, in partnership with the City of Lynn, received $318,450 to install bidirectional, curb-running shared bus/bike lanes and two transit signal priority treatments on the MassDOT-owned portion of Western Avenue, between the Belden Bly Bridge and Ida Street.

    This is new to my knowledge, and welcome. The bridge can get choked up at rush hour, so I imagine this will be a big help.

  • The MBTA, in partnership with the City of Somerville, received $222,200 to install bus queue-jumps and transit signal priority treatments – to benefit bicyclists and pedestrian safety, in particular – on Washington Street in Somerville at the McGrath Highway underpass area and the eastbound approach to Inner Belt Road.
 

The EGE

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Another one buried in a list of awards:
  • The MBTA, in partnership with Revere and Chelsea, received $196,900.00 to install a peak-only shared bus/bike lane on the southbound side of Broadway, from Revere Street to the Revere/Chelsea line.
It would convert an existing lane plus unprotected bike lane into a shared bus/bike lane. The section is 1.1 miles long and used by the 116, 117, and 119.
 

Riverside

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It’s a well-done piece that highlights many problems. But I think it overlooks — and thus fails to address — two very obvious reasons why curbside lanes are favored.

First, they avoid passengers having to cross lanes of traffic to access the bus. (Obviously this isn’t always true — sometimes you have to cross the street to access the needed direction of service. But that’s sometimes. A center bus lane will always require crossings.)

Second, curbside lanes allow for some reuse of the sidewalk space, while center lanes require you to consume one lane for the bus, and then most of another lane for the bus stop. Properly done curbside stops should also be somewhat aggressive in their space consumption (eg bulb-outs), but it’s easier to reuse sidewalk space for overflow waiting passengers than you can with an island platform.

I’m not saying that either of those things are ideal features of curbside lanes, but I think they do offer pretty obvious benefits, so I don’t think it’s fair to accuse curbside lanes as only being built because they’re cheap and unenforceable.

That being said, hoo boy. The author’s not wrong about those issues — they are real and definitely need improvements.
 

jbray

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First, they avoid passengers having to cross lanes of traffic to access the bus. (Obviously this isn’t always true — sometimes you have to cross the street to access the needed direction of service. But that’s sometimes. A center bus lane will always require crossings.)
This comes with centering the concept of pedestrian-first streets though. You mention bulb-outs and aggressive space consumption, and that is exactly the point: As long as we design our city streets to favor single-occupant personal cars, we'll be stuck with the traffic and other negatives of that mindset. Would you argue that this is a dramatic problem for the center median sections of the B, C and E lines? Would it be better to and/or should we move those to the side lanes? Why would we handle another mode of high volume transit differently (assuming we're adding bus lanes due to issues stemming from overcrowding, quantity of buses, and other issues regarding how a near/at/above majority of road users are using transit and the mode is not given preference despite benefit)?
Second, curbside lanes allow for some reuse of the sidewalk space, while center lanes require you to consume one lane for the bus, and then most of another lane for the bus stop. Properly done curbside stops should also be somewhat aggressive in their space consumption (eg bulb-outs), but it’s easier to reuse sidewalk space for overflow waiting passengers than you can with an island platform.
This is a double edged sword. Anyone who takes the 77 north from Porter can point out how the reuse of sidewalk infrastructure for the bus stop effectively eliminates the sidewalk at rush hour even with the small park space. This is especially true for differently-abled persons who can not take the steps to use the park behind the bus stop as an alternative.
Often, the bus stop comes out of parking and not necessarily a lane of moving traffic. However, assuming that the lane does come from traffic, the point is to make the mode share with the largest collective impact on movement and livability more or even most effective as a choice, so removing a car lane in favor is a win.
 

Riverside

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Oh, I totally agree with you, to be clear. Crossing the street shouldn't be a meaningful struggle for pedestrians, and the sidewalk shouldn't double as an overcrowded waiting area. My point is that -- especially when bus lanes are implemented as an incremental improvement -- those concerns still likely are factors that go into the decision to build curbside rather than center-running bus lanes. (Particularly since curbside bus lanes are certainly going to be faster to implement than the more-structural changes that are needed to decenter automobiles; bus lanes can be a 5-month project, but decentering cars is more like 5 years, if that.)

What I would've liked in the article is essentially the inclusion of your post here: acknowledging these as reasons, but also unpacking why they don't necessarily hold up to scrutiny.

I mean, this is also just a general bugbear of mine with Transit Discourse™. Case in point:

So why do we keep building them? Two reasons:

1. They are not really dedicated. They seemingly provide dedicated space for buses but, with a wink and a nod, they allow other vehicles in too. Politically, it looks good to give space to buses and yet nothing has truly been taken away from cars.

2. They are cheap and quick. They only require paint and some signs and can be put in quickly. This is no small thing as it can allow politicians to claim measurable success (something like, “I fulfilled my promise of creating 100 miles of new bus lanes since I was elected”). But is it true success if the bus lanes are not particularly effective?
These are wildly specious conclusions to present, which is especially jarring given how focused the rest of the article is -- a disciplined focus on evidence and data which suddenly goes out the window. Ironically, I think the author could've excluded this section altogether, and still have a perfectly cogent article; trying to diagnose why curbside lanes keep getting built is really secondary to the primary argument of "curbside bus lanes are ineffective; here's why".

The impulse to blame the Transit Problem Du Jour on the vague claim that "Politicians don't really care about the problem" hampers the debate and clouds productive discussion. Yes, obviously sometimes the politicians really don't care, but also sometimes you've got dedicated civil servants who are trying their best to work with what they've got. These are complicated problems, and I don't thinking painting an unnuanced picture does anyone any good.

/rant

edited to fix typos
 
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Equilibria

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I still cant believe theyre building that. Such a low-key but important project. Whoever pushed that through should get a raise.
I have to assume that US Labor Secretary pays more than Mayor of Boston, so maybe he did.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I have to assume that US Labor Secretary pays more than Mayor of Boston, so maybe he did.
Pretty much. I mean...we have the Boston 2030 reports to reference. This kind of work is very much on-brand for the thrust of the transit portions of that and other reports. Walsh may not have promoted the bus laneage heavily in public, but he was a very consistent/persistent low-key supporter of it throughout his time in office and that's starting to show as we approach critical mass. Not to mention a marked exercise in contrast vs. his predecessor, who could bluster up a good game about steel-and-concrete transit building when the money firehose was spewing in a favorable direction but was a persistent withering reactionary about it at street-level implementation.
 

AndrewOnTheMBTA

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Forgive me for my lack of knowledge on this, but isn't it kind of redundant to run to Ruggles if you can just transfer at Jackson Square? I can see limiting overcrowding at Jackson and providing two transfer points. And I can see faster bus trips for a longer route. Curious if anyone has an informed explanation on it?

AND it will be extended to Ruggles with construction starting later this year or early next year.
 

Riverside

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Forgive me for my lack of knowledge on this, but isn't it kind of redundant to run to Ruggles if you can just transfer at Jackson Square? I can see limiting overcrowding at Jackson and providing two transfer points. And I can see faster bus trips for a longer route. Curious if anyone has an informed explanation on it?
For many riders, Ruggles itself is already a transfer point, not a destination. Yes, for downtown riders Jackson Square is probably a fine alternative, but for folks heading to Longwood, a one-seat ride to Ruggles is vastly preferable. A transfer at Jackson would turn a two-seat ride into a three-seat.
 

millerm277

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Forgive me for my lack of knowledge on this, but isn't it kind of redundant to run to Ruggles if you can just transfer at Jackson Square? I can see limiting overcrowding at Jackson and providing two transfer points. And I can see faster bus trips for a longer route. Curious if anyone has an informed explanation on it?
For many riders, Ruggles itself is already a transfer point, not a destination. Yes, for downtown riders Jackson Square is probably a fine alternative, but for folks heading to Longwood, a one-seat ride to Ruggles is vastly preferable. A transfer at Jackson would turn a two-seat ride into a three-seat.
Tacking onto this (and mentioned in the article), while Roxbury Crossing-Jackson Sq is only for the 22, the Roxbury Crossing-Ruggles section has a half-dozen bus routes on it that merge in from the SE (via Malcom X Blvd).

Some of which are also extremely high ridership routes, like the 28, 15, and 13. (The 44 + 45 use it as well). The benefits of this are more than just for the 22.
 

Hubman

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Why couldn't they do this type of center allignment (with signal priority) on the Washington Street Silver Line? There are a few sections where the narrow street might not permit it, but it seems like this would be low-hanging fruit compared to resident demands for light-rail and subway replacements.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Why couldn't they do this type of center allignment (with signal priority) on the Washington Street Silver Line? There are a few sections where the narrow street might not permit it, but it seems like this would be low-hanging fruit compared to resident demands for light-rail and subway replacements.
The politics were an utter shitshow when they negotiated the ineffective side-loading stops under the guise of BRT pixie dust. Stirring up a hornet's nest trying to redo Washington barely 17 years on probably would've harmed their chances of ramming through the center lanes in the other neighborhoods. Tactically, it's one they need to circle back to after they have fully operating examples elsewhere being widely praised for their active effectiveness.

And also...the residents aren't demanding anything unreasonable. The corridor was tasked to "equal or better" replacement service for the Orange Line and got punked by the worst-nightmare switcheroo. That is not water under the bridge by any means. Lane-optimized SL "low hanging fruit" is still woefully inadequate for the corridor's transit needs. Nobody can credibly pretend otherwise. As to whether they'd swallow "optimizations"...maybe. But let's not pretend that negotiation is going to be easy because history has validated so many of the grievances over what was lost, and top-down pressure to "STFU and take what optimizations we give you ingrates" will be picked apart accordingly for its classist tones. The state and City dug their grave with the decades of lying pre-dating the first go-around, so the fix is going to have to be a whole lot bigger than low-hanging fruit re-stripe of the roadway and repackaging the 20-years-ago broken promise of signal priority for a new pitch. They have to go bigger than that for no other reason than it must adopt realer-than-lip-service BRT best practices if it's to be sold as actual better BRT.
 

AndrewOnTheMBTA

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The politics were an utter shitshow when they negotiated the ineffective side-loading stops under the guise of BRT pixie dust. Stirring up a hornet's nest trying to redo Washington barely 17 years on probably would've harmed their chances of ramming through the center lanes in the other neighborhoods. Tactically, it's one they need to circle back to after they have fully operating examples elsewhere being widely praised for their active effectiveness.

And also...the residents aren't demanding anything unreasonable. The corridor was tasked to "equal or better" replacement service for the Orange Line and got punked by the worst-nightmare switcheroo. That is not water under the bridge by any means. Lane-optimized SL "low hanging fruit" is still woefully inadequate for the corridor's transit needs. Nobody can credibly pretend otherwise. As to whether they'd swallow "optimizations"...maybe. But let's not pretend that negotiation is going to be easy because history has validated so many of the grievances over what was lost, and top-down pressure to "STFU and take what optimizations we give you ingrates" will be picked apart accordingly for its classist tones. The state and City dug their grave with the decades of lying pre-dating the first go-around, so the fix is going to have to be a whole lot bigger than low-hanging fruit re-stripe of the roadway and repackaging the 20-years-ago broken promise of signal priority for a new pitch. They have to go bigger than that for no other reason than it must adopt realer-than-lip-service BRT best practices if it's to be sold as actual better BRT.
For anyone interested, and F-line you may know, there was a documentary about the OL replacement/tearing down on Washington St done and it tells a great story.

Also, in this day with the opinions on BRT, is it viewed as the end solution for street corridors? As in its better than light rail and this wouldn't be converted. A lot of pro BRT say just the versatility and lack of rails or wires is huge.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Also, in this day with the opinions on BRT, is it viewed as the end solution for street corridors? As in its better than light rail and this wouldn't be converted. A lot of pro BRT say just the versatility and lack of rails or wires is huge.
That's the hype it was oversold on. A lot of that BRT hype has evaporated because in real-world conditions if you don't build up the corridor to a level of traffic separation that is almost as expensive out-of-box as LRT, you don't ever end up living up to the versatility hype. LRT is undergoing a major post-2005 renaissance because it's ended up better at shape-shifting to fill those flexibility gaps. Which doesn't mean BRT isn't getting built. It's just being correctly right-sized as ye olde express bus + common-sense bolt-tightening of the corridors rather than that unassailable picture of perfection (e.g. Bogota's system) that the hype of 20 years ago was overselling it as.

If you recall Silver Line community meetings of 20 years ago...you saw absolutely COMICAL quantity of pretty pictures of Bogota's system sprinkled disingenuously into their PowerPoints. Not even "corridor-optimized BRT" as we understand it today, but the whole-enchilada rapid transit build. A disinformation campaign like that would never stand up to scrutiny from a better-educated public today, but they really did try to sell it like we were getting fuckin' Bogota-on-Washington back in the day.


Ari O. actually broke his year-long fasting from blogging this past week with a new post on the 21st c. LRT revolution that touches upon where it's capitalized on the fringes of BRT overhype: https://ariofsevit.com/apb/2021/04/01/the-future-of-light-rail/
 

curcuas

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I'm a frequent SL4/5 rider and live a block away. Changing the lane structure in the South End isn't going to be a big deal as others above have noted --- the SL runs well and frequently *in the South End and Roxbury* nearly all the time. Need a much larger upgrade that would drive mode shift.
 

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