Silver Line at 21: Do people like it now?

Smuttynose

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It's hard to believe that the Silver Line has been part of the Boston landscape now for over 20 years and is now of legal drinking age, debuting in 2002. Not only that, but the service continues to expand. There are now five Silver Line 'lines' - more than there are heavy rail rapid transit lines in Boston. The Silver Line is going to Everett soon, there's talk of it going to Somerville and Cambridge. The expansion of the Silver Line is probably the largest expansion of the MBTA system in the last 20+ years and the only part of the system that the T seems to have any appetite for expanding.

I don't like the Silver Line. I'm old enough to remember when it debuted, some of the initial backlash, and T's general gaslighting of the population -- "It's bus rapid transit!" and "It's just like the other rapid transit lines!" and "It runs in its own dedicated lane" -- statements so easily refuted that it can be infuriating. There are a lot of reasons to question the Silver Line -- the lack of pay stations to re-up your Charliecard, the 'dedicated' bus lanes which mostly serve as convenient double-parking lanes, that it runs in Boston traffic, the fact that it is so crappy and serves diverse socioeconomically challenged communities, and of course the T's general insistence that it is rapid transit. I always held out hope that portions of it might be converted to light rail service. I feel like the Silver Line is kind of like the urban renewal projects from the 50s. The T proposes it, everybody says they don't want it, and then the T says, "Great, we're building you a Silver Line."

So clearly I am biased against it, but the reality on the ground seems different. At over 20 years old, the Silver Line isn't going anywhere. If anything, it keeps expanding and becoming more ingrained in the system. And there's no real movement to convert parts of it to rail service. Is the Silver Line the future? Have people learned to love it or at least like it? Should people like me stop complaining about it and start advocating for minor improvements to improve the livability of the region?
 
Nope. The street running portions can't be called true BRT, and the off-street portions are overengineered to an absurd degree and don't even offer a good rider experience.
 
I guess I kind of like it. It allows for higher frequency transportation at a lower cost than light rail.

The one thing that needs to change, however, is that they need to build a tunnel into South Station so the busses from Roxbury can go all the way through to the airport or Chelsea.
 
And yet I find myself wishing other routes were as high-frequency, that other routes had designated bus lanes, and that other busy stops were as nicely sheltered.

And saying that SL3 extensions west of Chelsea and inward toward Cambridge would also be better.

So I can't hate it that much if I always find myself wanting more of it and more like it.
 
And yet I find myself wishing other routes were as high-frequency, that other routes had designated bus lanes, and that other busy stops were as nicely sheltered.

And saying that SL3 extensions west of Chelsea and inward toward Cambridge would also be better.

So I can't hate it that much if I always find myself wanting more of it and more like it.

It's a two-things-can-be-true-at-once kind of service. It's objectively better in a number of ways than the T's standard bus service, while at the same time (particularly on the Washington Street end) being inferior to both other forms of rapid transit (which the T pretends it is) and to what was there before in the form of the Elevated.

The one thing that needs to change, however, is that they need to build a tunnel into South Station so the busses from Roxbury can go all the way through to the airport or Chelsea.

That was the plan. It, uh, didn't work out. Somewhere around here F-Line has a pretty thorough rundown about how the cost blowouts and engineering difficulties tanked the chance of federal funds and killed that part of the project.
 
The seaport tunnel was Joe Moakley’s pathetic attempt to pretend he was the second coming of Tip O’Neill. Overbuilt for a bus, but that’s the favored mode the feds were willing spend on.
 
I think it depends on perspective.

If you focus on the "Bus" aspect of "Bus Rapid Transit", and see the Silver Line as an upgraded bus service, period... Then it's decent. Not high-standard and has many issues, but does what you expect a basic BRT to do. There are many other bus routes that wish they have the infrastructure that SL4/5 have - full-day dedicated bus lanes (in theory), full articulated fleet, etc. T1, T7/93, T28, T39, T57, T66, T71/T73, T111... I can go on and on.

The problem is when branding of the Silver Line, especially SL4/5, focuses on the "Rapid Transit" aspect of "Bus Rapid Transit". Expecting SL4/5 to be an "equal or better" replacement of the El is a hell of a joke. While the Transitway is designed and built up to rapid transit standards, it turns out that aside from a connection to the Ted Williams Tunnel (with its own headaches), running buses there ends up being worse than just having proper LRT.

BRT can be useful in many other places here, assuming we do better at signal priority and (center-running) bus lanes.
  • SL3 wouldn't have been possible as any other transit mode at this moment.
  • The EGE once mentioned that BRT facilities are more useful on Blue Hill Ave than LRT, due to greater flexibility for the high number of bus routes there.
  • I also like the Everett-Kendall SL6 proposal, which, once again, wouldn't have been possible as LRT.
  • The downtown bus priority corridor, designed for the T7 bus in BNRD, also has potential to be turned into a full-fledged BRT system.
But given the reputation of BRT and especially Silver Line here, I wonder if these services are better off not being called Silver Line at all.

As for the existing Silver Line... Both lags really need to be converted to LRT. Like yesterday.
 
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Have people learned to love it or at least like it? Should people like me stop complaining about it and start advocating for minor improvements to improve the livability of the region?
The reserved bus lanes need to be moved from the edges of the street (where people illegally park) to the center of the road, similar to the new Columbus Ave Bus Lanes:

Bus_ColumbusAve_BHA_Building%20110221-3064.jpg
 
I used to take the silver line 3x a week living in the south end. Would a subway have been better? Sure but busses arent all bad- when one broke down the others just went around it, so the system isnt as prone to be completely crippled by its own causes. Busses also come very frequently for the most part. Of course north of Tufts Med it just gets completely bogged down by traffic consistently so that negated most of the positives.

Taking the silver line often to the seaport now from SS, the frequency off hours is frustrating as 10+ minute waits are the norm.
 
Agree with @Charlie_mta that center-running bus lanes should be the standard. I think that Boston wasn't politically ready for center-running back in 2001 even if it was considered "standard" for BRT it was not standard for how Boston thought about its streets.

But here, a generation later, the city is ready for it and we should press it on all "trunk" bus routes.
 
I'm trying to imagine city and state officials riding the SL1 from the airport when it opened. It's by far the most rattily, loud, indigent bus routes I've taken in the city. The little intermission at Silverline Way where the driver has to exit the bus and manually switch the gear at the back feels especially 3rd world. Then the wildly overbuilt seaport tunnel which is (of course) falling apart and has a road surface worse than the Ted Williams somehow.

Was is always this bad?
 
I think it depends on perspective.

If you focus on the "Bus" aspect of "Bus Rapid Transit", and see the Silver Line as an upgraded bus service, period... Then it's decent. Not high-standard and has many issues, but does what you expect a basic BRT to do. There are many other bus routes that wish they have the infrastructure that SL4/5 have - full-day dedicated bus lanes (in theory), full articulated fleet, etc. T1, T7/93, T28, T39, T57, T66, T71/T73, T111... I can go on and on.

The problem is when branding of the Silver Line, especially SL4/5, focuses on the "Rapid Transit" aspect of "Bus Rapid Transit". Expecting SL4/5 to be an "equal or better" replacement of the El is a hell of a joke. While the Transitway is designed and built up to rapid transit standards, it turns out that aside from a connection to the Ted Williams Tunnel (with its own headaches), running buses there ends up being worse than just having proper LRT.

BRT can be useful in many other places here, assuming we do better at signal priority and (center-running) bus lanes.
  • SL3 wouldn't have been possible as any other transit mode at this moment.
  • The EGE once mentioned that BRT facilities are more useful on Blue Hill Ave than LRT, due to greater flexibility for the high number of bus routes there.
  • I also like the Everett-Kendall SL6 proposal, which, once again, wouldn't have been possible as LRT.
  • The downtown bus priority corridor, designed for the T7 bus in BNRD, also has potential to be turned into a full-fledged BRT system.
But given the reputation of BRT and especially Silver Line here, I wonder if these services are better off not being called Silver Line at all.

As for the existing Silver Line... Both lags really need to be converted to LRT. Like yesterday.

My main issue is that the SL1 is actually even worse than direct bus service. Like Bananarama mentioned, for anyone connecting from downtown or Red Line to the airport, the SL1:

- runs on a bus-like headway (10-min at peak, but with bunching and sometimes 20-min gaps between buses)
- has a unnecessarily long dwell at Silver Line Way due to the mode change
- has very slow accel/decel times due to the weight of dual-mode propulsion, contributing to the slow travel time
- has a terribly circuitous route, passing by WTC 3 times, even though the silver line ramp pilot was a success
- stops at WTC twice inbound to South Station for no reason

Due to these points, it would quite literally be faster to have a surface bus in mixed traffic that loops from SS, stops at WTC on the surface, and enters the Ted Williams.
I know this only covers airport riders, but the fact that they spent $1bn on the transitway tunnel to produce bus service that actually runs slower than a bus on Summer St is absolutely bonkers. The only thing it really achieved is giving the SL1 a dedicated off-street platform to load/unload and connect more easily with the RL. We could've built BL/RL connector with this money.
 
Only ever ridden SL1 to the airport and back.
It's a crazy example of excellent public transit switching to terrible public transit in one short journey. Couldn't believe it when I first took it.
South station to silver line way, excellent. Integrated with subway at south station, electrified, it's own right of way tunnel, big airy stations. Perfect, no need for it to be a train.
Then it stops and the driver gets out (what's he doing? I think to myself). The bus dies and a diesel engine chugs in to life. From there on its doing circles of the seaport stuck in traffic fretting about making my flight. Trying to figure out what direction I'm actually going, wondering if suitcases are going to tumble as we take a tight bend to pick people up what seems like 20 feet from where we dropped them off 10 mins ago. There's a ramp, lets use that, wait no, that's only for cops.

The new route to chelsea looks great and if they could only sort out the second half of seaport, SL1 would be great too.
 
I used to take the silver line 3x a week living in the south end. ....... Of course north of Tufts Med it just gets completely bogged down by traffic consistently so that negated most of the positives.

Your comment gave me an idea for a Crazy Transit pitch to route the Silverline in South Cove into the old abandoned Tremont Street tunnel.
 
I've taken this year a couple times to Logan. Going to Logan is better, coming back it takes an absurdly long time due to the weird loop around the Seaport (honestly I wasn't paying close attention and was on my phone, but suddenly noticed both times that the inbound trip was lasting far longer).
 
Your comment gave me an idea for a Crazy Transit pitch to route the Silverline in South Cove into the old abandoned Tremont Street tunnel.
100%. Logistically I have no idea how difficult it would be but it seems to make a ton of sense to use that to go underground to south Station or dtx due to the terrible traffic around there and the awkward switch at south Station and dtx
 
I was re-reading this old BSRA Roll Sign when you posted the question about the Silver Line. It's all here from 1972. I really wish they had implemented the Green Line streetcar service connecting to the Tremont Street tunnel via the old unused portion of the Green Line tunnel. They even have engineering drawings showing how it would go under the Mass Turnpike. I also remember almost buying a condo in the South End around the mid-90's where the real estate agent assured me there would soon be electric trolley buses on the corridor. Whoops!

To answer your original question: NO, I don't like the Silver Line, and I think it was a HUGE missed opportunity for a better streetcar option.
 

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