City, Experts Seizing the Moment to Move on Gold Standard BRT

With congestion on the roads causing havoc for urban areas like Everett, the City has seized the opportunity to be the first partner in calling for Gold Standard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Greater Boston – and once again Everett is leading the charge to try something new and innovative for the purpose of moving people.

City administration leaders – with Mayor Carlo DeMaria leading the charge – the MBTA, and the non-profit Institute for Transportation Development Policy (ITDP) are getting very serious about the idea of bringing a center-lane BRT line to Upper and Lower Broadway. With Mayor Carlo DeMaria using the opening of the casino to introduce the idea, consultants and City leaders are not seizing this time of transition to “go for the gold.”

“It is absolutely possible,” said Julia Wallerce of ITDP, which operates internationally on transportation solutions and is based in Boston. “We’re moving forward with the concept and are doing traffic studies and the logistic for it. We want to make it the flagship for New England…This would be a neighborhood-based BRT and one that travels to multiple jurisdictions. This absolutely would be the first and would and would unleash BRT in much the same way that Everett did with dedicated bus lanes and level boarding. Everett had the bus lane first, and then everyone had bus lane fever. Everett has been good in putting several aspects of BRT together. We want to put it all together and make it work.”

Mayor Carlo DeMaria has seized on the idea of Gold Standard BRT and has been talking it up to residents and to those outside the city – particularly to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and other Boston officials.

The idea, he said, is to be able to move people efficiently through the Broadway corridor, through the Rutherford Avenue corridor, and into North Station on a dedicated, center-lane BRT line. That would be a line not impeded by traffic, with stations in the center, no conflicts with vehicles and the ability to manipulate the traffic signals to prioritize the bus. With such a thing in place, DeMaria said he’s convinced the City can continue to develop without causing more congestion.

“In order to continue our dramatic transformation and grow our economy, we need to integrate transit, bike paths, and walkways into our downtown and improve BRT from surrounding communities to Boston,” he said this week. “BRT in Everett has already shown we can reduce traffic congestion for drivers and provide faster travel times for transit riders. Now we must expand those dedicated corridors regionally, especially to Boston, to remove buses from mixed traffic and get people out of cars, by providing an attractive alternative to driving through Everett Square.”

Everett Transportation Planner Jay Monty said he has been charged with working to make the BRT plan a reality. He said the mayor has asked for it in five years, and he believes it is possible.

“The mayor’s stated goal is he wants BRT in five years,” said Monty. “I’m not going to say it’s not ambitious, but I think it is doable. It’s doable because Julia has had a good start and is connecting the players. My role is figuring out how we build it…The advantage now is we have this moment in time, and the way to get BRT is having big projects funded. We have two of those in Rutherford Avenue (Charlestown) and at Sweetser Circle. They are already re-doing these areas; it’s just a matter of how they’ll do it.”

Monty said an advantage at the moment is so much is changing and big plans are now in the design stages. That’s the case on Lower Broadway as the casino will look to expand one day soon across the street, and in other areas of Broadway as the City changes block by block.

“We have to be ready with a design and plan for BRT and to challenge the state when they come in to re-build an area like Sweetser Circle,” he said. “We have to tell them we don’t want them to spend $20 million and leave us with the same traffic circle we already despise.”

Monty and Wallerce said that while there is more wiggle room to change the street configuration on Lower Broadway around the casino, the first part of the BRT would likely come on upper Broadway in the neighborhoods.

Monty said they envision a center-lane dedicated bus with stations that have level boarding and all-door boarding.

“One of the first things on Upper Broadway would be to consolidate the bus stops – going to two or three stops on Broadway instead of seven or eight,” he said. “We have room for center stations at Glendale Square, probably the old high school, and in the Rite Aid parking lot at Everett Square.”

He said it would likely take on different forms in different areas. For instance, the Lower Broadway BRT stretch would be more spacious and look different than areas of Upper Broadway where there is less road space.

The BRT line would be the first of its kind in the area, but would be under the purview of the MBTA, which is a partner with ITDP in the venture. Wallerce said with congestion on the roads increasing, the existing MBTA lines at capacity, and more people moving to the Boston area, now is the time to try something revolutionary.

She said Everett and Mayor DeMaria happened to be the first and most enthusiastic partners to come forward. So it is that the new transportation venture will most likely get off the ground in Everett, if it gets off the ground at all.

And Wallerce said now is the time to not just go for bits and pieces, but for everything.

“We have an opportunity to pilot things right now,” she said. “Everything is lining up to connect the dots that will ultimately bring a revolutionary transportation corridor from Everett to Boston. But why sell ourselves short? We have this vision from the mayor of Everett and we think he can rally the mayor of Boston to get on board too.

“Incremental steps are good, but at a certain point we need to change the narrative,” she continued. “We need to be bold and shift the paradigm. If we go for the gold, given the congestion we have, it could transform the area. Now is the time to take a leap.”

Added Monty, “We have a lot of building and we have to also have a new model for transportation. We can’t be in a situation where the progress on building ends because we can’t figure out how to move people.”

Both Monty and Wallerce said the next year will be a time of talking to people and working out the problems – doing test runs on the corridor – and rolling out plans.

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