The MBTA, the City of Boston, the City of Somerville, the City of Everett, and the City of Chelsea on Thursday announced an unprecedented region-wide effort to implement up to 14 miles of dedicated bus lanes throughout the upcoming fall and spring to improve bus speed, reliability, and reduce crowded conditions in the wake of COVID-19.
These projects aim to both address service delays and improve service conditions to better allow bus riders to social distance.
“The Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program is about addressing the needs of riders today while taking a transformative step forward to build a better T,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “Throughout the pandemic, the majority of our ridership has been on our bus system. Advancing this program is the fastest way we can provide thousands of our riders with significant improvements in service reliability. We could not have done this without the support of our municipal partners and their leadership during this time. This kind of collaboration will allow our region’s economy to safely re-open while improving access for all.”
Added Mayor Carlo DeMaria, “Creating bus lanes in places like Sweetser Circle – the biggest travel bottleneck in the City – is critical for improving the commutes of our residents and advancing toward bus rapid transit. Reliable and efficient public transportation is key to creating and preserving affordable housing for our residents and their ability to access our region’s economy.”
Bus lanes can reduce crowding on buses and also limit the amount of time riders spend in close proximity to others while on the bus. In some cases, bus lanes can improve service frequency to further mitigate crowded conditions. These improvements will support public health and COVID-19 recovery throughout the bus service network and region.
Projects were selected by the MBTA in partnership with municipalities to target corridors that have seen some of the highest rates of bus ridership since March and experience above-average chronic delay, thereby improving service for the most vulnerable users.
Several of the selected project corridors are critical connections for commuters accessing essential jobs and services with benefits seen on high-ridership routes including Routes 15, 22, 23, 28, 66, 86, 111, 116, and 117. Through the implementation of all proposed Rapid Response Bus Lanes projects, the improvements will directly benefit more than 50,000 weekday bus riders presently using these services (about a third of the current weekday ridership) in addition to thousands more as anticipated increases in ridership continue in the coming months. Based on pre-pandemic ridership figures from February, these upgrades could eventually benefit more than 110,000 weekday bus riders.
Projects that will be implemented this fall and spring include:
•Columbus Avenue in Boston between Walnut Avenue and Jackson Square Station.
•North Washington Street in Boston from Cross Street to Causeway Street.
•Broadway in Chelsea from City Hall Plaza to 3rd Street.
•Washington Street in Somerville between McGrath Highway and Sullivan Square.
•Sweetser Circle, Main Street near Sweetser Circle, and Broadway from Sweetser Circle to Chelsea Street in Everett.
•Washington Street in Boston to Roslindale from Forest Hills Station to Roslindale Village.
Projects to undergo further public process over the fall for potential spring implementation include:
•Warren Street in Boston between Grove Hall and Nubian Square.
•Malcolm X Boulevard in Boston between Nubian Square and Tremont Street.
•Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street in Boston from Jackson Square Station to Ruggles Station, extending the bus lanes currently under construction.
•Hyde Park Avenue in Boston between Metropolitan Parkway and Forest Hills Station.
Several projects in planning prior to the pandemic were accelerated as part of the Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program while others were identified in response to specific ridership trends since March 2020. All of the projects benefit bus routes that have continued to have high ridership since the pandemic began.
Improvements will include quick-build treatments such as striping, red paint, signage, and minor signaling changes. Further enhancements will also likely take place in 2021 and beyond. Emergency response vehicles and school buses may also use these bus lanes, which will further benefit first-responders and students. Several projects also include shared bus/bike lanes, dedicated bike facilities, and pedestrian safety improvements in order to bolster multimodal transportation.
The MBTA and each municipality have worked in close partnership on each project. Design for the projects is supported by the MBTA’s on-call design contracts with implementation predominantly funded by that MBTA and assistance from each municipality. The MBTA expects to spend approximately $20 million in 2020 and early 2021 to deliver the Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program, both through direct construction and through reimbursements to municipalities that construct projects themselves. Municipalities generally provide additional funding for non-bus-related components of the projects, such as streetscape improvements that do not directly affect bus operations, though actual cost sharing varies by each project.