By Seth Daniel
Come 4 a.m. next Monday, Dec. 5, it will be two trucks rather than coffee and donuts on Broadway – and that major change has been a little bit of a surprise to some local business owners.
As one of the first pieces of the Everett Transit Action Plan – which has been in the works for a few years – to be instituted by the City and the MBTA, the entire western side of Broadway will be turned into a dedicated bus lane for one week between the hours of 5 to 9 a.m. – with towing in full force starting at 4 a.m. The move is to help buses operate more efficiently with less wait times for riders, and also to make Broadway flow more efficiently for commuters driving southbound to work. In all too many cases, the buses pick up riders off of the curb, blocking traffic and slowing down the commute for everyone. With a dedicated lane, the belief is that Broadway bus lines could eliminate some trips.
“We’re going to try it between Dec. 5 and 9 and see what the responses are,” said Jay Monty of the Mayor’s Office. “If it works and maybe needs a few tweaks, we’ll come back in the spring to do it again for maybe three months…The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the MBTA are very excited to do this with us. It will be the first dedicated bus lane outside of the City of Boston.”
The program will include towing next Monday through Friday (Dec. 5-9) from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. to make room for the dedicated bus lane, which will occupy the entire western side of Broadway from Glendale Square to Sweetser Circle. It will be separated out by orange cones during the pilot period, but would likely be permanently painted if the longer trial run takes place in the spring. Currently, parked cars utilize that lane within the road, and to accommodate that lane, cars must be moved. If they aren’t moved, they will be towed during the restricted hours, Monty said, and there will also be no drop-offs or deliveries during those times. Parking will return to normal on the new dedicated lane after 9 a.m.
Still, some businesses that open early were surprised to learn of the new program, and believe it will really hurt their businesses.
“Frankly, this is the first time I’ve heard about this, and no one contacted me or told me anything about it,” said Frank Nentis of Dempsey’s Restaurant, a generational staple of the early morning Everett breakfast crowd, opening at 6 a.m. “If you hadn’t called, I would have had no idea. I didn’t get any letters or any notification from the City yet. My customers usually arrive early right when they’re doing this. It’s kind of ridiculous. We’ve been opening here in the morning for 40 years since 1976. We used to be 24-hours and now we open at 6 a.m. And this is what you do to us? Kill my business for three hours every morning?”
While the program is likely good intentioned, some City officials said they were a little troubled by the roll out and were concerned about business like Dempsey’s, Dunkin Donuts and even the Parlin Library.
“Although I support the Everett Transit Action Plan, I’m very concerned about removing parking,” said Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who said he learned of the plan late last week. “When I ran for city council last year, I promised I would be the voice of all of Everett. That includes who I truly believe is the backbone of our community and that’s our local business owners. The amount of negativity that will be thrust upon our local business owners during those hours is unequivocally not okay in my opinion. We need to do all we can as a community to support our local business owners not put more roadblocks up to hurt or detract patrons from visiting their locations.”
That is exactly what Nentis said would happen to his business. Despite having parking in the back for customers who wish to dine in, he also has a very healthy take out business from customers in the morning on their way to work.
“Not everybody wants to park in the back and walk around,” he said. “That’s a very important three hours for me, 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. The key is the convenience of parking in front and grabbing coffee and breakfast and getting in the car and going to work. It’s the convenience of that. I’m probably going to lose a lot of business.”
Monty said they have been working very closely with the police, the schools and others in the planning for the program.
Most of the schools will not be affected as they are on the other side of the street, with the lone exception being a small charter school in the old Everett High School. He said they have done some studies of the parking situation on the western side of the street and found that they were not utilized entirely.
“We’ve checked some parking levels during those hours and found that the spots had an occupancy level of under 25 percent,” he said. “We believe the will be plenty of room to handle the parking on the other side of the street during these hours.”
He said they did not implement the dedicated lane during the 4-6 p.m. afternoon rush because it was determined that such a lane would be too disruptive to businesses and schools on the route.
The dedicated bus lane is one of many changes to come, but Monty said it was one of the easier changes because it doesn’t require any construction and is a test run – not anything permanent.
“There are a lot of recommendations that are long-term and short-term and some that can be implemented immediately,” he said, noting the final report for the Action Plan came out on Nov. 17. “This was one piece of low-hanging fruit and something we could roll out without any construction and implement fairly easily. Some of the other things require more engineering with the MBTA before we can tackle them.”
Meanwhile, some are feeling left out of the plan – especially the businesses like Dempsey’s that open early.
“I guess it’s just my bad luck I’m open early,” said Nentis.
McLaughlin said he plans to urge the administration to look to tweak the plan to accommodate early opening businesses before making anything permanent.
“I strongly urge the administration to look negatively upon this as being implemented as a long-term solution to how we move public transportation throughout our community,” he said.
Currently, the route 104 and 109 busses carry nearly 50 percent of the people traveling along Broadway during morning rush hour. The bus-only lane could potentially shorten the trip from Glendale Square to Sullivan Square by up to 10 minutes.