By Seth Daniel
Everett has taken the initiative to be on the cutting edge of transforming its public transportation system, according to one influential Boston foundation, and for that they were one of four Greater Boston Communities awarded with a $100,000 planning grant to improve bus rapid transit (BRT) initiatives.
The Barr Foundation awarded Everett, Cambridge Watertown and Arlington with grants that will help them plan to put into place things like the dedicated bus lanes, traffic signal timing/priority for buses, and level-boarding platforms that help people of all abilities enter quickly.
For Everett, the Barr Foundation is very happy with the progress the City took on, virtually on its own initiative two years ago when Mayor Carlo DeMaria and the MBTA started the Everett Transit Action Plan.
Already, Everett has instituted a dedicated bus lane on Broadway for an entire year in the morning rush hour. That lane in the morning hours has now become permanent.
Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director of climate for the Barr Foundation, said Everett is on their radar because they realized communities have to lead in the partnership of bringing on public transit changes.
“For someone like Everett to take that on was really a first,” she said in a recent interview with the Independent. “They saw there was a need and they didn’t wait around. They took the initiative. I have to tell you Everett did exactly what a municipality should do…It is a best practice model if you have both state and municipalities partnering, then demonstrate they can work together to put things in place…If I had a gold star to give, they would get it. That is what we at Barr want to establish.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said the grant builds on his plan for Everett to create its own world-class transportation system.
“As one of the few area cities without rail access, we know how important it is for our streets to move people more efficiently,” he said. “We’ve had such great success in piloting the dedicated bus lane on Broadway we have made it permanent and are excited and grateful to the Barr Foundation for their assistance to further improve this busway. Through this concerted effort we hope Everett will be the first Massachusetts community to implement Gold Standard BRT elements permanently along this route.”
With the grant, the four communities, in partnership with the MBTA, will seek to create faster and more reliable commutes for more than 30,000 bus riders through a sequence of three pilot projects testing bus rapid transit (BRT) features over the course of 2018.
The projects are an effort of BostonBRT, an initiative spearheaded by the Barr Foundation. In January, BostonBRT issued a competitive request for proposals. Last week, they announced three $100,000 grants to advance projects in Arlington, Cambridge, Watertown, and Everett and the MBTA will enhance its new dedicated bus lane by adding upgrades to further demonstrate elements of Gold Standard BRT. The pilot includes “platform level” boarding facilities (which allow of ease of boarding for riders in wheelchairs, strollers, or carts) at two bus stops in Everett Square, and Transit Signal Priority (TSP) at three locations along Broadway that give southbound buses priority at traffic signals during peak-hours.
The RFP invited municipalities to partner with the MBTA to demonstrate the potential of BRT in high-ridership, high-traffic areas, with the goal of improving the transit experience for the most people. During peak commute times, there are twice as many people in buses than cars in the combined corridors – with the potential for that number to grow with a more efficient and convenient bus system.
“These pilot projects will show BRT’s potential to transform how people in Greater Boston get to where they need to go, and how BRT can fit within the region’s transportation system,” said Skelton Roberts. “For BRT to be successful, local and state governments, communities, and transit experts need to work together. These winning proposals demonstrated their readiness to do so. And we hope their commitment to collaboration during this pilot testing periods is just the beginning. Massachusetts residents deserve flexible, environmentally-sustainable transportation options they can count on like BRT.”
The MBTA and state Department of Transportation are ready to work with the cities, their leaders said.
“We applaud the leadership of organizations like the Barr Foundation and BostonBRT in building support for bus improvements, including bus rapid transit, and we appreciate the collaboration of municipal leaders in improving transit service,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “We have already seen how service has improved for customers with the all-door boarding pilot in Boston, the dedicated bus lane in Everett, and the installation of transit signal prioritization systems on Commonwealth Avenue. We are hopeful that this grant funding and further conversations with communities will expand initiatives which have proven their value to our customers.”
Said MBTA General Manager Luis Manuel Ramirez, “With hundreds of thousands of our daily riders relying on buses to get them to their destinations in a timely manner, it’s terrific to have partners like the Barr Foundation and BostonBRT working with us to implement improvements. We owe it to all of our customers, particularly those for whom buses are their primary mode of commuting, to do everything we can to provide them with consistently reliable service.”
Other projects besides Everett’s include:
- Arlington – In collaboration with the MBTA, Arlington will conduct a one-month pilot of several BRT elements on the three-mile #77 bus route along Massachusetts Avenue, the town’s main thoroughfare, which has the highest ridership in Arlington and one of the top 15 highest-ridership routes in the overall MBTA bus system. The pilot, which will operate Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., includes transit signal prioritization, bus queue jumping at traffic signals, and a dedicated bus priority lane.
- Cambridge/Watertown – Cambridge and Watertown will partner with the MBTA to pilot numerous BRT elements for bus routes on Mount Auburn Street west of Fresh Pond Parkway. Elements to be tested include all-day, dedicated bus lanes for significant segments of Mount Auburn Street between Belmont Street and Fresh Pond Parkway, inbound queue jump lanes on Mount Auburn Street and Belmont Street, and transit signal prioritization as feasible, which allow buses to travel without impediment from other vehicles.
As part of the grant funding, BostonBRT will assist communities with coordination between state and municipal agencies, pilot design and implementation, communications, and community engagement.
Municipalities were selected by a committee comprised of Massachusetts transportation leaders convened by the Barr Foundation and BostonBRT technical consultants that reviewed criteria such as the number of BRT elements included within proposals, proof of concept, potential impact (including density of population and employment), municipal and community support, and willingness to partner with state agencies to create a successful pilot.
The pilots build on an initial demonstration effort in 2017 along the Silver Line in Boston that tested “all door boarding,” another element of BRT. During the two-week demonstration, riders were able to board and exit buses through all doors (as opposed to the current practice of boarding only at the front door in a single file line, paying upon entry). Surveys of 900 riders throughout the demonstration show that all-door boarding improved the rider experience and encouraged bus use, with 65 percent of rider respondents reporting that their demonstration trip was faster and 70 percent saying the all-door boarding demonstration made them more likely to ride the Silver Line again.