Arlington, Cambridge, Watertown, Everett to Pilot Bus Rapid Transit Features in 2018

Jan. 2, 2018
Communities around Greater Boston, in partnership with the MBTA, will seek to create faster and more reliable commutes for more than 30,000 bus riders.

Communities around Greater Boston, 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 pilots will include a combination of dedicated bus-only lanes that take bus riders out of car congestion, technology to time traffic signals so that buses get more green lights, and platforms that allow riders, including people in wheelchairs or with baby strollers, to “level-board” the bus quickly as they would a subway.

The projects are an effort of BostonBRT, an initiative spearheaded by the Barr Foundation. In January, BostonBRT issued a competitive request for proposals. The Barr Foundation announced three $100,000 grants to advance projects in Arlington, Cambridge, Watertown, and Everett. 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 Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director for climate at the Barr Foundation. “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.”

“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.”

“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,” said MBTA General Manager Luis Manuel Ramirez.  “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.”

The grant recipients are:

  • 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.
  • Everett – In collaboration with the MBTA, Everett will enhance its new dedicated bus lane it implemented on the south side of Broadway, the city’s main transit corridor, 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 TSP at three locations along Broadway that give southbound buses priority during peak-hours.

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. 

“Arlington is excited to be part of this innovative pilot program to improve bus service in town,” said Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.  “Buses are essential to Arlington commuters and our goal is to shorten the ride and get Arlington residents to the Red Line faster. We hope this will result in more people taking the bus, fewer people driving to work, and reduced congestion and pollution in the community.”

“Encouraging and improving public transit options improves mobility for everyone. The Bus Rapid Transit pilot aligns with Cambridge’s Vision Zero efforts to make our streets safer for people of all ages and abilities to travel between work, school, shops, and other destinations, whether they choose to walk, bicycle, drive, or take transit,” said Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. “We are grateful to the Barr Foundation for their support in helping us implement the pilot, and we look forward to collaborating with our neighbors in Watertown to make it a success.”

“The Town of Watertown is excited to partner with the MBTA and City of Cambridge on this important project, and thanks the Barr Foundation for their generous support,” said Matthew Shuman, Town Engineer for the Town of Watertown. “As we redesign Mount Auburn Street and Watertown Square using a Complete Streets approach, we must remember that around 5,000 bus trips are made each day in Watertown using the corridor. The Route 71 bus is an important asset for the community.  Likewise, improving service and reliability is an important goal for the Town. We look forward to implementing short and long-term improvements with our partners.”

“As one of the few area cities without rail access, we know how important it is for our streets to move people more efficiently. 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,” said Carlo DeMaria mayor of the city of Everett. “Through this concerted effort we hope Everett will be the first Massachusetts community to implement Gold Standard BRT elements permanently along this route.”

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.