Taking the bus to a whole new level

The service disruptions caused by the MBTA’s more aggressive maintenance schedule could provide a catalyst for better bus service, according to some of the chief proponents of bus rapid transit.

More common in other countries than the United States, bus rapid transit, or BRT, is a strategy that uses buses so they mimic the conveniences of a rail line. That should include a dedicated right-of-way in the center of roads to avoid turning traffic; bus stations with seating, shelter, platform-level boarding, a fare system that enables passengers to board at all doors; and priority given to the buses at traffic signals, according to Julia Wallerce, Boston program manager for the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy.

Wallerce found a lot of common ground with Jim Aloisi and Jarred Johnson of TransitMatters on this week’s episode of The Codcast, where the three discussed the benefits of BRT and some of the challenges of implementing it in metro Boston.

Some communities – namely Everett, Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, and Arlington – have incorporated elements of BRT, such as dedicated bus lanes, and Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria has gone the furthest, calling for a complete BRT system in his city, Wallerce said.

The T’s new maintenance schedule, spurred by Gov. Charlie Baker’s visit to the site of the June 11 Red Line crash, will mean more weekend shutdowns along rail lines. That could create the impetus for improvements to the T’s bus system, and incorporating elements of BRT, according to Wallerce.

“It cannot be that we’re just going to have shuttle buses as we have been doing in the past. That doesn’t work,” said Aloisi, who was the state’s transportation secretary during the Patrick administration.

There are also impediments to contorting Boston area roads to accommodate speedier service for bus riders, including a patchwork of sometimes disagreeing municipal jurisdictions, a general aversion to change, and a historic street layout that presents geometric challenges.

But other cities – including Mexico City and Eugene, Oregon – overcame the challenges of narrow thoroughfares, Wallerce said.

“You can be creative about how you use your street space in just about every way,” said Wallerce. There are no examples of true BRT in Massachusetts, but Hartford, Connecticut, has created such a system along an old rail line, she said.  

The Barr Foundation (which provides funding to CommonWealth) gave grants to Arlington, Everett, Cambridge, and Watertown to work with the T on creating speedier and more comfortable bus travel, and the transit agency appreciated the municipalities taking ownership of the service on their streets, Wallerce said.

“The T was such a critical partner and was, quite frankly, thrilled to see these communities stepping up rather than waiting for the T to take the lead,” Wallerce said. The recent Silver Line extension to Chelsea also showcased the ways that buses using a dedicated corridor can accelerate commutes.

Given the Boston area’s traffic congestion problems and a global warming crisis exacerbated by gas-powered cars and trucks, the time is ripe to reconfigure streets and make bus travel more efficient, Wallerce contended.

“We’re at the point now where we’re thinking maybe it’s time to press play. Let’s do this,” Wallerce said.

ANDY METZGER


BEACON HILL

Lawmakers have a full to-do list waiting for them as they return to Beacon Hill, including consideration of a possible gas tax increase, reaching agreement on revisions to the state’s education funding formula, and a proposed statewide ban on plastic bags. (Boston Globe)  

Overdue rents continue to rise at the Department of Conservation and Recreation. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A routine zoning board vote in Boston has triggered a federal corruption investigation that may extend beyond former city worker John Lynch, who on Friday agreed to plead guilty to federal bribery charges that could land him in prison for 47 to 56 months. (Boston Globe)

Police on the South Shore have raised concerns about constables and their criminal policing authority as some towns eye policy changes to appointing them. (Brockton Enterprise) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Trump administration changes course on immigrant patients with medical deferred status — those receiving care in the country will be able to tay and continue to receive treatment for now. (CommonWealth) A Berkshire Eagle editorial condemns the Trump administration’s crackdown on medical deferred status.

A freshman from Lebanon previously denied entry to the United States arrives at Harvard University. (Harvard Crimson)

Hurricane Dorian is heading toward the US coast after pounding the Bahamas. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

At the annual Boston Labor Day breakfast, politicians preach unity against President Trump as Sen. Ed Markey and potential challenger Joe Kennedy III warily eyed each other. (CommonWealth) There was also a Labor Day political breakfast in central Massachusetts. (Telegram & Gazette)

Rep. Lori Ehrlich explains that she won’t challenge Congressman Seth Moulton in the primary because she thinks Democrats’ resources are better spent trying to seize the US Senate and presidency. (Salem News)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, says Americans are rejecting corporate America’s anti-union rhetoric and recognizing the vital role of labor in combating inequality. (CommonWealth) Union workers, led by members of 32BJ SEIU, rally in Copley Square on Labor Day. (Boston Globe

A strike of trash collectors for Marshfield, Abington, and Rockland has entered its seventh day, as members of Teamsters Local 25 say they are seeking better health care, wages and pensions from Republic Services. (Patriot Ledger) 

Six cannabis companies have paid money to place “sponsor-a-highway” signs on Massachusetts roadways, and the state now has to decide whether that violates regulations that require warnings with any advertisement for marijuana. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

The Herald News looks at how schools are using social media as part of their public relations strategy, and their connection to parents. 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

As Massachusetts officials look to tame Medicaid drug costs, they’re looking to aggressive moves taken by New York as a model. (Boston Globe)

The Cape Cod Times runs through programming aimed to stem the opioid epidemic following the release of data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on overdose deaths. 

ARTS/CULTURE

The World War II museum in Natick abruptly closed over the weekend, the result of a legal battle with billionaire Ronald Lauder, who was helping with plans to move it to Washington, DC. (Boston Globe

TRANSPORTATION 

Ari Ofsevit of TransitMatters, with some help from Jim Aloisi, suggests the Silver Line 3 bus could be at least a partial answer to the access issues at Logan International Airport. (CommonWealth)

The American Automobile Association reports that the number of deaths nationally related to running red lights hit an all-time high in 2017. (MetroWest Daily News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Surprisingly, Mayflower Wind promises the lowest US prices yet in the competition for the state’s second offshore wind procurement. (CommonWealth)

CASINOS

Is the New England casino market saturated? (Boston Globe

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Michael Loconto, chair of the Boston School Committee, says the Boston Calling verdicts send a chilling message. (CommonWealth)

Boston police say the department will undertake a review of officers’ use of force during Saturday’s counter-demonstration to a Straight Pride parade. (Boston Globe) The head of the Boston patrolmen’s union urges full prosecution of the three dozen counter-demonstrators arrested at the event. (Boston Herald

One year after taking office, Boston’s first black police commissioner, William Gross, is earning praise from some for his community outreach, while others say he’s done little to change poor relations between police and minority neighborhoods. (Boston Globe)

Concluding “there’s something going on here that is beyond alcohol,” Lowell District Court Judge Daniel Crane denied bail for Timothy Grover, a businessman who was arrested after allegedly threatening people in Lowell High School. (Lowell Sun)

MEDIA

MassLive trumpets the fact that its website had 6 million unique visitors in June and nearly 4.6 million in July, according to media analytics company comScore. The July numbers placed MassLive second in the state, behind BostonGlobe.com at 8.8 million and ahead of Boston.com at 4.3 million, WCVB at 4.1 million, NBCBoston at 1.58 million, Courant.com at 1.3 million, BostonHerald.com at 1.15 million, and Telegram.com at 505,000. (MassLive)

Media critic Dan Kennedy wonders how comments mentioned by Madeleine Westerhout, the fired 28-year-old aide to President Trump, were revealed in an off-the-record drink session with reporters. (Media Nation)