End downtown Boston’s busmageddon

Add reworking bus routes to the MBTA’s to-do list

THIS WINTER’S PUBLIC transportation crisis offers our elected and appointed leaders a unique opportunity to undo decades of questionable decisions.  Others can opine regarding commuter rail and other segments of the system.  Here are a few thoughts, based upon decades of study, observation and utilization of the MBTA system, specifically concerning its impact on downtown Boston.

A new generation of Americans has made a conscious decision to drive less, if at all, and to use rapid transit. There are 35,000 fewer cars in Boston than at the peak a few years ago, even though our population continues to increase.

Zip cars, Lyft, and Uber are replacing the privately-owned automobile.

Hubway bikes are everywhere. The fact that within a few hundred yards of Downtown Crossing, one can access the Blue Line, Green Line, Red Line, Orange Line and Silver Line, with connections to most anyplace one would want to go, means that downtown properties are important to the future of the entire metropolitan area and that thousands of people now choose to live downtown.

We need a comprehensive policy regarding usage of the public way.  Loading must be done during limited hours, as is the case in other great cities.  To keep the city from devolving into perpetual gridlock, we also must address tour buses and MBTA buses downtown.

Let’s get the buses off of our streets so that pedestrians and bicyclists can be safe.

As Doug Most reminded us in The Race Underground, Boston constructed the first subway tunnel in the late 1890s to get trolleys off the street; we can certainly do likewise today by making good on the commitment to a tunnel connecting South Station with the Silver Line spur that heads to Dudley Square.

There is also no reason why people wanting to go to Salem should have an express bus waiting for them around the corner from Macy’s, nor should city street patterns necessitate that a bus make a left turn from a right lane to meander through downtown streets to get to the Mass Pike.

Large buses making wide turns on narrow downtown streets, even more narrow because of mounds of snow, clog the streets and imperil the safety of the public.  We should eliminate bus lines which make no sense and relocate the terminus of lines now heading downtown to South Station and North Station, where there is access to underground transit, commuter rail and the interstate highway system.

Meet the Author

Even as we eagerly await the Red Sox return to Fenway Park, and the melting of the last mounds of snow (most likely in that order), we should be thinking – and planning – ahead.

Lawrence S. DiCara is a partner at Nixon Peabody in Boston and a former Boston City Council president.

  • bosslater

    Unfortunate to see the transportation fraud that was Silver Line Phase III dragged out of the graveyard where it had been properly buried. Impossible to find a mass transportation project in the US that offered less ridership benefits per dollar spent. And the solution th to the MBTA’s current crisis is to dig a $2 billion tunnel and add to the debt overload? Hard to imagine a less needed or more wasteful trough filling exercise than that.

  • Charlie

    If anything, we should be limiting private autos from our narrow downtown streets. Bus drivers are professionally trained and are certainly better drivers than most citizens. Buses themselves carry thousands of workers into and out of the city each day and make a much more efficient use of public space than private autos. The express buses that bring people into and out of the heart of the Financial District are very convenient and take pressure off of our crowded subways and commuter rail. Would you prefer that rather than passengers be able to walk to their offices that they pile onto the already crowded subways at North and South Stations instead? This must be some sort of April fools joke, right?

  • Fred Grosso

    Let’s get rid of the bikes. Do not remove the shuttle from MGH to the Brigham.

  • Sjakal

    SL Phase III only make sense as a connection to the GL – preferably wrapped around the base of Chinatown and through the unused Tremont St Portal, with the Transitway renovated to accommodate light rail (which it is fully capable of doing, as it was designed to handle both bus and light-rail from the outset). Without a direct GL connection, the SL will never attract enough riders to warrant the cost of a tunnel, never. And BRT will never be able to handle the capacity that light rail can, if Seaport congestion is bad now…just wait until full build.

    Re-activating the Tremont portal also allows MassDOT the opportunity to eventually flip the SL 4/5 to a GL spur, the Central subway is four-tracked so it can easily handled the service increase. Established a one- or two-seat connection to the Seaport from Allston, Brighton, Newton, Brookline, Somerville, Medford is FAR more beneficial than a one-seater from Dudley and the South End. Plus, the SL 4/5 are crammed – the corridor will eventually need a mode switch to something with more capacity so why not tie the two projects together.

  • anonymouse

    Yes, we need to end Downtown busmageddon! There are way too many buses downtown, and it’s becoming a real problem. Of course, the problem is that buses are way too slow since they spend so much time stuck in traffic that it takes many more buses to provide the same service. And since the traffic is unpredictable, you need even more buses to make up for the fact that some of them are going to be overcrowded and some empty because you can’t run even headways.
    So the solution to “too many buses downtown” is clearly to add dedicated lanes (maybe only through the worst chokepoints, even, or only during rush hour), and consolidate the buses onto those lanes. That way, you can provide the same level of service using considerably fewer buses, which will spend more of their time moving and less of their time taking up valuable downtown space and polluting the downtown air.

  • MarkinArl

    Let’s make it easier for buses to traverse streets by undoing the turn radius reductions and slip lane removals that cripple flows everywhere without showing safety results. The author is wrong about a generation driving less – Boston is an extreme example, not the norm for the country, though many of the latest generation rather be on their smartphones than be distracted by driving or biking.