T notes: Bus lane cutting commute in Arlington

Manager put in charge of Green Line transformation

EXPERIMENTS WITH DEDICATED bus lanes on congested roadways appear to be yielding similar results – shorter travel times for buses carrying commuters to work.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the MBTA, told the agency’s oversight board on Monday that buses traveling on a dedicated bus and bicycle lane on a fairly short stretch of Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington were cutting travel times by 6 to 10 minutes. The dedicated bus lane runs from Lake Street to Alewife Brook Parkway between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. weekdays.

The one-month pilot, funded with a $100,000 grant from the Barr Foundation, began October 9 and won’t officially conclude until November 9. A city forum on the so-called bus rapid transit pilot is scheduled for November 14. But Gonneville indicated he believes the lane is working.

“It is a substantial cut,” he said of the commuting time savings. “Right now, that area, particularly around the 8 a.m. time frame, is gridlock, absolute gridlock.”

Arlington estimates 17 percent of its residents commute by bus and would benefit from shorter and more predictable travel times. The pilot also featured traffic signals timed to keep buses moving and opportunities for buses to move ahead of the rest of traffic at intersections.  Buses that use the route are the 77, the 79, and the 350.

The Arlington results mirror what has been happening with similar dedicated bus lane experiments in Somerville, Roslindale, Cambridge, and Everett. Cambridge and Watertown tested and are now evaluating the performance of a Barr-funded dedicated bus lane on Mount Auburn Street west of Fresh Pond Parkway. Even while awaiting those results, Cambridge has moved ahead with a permanent bus and bike lane as part of a host of improvements on the south Massachusetts Avenue corridor.

Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director of climate at the Barr Foundation, said she thinks the various experiments have shown that dedicated bus lanes work. “The bigger question is, is it sufficient?” she asked, noting that the experiments only scratch the surface of what is needed to create true bus rapid transit. She said the MBTA and the communities it services need to think bigger, including locating bus lanes in roadway medians and speeding up travel by requiring riders to pay before they get on and having them board directly without using steps.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a member of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, said she has ridden the 77 bus and biked the route in Arlington as well. She said the dedicated lane made the road safer for everyone.

Joseph Aiello, the chair of the control board, urged T officials to start putting all of the data on dedicated bus lane experiments in one place to make it easier for communities to evaluate their potential. T officials believe dedicated bus lanes are one of the best ways to improve on-time bus performance and convince more riders to hop on board. MBTA bus ridership has declined the last several years; many believe passengers are deserting buses because they don’t want to be stuck in traffic.

Peña in charge of Green Line

The Green Line now has a single manager in charge of overseeing service improvements.

In an effort to improve accountability, the Fiscal and Management Control Board has long wanted the T to hire managers to oversee improvements on the various subway lines. Angel Peña, the new chief of Green Line transformation, is the first.

Peña, who came to the T in early September from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, on Monday gave the control board a broad overview of his plans, which include purchasing new “supercar” Green Line vehicles and implementing  infrastructure improvements to accommodate them.

The T hasn’t hired czars for the ongoing multi-billion-dollar overhauls of the Red and Orange Lines, instead going with one employee for infrastructure improvements and two for vehicle procurement. “We’re still in the process of making a decision of what we’re going to be doing and who we’re going to bring in to oversee those particular programs,”said Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s deputy general manager.

Short takes

Joseph Aiello, the chair of the control board, on Monday directed T staff to survey potential ferry operators to learn why none of them chose to challenge the incumbent operator, Boston Harbor Cruises, for a recent contract. The lone-bid contract is expected to be much more costly. “Would we get more response if the T owned more of the fleet?” he asked.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez said the estimated commuter rail ridership on October 31, the day of the Red Sox duck boat parade, was 225,000.

Aiello said the Fiscal and Management Control Board is likely to unveil a recommendation for future MBTA governance later this month. The mandate for the control board is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2020, and Aiello said it’s time to start discussing what should take its place. He said a draft proposal will be unveiled prior to the control board’s November 26 meeting.