WalkBoston Comments on 2022 MBTA Bus Network Redesign

WalkBoston Comments on 2022 MBTA Bus Network Redesign

July 31, 2022 

Andrew MacFarland
Manager of Bus System Enhancements, MBTA 

via email: BetterBusProject@mbta.com

RE: WalkBoston Comments on 2022 MBTA Bus Network Redesign

Dear Andrew:

WalkBoston is Massachusetts’ primary pedestrian advocacy organization, working across the Commonwealth to make it safer and easier for people to walk for all activities of daily living such as access to transit, school and jobs. We are writing with comments about the MBTA Bus Network Redesign. 

We are happy to see this project continuing to move forward. This is a critical process to achieve the significant goal of increasing service hours and high frequency service throughout the greater Boston area. This redesign proposes to make connections that do not currently exist because development patterns have changed since many of these routes were initially created; it also does not focus solely on work commutes, and introduces seven day a week service for more routes than before. This plan is also a climate plan, since transit is necessary to support mode shift. We need to get people out of cars for more of their everyday trips. It is essential to expand the reach and frequency of our bus networks and provide complete mobility networks with safe, accessible options for walking, biking and transit.

We believe this plan has the opportunity to help communities prioritize funds to modify streets and sidewalks. Cities and towns will know where they can make bus service even better by creating bus-only lanes, upgrading signals for transit signal priority and for pedestrian safety, adding shelters and benches at bus stops, adding shade trees to make walking access to transit cooler in the summer, and shoveling bus stops and sidewalks in the winter to allow for safe, accessible access to bus stops year round. 

Our comments focus on three main conditions that will impact people walking, and we have provided an example location for each.

  • Ensure that locations where an increased number of transfers will occur are safe and prioritize pedestrians by including fully accessible and safe street crossings, providing clear wayfinding, and providing seating.
    Example: Roxbury Crossing, Boston.

At Roxbury Crossing, more people will be transferring between buses and the Orange Line at the intersection of Tremont St/Columbus Ave/Malcolm X Blvd, which also includes a crossing for the Southwest Corridor path. These are wide roadways that have high volumes of vehicular traffic, and, especially at off-peak times, high speed traffic speeds. The MBTA should work with Boston to ensure that street and sidewalk changes are made to make it safer to cross the street for people transferring between modes.  Possible changes that the City of Boston may consider include setting shorter signal cycles so people have shorter waits to cross the street, or mid-block crosswalks and crossing islands or raised crosswalks directly outside the Orange Line station doors to enable a direct walking connection to the bus stop.

  • Ensure locations are weather resilient throughout the year.
    Example: Union Square, Somerville.

We are already starting to see the effects of an unstable climate through increasingly frequent intense storms, flooding and heat. In Union Square, heavy rain storms in previous years flooded the square and overwhelmed the combined sewer overflow system. A massive sewer separation project has been underway to mitigate these issues, and bus shelters, rain gardens, and additional street crossings have been added during this effort.  

To ensure safe, accessible, and comfortable mobility year round, we need investment in public realm resiliency: reflective, porous surfaces, and shading tree canopies during the hottest days of the summer; and street and sidewalk maintenance to keep pathways clear and accessible after winter storms. Our transportation system must be as resilient as possible, and that includes bus stops. The MBTA should consider adopting recommendations that they can share with all municipalities for bus stop benches and shelters to give people the chance to sit down in a shady or dry location. We urge you to look at best practices for creating inclusive spaces.   

With the adoption of more high-frequency routes and corridors to replace the 15 “Key Bus Routes,” we believe the snow clearance commitment that those Key Routes had should be extended to the high-frequency routes. People must be able to walk safely to a bus stop and not have to wait in the street or climb over an inaccessible snow pile to get on or off a bus. Ensuring stops are clear will also benefit bus drivers, so that they can fully pull into the curb. Many bus operators report concern for the safety of riders as they witness people trying to climb over snow mounds or walking in the street because sidewalks and bus stops are not cleared.

  • Consider impacts to transit dependent senior housing locations.
    Example: Route 112 (Soldiers’ Home, Chelsea).

While WalkBoston has not analyzed individual bus route modifications, additions and eliminations, we have reviewed comments from a number of different communities that are focused on changes that may significantly impact locations with large vulnerable, transit dependent populations. In Chelsea, the 112 bus currently serves two hills, with low income senior and veteran housing. It will be replaced with a high frequency line that will forgo the two hills. The hills will be connected via a local shuttle, where residents will have to transfer at the Market Basket Plaza or Bellingham Sq. to access the key bus routes. This will be detrimental to these two vulnerable populations.

We urge the MBTA to take those comments seriously and to consider changes in access between such uses as grocery stores and senior housing, or dense housing and parks that serve those neighborhoods. The service areas of such facilities often cross municipal boundaries. We also ask that the MBTA consider the comments which note that route changes will require people to walk some distance in very hilly parts of the MBTA service area.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Stacey Beuttell 

Executive Director, WalkBoston

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