Tag: bus rapid transit

The key to BRT success? Walking.

The key to BRT success? Walking.

Joseph Cutrufo is a former member of the WalkBoston staff and current Director of Communications and Connecticut Policy at Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

In March 2015, Connecticut cut the ribbon on CTfastrak, New England’s first bus rapid transit system. CTfastrak features a 9.4-mile bus-only guideway which runs from downtown New Britain through Newington and West Hartford to its terminus in downtown Hartford.

CTfastrak has outpaced ridership projections so far. But the real test for CTfastrak will be whether it can transform the way people travel in greater Hartford, where 81 percent of commuters drive to work alone — even higher than the national average of 76 percent.

Not long after the system launched, prospective riders bemoaned the lack of parking near stations. Predictably, the Connecticut Department of Transportation responded by building more parking.

But when people won’t use the system due to a lack of parking, we shouldn’t ask, “Where can we build more parking.” We should ask, “Why can’t people get here without a car?” In greater Hartford, the answer is simple: the neighborhoods surrounding CTfastrak stations aren’t dense enough, and the streets in station areas don’t safely accommodate walking.

Some in the CTfastrak corridor recognize these challenges. The City of New Britain hired a consultant to run a series of public workshops to identify what kind of developments would be most appropriate for the city’s three CTfastrak stations. And in West Hartford, town officials amended local zoning regulations to allow mixed-used development around CTfastrak stations, where much of the land is currently zoned for industrial uses.

But in suburban Newington, the town’s zoning board passed a moratorium on “high density development” shortly after CTfastrak service launched.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has set aside funds to help speed along transit-oriented development projects, but ultimately the region needs a more holistic approach to making greater Hartford a more walkable region. The state had a chance to start the process through legislation in 2015, but a bill proposing a “Transit Corridor Development Authority” was viewed unfavorably by towns that saw it as a threat to home rule.

That won’t be the end of the movement to unchain the greater Hartford area from car-dominant planning. One place to look for inspiration is the city of Hartford, where a major zoning overhaul seeks to undo a half-century in which the city’s parking inventory increased by 30,000 as the population declined by 40,000 people.

This article was featured in WalkBoston’s January 2017 newsletter.
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Comments on the re-design of Melnea Cass Boulevard

Comments on the re-design of Melnea Cass Boulevard

June 8, 2015

Patrick Hoey, Transportation Planner
Boston Transportation Department
Room 721
Boston City Hall
Boston, MA 02201-2021

Dear Mr. Hoey,

WalkBoston is pleased that the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) conducted a public meeting that provided an opportunity for area residents and others to comment on the re-design of Melnea Cass Boulevard (MCB).

WalkBoston is well aware of the tremendous progress that has been made in trying to plan for and design an inviting, practical, pedestrian-friendly Melnea Cass Boulevard that will serve the local community as a city street and neighborhood asset. WalkBoston nevertheless finds that, despite significant improvements, the redesigned boulevard will continue to function primarily as an arterial roadway and not as a community-enhancing street.

The city’s decision to “reserve” a major swath of land along MCB for a possible future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor seems to WalkBoston to be an obstacle to the boulevard’s ability to serve the neighboring community as well as it could.

As we have discussed, buildings sited close to a street will fall within a driver’s line of vision. This perceived narrowing of the street’s width automatically slows speeds and makes it easier, safer and more practical for people to cross the road and better use the corridor. BTD’s current approach of reserving open land for BRT passage means that buildings will not be developed bordering the boulevard, thus seriously compromising its ability to function as a multimodal city street.

Practically speaking, if the “Urban Ring” BRT is ever built, its passage through the high-income areas of the Longwood Medical Area, Museum of Fine Arts, Fenway, Boston University, Back Bay, Charles River and Cambridge will doubtless run through a tunnel. Putting the one-mile Roxbury MCB portion in a tunnel would be a much easier cut-and-cover proposition than the rest of the route. Roxbury deserves this option so that new buildings can be built closer to Melnea Cass and the road will be humane in scale.

If land is not reserved for the BRT the width of the re-designed roadway corridor can be substantially reduced, resulting in the preservation of many trees, especially those on the north side of the roadway. For example, between Shawmut and Washington the roadway is shifted 40-60 feet north to provide a 40-foot wide sidewalk in front of Parcel 9. We assume this excessively wide space is incorporated into the design to preserve the BRT corridor.

However, if this sidewalk’s width were reduced it would not be necessary to remove many mature trees. WalkBoston also notes that the inclusion of parking on several blocks along MCB results in a wider roadway corridor that would provide space for a future BRT. However, the parking also results in the removal of mature trees. Developments along MCB have on-site parking, such as Tropical Foods. Hence WalkBoston questions the need for creating new parking on MCB.

We support the proposed design elements mentioned in the letter from the Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard (FMCB) – narrower curb radii (like those currently on MCB), improved signal timing and leading pedestrian indicators, and raised roadway crossings on streets intersecting with MCB. We also support recommendations made by Livable Streets to reduce traffic signal cycles to 80 seconds to encourage walker compliance, and bus stops located within 50 feet of a crosswalk and on the far side of the traffic signal to provide for signal priority. WalkBoston would like to discuss with BTD and its consultants how signal timing will work for pedestrians and how crosswalks might be straightened to shorten crossing distances. At high pedestrian crash locations such as MCB/Washington, perhaps an all-way WALK would be a safer signalization option for walkers, provided wait times were a reasonable length.

WalkBoston suggests wide crosswalk widths of 14-15 feet (such as those in Peabody Square in Dorchester and Huntington Avenue at the YMCA) with generous vehicle stop lines. We would also like BTD to assess whether more space could be found for wider sidewalks, for instance at areas like Tremont to Harrison Avenue and other locations.

Finally, we would like a fuller description of what is planned from Hampden Street to Massachusetts Avenue — trees, sidewalk, bicycle lanes, why parking has been added with the consequent loss of trees.

The issues of tree plantings and tree removal are of vital concern for pedestrians. Our 2013 summer walk showed how important mature trees are in providing shade and protection from traffic along MCB. WalkBoston hopes the City can find ways to preserve as many trees as possible as described above. Wider, tree-lined sidewalks are more appealing than specially built median strips put in place for trees. In our experience trees and plantings in medians rarely flourish, or even survive, and most importantly, they do not provide shade for walkers.

Currently the plans show two-way bicycle lanes on both sides of MCB. If the lanes were reduced to one lane on each side, the cycle track could be reduced from 10 to 8 feet or less, again, resulting in the preservation of trees. As suggested by other commenters, WalkBoston urges the layout of curving pathways for bicyclists and walkers in order to preserve mature trees.

We are uncertain about the redesign of this intersection and the elimination of the slip lane. It seems a desirable change until one considers the effect of two right-turn lanes into MCB plus an additional lane added on the Tremont crossing. Both seem to create difficult conditions for pedestrians. Thus, we request traffic information in order to help us to assess the impacts of this design. (A recent Transportation Research Board publication may provide some helpful information on pedestrian impacts and benefits from slip lanes: A Report on the Development of Guidelines for Applying Right-Turn Slip Lanes – available at: http://www.trb.org/SafetyHumanFactors/Blurbs/172629.aspx)

WalkBoston would like to see these and other adjustments to the current design in order to further improve the pedestrian experience along the redesigned boulevard. We would, of course, be glad to assist in this design effort.

In order to address our detailed questions regarding the MCB design, we request that you schedule a working session with BTD and its consultants. WalkBoston understands that the FMCB have requested or will soon request a similar meeting and we would be happy to have a combined BTD, FMCB and WalkBoston meeting on these areas of concern.

Thank you so much for the City’s detailed and extensive work with WalkBoston and the Roxbury community on this important street. We believe the outcome will be better for everyone.


Dorothea Hass and Ann Hershfang

cc: Representative Byron Rushing
Representative Gloria Fox
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz
Austin Blackmon, Environmental Cabinet Chief
Councilor Tito Jackson
Councilor Ayanna Pressley
Councilor Michael Flaherty
Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard
Livable Streets
Boston Cyclists Union
United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury
Whittier Tenants Task Force
Madison Park Development Corporation

Comments on the Single Environmental Impact Statement for the Silver Line Gateway Proposal – MEPA# 15124

Comments on the Single Environmental Impact Statement for the Silver Line Gateway Proposal – MEPA# 15124

May 9, 2014

Richard K. Sullivan, Jr.
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn: Rick Bourre’
100 Cambridge St., Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

RE: Comments on the Single Environmental Impact Statement for the Silver Line Gateway Proposal – MEPA# 15124

Dear Secretary Sullivan:

WalkBoston has reviewed the Single Environmental Impact Statement for the Silver Line Gateway Bus Rapid Transit proposal. The new MBTA service, which will run on a separate right-of-way between Everett Avenue and Eastern Avenue with connections through East Boston, will provide access between Chelsea and South Station and the Seaport District of Boston.

The proposal includes very positive improvements for the City of Chelsea, with significantly improved transit connections to downtown and the airport. Stations are pleasantly and attractively designed, with raised platform floors that align with the floors of the Silver Line Gateway buses, thus providing easily accessible service. Landscaping is to be added along the shared use path and the BRT where feasible, improving the route as a pleasant walking facility. The MBTA has planned for off-bus fare collection to speed the boarding of buses and reduce fare collection procedures on-board each bus.

Overall, the proposal is a very positive addition to the MBTA network of high-capacity services. However, some questions need to be addressed based on our review of the current plan:

1. The discontinuity of the shared use path may affect good pedestrian access to each of the stations. The proposed shared use path parallels the route of the BRT buses between Eastern Avenue up to Broadway. West of Broadway, there are some parallel sidewalks, but the path itself is not continuous. It would be useful for the MBTA and the City to consider longer-range goals for the planned walkway and not preclude future extensions to the walking route. For instance, the walkway might be extended from Arlington Street to Everett Avenue. Such a continuation of the path would provide direct access by foot to the commuter rail station at Everett Avenue. A continuation of the path would also afford some recreational uses of the path by both pedestrians and bicyclists.

2. At the Everett Avenue terminus of the BRT, pedestrian connections are provided to both the BRT terminal station and the new commuter rail station. However, there are presently no nearby crosswalks to help pedestrians cross Everett Avenue near the turnaround loop of the BRT. The proposed narrowing of Everett Avenue at this location would be a good location for a crosswalk. Otherwise, the nearest crosswalks appear at Spruce Street – 400 feet to the south, and Carter Street – 400 feet to the north. These distances are excessive for most pedestrians. An Everett Avenue crosswalk at the entrance to the BRT and commuter rail stations would be appropriate and useful, and should include a pedestrian phase of the proposed traffic signal at this location.

3. A similar crosswalk protected by a proposed signal would be appropriate at the crossing of the rail line and the BRT on Spruce Street. A pedestrian phase should be added to this signal.

4. At the Arlington/6th Street crossing, which is called the Downtown Chelsea station, the proposal calls for narrowing streets and instituting a one-way pattern on two of those streets going away from the rail tracks and the BRT route. The narrower streets will make pedestrian crossings safer. The proposed traffic signal should include a pedestrian phase to assure safe crossings to get to the station.

5. Figure 2.2-13, which details the Arlington/6th Street crossing, shows a concrete sidewalk on the south side of the BRT station platform. Figure 2.2-14 indicates that the sidewalk reaches the Washington Street Station, which is about 150 feet away. Completing this connection would be useful for full pedestrian access through the corridor, and should include wayfinding signs to help pedestrians reach the station.

6. Lighting the way for pedestrians is important. Many riders will be using the BRT service after dark, particularly in the winter. If the walking route is not well lit riders may be discouraged from using the stations because of safety concerns, especially for people traveling alone during the times of day when there may be few other people nearby.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposal. Please feel free to contact us with questions you may have.


Robert Sloane
Senior Planner

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