January 6, 2013 at 11:27 pm #18680
What do we need our public transportation to look like twenty years from now?
There is consensus that we need to address the backlog in our transportation infrastructure maintenance, but no consensus on what we need to develop for the future. My advocacy priority now is to build consensus that we need to improve our system and increase its capacity. For more of this thought, see this news post.
The Governor’s Transportation plan came out on Monday — it is a big step in the right direction. Read more about the plan here.
Please share your thoughts about the system’s future and the stories that motivate your thinking.
January 11, 2013 at 9:31 am #18818
I just finished reading your column about public transportation funding in the Belmont Citizen-Herald and it hit close to home.
We live near Cushing Square and my wife works in LMA (Brigham and Women’s Hospital). It’s about eight miles by the most practical bicycling route, and she does it at a leisurely pace so it takes about 45 minutes. The problem is convincing her to do it; she’s very timid about bicycling after dark or in any kind of foul weather. So basically it’s a spring and summertime thing for her.
The rest of the time, she is at the mercy of the MBTA. From Longwood, she has a plethora of options:
1. Take the Harvard M2 shuttle to Harvard Square and the 73 from there.
2. Take the 66 bus to Harvard Square and the 73 from there.
3. Take the 47 bus to Central Square, the Red Line to Harvard and the 73 from there.
4. Take the Huntington Avenue Green Line (E train) to Park Street, the Red Line to Harvard Square and the 73 bus from there.
5. Take the Riverside Green Line (D train) to Park Street, the Red Line to Harvard Square and the 73 bus from there.
There may be other options, but those are the ones she has explored. Interestingly, despite the fact that the buses get stuck in traffic and the Green Line does not, neither Green Line option is as fast as any of the others. Usually the M2 or the 66 are fastest, but the M2 gets so clogged up in Longwood traffic (largely consisting of other MASCO buses, apparently) that sometimes the first two blocks of the trip can take over 15 minutes. Under no circumstances is the bus ever faster than bicycling; under ideal circumstances it takes about an hour; typically an hour and a quarter, and often an hour and a half if she can’t get onto the first 73 bus that passes through Harvard Square.
90 minutes to go 8 miles. That’s an average speed of five and a third miles per hour. Unserious runners do ten minute miles, which six miles per hour. The record time for the Boston Marathon is more than twice as fast as her commute.
This is a dreadful situation. The Green Line should be much faster than it is. Whatever is preventing it from being much faster was not a factor 80 years ago; Bradley Clark (president of the Boston Street Railway Society, a trolley-fan club) has researched it and service used to be much faster and more frequent *on the same tracks*.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 11, 2013 at 12:23 pm #18825
Thank you. Agree totally. This is very much what our event, next week, on the green line is about — click here for details on the event.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 10:04 am #18915
I think that in order to make everyone’s life easier and safe, the MBTA buses will need to follow the rules that everyone needs to follow: Do not go through the red light; park appropriately at the T stop. It will improve the traffic a lot right away.
Whenever you have time, please walk through Washington Street in Brighton, you will see all the buses: Bus 57; 86; 501; 503; 504 all park in the middle of the street to let the people get in and off the buses; sometimes in front of the police. Do the bus drivers have difference rules?
AngelaYou must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 10:27 am #18916
I ride a bike into downtown when the weather allows – probably 35% of the time. I also take the Red Line into town, when possible. Driving can be easy at off hours but most of the time, finding a parking place is expensive and/or difficult. We have bike paths, MBTA paths, and other infrastructures tha can allow us to get into town without having to figure out where to park the car. Anyone who has experienced downtown auto traffic knows that cars and pedestrians are frequently adversarial, with cars having the natural advantage. I have traveled and worked in UK, Denmark, France, and Holland. These countries, among others, have better designed and maintained public transit systems. We are fortunate in Boston and environs that we have a potentially “world-class” city. We just should not let the MBTA languish without proper maintenance and new features. Otherwise, our “world-class” nature would be compromised by the onslaught of motorists with few alternatives.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm #18867
We should increase capacity possibly by adding more parking lots where people can board trains and possibly by adding monorail lines where doing so would relieve traffic congestion and where no train lines currently exist. With high gas prices, commuters should be more willing to pay for dependable and comfortable public transit. Perhaps Mass could issue bonds to cover the expenses.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm #18868
Looking ahead 15 years, there will likely be huge technological changes, such as driverless vehicles and centralized traffic routing. That will impact the balance between roads and rails. Another factor will be global warming and the relative pollution levels of roads versus rails based on future vehicle technologies. Predicting the future is difficult, so I think some top-notch academic advice is essential.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 7:20 pm #18869
I live at the Warren T Stop at the Green Line is pretty much my lifeline to anything in Boston. I don’t own a car, so it’s either taking some form of the MBTA, walking, biking, or asking a friend for a ride. Here are a few things I think would greatly improve the MBTA.
-More capacity: even if all the T cars were upgraded to the newer type of Green Line car that would help. 3 car trains should be regular, not just used at the rush hours.
-Less stops near BU: as a former BU alumni I can tell you they don’t need so many stops. There are other options: both the 57 bus and the BU shuttle. There is no reason for T stop at every other light (for example: Blandford St)
-Most cities have bus lines that run to the routes to help out with congestion, the MBTA should consider this as well.
-While in general, the front door only rule works outside of rush hours, the T driver should have discretion to modify this rule when the T is packed
-More options between the Green lines especially when it comes to connect the outer parts of Boston. This also applies to the red line.
-More T trackers or trackers available for the Green line (It’s awesome that the Red has this, but it should be on more lines)
Thank you!You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 7:32 pm #18871
The MBTA needs to become part of a well integrated regional transportation system with well planned and inegrated residential, commercial, and if possible industrial devleopment. In other words, as little sprawl as is possible given existing development. The main outlines of this exist now with the in-city T, regional commuter rail, and highways. And incidentally this needs to happen not only in metro Boston but in other cities across the state.
So what’s needed in addition to some new major statewide funding source is to begin the construction that was promised as part of the big dig agreements. Along with that, well structured area-wide plans (does MAPC still exist?).
This still leaves the question of maintenance of existing equipment and routes for rail, bus, car and truck. It’s probably a chicken egg question as to which goes first. It’s probably most important to decide what will maintain existing T ridership and expand it ‘with all deliberate speed’. I don’t know whether expansion or maintenance would be better for this.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 7:35 pm #18872
I have no particularly informed view on how to deal with MBTA issues, but I strongly endorse expanding public transportation, and I would be happy to pay my share, one way or the other. We’ve spent much too much money easing the way for cars and trucks, and much too little for people who rely on public transportation or would like to have the option.
It is frustrating that the MBTA has been burdened with so much Big Dig debt that budget decisions cannot be made in any kind of a rational way, but that’s the way it is and maintenance and growth decisions still have to be made.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm #18879
Defintely more capacity throughout the system. Two specific thoughts:
1.) More attention to public tranportation in cities/neighborhoods outside the center of Boston. With shifting housing patterns, it’s important to provide good subway and bus service in the ring of cities outside Boston – such as Malden and Quincy — and in the farther-out Boston neighborhoods. As the downtown neighborhoods keep getting more expensive and more in-demand, people with lower-wage jobs are moving to lower cost areas farther from the center of the city. For the sake of fairness and for for the sake of access to housing and jobs/workforce, it is essential that public transportation be as equitable as possible across the region. (Ideally, good public transportation would support a more diverse blend of housing options in both the downtown neigbhorhoods and outer neighborhoods/cities.)
2.) Better coordination of bikes/MBTA. The idea of allowing bikes on the subway and on bike racks on buses is (was) a great idea, but it’s not really practical. Even at non-peak times, the subways and buses are too crowded, and as a bicyclist, I don’t like to impose on other passengers by bringing a bike on board. It would be great to expand other alternatives, especially more secure bike cages for bike parking and more Hubway stations. For example, if I’m going from Boston to someplace in Malden that’s a few miles from the Orange Line, I’d like to be able to take the T from Boston to Malden and use a Hubway bike for the last couple of miles. Another alternative – provide more bike cages where commuters could keep a bike in the community where they work, to use for a commute from the subway to their place of work.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm #18890
Will — if we are seriously looking at 2030, then let’s go long. The answer is, move forward with the Urban Ring project. To help with funding, open a discussion now about imposing a congestion fee that is at least partially reflective of the very real costs imposed by bringing vehicles into the urban core. Surface buses are at best an interim solution; to be truly effective, the ring must be an underground, electrified transit line. The radial nature of metro Boston’s street network makes the concept of surface buses to connect the spokes unviable. A fast, high-capacity circuit on the periphery of the city would provide tens of thousands of commuters every day with faster, more effective access to jobs, homes, school, recreational activities etc. without having to pass through the dense urban core where connections at many times of day are paralyzingly slow. It will speed the trips of vehicle commuters and ease pollution. Would this be costly? No question — but the cost must be balanced against the cost of worsening, suffocating congestion. A modern urban ring project, which has been envisioned for half a century, is long overdue. It will transform our city and entire metropolitan region.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm #18891
To me the simplest, most obvious and inexpensive first step would be to encourage employers to let employees work flexible shifts. If more people worked from 6 to 2, 7 to 3 or 10 to 6, for example, the crush would lessen and more people could be carried in greater comfort throughout the day on the same equipment and infrastructure. That would reduce the urgency of finding money for capital improvements.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 9:33 pm #18892
John Howe is absolutely right about the urban ring. We were in Tokyo a few years ago, and the ring line rapid transit was enormously useful in getting around. This is in addition to the promises made as part of the Big Dig. Improving — well, restoring — the speed of the green line is also a good suggestion. At some time, I’d like to see the red line extended to Rt 128 (probably in the Rt 2 right of way) and a parking garage built over the station to supplement and vastly expand on the Alewife garage. I’d also like to see much more commuter rail service. That is infrastructure that already exists; why can’t we make better use of it?
And of course more protected bike paths, separate from the roads, would encourage many more people to commute by bike.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 9:57 pm #18893
I’m afraid there are many more legitimate demands for public funds than current funding mechanisms can adequately address. Transportation, especially mass transportation is an area that if we stay with the current funding mechanisms will always be underfunded. To adequately “address the backlog in our transportation infrastructure maintenance” and “to develop for the future” we need a new funding mechanism. A state carbon tax would be a funding mechanism that will signal that we realize fossil fuels are a limited and environmentally destructive resource that we should use as sparingly as possible. I realize a state carbon tax, that could be used in part to fund mass transit’s current and future needs, would be considered radical but I can think of no “moderate” state or federal funding mechanism that would provide adequately funding.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm #18895
This is a great initiative. Interacting with people is the best way to understand what they really need.
Specifically, I have the following observations:
1. Alewife – it serves a great number of people. Yet, its location is such that puts commuters through a nasty traffic. I am not sure if there are easy ways to address this issue. One quick note – there is a third railroad rail between Blanchard St and Alewife, which isn’t used and if the state is capable of turning it into some sort of road – this will help with the commute time for many people. I understand, your question is about the next 15 years, but at the pace things are moving, I suppose that such initiative can somehow be fitted in that period . Another option is to extend the Red Line in this direction.
2. Speaking of extending the Subway… I am not entirely confident that this is the best course of action. After all, the system is very fragile as it is. A small amount of rain or snow are sufficient to cause significant delays in service. So, if I were a state policymaker, I’d rather focus on making the current system stronger and more reliable. The management at MBTA has to prove capability to deal with the system at its current size before growing bigger.
3. Investing in safe bike paths is one of the greatest things.
4. Using smaller bus sizes in non-peak hours to save on fuel and amortization.
5. While it is great to have high quality public transportation, I think that the state can review its options to encourage more companies to use telecommuting. Many employees nowadays can work from home and contribute equally to what they are contributing now, but the companies need to be enticed a bit to pursue such option. Reducing the peak hours crowd has many positive effects on roads, MBTA, accidents.
Most importantly, listening to the people is the greatest approach.
NikolayYou must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 13, 2013 at 10:29 pm #18900
The Germans like to say: fix organizational issues first, then work on electronics issues, and finally turn to concrete to fix your problems as a last resort.
The first problem that we have, particularly with the Green Line, is overly slow dwell and boarding times. It takes too long to get people on and off the trains. This is exacerbated by the boneheaded decision to use front door-only boarding. The Germans use Proof-of-Payment on ALL their lines, and they handle much higher passenger volumes than us. We need to use Proof-of-Payment and all-door boarding as was promised years ago with the Charlie system.
Then, stop elimination and consolidation will help reduce more overhead. There’s no reason for a light rail train to be stopping more often than a bus.
At the same time we need to install signal priority to make the travel time of a Green Line train more predictable and reliable, and help avoid bunching as well.
The T needs to work together with other departments. BTD and the T can work together on signal priority, access to stations, and safety of riders. BRA and the T can work together on land use, which is inextricably intertwined with transportation. No more wasting valuable transit-accessible land on giant parking lots! It’s not realistic to expect the T to serve every location — we must have officials who understand transit geometry — and who promote policies that work well within those constraints.
Those are organizational and electronic changes that can help right away.
In the future we should be using off-the-shelf equipment that is easier to maintain and purchase. That will require some capital investment up-front but will save loads of money in the long run.
We need low-floor/level-boarding at all stops not only for the disabled but for everyone.
Restoring a short-turnback on the “B” line could help — the old ones were taken away… first the Braves field loop, then the “A” line was taken away, and finally even the Packard’s Corner pocket track was removed for no good reason. Let’s use the eventual rebuilding of Commonwealth Avenue to do this right, and put a pocket track after Harvard Ave to help scheduling during peak periods.
Similarly, the Green Line extension will help with scheduling even on the “B” line, by making it possible to layover at both ends of the trip.
The Red Line needs to have its signals redone, they made a big mistake last time around and didn’t create enough blocks downtown, which causes a loss of much needed capacity.
The Orange Line desperately needs new/more equipment. It could run at higher capacity and frequency but for the fact that it’s still using the same old now-broken down trains that ran on the Elevated way back when!You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 1:06 am #18901
Our cities depend on a solid public transportation for their very survival. Congested roadways destroy the appeal of a city. What draws people are the walking and cycling opportunities. If Boston wants remain a leading metropolis in science, medicine, education, it needs to be prepared to host visitors from all over the world. As it stands now, our public transportation system is an embarassment. In order to provide world class service, we have accept the fact that government subsidy will be required. If you rely on fares alone, the system either falls into disrepair, or you have to raise fares to such an extent that it becomes unaffordable, and ridership drops, further deteriorating revenue. I don’t know of ANY metropolitan transit system in the world that operates in the black. It is a public investment that yields dividends in improving quality of life for all of the people that live and work in the city, drawing more economic activity.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 2:55 am #18902
I think we also have to realize that the suburbs have a lot of office parks and that there is not only travel from suburb to city but suburb to suburb. We need to see about connecting the office parks to one another with some sort of public transportation system.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 6:58 am #18903
All for increased capacity and better service. Cars and track need maintainance and repair. the MBTA is what makes Brighton a neighborhood of Boston. We need that good connection. It would be nice if using the T was the best option and not the default optionYou must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 7:48 am #18904
My understanding is that there is a constitutional prohibition on having a special service district in MA. To me, it is unfair that a slice of the statewide sales tax goes to support the MBTA. I don’t know how hard it would be to change, but it seems like we’re going to continue running into funding problems as long as the funding mechanism requires people in the Berkshires to help pay for public transit in Boston. I hope we can find a way to set up a special district in the MBTA service area to support transit with, perhaps, a small payroll tax.
It seems like a “fix it first” policy is in order for transit. However, if the capital dollars become available, I think it’s time to begin a renewed effort at the urban ring project. After moving here, it didn’t take me long to realize that there is a ring of areas (JP, Allston-Brighton, West Cambridge, Porter Square/Davis Square) where I frequently need to go, but have no good transit connection between them. Too often, my wife and I end up driving.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 7:57 am #18905
Among the things the T needs to be better are
1. Removing the stone from its back of paying off debt from the operating budget — the state should assume the large debt obligations.
2. A stable source of funding adequate for current T operations and future expansion, best effected through a gas tax increase earmarked for transportation funding — this would serve global warming/green benefits as well.
3. more effective means of fare collection such as prepayment of fares at above ground Green Line and at bust stops to decrease delays in service caused by long waits while people pay as they board — too often mitigated by drivers allowing people to board without paying. Surround the “waiting area with a wrought iron fence, and require people to pay as they enter the waiting area, as is done at underground stations.
4. Signs that show how many minutes until the next train — and train after that — is arriving, as is done in Europe and DC — and now at Park St.,
5. North/South rail link between North Station and South Station — the fact that this is the most common Hubway bike ride should be a message.
6. Planning for outer links — how to get, for example, from Coolidge Corner or Cleveland Circle to Harvard Square quickly — the outer ring is intended to address this.
7. Effective coordination between the T and traffic — Cleveland Circle is an example.
8. Subsidizing fares with a gas tax.
This is just a starter listYou must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 9:52 am #18913
Improved transportation is key to economic growth and making housing more affordable, and would also greatly improve quality of life for many people in eastern Massachusetts. For example, my commute on public transit is 40 minutes to travel 4 miles, i.e. I am traveling at 6 mph. And I have a relatively easy commute. Because of the poor road network from the large southern suburbs, making a commuter rail system that works in the south (and maybe also more effective park-and-ride to the Red Line) is essential. This may require building more parking at commuter rail stops, and running more trains. The Green Line “B” and “C” lines are ridiculously slow, the T must have priority controlling the traffic lights at the cross-streets and stops should be spaced by at least half a mile. The boarding system also needs to be fixed, and longer trains at rush hour would help. The Somerville extension needs to be built: Somerville has the highest population density of any city in the state, it is crazy that it does not have a subway. Both the roads and the MBTA need a lot more spent on maintenance, it is time to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation. We need safer bike routes; in part this requires a change in attitude: current practice is to just paint lines on a busy street, which is not usually safe; in many locations one could run the bike routes much more safely on small streets, e.g. by converting a quiet two-way street into a one-way one-lane street for cars, with bike lanes running both ways. More secure bike parking at the subway stations would help encourage biking.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm #18920
Any future development of the MBTA system should be baded on and integrated in a comprehensive regional transportation planning process, which has not happened for Greater Boston since the BTPR in 1971-72. Appropriate transit-system imrpovements must be implemented in coordination with all modes of transportation for the region. Fortunately, we now have consolidated DOT management at the state level, which should be able to pursue this. In that context, there are several specific MBTA expansions and enhancements that deserve priority attention over the next twenty years, including:
1. The Urban Ring – Circumferential transit intersecting the “hub-and-spoke” system that that we currently have is essential to better serve employment concentrations like the LMA and Kendall Square and provide access from lower-income residential areas. This will also relieve some of the capacity problems of the current system, espeically on the green and red lines. The MBTA has stalled the planning and delayed the potential for this vital improvement for years (for proper disclosure, I was involved in the initial study of this concept as part of the BTPR in 1972). This transit concept must be given priority, fast-track attention, and should be updated to incorporate relationships to the new Fairmount Line, Green Line in Somerville, and enhanced commuter rail.
2. The Fairmount Line, serving dense, underserved areas of Dorchester, should be upgraded as rapidly as possible to full transit service, priced compatibly with the other T lines. The populations in this very urban corridor deserve better than infrequent and inequitably overpriced commuter-rail-style service.
3. Green Line Extension through Somerville-Medford should be accelerated. It has already been delayed for more than a decade longer than originally promised.
4. Green Line Capacity improvement is essential in the overpressed central corridor from Kenmore to Government Center. The problems in this corridor will only be worsened by the new green line extension and increased MBTA utilization. A mix of measures should be considered, including adaptation of operating procedures and equipment to permit closer spacing of trains, longer trains, higher speeds, and potential use of parts of the parallel rail right-of-way for additional transit track operations.
5. Secure and Ample MBTA Funding that is not dependent on the vagaries of sales-tax receipts and annual appropriations, to enable long-term physical infrastructure and operations planning and implementation. Funding decisions should recognize that the Greater Boston economy is the engine that benefits the entire state and region, and support of the MBTA is not discriminatory against the rest of Massachusetts. However, funding decisions should simultaneously address critical transit infrastructure and operations deficits and road network infrastructure needs of the entire Commonwealth.
6. Maximization of Transit-Oriented Development opportunities related to new and existing MBTA corridors and stations, with regulatory requirements and financial incentives to encourage this development, and potential to capitalize on these projects for the financial benefit to the T and state for use of public lands involved in the developments.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 10:03 am #18914
Given the effects of climate change and global warming on our economy, it makes sense to focus on frugal use of our communal resources. That means focusing on the region’s carrying capacity to sustain our society, and with energy becoming ever more important as well as precious, we will see a consolidation of our physical development patterns. The communal rather than individual transportation opportunities will become ever more important as we focus on this regional self-sufficiency.
What this logic portends is the clustering of development along communal transportation routes, and rail as well as bus systems have a very important role to play – statewide, not just in the larger metropolitan areas. Hopefully there will be a gradual but pronounced transition from the predominant use of individual cars to the increased use of communal transportation systems, and the MBTA is an important component.
So our legislature and the governor have a vital role to play in recognizing and strengthening the interdependence of building density and transportation systems in order to support the growth of a well-functioning and energy-frugal network.
Thank you for all your good efforts in this important work!You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
January 14, 2013 at 11:29 am #18917
The first way to improve streetcar service is to increase service., and have the streetcars run more often, so they can carry more passengers. With 38,000 riders per day on the Commonwealth Avenue line, the B car should be running on a four or five minute headway during rush hours. More long term solutions would for the MBTA to install a smart signal system that can detect the streetcar waiting at major intersections and change the signal to the trolley’s favor (this has already been done in major streetcar systems in Europe). Also, the MBTA needs to seriously consider the restoration of the “A” Streetcar through Allston, Brighton, and Newton Corner. Streetcars would carry a considerable higher amount of passengers than the buses on the route 57. In addition, streetcar restoration would have the added benefit of speeding up service on the “B” streetcar as streetcar service through the Boston University campus (the largest bottleneck on the Commonwealth Avenue Line) as service on Commonwealth would be doubled, and service in the already at capacity central subway would be increased.You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
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