Belmont Town Meeting Presentation on Transportation

Video of talk

Summary of talk

The bad news first: Belmont is not an island. Most of the traffic on Belmont roads is cut-through traffic. There is no lawful way for Belmont to block or deter cut-through traffic. There is every reason to believe that the problem will get worse.

There is no single bottleneck that causes cut-through traffic in Belmont – traffic is going from everywhere to everywhere. Some people are commuting to Boston from the western suburbs, but many are commuting from suburb to suburb.

The good news is that we can give Belmont residents better alternatives to sitting in traffic.

We are looking hard at expanding rail service. Rail service in Belmont is so limited that only a few hundred people with very well-defined routines can use it. MassDOT is conducting a rail study that will include the question of whether we can run more frequent service all day long.

There are 5 bus lines that together carry about 4000 riders per day inbound from Belmont. The 73/Waverley line, which runs through the denser side of Belmont, carries roughly three quarters of those riders.

We are seeking to improve the 73 in four ways. First, we are studying the implementation of transit signal priority on Trapelo Road and Belmont Street, so that buses will automatically get a green light at intersections.

Second, the City of Cambridge is getting ready to stripe a dedicated bus lane in front of the Mount Auburn Cemetery to relieve bus congestion there. That was originally planned for this month, but is likely to come later this season.

Third, related to the bus lane, the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation will be retiming the signals where Mount Auburn street crosses Fresh Pond Parkway so that the buses will be able to jump the queue and so that all traffic will move more smoothly.

Finally, we are working on a plan to improve the geometry of that intersection. Fewer cars will be trapped by the yellow and there will be more green time available to move traffic.

Bike paths are hard to build in every community due to abutter concerns. We need to respect those concerns but get the Belmont Community Path project moving. The pattern in other communities is that once a path is complete, almost all residents, including almost all abutters, are very happy about it.

The state construction funding process is very competitive and transparent. Belmont was successful in that process with Pleasant Street and the Belmont-Trapelo corridor because we brought forward good value propositions.

Belmont has done a good job moving the path project along in the feasibility process, but currently has a very complex and expensive proposal on the table. The proposed path parallels the tracks, but crosses them four times, creating both costs and risks. Representative Rogers and I are working to bring MassDOT and MBTA planners to meet with Belmont planners so that they can sort out a cost-effective design.

While subways do not run through Belmont, many Belmont residents ride the subways. I am very pleased with the plans that the MBTA has set in motion to radically improve subway service. The investments in motion over the next five years will increase Red Line carrying capacity 50% and, over a longer horizon, potentially double Green Line capacity.

Supporting continued progress on all of these projects – rail, bus, path and subway, and others across my district — is a central mission of mine as a state senator.

Resources

Historical Posts on Alewife regional problem-solving efforts

MBTA Planning

Regional Rail Vision

73 Bus Service

Belmont Community Path

Subway Improvements

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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38 Comments

  1. Dear Senator,

    thanks for sharing this important set of information with us. I am still digesting it and agree with you on most points.

    best regards

    Gang Zhao

  2. And here comes my question:

    1, How can we increase the frequency of trains that stops at Belmont. I feel the same as you that the very sparse schedule of trains stop at Belmont is one of main reason many of us opt to skip the train and drive into town. Although that railroad provide the most effective way of commuting between Belmont, Cambridge and Boston. Can you help to do something to improve that?

    2, The commuter cars are really outdated, not effective and labor intensive to maintain and operate. Can you help to investigate the possibility for a more cost effective lighter commuter rail? Lighter, faster and automated ticketing (instead of paying human beings to check every tickets), automated boarding would be able to support high frequency of trains, increase ridership and make it more profitable.

    Sincerely,

    Gang

  3. one point that I disagree with you, sorry about being blunt, is that the mechanism for another big dig scandal is still largely in place.

    I find it hard to believe that renovating the long fellow bridge would cost 300 million dollars and 5 years. If we don’t stop paying those union workers hourly rate based on the amount of time they manage to extend on those projects, none of the project will ever be cost-effective and time-effective.

    If we could move to an open bidding process that any public projects will be based on the workload, not on the amount of time that ultimately it will drag along.

      1. regarding the Longfellow bridge – what did they replace the cast iron work that was sold at the junk yard ?(I will not go into the selling of it)

      2. Thanks for your comments, Senator. The originally construction of long fellow bridge, took six years, (which President William McKinley signed on March 29, 1900. Construction began in July 1900; the bridge opened to traffic in August 1906,[9] and was formally dedicated on July 31, 1907.[10][1]) While with more than a century advances in technology, a merely renovation of the long fellow bridge took five years.

        I still think the construction time should be one year in stead of five years. What Boston lose is not only the four years of union workers payment, but countless people wasting their time trying to get across the river for four unnecessary years.

        It is merely sad to see everything drags out unnecessarily long.

  4. Will, Not only are you a GREAT state senator, you’re also a great communicator. Thanks for keeping us so well informed.
    Now let’s get those two traffic rotaries built on Mill & Concord and Concord & Winter to alleviate the dreadful traffic on Mill Street Trapelo Rd.

  5. Public transportation needs to be affordable as well as expanded. The cost of the commuter rail is absurdly high…out of each for most working people.

  6. I wish there were a bus that connected Belmont, particularly the Leonard Street area, with the Alewife T Station. If there were, I would gladly take the T a lot more often and leave my car at home.

  7. Hi, Will:

    Good work on the four transportation issues you’ve mentioned. I’d like to ask, however, if you’ve looked into why traffic through Belmont Center backs up so fiercely — westbound Concord Ave traffic in the afternoon often backs up all the way to Bright Road, for example, and cut-through traffic on my street (Cottage St) backs up to School Street, mostly because nobody can make the left on to congested Concord Ave.

    Again, thanks for looking into the other issues, but they’re not the only ones.

    1. it took me 10 to 15 minutes for my daily travel from the Clifton/prospect rotary to my son’s day care at All Saints Church every morning at about 8 AM. Belmont is essentially divided into north Belmont and South Belmont by the commuter rail line, just like North Korea and South Korea. 🙂

      We applaud all the nice renovation work on the town center facelift. But it did not improve or even aggravated the congestion at the Belmont town center, as it appears to me.

  8. What about a light at the bridge in Belmont center
    That flow of traffic is so bad at peak times

    1. I like Kathy’s comments about the light at the bridge in Belmont center. I find that a very confusing and stressful set of intersection (one on each side of the train bridge).

      Thank you for helping us consider these issues. I find it very challenging to get my kids to sports practices in town because we get stuck in all of the commuter traffic.

    2. I am not a planner, but I think Belmont Center underpass is not sufficient to handle the traffic flow in any scenario. Would it be possible to build a rotary with a second or third crossing over the rail road in the next round of Town center construction?
      (There was a bridge at Clark Street, Royal Street. But it was de-commissioned into a pedestrian bridge long time ago. May I ask what is the reason for that move? )

  9. One idea I had recently as I sat in traffic on Common Street heading into Belmont Center – what if Belmont looked to put some municipal parking spots along Common and Concord streets? If I have to run an errand in Belmont center it is sometimes faster for me to park by the intersection of Waverly / School street and common street and to walk to the center then to bear the traffic. This wouldn’t help people who have trouble walking and wouldn’t help in winter but might make it easier to access the center for some people.

    Also, I noticed when traffic is backed up on concord ave that if it wasn’t for the people parked in some of the spots in front of the post office, you could build a second lane there for people taking a right on Leonard street. What if during rush hour only you made that end of concord street no parking and then converted that to a second lane? It seems there’s always some parking next to the post office that could be available then.

    Finally I would be interested in learning more about why traffic increased sharply over the past two years or even just this past year. We have lived in Belmont the past five years and it was definitely not this bad when we first moved here. What is the reason – ie did Waze make an algorithm change directing more commuters through Belmont? Did more housing or companies open near alewife and now more people need to cut through Belmont to get to and from work? I am sure public transportation improvements will help but that will take years to have an impact. We need some other creative solutions to help address these problems now.

  10. The timing and coordination of the traffic lights at Trapelo Rd/Star Market and Trapelo Rd/Pleasant St needs to be improved ASAP. The line of cars backs up from there to Beech St at busy times; most days it’s quicker to get off the bus at Beech St and walk the rest of the way to Waverley Sq. It wasn’t always this bad so something about the signal timing has gone awry.

  11. Interesting email news today; thanks.
    My complaint about the increased Red Line car capacity is that is it achieved by removing the seats. People are packed in like sardines. Nothing if more fun that standing on your feet all day and then standing on the commute home. You often cannot get a seat until after Harvard Square or Porter.
    I have always wondered why there wasn’t better use of the commuter rail from Belmont. It’s a get trip to get to the Orange and Green lines. During the bad winter of 2015, I stopped taking the bus and used the train. On a normal day, it took me 1.5hr-2hr to get from Belmont to Boston U. Med. Center. With the traffic delays caused by snow, it was nearly impossible to get there on time, until I started taking the train. Unfortunately, as you learned, it doesn’t run frequently enough or at the right times to get downtown. If the cost could be the same as the bus/subway, that would be excellent!

  12. Thank you for all your hard work. I couldn’t agree with you more. I hope that transportation doesn’t bite the bullet when they start asking for taxes for the proposed new high school. That project may make owning a two family home in Belmont impossible- we will never be able to defray taxes enuf through rent, nor do we want to rent gouge. It seems Belmont is always asking for money but what are they doing with the money they have collected. We don’t live on the hill, we’re on the other side of the tracks, and paying all we can afford. It would be easier to sell to a prospective tennant if we had great transportation options like the ones you described to offset the education mania in Belmont.

  13. Thank you Will for providing this very clear positive report on transportation
    for Belmont.

    Anne Covino Goldenberg

  14. One of the advantages of living in Belmont is that you can get into Boston so easily. There are tie-ups, of course, at the corner of Aberdeen and Mt Auburn and where Mt Auburn merges with Fresh Pond Parkway.

    That aside, Belmont is an excellent place to live, which explains the high property values

  15. Will:
    Good summary. One of the issues with using the red line is that after 8am +/- there is no parking available at Alewife during the week. Is there anything that can be done about that?
    Thanks,
    Robie

      1. I know this is an old conversation, but it keeps coming up on local facebook groups.

        It seems to me that the solving lack of capacity at Alewife (both parking and getting cars in/out) is one of few solutions that doesn’t just kick the traffic problem to another spot.

        Are there no ways to improve the capacity of the ramps? The capacity of toll booths was solved by automating the process and charging people through the air, so it seems a similar solution could be applied here. Could we convince the vendor of EZ-Pass to get into the business of getting people in & out of there quicker?

        1. It’s the right conversation to want to have.

          It’s not just the ramps out of the building. It’s the whole system of ramps getting people on to route 2 after they exit the building.

          The T is going to rebuild the garage at somepoint in the next 20 years. During that major conversation, we can keep looking for more capacity.

          The other thing to do is what the T is doing now though which is to try to get some people to board the commuter rail and park further out.

  16. Will, great progress and ideas regarding public transit in Boston and Belmont. I would like to add the following to make the Urban Commuter Rail concept acceptable and practical: Costs!
    The system needs to allow transfers from commuter rails to subway trains, ideally for the same price as subway trips. Right now it costs $5.50 each way to go from Belmont to Boston plus another $2.50 or so to keep going on the T, so $8 each way, $16 round trip. If you want to go in and out of Boston, e.g. going from Boston to Framingham, you have to pay twice on the commuter rail, this is ridiculous! At these prices the decision will always go to taking the car or bus+T, especially with the useless low frequency of the commuter trains.

  17. Another idea to be considered to reduce Belmont cut-through car traffic: Put a large commuter parking lot outside Belmont, somewhere near Rt 2, and have bus service from there along Winter and Mill Street to Waverly and Watertown and on Rt 2 to Alewife.

    The car traffic on Mill Street has become utterly ridiculous and there is no bus service along the route. How can we expect people to not use their cars if there are no alternatives, Alewife garage fills up, no buses, no efficient commuter rail service, no large commuter parking lots, etc.

    Plus it would make a lot of sense to impose a toll system for driving into downtown Boston, it works beautifully in cities like Stockholm or London, makes it faster for people still driving into the city and finding parking easier, makes it faster for buses, better qir quaility, more space for biking, etc. A win-win for everyone!

      1. Hi Will..is it possible to get more trains stop at Belmont? There are so many trains(express trains) completely ignores both stops in Belmont. Why don’t they spend 3 minutes and stop? More time is wasted anyway to slow down and get into North Station so my guess is that they would be able to maintain the same schedule.

        I think this is a low hanging fruit if you can manage to get all the trains to stop at least at one stop in Belmont. That could be a huge boost to train ridership in town.

          1. Thank you! Will. That would be a big help to Belmont residents. The most inconvenient arrangement is that train 404(inbound), 417 , 419(outbound) completely ingores both Stops in Belmont. That means we have to wait for one more hour for the next train in the rush hour. Consider the complete grid lock arounds Belmont Cambridge area, we don’t have any viable options when we miss the train.

            On the other side, if all these trains make even one stop in Belmont( usually cost 3 minutes for the train to stop) and the train can catch up in the next soan. That is a huge difference for the people who can’t afford the traffice and parking into Boston.

  18. Is there a more specific timeline on the 71/73 bus lane experiment you mentioned? I’m currently aboard a 71 bus stuck in traffic right by Mount Auburn Cemetery, so I’m very excited to see the potential gains from a dedicated lane.

  19. Will, why is there “no lawful way for Belmont to block or deter cut-through traffic”? Why can’t Belmont impose a toll surcharge for non-residents in select areas (ie rail crossings) during rush hour?

    1. Every town is beset with cut through traffic. Imagine all towns did that — what chaos would ensue!

      We are one state, one commonwealth not a collection of sovereign nations that can or should engage in a traffic toll war.

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