Bus Lanes Going Live

Continuation Thread

For more on this issue, please see Understanding the New Bus Lane.

Update, Thursday, November 15 Morning

Finally, the signals on Mount Auburn and Fresh Pond are working as intended. Many people are avoiding the area and that made traffic quite light, but the improvements are very real.

Roughly 20 cars were getting through in each light cycle on Mount Auburn this morning, compared to only one or two yesterday. At 8:30AM, the total time from Belmont Street through Fresh Pond was down to 4 minutes, compared to 20 yesterday. After 8:30, a work crew took a lane from the intersection. Their project to replace a MBTA utility pole downed by a motorist should be done before Monday. Traffic was a little slower with that lane gone, but it did not back up past Aberdeen.

Conditions on Fresh Pond Parkway seemed very good, with plenty of capacity to receive motorists crossing or turning off of Huron Avenue.

There are some remaining opportunities for light timing improvement which we will attempt once it is clear that the current round of improvements is finally stable.

Please continue to provide feedback. The more specific the better. If you were delayed unreasonably, I want to know exactly where and when so we can provide meaningful guidance to the engineering team.

For those who interested, the challenge has been programming the sophisticated M-60 Siemens Traffic Controllers. These devices are complex enough that many professional engineers cannot keep with the training requirements for them. Yesterday, DCR had the right specialist make the necessary corrections.
Observations at the main light from 7:52AM appear below. Note that around 8AM, there is a problem with left turning parents driving their kids to Shady Hill school. We’ll give this continuing attention.

Update, Wednesday, November 14 Evening

Tuesday’s efforts did not provide the promised improvements.

Traffic conditions were slightly better but still terrible on Mount Auburn this morning. Transit times from Belmont Street to Fresh Pond Parkway reached as high as 20 minutes. Driver frustration was high.

Light timing was still the problem.

Pine Ridge Technologies is the contractor whose light programming efforts have so far been unsuccessful. Ocean State Signal — a more specialized firm — was brought on site today to redo the timings.

I will be on site tomorrow morning to continue monitoring the results.

Update, Tuesday, November 13 Afternoon

A series of human errors in signal programming has made the last 10 days miserable on Mount Auburn Street and Fresh Pond Parkway.

Today’s commute was especially disastrous as the two close-together lights at Coolidge Avenue and at Fresh Pond parkway were 100% out of phase.  Only a few cars could get through in each cycle — the number of cars that could fit in between the two lights.  These out-of-synch lights effectively blocked traffic and cars were backed up well in to Watertown and Belmont.

To make matters worse today, a utility pole got knocked down in an accident last night.  Crews had to take a lane between Coolidge Avenue and Fresh Pond Parkway to support the bus trolley lines with a special truck.   This further diminished the capacity of the intersection.

Last week was bad too.  An unexplained software problem, possibly related to the transition to daylight savings time, caused the lights to be partially out of synch.  An attempted fix last Thursday was botched by a subcontractor, apparently making matters worse not better.  However, the top traffic engineer of DCR was on site to oversee fixes today and believes that tomorrow’s commute should be much better.

I will continue to monitor the intersection tomorrow and DCR’s top traffic engineer will also be on site as will engineering staff from the City of Cambridge.

The video below shows the traffic signal timing this morning that was disastrous. It was filmed from the north side of Mount Auburn Street opposite the opening of Coolidge Avenue.

Text of Email this afternoon from Tegin Teich, City of Cambridge

To the interested parties of the Mt. Auburn Bus Priority Pilot,

As many of you are aware, problems with the DCR-owned signals at Coolidge Ave and Fresh Pond Parkway resurfaced last week. We understand that these issues impacted all users (drivers and bus riders) on Mt. Auburn Street and Fresh Pond Parkway. The signal timing issues were exacerbated by other traffic conditions, such as the crash on 93 last week that affected traffic regionally.

We have been assured that DCR brought the Mt. Auburn Street and Fresh Pond Parkway signal back into coordination and working order today. This should ease challenges experienced by bus riders and drivers from this point forward and we will be monitoring to ensure that is the case.

The bus lane pilot works reasonably well when the signal timing was working correctly, as was the case during the week of October 29th. We received many positive comments from all kinds of users that week, as well as some informative critiques that will help us tweak the design to work better.

We will continue to monitor the conditions to ensure that the signal timing works and the project functions as intended. Following this, we will continue to observe and note unanticipated effects, make minor design modifications (if needed) to improve the bus lane pilot project, and begin assessing the impact of the bus lane pilot on all users before making decisions on next steps.

Thank you yet again for your patience as we focus on fixing the issues at hand before turning to an evaluation of the bus lane itself. This is a multi-agency project and requires coordination among many entities for its success. Our goal remains the same for the pilot: to significantly improve travel for bus riders without negatively impacting driving travel times. It is very important that you continue to share your feedback so we can have the best outcome as possible for all Mt. Auburn St. users.



Update, Friday, November 9 Afternoon

The changes made on Thursday were not fully successful. Mount Auburn Street East Bound throughput improved somewhat, but timing errors were made that caused backups on Fresh Pond Parkway.

The team hopes to have the system working well again by Tuesday mid-day.

Aggressive monitoring will continue until the changes are working right.

Update, Thursday, November 8 Afternoon

An overloaded truck hit the ceiling of the O’Neil tunnel this morning causing the whole of I-93 South to close, backing traffic up to Wilmington. Much of that traffic took other routes, causing traffic jams all over the region, including on Fresh Pond Parkway. Traffic conditions were horrible at the intersection that we have been working so hard to fix.

The changes implemented this morning should work better tomorrow when normal regional conditions are restored.


Update, Thursday, November 8

As of 7AM this morning, the fixes to synchronization had been made. A DCR subcontractor was on site monitoring the situation, as was I. Motorists were getting through in 2 cycles when traffic started to build after 7:30. Fairly typical for the area — roughly 3 minutes from Aberdeen across Fresh Pond Parkway. Much better than the 9-10 minutes I tested the day before.


Update, Wednesday, November 7

Week three of the Mount Auburn bus lane roll out has been rough. It appears that the light timing fixes that were made two weeks ago drifted out of place and traffic conditions deteriorated considerably.

The key timing issue is between the two lights closely spaced at Coolidge Avenue and the main Fresh Pond parkway intersection. If they are not fully coordinated, then the waits build rapidly. Testing rush hour driving conditions today, I experienced a full 9 minute delay driving between Aberdeen Avenue and Fresh Pond. When I reached Coolidge Avenue, I observed that for the majority of the green signal that the first light had, the second light was red.

DCR is aware of the problem and has promised a fix today.

There are a number of possible ways that the lights can drift out of synch and it has been an historical problem that goes back before the bus lanes. We are going to push for a hard coupling of the lights to improve reliability. This permanent fix will take time.

Update, Tuesday, October 23

The first day of the new lanes did not go as well as hoped. Many bus riders reported a positive experience, but auto drivers were backed up.

There was an error in the signal timing that backed up auto traffic badly. That error has now been fixed.

There are two lights very close together along Mount Auburn — the light at the main Fresh Pond Parkway intersection and the one immediately before it, the light at Coolidge Avenue. These two lights must be very carefully synchronized so that the vehicles coming out through the Coolidge light can get out and across the the main intersection. If vehicles cannot go through the Coolidge light when it is green because the second light is red and the storage is already full, then the whole system gets backed up. This is a condition that occurred from time to time even before the changes.

The two lights are not physically connected. Rather, they both get the exact time of day from GPS satellites and then run on programmed cycles. The cycles in the two lights have to be programmed so that they work together with reference to the shared time of day. When there is an error in that programming as there was on Monday, delays can build exponentially.

The error was fixed on Monday and traffic flowed better on Tuesday. Tuning will continue on Wednesday to optimize performance for both cars and buses.

Traffic engineers from the City of Cambridge and the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (which controls the two critical lights) will continue to monitor the performance of the new system.

If you have experiences — good or bad with traffic flow that you want to post here, please include the date and time.

Four years ago,  Representatives Hecht and Rogers and Senator Jehlen and I started a conversation about how to improve the  71 and 73 bus service on Mount Auburn Street, focused especially on the bottleneck in Cambridge in front of the Mount Auburn Cemetery.  That conversation and the efforts that have come out of it are chronicled in a long thread on my website.

The conversation is finally starting to result in real changes.  Dedicated bus lanes have recently been painted on Mount Auburn Street in that stretch.

And, on Monday morning, new signal controls that turn green for buses when they approach will go live at the two closely spaced lights where Mount Auburn Street crosses Coolidge Avenue and then Fresh Pond Parkway.  Transit priority signals are already working at the lights at Homer Ave and Aberdeen Avenue.

We hope the changes will make a big difference for bus commuters (the majority of commuters in that stretch of road), without slowing down car drivers.  This will be possible because signal timing changes should increase overall throughput on Mount Auburn Street.  Cyclists will be permitted to use the bus lanes.   More changes will come over the next year or two that will continue to make the intersections in this system work better and more safely for everyone.

The City of Cambridge has been doing a great job explaining the changes — see their website here which includes plans and informational videos.

The project has required intense collaboration between the MBTA, the City of Cambridge, the Department of Conservation and Recreation. We are very grateful for all of their efforts.

Let me know how you feel the changes are working!

Future Plans

There is another wave of changes planned for the future that should benefit all travelers on Mount Auburn Street – geometry improvements at the huge intersection by Mount Auburn Hospital.

In order to give the heavy Fresh Pond Parkway traffic the green light time that it needs to get through that intersection, traffic at Mount Auburn Street waits at a red light. The total amount of time in the light cycle is limited because of the poor geometry of the intersection. The roads cross at an angle so the distance between stop bars is unusually large – cars take a long time to get through the intersection and frequently get stuck in the middle causing gridlock. Pedestrians also need extra time to cross.

Tightening up the intersection will allow more green time for all traffic to move through it. Scheduling for those changes is still in flux, but we are pushing to complete some of them in the next construction season.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

132 replies on “Bus Lanes Going Live”

  1. We have been driving along Mt Auburn for years en route to my son’s fencing club in Brighton. This new dedicated bus lane has made the commute even longer. Once we turn left off Aberdeen onto Mt Auburn, the cars get stuck from Brattle St to Coolidge because of the lane restriction. We’re hopeful the lights will be better timed or some other improvements will be made to ease this newly created congestion.

    1. I agree with Alisa, that during the recent commute on Friday, that traffic was worse for drivers. I am for promoting public transportation, but that 1000 meters between Aberdeen and BB&N on Mt. Auburn is the most congested section on my commute between Belmont and Boston. I hope as drivers become use to the new bus lane that an already bad section does not become worse.

  2. Looks good, and I now see the red coloring of the right bus Lane, but a lot of people still confused about which lane to turn into when taking a left from Belmont St onto My Auburn. Lots of near crashes.

  3. Will,

    We regularly drive from Belmont into Cambridge, taking Belmont street to Mt. Auburn street. We’ve experienced the new lane markings, and how drivers respond to them. In short, they ignore them. In particular, on Belmont Street at the Mt. Auburn intersection, the right lane is marked with a right-turn-only arrow. Many (most?) drivers still turn left at that intersection from the right lane.

    Continuing on past the Mt. Auburn Cemetery, your write-up says “dedicated bus lanes have recently been painted on Mount Auburn Street.” Again, as far as we can see, those signs are completely ignored.

    There is strong motivation for cars to use the right lane, because there are stopped cars in the left lane waiting to turn left across traffic.

    The plans seem to assume that some drastic changes in driver behavior will happen “automagically.” I’m not sure how realistic that is–particularly since commonsense suggests to drivers that being channeled into a single lane with left turning cars will result in a slower transit than being able to use both lanes.

    The goal is a good one, but I wonder whether the current plans will be successful.

    1. This! While traffic looking to continue on Mt. Auburn east-bound across Rt.16 sits at the light, there is no ability for traffic behind the first (green!) light to access the far right hand lanes and inbound on to Rt. 16 without ignoring the bus lane designation. Crazy.

  4. I rode the 71 on Thursday morning into Harvard (Oct 18). I had been closely watching the lane markings over the past month, and I was pretty confused by the story they told. But now that the bus lanes are painted and I see it in operation, I think I understand. I don’t have data, but it definitely felt like the bus moved a lot faster in that area than before. Giving the bus priority just until it gets to the bus stop across from Star Market is so smart!

    I’ve ridden the outbound direction a few times as well, and it seemed to go fine. I’m still wondering if the large amount of inputs (2 lanes from the big intersection, plus another lane from Brattle street) will cause trouble, but I haven’t seen that happen yet.

    Overall, I think this is a big win for the buses and I’m hopeful that it translates into less bunching and more consistent schedules, on top of the improved trip time.

    1. Quick update on this: the outbound direction has continued to be a smooth trip through the star market area, coming from a weekday rider. Send my fears were unfounded.

      One thing I did just see tonight though: a driver ahead of the bus on Mount Auburn Street thought that the stop signs for Brattle Street applied to them. As a consequence, the bus driver had to brake pretty hard due to the unexpected stopping. If that’s a common problem, maybe an angled blinder on the first stop sign would help?

  5. I am a regular bus commuter and occasional car driver on the 73 route. Agree with those who have noted the lack of observation of the new lane markings by drivers. My driving commute through there on Thursday was about normal (took forever) but my bus commute on Friday was only about half it’s normal time! 20 min to get to Harvard from the Payson stop on Belmont Street was such a relief from the usual 30-40 min! It was really exciting.

    As a driver though I am concerned about the frequent transitions between lanes that are now required on the stretch of Mount Auburn next to the Star Market. I realize there isn’t more space there to expand. But maybe that left turn only lane at Aberdeen could be changed back to either/or??

    I really appreciate your long term advocacy on this issue. It’s become a huge problem and really affects the quality of life of many people!!

    1. Yes, I noticed this, too. Drivers really don’t seem to pay attention to signs around her. Witness the Common St. southbound through Trapelo intersection. One despairs, sometimes!

  6. This is cool! I look forward to seeing how it works and will be sure to offer feedback!

  7. Will this is great as long as it does not make these roads to congested to the m/v drivers. I hope this is monitored closely and it’s better for everyone. There is a balance that must be reached not causing major tie ups. I have my doubts that this will work in this area but hope that it has been studied and will work

  8. West-bound Brattle used to merge with west-bound Mt. Auburn. This was changed to a stop sign on Brattle several weeks ago, and immediately became a disaster during evening rush hour. Instead of alternating cars between west-bound Brattle and west-bound Mt. Auburn, only one Brattle St car for every two or three Mt. Auburn St cars proceeds, due to the stop sign. With Brattle St backing up several blocks past Fresh Pond Parkway, I’ve started using alternate routes home. I guess making traffic horrendous, and hence pushing drivers to alternate routes is one way to make Mt. Auburn traffic to appear to improve.

    West-bound Cambridge St, just prior to Quincy St in Cambridge is a slalom course for a few blocks, as the lane zigs back and forth through turn lanes, alternating parking, etc. While the Mt. Auburn St bus lanes pale in comparison, the need for extra lane changes may increase the accident rate, and slow traffic even more. Time will tell, but I’ve already started using alternate routes to avoid the Mt. Auburn St redesign.

    I’m sure the bus and bicycle traffic will improve with dedicated lanes, so the project will likely be declared a success, much like the Belmont St redesign. However, I’m no longer able to make a left turn onto east-bound Belmont St during rush hour, due to the continuous flow of single-lane traffic, so I shifted to alternate side-streets to get onto Belmont St. Crippling Mt. Auburn St makes my need to get onto Belmont St less important, as I use alternate routes on days that I need to drive.

    There are certainly no simple answers, but the Belmont St and Mt. Auburn St traffic “improvements” are frustrating, at best.

    1. We’ll keep working it. Agreed that there are no simple answers — there just isn’t enough asphalt for all the traffic these days. That’s why we have to work to make transit work better so that more people will ride it. This is part of that.

      1. Cycling, buses, and walking can and do work on days when I have a simple commute, but does not account for my “normal” commute, which often includes hauling soccer and/or hockey equipment, running errands, transporting one or more kids, etc. as part of my commute.

        We need roadways that work for cars also.

        1. Roadways that prioritize cars scale poorly. We need quality public transit infrastructure, which scales much more efficiently.

      2. There may not be enough asphalt, but implementing improvements that make things worse is not an option.

        The merging/alternating that worked well for a long time at the above referenced location, is not a stop sign creating a mess. Again, not thinking things through in a reality-based framework. Please stop punishing people to make things better@!

  9. Regarding the intersection of Belmont st eastbound at Mt Auburn st: for, say, 3 hours out of 24, buses serve a critical need for inbound T commuters, and the dedicated serves that need well.

    For the remaining 21 hours you’ve now created a back up because only one lane can be used to make the left turn; the other lane sits empty for the vast majority of the day. You’ve now created a 2 light cycle potential, with additional pollution and aggrevation. (Please correct me if I’m wrong)

    How does that make sense?

    1. I have to agree with this comment regarding the bus/bike only lane at the intersection of Belmont & Mt. Auburn. Is one permitted to turn RIGHT at any time of the day or night from Belmont onto Mt. Auburn? Also the double left arrows indicating that a single lane of cars from Belmont St can turn left into both lanes going East on Mt. Auburn seems to set up an unfortunate confrontation between auto and bike/bus.

      1. Continuing on this same intersection, when someone wants to turn left onto Holworthy,this is surely creating a significant back up, because we have only one lane to turn left from; 23 hours in the day, this makes no sense.

        The same logic applies at Cooledge ave. eastbound on Mt Auburn st. We drivers are restricted from using a lane, the new bus lane, despite the fact that 23 hours a day it serves little to no added benefit to mass transit.

        This is just wrong thinking.

        1. 23 hours a day, there is no traffic jam and one lane is enough for drivers.

          It’s all about rush hour and during that hour, we have to favor the bus riders who constitute the majority based on traffic counts and are much less comfortable while waiting than the drivers. Those buses are packed — in fact, since they have low seat counts, they are the two most packed buses in the whole MBTA system!

  10. The bus commute is so much faster in both directions! As someone riding home with an impatient and hungry toddler I am acutely aware of how long the ride is, and it has made a difference. I really appreciate you studying this issue and trying to make positive changes. I also ride in with my husbands some mornings by car and it doesn’t seemed to have slowed the driving time for those of just driving straight down Mt Auburn. I do worry about bicycles and buses sharing a lane- I overheard a conversation between bus drivers and they seem concerned about the safety of the cyclists especially when turning.

  11. Will….sorry, but these new bus lanes really frustrate me! Between bike lanes and now bus lanes, the automobile traffic has come to a standstill! I understand we want to encourage public transport and less fossil fuel use…. but the real answer is much bigger than just limiting auto space in Belmont, Watertown and Cambridge!
    I can’t do my job without my car…. and now the bus and bike lanes have added significant time to my having to sit in traffic just to make a living.
    Sorry to sound like a jerk, but it’s judt added to my stress level…
    Donna Brescia

  12. You’ve gone and added bus lanes before bike lanes… and significantly congested traffic on a main artery into Cambridge. Not exactly thrilled. Can we undo this? It’s going to make driving into Cambridge everyday a nightmare. Additionally it will like double the traffic on grove street, (which also doesn’t have a bike lane) and make that drive worse for cars and less safe for cyclists.

    1. Are you concerned from a cyclist perspective? Cyclists are allowed in the bus lanes.

      We’ll keep working to tune the signals so that it works for drivers, but we just had to fix it for buses, who are the majority of users: Their service was abysmal.

  13. As someone who regularly uses public transportation, thank you for these needed changes.

    The next step is to increase the frequency of buses during rush hour and add routes to encourage residents to leave their cars at home when commuting to work or running errands. It would also make businesses more accessible to locals who don’t drive. For example, Watertown, Arlington and Belmont could be more efficiently connected so that passengers don’t have to transfer at Cambridge. Other areas such as Newton may as well be across state lines if one is dependent on public transportation.

  14. As a driver, I was initially frustrated that I was losing a lane and having to sit in a longer line of traffic. However, my commute time has not changed, and traffic by the cemetery appears to be moving more smoothly. Additionally, my wife has reported much faster bus rides. Thus I would say the change has been a net positive.

  15. As a frequent passenger on bus 73 during rush hours, I have observed: 1) the hold-up is at the Mt. Auburn St and Fresh Pond intersection. The volume of all vehicles is ever-worsening and is unaffected by the Bus Only lane. Bus passengers’ transient gain is a car occupant’s loss. 2) Tired hungry babies/toddlers in strollers packed into jammed busses can be comforted by snacks from baggies packed by thoughtful mothers. I want to embrace those mothers for soothing everyone’s nerves.

    1. They are in effect all day, but it does not make much difference except at rush-hour. Away from rush-hour there just is not enough traffic for them to make a difference for the buses or for the cars.

  16. I took it this morning. People stayed out of the bus lane and queued up in the travel lane. It was fantastic passing them all by on the bus.

  17. I was on the 71 this morning. Once we could get to the bus lane, we just sailed down Mt. Auburn. It was lovely. However, it seemed like a tricky and frustrating ride for drivers who, wanting to stay on Mt. Auburn rather than turn left onto Brattle, were in the right lane trying to avoid the left turn back up at Brattle, but then just past Brattle, immediately needed to get into the left lane to get out of the now-bus lane on the right. That created somewhat of a bottleneck this morning and it was slow-going from about Star/Aberdeen down to the bus lane.

  18. Has a flyover intersection at Mt. Auburn St. and Fresh Pond Parkway been considered?
    The grade is already there at Brattle St. If it could be continued down past Mt. Auburn St., Fresh Pond Parkway could flow continuously over the east-west traffic on Mt. Auburn.
    This change could clear up the jams between F.P. Parkway and Aberdeen.

  19. As a regular bus commuter to Cambridge from Belmont, I am grateful for any help available to make the bus a feasible commuting option. As I wait for the bus everyday in Cushing Sq., I see a long line of car, after car, after car with a single driver and no passengers. I would encourage drivers to consider taking the bus and not contribute to the traffic congestion and emissions. With more frequent buses during rush hours, and now with the bus-only lanes, many more people will hopefully consider this option and free themselves and others from the stress of snarled traffic.

    1. That’s exactly it. Sacrificing single-occupant vehicle throughput for public transit infrastructure should universally be a no-brainer.

    2. They could also bike, especially if the T routes are not helpful for them. Anyone moderately able living in Belmont and working in Cambridge could bike to/from work, perhaps on an e-bike if they lived up a hill (e.g. Cushing Square, or Belmont Hill). At rush hour it is a hair faster than driving from Belmont, and even at 10am, a bike and a car move about the same speed through Cambridge. Boston’s much less nice, and Cambridge still needs to do more, but I commute by bike 52/5 from Waverley Square to Kendall Square (and yes, in the winter, yes I buy groceries, yes I have carried children. And yes, last night I got wet.)

      If we had adequate bike parking at the T stations, or if we had decent regional bike share, it might also make sense to bike “between the spokes” and then use the T to travel into Boston.

  20. I do have a question about how the bus lane is supposed to work for autos wanting to turn RIGHT (towards Watertown Square) at the intersection of Belmont St. & Mt. Auburn. Are we allowed to pull into that bus/bike lane to make a right turn?
    Also, let’s face it, we are trying to make existing infrastructure work for what promises to be an explosion of cars and commuters once those condos with parking garages in Cushing Square and the Arsenal Mall get filled. Traffic promises to be a nightmare all day long then. Just an observation.

  21. Is there any plans for traffic relief going from Harvard westward into Belmont/Watertown? Unless I am interpreting this incorrectly it looks like nothign will change going west along Mt Auburn. Traffic headed in that direction out of Harvard Square is pretty terrible at the end of the day between 4-6PM.

  22. Well, I sure hope things go better than Monday (the 22nd) morning! Waited 40 minutes for inbound bus. First bus to speed past was “Out of Service”. 20 minutes later three buses came all in a cluster; not one of them was full. Why send 3? The experience does not inspire confidence in whatever they’re trying to do. To be perfectly honest, I had no complaints with the service before all this disruption began, and I’ve been using the #71 for 40 years.

    1. I often experience the same problems–excessive wait times and “bunching”. In my view, they are separate issues. There is a lack of active, real time management of these bus routes that allows schedule problems to worsen and spiral out of control.

      But my early experience with the bus Lane has been glorious–ten minutes off the trip from Bigelow to Harvard. This should make quite a difference in commuters lives. Thank you Will for your persistence in advocating for solutions.

      1. I’ve seen so much bus bunching in my years in Watertown. I’ve so often wished the drivers were given some leeway in what to do in these cases. If there are 3 buses arriving at the Square, the first should head back to Harvard as an express, maybe as far as the middle of the route. The second should hit major stops (these would need to be officially designated somehow) and also drop people off, also maybe up to the middle of the route. The third should drive normally, with all buses trying to spread the departure times out in order to spread themselves out again. Maybe this would inconvenience people on the “wrong” stops as they would get left behind, but that sort of thing was quite common for the trains for decades: “This train will run express to….” and so on to try to get things back on schedule. So the express part is nothing new.

  23. Today these changes added 4 mins to our 7:20-7:40 commute from the Watertown to Davis sq area and 6 mins to our 4:45/5pm commute back. Doesn’t seem long but over a year will add up to around 12 more hours in the car.
    Folks turning/ crossing traffic into star market in bound and Greg’s after the light are stopping the entirety of traffic.
    Of course we’d prefer to take public transportation daily but the T takes our family nearly 2 hours (my husband takes the children out to Davis and then back down to his job in haymarket- my commute to the fenway after going out to Davis would be an additional 20-30 min) when the driving commute – even now longer- is still just shy of an hour unless it’s a particularly bad day all over.
    We are also a car that will likely start optimizing out of this Star Market area if it gets much worse and will instead cut through residential streets in Belmont from the back of trapelo and up past the school to end up being more cars in the mess around Fresh Pond because it will be a toss up for time – though the circle construction on common st (needed) will also make it more difficult to get over to Belmont so for a while we will probably cut up to Belmont through school street and using the gps to choose the less congested way around fresh pond (cutting down to Huron or up to Blanchard).
    It’ll be like getting to class at Hogwarts – the stairs change the optimization constantly.

  24. I rode the 73 bus this morning to Harvard and the new dedicated lane was a game-changer. My commute was shortened considerably. Thanks for all your efforts and your continued monitoring to make sure that signal changes and other improvements work for car traffic as well.

  25. Upon seeing these Bus/Bike Only Lanes, I cant help but envision MASSIVE back ups as Belmont St feeds Mt Auburn. And the even greater back up on Mt Auburn as it splits down by Fresh Pond/Memorial Drive. What do I know. The experts have spoken but I’m seeing this as a huge cluster F$&@k in the end.

  26. I have tried out the new bike lane for the past few days. The section that transitions from a dedicated bus/bike lane to a car/bus/bike lane by Aberdeen is not safe. Cars move right and then immediately stop in traffic at the light. There is no shoulder and a very high curb there, so bikes are stopped in the same traffic as the cars. Is there an adjustment that could be made for bikes here?

    1. Duly noted. Not sure, but we’ll keep the suggestion in the mix.

      We won’t make immediate changes. We can’t keep changing the rules on people, but once it settles down, we’ll review for this kind of change.

      For now, it’s about signal timing.

  27. Unrelated, but do you know what was happening at the Trapelo Road/Common St intersection this morning? The light for the left on green did not change for nearly 10 minutes, and by the time I was able to make the hard left onto Trapelo, it was only because the construction guys from the work site took it upon themselves to step into the middle of the road and direct traffic.

  28. Hi Will.

    I want to say that I love the new lanes! Thank you so much for your effort on this!

    I have generally spent in the past over 20 minutes on average on the bus sitting in that one small section of Mt Auburn St. This morning, I was in and out of that section in under 5 minutes. This will probably save me 20-30 minutes from my commute each way, every day I opt to not bike and take public transit.

    I understand the desire to limit the impact to auto commuters, but I firmly believe public transit must be prioritized over single-occupancy vehicles, even if it inconveniences cars. Just look at the issues with adding the bus lane: there was nowhere to put an additional lane! There’s no way to expand the roadway (not that that is necessarily a wise city planning decision anyway since it just promotes car commuting). If taking away a travel lane makes commutes by single occupancy vehicles more painful, then perhaps some will decide that that bus blowing past them in the bus lane, full of people calmly reading a book or their phone, will be a more attractive option.

    We’re a household of 6: my wife and I, an au pair, and 3 kids, and we have no issues with a single car between all of us. It just requires some extra consideration and planning.

    There is a strong desire for people to live and work in the Boston/Cambridge area, and the only reasonable and responsible solution is smart improvements and developments. If there are none, people will have to live further out and *still* drive through our area and towns. If areas closer are built up, we need to increase transportation throughput. And the way to increase transportation throughput is to improve and prioritize public transportation. It is better for the community and it is better for the environment.

    I don’t know how feasible it is, but I could imagine similarly incentivizing carpooling and expanding the lane to allow for buses, bikes, and maybe cars with 3 or more passengers (though excluding Uber and Lyft and similar services because studies have shown that they increase overall traffic burdens). This would require more active policing though, and as I see it it would have to not have a negative impact on the buses, so I don’t know how realistic such an approach would be.

  29. They seem to be working better. But there are cheaters who are jumping into the bus lane! They need to be punished somehow; ticketed or something …

  30. For 100 years, it has been easy to measure performance of a transit system by ‘on time against written schedule’s, but it is time to move on. It causes bunched buses.

    With this performance metric, if a bus is late (and most are in rush hour) it has to go out from Waverley or Harvard immediately.

    But if they change to measuring performance by average customer journey times from arriving at bus stop to arriving at destination (with an eye to overcrowding after a gap in buses), then they will delay the outset of bunched buses from an endpoint even if late against schedule. If they spread bunched buses at intervals depending on expected load and when the next bus is expected, things will improve.

    the software to figure this out isn’t complicated, based on the information they already have and provide through the mbta app.

    1. Yes! There is a dispatching app that MIT has developed to address exactly this bunching issue. I’m trying to understand the dispatching model that they use now to see how we can push for something smarter.

  31. I rode my bicycle from Belmont to Cambridge on Monday morning. It was fantastic! I love the new bus / bike lane. I felt dramatically safer than before. No more anxious drivers squeezing by me at high speed. I have a wife and two young kids at home. This is the kind of change that will save lives. That you for investing in a safer and more sustainable future!

  32. I have never in my life seen a more ridiculous plan. Traffic slows down after 9am. so for the sake of the bus people you tie up the cars. What about the parking. What about the businesses. You all should be in Washington you would fit right in. WAKE UP And get rid of those yellow and green bikes. Wait until a child or some elderly person falls over one.No common sense anymore.

  33. Another execution issue that impacted automobile drivers. Did they not test and re-test prior to going live? I have to wonder what other execution issues we will have to tolerate.

    1. They modeled and remodeled the traffic flow using the best tools available, but I’m not sure how the light calibration error occurred. It’s something they physically have to punch into the control boxes on the curb.

  34. I’m a 73 bus rider 95% of the time, but this morning, I drove this route, starting at approximately 8:20am. I was able to more easily observe what was happening with the traffic pattern (since often the 73 is too crowded to get perspective on what’s happening outside). The biggest problem area I noticed this morning was the area between the Belmont St./Mt. Auburn intersection and Aberdeen Ave. Most cars turning left onto Mt. Auburn from Belmont completely disregarded the posted restrictions and immediately turned into the right (bus/bike) lane, creating a significant backup and problems for those of us attempting to merge from the left into the right lane of traffic during that stretch from Homer Ave. to Aberdeen. I have seen police ticketing drivers closer to the Mt. Auburn/Fresh Pond intersection, but I think some better signage/enforcement could also be warranted farther out. Of course, the zig-zag pattern necessitated by the left-only lane turning onto Aberdeen may be the real culprit here, but at the very least it would be great to see how the pattern is working when drivers actually follow the posted restrictions.

      1. Thank you! Worth noting that I have seen a marked improvement in travel times in the 73 (as well as in the mood of the passengers) since this was implemented. Thank you for your hard work on this complicated issue!

  35. Today I observed the traffic at the start of the dedicated bus lane at Cottage Street. Traffic was moderate. Buses used the bus lane. Most cars observed the restriction. The ones that hadn’t moved left at Cottage St. had done so by Belmont St. Bikes rode in bus lane, as they are supposed to. However, in 40 minutes between 8:30 and 9:15 there were only 4 buses, with a long hiatus between 8:45 and 9:15.

  36. The bus only lane eastbound before Coolidge avenue needs to be right turn as well. That will alleviate traffic as those who need to turn right don’t have to wait until just before Coolidge avenue to cut over and turn. Please make this adjustment.

    Many thanks on improving the overall traffic flow.

  37. I’ve driven this at rush hour twice now, and also I rode my bike along it AT A FAIRLY BUSY TIME. Driving I found very confusing. I’m apparently supposed to be in the right lane as aI pass eastbound past the Star (not being allowed in the bus lane then I must get over quickly at Homer Ave since I’m not turning left at Aberdeen. And the bus still stops after Aberdeen and blocks all lanes! On the bike it was very nice riding in the “bus only” lane (which now has a bike symbol on it – good!) but still kind of hairy where the cars need to get in the right lan; so I still found it intimidating – and perhaps dangerous – to go that way. I will probably go back to going way around on Huron Ave. rather than do that – but my wife goes on the sidewalk, which is certainly safer for biking, but not good for pedestrians. THe cars do back up further, but they also seem to go through the lights faster, so it seems bad, but may not actually be worse. What;s really needed is spaces on the right for buses to pull over, but I guess the cemetary will not allow that!

  38. I’m hoping they might put in better lighting at Brattle Stop inbound to HSQ along MtA St.

    Monday night I was out there around 6:30PM in a torrential downpour (without umbrella) for 15 min and several buses did not see me and kept driving by.

    I think they saw people outside of Mount Auburn Cemetery (removed stop) because it was intersection and well lit up, but over by Brattle stop its murky and dark, plus the buses have just picked up a pretty quick clip on that portion of the road and don’t always see people waiting (it is also around a slight bend in the road). Thankfully I had a flashlight in the rain and after buses missed me, I flashed it at bus and he slammed on breaks – still stopping 20 feet from that bus stop, b/c he was either not seeing me, or just going too fast at that point in the road (it is understandable that they want to pick up the pace there after traveling in slow motion from Star Market through Aberdeen intersection).

  39. the signals at Belmont St./Mt. Auburn and Star Market/Homer Ave. are also a real problem. At rush hour, the Star Mkt signal backs up traffic to the Belmont St. light, only 4 or 5 cars getting thru. A mess.

    Also — no info about the bus lanes — no cars all the time, or just rush hours (what are those times, also?)?

    1. The bus lanes are what they are 24/7.

      In terms of the back up, I’ve been there every day this week during rush hour. It was bad on Monday, but has been working fine the other four days.

      When did you make your observation of trouble at Homer?

  40. Will, given that roadway on Mt. Auburn St. is a very scarce resource, can there be consideration of making the bus lane a combined bus/HOV lane? With a period of enforcement, people should get the idea. An HOV option in the bus lane should allow more efficient use of the roadway at peak hours.

  41. Will, Thanks for personally monitoring the situation. Your presence should help prioritize the solution.

  42. The new bus lane and priority system have been consistently shaving 10 mins. from the Watertown / Harvard Sq bus run (71). Even when things go wrong, and traffic and buses pile up before the Brattle St left turn, or the Coolidge lights fall out of sync, it’s still not as bad as it was. It looks like a major win for bus and bike commuters. I especially like the bus-only signal. I feel like I’m on the Green line! 🙂

    I appreciate the coordination of the traffic implementers and Cambridge police in tweaking and monitoring this pilot.

    It would be great to take additional land from either side to add capacity, but while private property reigns, that’s not likely to happen.

    Thanks for pushing this forward.

  43. Very occasionally I will need to drive the full length of Mt Auburn and I do worry about the constant lane shifting that is now involved. I think someone mentioned the possibility of removing the Left-turn-only lanes (towards Cambridge) and I think that’s a good idea instead of having to get in and out of lanes all-of-a-sudden before you find yourself either in a bus-only lane or being forced to turn left when you don’t want to.
    Otherwise yes, I am enjoying the bus ride that can now take as little as 18 minutes inbound in the morning.

  44. I have lost countless hours due to this. This has probably been one of the worst attempts to improve what was adressed already as “chronic congestion” of traffic. Something needs to be done here in order to ease the commute time. Deleting an entire lane is not the solution. The light at the intersection of Coolidge and mount Auburn street needs to be synchronized with the light at Gerry’s Landing road/mount Auburn street.

    If this light was synchronized it would prevent cars coming from Jerry’s Landing road not to then get stuck in the middle of the intersection due to there being room for only about 5 cars when the light at Coolidge and mount Auburn street headed west.

    As for further down mount Auburn street at the intersection where Brattle street now has a hard right with a stop. All for the stop sign as the yield was previously ignored but that is another traffic problem. People on brattle are now forced to have to enter the road where motorists are already agitated from sitting in the traffic at Jerry’s Landing/Mount Auburn street they don’t want to let you in.

    Leads me to my next point, with motorists not letting people on Brattle Street enter this backs up the traffic on Brattle street, which then leads to fresh pond parkway higher up, causing more of a gridlock and buildup of traffic at the intersection of mount Auburn and Gerry’s Landing road.

    Nearly every day I see cars just merely avoiding an accident because now as opposed to people being in a lane they need to be as a straight shot they have to zig zag throughout mount Auburn street. And to top it off when you get to the end of mount Auburn street the bus drivers could care less about anyone in their path as they have to go from the right lane, across 2 lanes to go left towards Harvard. Not ideal. And the bus priority signal works only when they are paying attention to it, which I have seen 1 bus driver use it to his advantage, but still got jammed sideways when he made it through the mount Auburn street/Coolidge street intersection then got the red light at the mount Auburn/Gerry’s Landing light.

    Overall I am extremely disappointed this is how this was thought to improve traffic. I truly hope that someone steps in to take proper measures of fixing what has gotten even worse with these “improvements”

    1. I understand your disappointment.

      You are dead right about the signal coordination issue. Really trying to understand how it is possible that it went wrong.

      But it was fixed as of 5AM this morning and the queuing on Mount Auburn was much better — 3-4 minutes from Aberdeen to Fresh Pond Parkway at 7:40AM.

      We will continue to stay on top of it and appreciate your continued full feedback.

  45. First, congratulations on your victory in the election. You are a model public servant.

    These big changes often have glitches, and I am hopeful that the experts can work them out.

  46. This may be unrelated to the bus lanes, but I am wondering what has been causing the back-up on the commute home / in the evenings lately getting off Soldier’s Field Road prior to the Eliot Bridge. All of this week, that has been backed up to before the Eliot Bridge, so instead I have continued to the left on Soldier’s Field Road and gotten off at Arsenal Street. Does anyone know what has caused this change in traffic?

    And thank you Will for your work on this – I tried taking the bus to Harvard Square and then the red line into work once five years ago and never did it again after a 30-40 minute bus ride to go about a mile. I will know give it another shot.

    Nicole Dorn

  47. Wed. 1/7 at 5:00 PM. Ghastly tie up and while light coordination certainly is an issue, a greater issue is that this new configuration of lanes simply doesn’t work. In front of MT A. Cemetery there are 3 travel lanes marked bike but also for cars/busses. Suddenly the left lane turns left leaving the former left car lane to meld with the already full car lane …..in heavy traffic this is nearly impossible. So now there is a left lane full of cars and right lane with buses and a few left over cars. Very soon however, the designated bus/bike lane on the right becomes the “right turn” lane for cars …so the supposedly bus/bike only lane with its own traffic signal is shared by cars turning right. Serious problem! Then the left lane cars that want to continue to Storrow eventually are in the lane aiming for Mt Auburn St….more melding issues along with buses that also want to turn left onto Mt A. Chaos and while the lack of light coordination does slow things down, these lanes that look great on paper plans simply do NOT work. And knowing of the proclivity of many Boston drivers NOT to use directionals….where anyone is headed is a guessing game.
    Obviously all this at its worst at rush hour but not great during midday either, especially bus lane/right turn lane conflict. This is NOT really a “BUS” lane which really should start way back down Mt Auburn Street/Belmont Street…… In addition what could have been an “electric) bus only lane going towards Aberdeen on Mt A is now blocked off with a stop sign/right turn only…. Seems very shortsighted and expensive traffic planning!

  48. Thanks for the great updates and work in the Transportation area. We are a car society but need to create safe hybrid models that incorporate public transportation and cycling! Yes, cycling.

    1. Yah. Let’s just outlaw cars in metro aras and make everybody who is physically able, ride a bike. We should not let all those bike lanes go to waste, after all.
      There are plenty of bikes around and the company who puts them out there is not regulated or licensed, I don’t believe. When will gov’t wake up and see all that lost revenue. After all, the Legislators will need to give themselves another huge raise soon, won’t they?

  49. Not sure why a bus driver around 9:00a this morning wouldn’t let people off after stop requested for Star Market (inbound). Was it related to the regional traffic jam? There were also two police cars in the bus/bike lane – what were they doing there?

  50. Thank you for the update about this morning, and for all the work you’ve done and continue to do on this issue.

    From a grateful 73 commuter

  51. Hi Will,

    Thanks so much for your efforts and for keeping us updated. As counterintuitive as this solution is, it seems to be working! I agree with some of the others that additional improvements to Belmont St/Mt Auburn St light and lights around Star Market are necessary. Also, all the lane changing around Star is very challenging and needs to be improved.

    Another suggestion for you… since another major way out of Watertown in the morning is through Grove St, please consider making improvements there as well to increase flow of traffic. First, please consider replacing the 4-way stop sign at Grove St and Coolidge Ave with a light as it causes long backups on Grove. Also, please consider adding a left turn lane on Grove in front of Tufts hospital since cars trying to turn left there frequently back everyone up to the intersection of Arlington St and Mt Auburn.


  52. This is a disaster. Stop the experiment immediately. I have been commuting through this intersection for almost 30 years. While never great, it worked. You have broke it. Now you must fix it.

    Timing the lights on Mt. Auburn may help that street, but it screws up the traffic into the intersection from all other directions. Getting on to Fresh Pond parkway from Huron in the morning is a disaster. Cannot get through green light on Brattle because traffic backs up from light on Mt. Auburn. waiting many more light cycles than in the past.

    We have computers. You can do simulations to find out what works and what doesn’t. Do the homework first before you treat your constituents (who generally really approve of your job performance) as lab rats.

    Stop the insanity now.

    1. The homework was done.

      Unfortunately, the real world in this system is more complicated than the models adequately can predict.

      I am very respectful of the huge impact that any change in this system creates. Everyone is working hard to get back to a place that works.

  53. Tuesday Nov 13, 20 minutes to get through the bus lanes on the bus. 10 minute backup to get to the bus lane on Belmont Street. Worse than without the bus lane.

  54. Tuesday Nov 13, 8:40AM.
    20 minutes to get through the bus lanes on the bus. 10 minute backup to get to the bus lane on Belmont Street. Worse than without the bus lane.

  55. This is definitely not working. Traffic, including the bus, is backed up all the way to Prentis Street on Belmont. It took a good 10 minutes for the bus to get through the intersection. When I looked up from my reading I was thoroughly confused because I thought we were in the usual Mount Auburn/Fresh Pond mess. This is the furthest back it’s been but I definitely feel we’ve traded one backup for another.

  56. Complete gridlock this morning, Nov. 13. Bus took about half an hour from Arlington St./Belmont St. to Fresh Pond Pkwy. Part of reason was work being done on trolley wires in that intersection. Police cars don’t seem to be helping traffic through the area.

  57. I agree that the addition of the bus lane at Mt Auburn St. is a disaster. Trying to get into Cambridge is very trying. I’ve tried 3 different routes and each one is much worse than it was before this change. It took me almost 45 minutes to get from Waverley to Harvard Sq.! What we had wasn’t great but it worked much better.

  58. It seems to be an exercise in futility fo assume that timing between the 2 intersections alone will keep mt auburn and coolidge and mt auburn and route 2 coordinated. The equipment is not up to holding the timing it seems. The DCR needs to upgrade the lights to tie the two intercessions together so that what happens at Route 2 & Mt Auburn triggers appropriate green lights at Coolidge street. Either that or have a police officer with a control during rush hour to override the signal changes on both intersections. The officer would also be responsible for setting the timing correctly for Coolidge st before leaving each day.

    1. They actually have the capacity right now to couple the two lights, but believe it is safer to run them as they are.

      The equipment is top of the line. It’s the programming that has been hard — definitely not something that could be delegated to untrained person.

      We are dependent on the availability of highly trained people and that has been the problem.

  59. The ride into Harvard Square in the morning is the worst I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve lived here. All of us, drivers, bus riders, bicyclists and pedestrians want a calm morning commute. The situation is currently unsafe because extremely frustrated drivers are jumping lanes chaotically. This does not appear to be an improvement.

  60. It would be good to let the public know how much longer these fixes will take in the long run. Also, it’s useful to provide some perspective. Where else has this system been run? What is unique about this system? Does it work better in other countries or states or municipalities than now? Are our systems engineers not equipped to fix the problems?

  61. So I thought being on a bus in the bus lane around 9a or 8:45a wasn’t ultimately too bad. Yes there was a backup around the Star Market area, but it didn’t seem different from the late October runs.

  62. Please just stop this experiment. I try to leave early to get to my day job but I am unable to leave extremely early due to early-morning teaching I have to do at another location. As I result of this experiment, I have been late nearly every day over the past 10 days and I am in danger of being fired from my job as a result. I could lose my job and my benefits because of this little “experiment” 🙁

  63. This morning by car driving in to Cambridge around 7:30 am things felt “back to normal”. The commute home in the evenings by bus around 5:15 pm has been taking about 5-10 min longer than it had over the past 2 weeks (when it dropped dramatically). It has been incredibly frustrating not to know how long the commute will take especially in the mornings when I need to be at work at a particular time, and I appreciate your close attention to this matter. Its a little surprising to hear how complicated it is to sync up traffic lights, and I do appreciate the updates.

  64. Thursday morning bus commute at 830 was perfect. I do appreciate these bus lanes as a mbta rider. It makes a huge difference to make this ride shorter for the VERY full buses of people. I am almost always standing on the bus in the morning, cutting that time means a big difference.

  65. Huge improvement today (Friday morning, 11/16) compared to earlier in the week. I got on the 73 at the Belmont St stop opposite Payson and it only took 16 min to get off at Harvard Square station. Amazing. This despite the bad weather and late bus meant that I am on track to get to work 15-20 min earlier than I normally do. Thank you!

  66. Dear Senator Brownsberger,

    Thank you for all your work on the Mt Auburn bus transit, really appreciated.
    There is one motorist behavior that remains a daily issue that slows down traffic in front of Star market.

    If other people have already commented on this, please disregard:

    almost invariably, going inbound, motorists illegally make a left turn into the Star market lot by crossing two solid yellow lines in the middle of Mt. Auburn street, instead of turning left a few feet further on Homer avenue at the light, that features a dedicated green arrow for left turn. This second option is obviously safer, easier, gets them to the same place, and doesn’t hold up lines of cars waiting for the motorist to do the illegal turn in front of incoming traffic.

    This issue was bad enough before the bus lane, but now it means actually having an even longer single lane back up behind the motorists who choose to turn left. I also see motorists doing a dangerous quick right into the bus lane to bypass the stalled vehicle.

    Maybe a concrete divider for a few feet at that location would help, a sign no Left turn and/or a No Entry sign (only exit) in the Star market lane in question.

    I hope these comments are useful to ameliorate an already much improved situation.

    Thank you again,




    1. Thank you. You raise a good issue. The left is actually legal — one can cross two yellow lines to turn left “if it is safe”. But the impact on traffic flow is a possible concern and I am raising this point with the design team.

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