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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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!

  6. 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?

  7. 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?

  8. 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

  9. 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.


  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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” 🙁

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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!

  24. 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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