MBTA’s Focus 40 Plan

Comments are due on the MBTA’s long term plan on Monday, October 22 (extended from September 21).  It is a provocative document that is well worth a read.  The document is available for comment at MBTAFocus40.com.

As a regional agency dependent on state funding for more than half of its budget, the MBTA is constantly subject to political pressure from people like me to improve service. The demands of multiple elected officials serving different constituencies raise difficult choices for the agency about where to focus.

In the “Focus 40” document, the agency is attempting to get above the politics and shape its priorities based on big picture data about needs.

The document makes three fundamental observations.

First, there are several economic growth areas that are outside the densest part of the rapid transit system.  The heart of the city is well served by rapid transit from all directions.   But much of the region’s job growth is in areas that have more limited service – Kendall Square, Longwood and the South Boston Waterfront.

People commute to these areas from many directions and the lack of all-direction transit connectivity to them results in surface congestion.  The proliferation of private shuttle buses in these areas is an indicator of unmet need.

Second, some of the densest communities in the inner core do not have access to rapid transit service: Roxbury/Dorchester, Everett/Chelsea/Revere, South Boston, Roslindale.  These are all areas with a higher proportion of low-income residents.   Commuters in these bus-only communities are at the mercy of increasingly congested traffic conditions. (Graphical density analysis for these priority places available here.)

Commuters headed downtown from Brighton, Watertown and Belmont face many of the same challenges.  As a servant of these communities, improving bus service and providing rail alternatives is a central priority for me.  The MBTA is responding (as I have written about previously) with meaningful short and longer term service improvements.  But from a regional perspective, by the numbers, the more dense inner core communities really stand out as underserved.

Third, there are several “urban gateway” cities where housing is more affordable that are not well connected to the downtown – Waltham, Lynn and Salem.

The big “We are Imagining” ideas in the plan that involve new rapid transit tracks are extensions of the Green, Orange and Blue lines to better serve some of these areas.  The plan includes the intriguing concept of extending the Blue Line south across the Red Line to Longwood, but not the circumferential tunnel that has long been discussed.

As to commuter rail service changes which might offer another path for transformative improvement, the plan leaves a blank space for the outcome of the Rail Vision study which is ongoing – I hope we can develop plans for better rail service on the Worcester and Fitchburg lines, serving Allston-Brighton and Belmont  (and Watertown between them).

The document recognizes that there is a lot of uncertainty about how the region will evolve.  It attempts to identify as priorities the projects that make sense in almost any scenario.   Those projects certainly include the huge investments already underway that will improve reliability and capacity on the core MBTA system – the Red, Green, Blue and Orange lines.

They also include efforts to improve bus service, modernizing the fleet and working with municipal leaders – who control the roadways – to give buses priority at intersections and in congested traffic.  The MBTA is also looking in the medium term to ask how bus routes can be reconfigured to better meet demand.

The plan does include as a medium-term item a “Regional Multimodal West Station” – that’s the transit hub that many hope will develop in the Allston-Brighton I-90 Interchange area, but it is unclear how much the station will improve connectivity to Kendall and Longwood. That is a concern for me that I will comment on — the huge development potential at the location will likely require new rapid transit service.  One solution to that problem falls within the scope of the ongoing rail vision study — the Grand Junction connection that goes under the BU Bridge from Boston to Cambridge.

The plan also includes a cross-cutting program to better protect the system from flood risks due to sea level rise.   I strongly believe that the MBTA should be focused on hardening the system so that it will last through the century and beyond.

Joint Comment Letter from Allston-Brighton Delegation

Reflecting the concern highlighted here, the Allston-Brighton Delegation submitted this joint comment letter.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

Join the Conversation

10 Comments

  1. Hi Will,
    Great start. We should also be looking at the growth in the Burlington area and the lack of public transportation to that area. I see it everyday with the back-ups on Rt 2 and 128.
    Jack

    1. The traffic is bad at that interchange. I’m not sure there is the density in Burlington for a real transit solution. You need a lot of people going in the same direction to make it work.

  2. I think the State missed an opportunity to hold on to some State land at the Met state hospital. An overpass from Rt 2 over the wetlands and over concord ave in Lexington could make a great spot spot for commuter parking with transportation down Rt 2 to connect with subway , commuter rail and ground transportation !!

  3. How about a grand station at Kenmore that is the end (and start) of the line for B, C, D and Yawkey (of commuter rail). Then everyone switches to faster and bigger underground trains. We have big underground platforms that have one set of two cars trains stop to load/unload passengers at a time, while the next trains wait in the tunnel. Maybe have a big under ground train go to Seaport, via financial district of South Station, rather than slowly negotiate Boylston curve.

    Make Boylston, Park, Downtown Crossing another grand station.

    Just thinking outside the box.

    The T should be an asset. It’s pace almost makes it a liability.

    1. The downtown mega station between Park and Downtown Crossing is definitely on the table.

      So are ideas about other stations where people would change before going downtown, but mostly on the rail lines.

  4. Will,
    There is another unmet need that could help; bus routes within towns that can cross each community. Foe example, in Belmont, I can easily take bus #78 or 84 to go to Harvard Square and downtown
    but I can’t get from Lake and Cross St. to Belmont Center, Cushing Square or Waverly, unless I drive. Could any of the current routes be extended to Cross St. or Pleasant St. That would be helpful for people who can’t or don’t drive especially senior citizens.

    1. A key recurring issue — these are real needs, but they are lower volume. Probably better served by on call shuttles than constantly running buses, which would run empty much of the time. The MBTA doesn’t do that yet, so it has fallen to the towns to offer shuttles and the ride services.

  5. Will, You have done a fine job in advocating for improved public transportation and better road conditions. My concern is that while the overall MBTA plan sets laudable goals, these goals will not be fulfilled in a timely enough manner to make a real difference in the near future due to a lack of revenue. When pressed on the need for substantial additional funding for the MBTA early in its tenure, the Baker administration raised the cry of “Reform Before Revenue”. Well, it’s been almost four years and the reforms have achieved what they can to make the system more cost-effective, but the substantial revenue needed has not been forthcoming other than through fare increases that penalize the riders themselves. (My understanding is that further fare increases are anticipated, as well.) You are doing your job well, but the “no new taxes” philosophy is hurting the MBTA, its riders and the economic development we need to sustain the region in the long run. thanks again for you hard work in this area.

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