Bus Priority Plan Gets Second Hearing

Bus riders, your time may finally come.

The 77 bus leaving the Arlington Heights busway.

Photo courtesy Pi.14159265358979

The plan to test ways to speed bus traffic on Mass. Ave. in East Arlington is advancing to its second community meeting, on Wednesday, August 15, at 7 PM at Town Hall.

What’s At Stake

Motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists got some relief from the Mass. Ave. project in East Arlington, but Mass. Ave. bus riders routinely see 20-minute delays inbound during the morning peak.

Among other things, the delays lead to reductions in overall service volumes, since fewer buses complete their runs per hour as a result.

The tests are scheduled be carried out in the month of October and may include bus lanes, signal changes, and other temporary changes to the layout of the road.

The tests may use traffic cones, signs, and police details to redirect traffic, and many are certain to be disruptive. However, the cones, and the changes, will be removed every morning.

The measures selected will be in place inbound during the morning commute from 6 to 9 am, for the month of October.

The bus priority pilot program, is being funded with a grant from the Barr Foundation. The grant includes funds for police details.

Arlington is late to the party, as similar Barr-funded experiments, and a non-Barr pilot, have already finished in the greater Boston area. Some of the tests were so successful that they have been adopted permanently.

The first meeting was held on May 16.

Possible Tests

The design of Arlington’s month-long test will not be made final until after the August 15 meeting, but may include the following:

  • A dedicated bus lane eastbound (inbound, Cambridge-bound) that will entail parking restrictions from 6 to 9. The lane would begin either opposite Marathon Street or at Varnum Street and last as far as, or close to, Route 16.
  • Traffic signals that turn or stay green when a bus is approaching.
  • Temporary relocation of the bus stop near the Capitol Theater to just after the Lake St. intersection, during the morning commute only.
  • Parking restrictions, 6 – 9, on the Capitol Theater block to permit a bus “queue-bypass lane” to allow buses to bypass some of the backup at the Lake St. signal inbound.
  • A similar bypass lane approaching Route 16.

There are no measures affecting traffic bound for Arlington Center.

Potential Costs

These measures all carry potential costs and many will be disruptive.

For instance, although most of the businesses on the street do not open until 10 am, there are a few, including Que Brada, Casa Esme, and dry cleaners and automotive services, that open early.

Some, such as Christo’s Market, rely on curbside parking for deliveries.

There is also reason to be concerned about the impact of some of these changes on bicycle commuters. At least one of the measures seems likely to increase cut-through traffic in neighborhoods between Mass. Ave. and Broadway.

This pilot program is thus not just a test of possible benefits to bus riders, but also of costs to businesses, bike commuters, and others.

Maybe the worst won’t happen! Or, maybe unexpected problems will emerge.

It will also be a test of Arlington’s ability to innovate, to resolve conflicts, and to trust each other.

What do you think. Are we up for this?

We will soon find out.


The photo of the 77 bus leaving the Arlington Heights busway for Harvard Square is courtesy of the photographer via a Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0.

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