Town to decide bus-lane fate


Back of MBTA 79 bus as it moves past stalled trafficalong the temporary bus lane demarcated with orange and white traffic cones.

Two of the three segments of the Town’s bus-priority experiment, at Lake Street and at Route 16, are continuing past the end of the pilot program last Friday, November 9.

That’s according to a November 12 announcement on the Town’s website.

The third element is the bus lane. The Town made no statements about the future of the dedicated lane, noting only that the lane, and its related parking ban, are no longer in effect.

The Town is holding a community forum at Town Hall on Wednesday, November 14, “to hear about preliminary results of the pilot, including what was learned through data collection and survey responses.”

Some preliminary data suggest that the bus lane and other measures led to significant improvement in trip times, allowing hundreds of bus commuters to bypass the very worst Arlington bottlenecks in the morning.


Of the two measures that will continue, at least one is a permanent change. The inbound bus stop at Lake Street has been moved to the short block that includes Christo’s market and the former Flora.

At Route 16, changes to lanes and signal sequences have improved traffic flow for everyone on wheels, not just bus riders.

Unlike the changes at Route 16, making the bus lane permanent may have effects on some businesses and residents.

These are, potentially, loss of parking spaces and greater difficulty entering inbound traffic from the south side of Mass. Ave. during the three hours (6 – 9 AM) that the lane is in effect.

The Town also removed the curb extension at Lafayette Street to make way for the bus lane.

The extension was added in 2015 to make the pedestrian crossing there, the site of a 1996 traffic death, safer.

Moving the Lake Street bus stop permanently removed three parking spaces and deprived bus commuters of an unofficial shelter beneath the marquee of the Capitol Theater at the previous location.

Reading the tea leaves, it sounds to me as though a permanent bus lane has not been ruled out.

There’s no mention in the November 12 announcement of the fate of the (temporarily) removed curb extension, which I would expect if a final decision had been made.

I will also not be surprised to hear that the signal and lane changes at Route 16 are to be permanent.

These apparently inconvenience no one, and the Town has been trying to engage the City of Cambridge (which controls the signals at the intersection) on improvements for years.

The case for these changes is strong. Nonetheless, I feel that the Town should have stuck to its original plan and held off on making final decisions until all the data, and public comments, are in.

I have previously published a step-by-step look at all the different elements of the bus pilot program.


13 comments so far

  1. Mark Kaepplein on

    Now would be a great time to re-visit the traffic study done for the Mass Ave. project and be entertained by the 10 year (2018) predictions for Level Of Service / intersection delay and queue lengths vs. current observations made during the bus project! Also remember MassDOT had recommended the Lake bus stop should be moved (my opinion is that it should be another block east from now to take less demanded parking spots and get farther from busy Lake Street), but Selectpersons dictated it stay.

    • Adam Auster on

      If you can find some comparable data, that would indeed be interesting. As I recall the Mass. Ave. design report did not profess to improve the intersection at Route 16.

      • Mark Kaepplein on is the latest FDR posted. I focused on traffic at and east of Thorndike/Teel. From Oct. 2008 to May 2009, traffic increased 8% (p. 13). Meanwhile cyclists got out the word to ride more, so their weekday counts greatly increased between survey dates (p. 14).

        The eastbound weekday AM peak LOS at Thorndike/Teel in 2008 was “A” with a 95% queue length of 177′. The “no build” prediction for 2018 was “A” and 191′ queue length.

        The older version of the FDR still had the 2018 “build” predictions (p. 27) where Mass Ave. Southbound (east) improved to 130′ of 95% queue length. The northbound performance (west) worsened considerably due to the loss of a travel lane.

        We can’t put all the blame on traffic engineers for getting predictions so horribly wrong. Uber and Lyft had not even given their first ride then. Today, ridesharing has reduced public transit ridership in most every city, including Boston. It’s also reduced bicycling in cities, including in Boston and San Francisco, per ACS and SF city data. Meanwhile a study shows rideshare vehicles are without passengers 1/3 of the time. Rideshare has only reduced parking demand while greatly increasing traffic congestion. Autonomous vehicles are predicted to again increase traffic and congestion. Double decker highways are needed!

        Bottom line: road diets have been disastrous for traffic congestion and CO2 production.

        • Adam Auster on

          It’s been a while since I cracked open the Mass. Ave. Functional Design Report. But I have to say your account of it bears no resemblance to what it actually measures and predicts.

          Also you provide no comparable data from today. I don’t think there are any.

          It’s an interesting idea to make that comparison, but, as I said, you need the apples-to-apples data to make it.

          PS Based on my own anecdotal experience, and what I hear from others, I think the new design is a success. At the very least, I do not see any basis to claim otherwise.

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            Brian Ristucca provided a video from 8:40AM, 10/9/2018 showing traffic congested even before Grafton/Orvis. His timing on this video caught green lights so didn’t show stopped traffic so much. He has posted many videos which are the best documentation I’ve seen on traffic conditions during the trial. Even at nearly 9 AM and least traffic, the traffic queue is longer than what the Mass. Ave. project FDR predicted for 2018.

            You even wrote: “The queue rarely extends as far back as Varnum Street, at least before 7:30.” Varnum is 1,360 feet from Rt. 16 while the 2018 “rarely” distance predicted in the 2009 FDR is only 563 feet!

            I agree the new design is a success. My claim is that the data used for the Mass Ave. project was a huge failure. More capacity was needed in the plan, including more coordination of traffic lights.

            • Adam Auster on

              When you trashed road diets generally, it did not sounds as though you thought this one was a success.

              I do not think the metric of queue length is the right one, though I suppose it is the only one where there is even anecdotal evidence to make a comparison. That is, if, arguendo, the engineers were wrong about future queue lengths in 2010, it does not mean the rest of their analysis was wrong.

              • Mark Kaepplein on

                The bus project is the success, not the road diet of Mass Ave.! Unless a similar traffic study was done by the bus project group, we just have the data citizens have collected or analyzed. Queue length is the most visible and relate-able measure as drivers are not often timing how long it takes them to get from the backup through the intersection (LOS) – that type of measurement is only being done for bus riders. The bus project was done because the queue lengths were too long before the project, and remain so for drivers, even with improvements to signal timing!

                Something not measured before or after the Mass Ave. project is the delay entering Mass Ave. from unsignalized side streets on the north side. Going from two lanes to one removed many gaps in traffic to enter. It’s much harder since the project.

              • Adam Auster on

                I thought that would happen, but it made it easier for me to enter traffic. I do it a lot these days.

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        Queue lengths at Rt 16 (50%/95%) for AM east/south bound going through or right were 357’/481′ in 2008, “no-build” 2018 449’/563′, and “build” 2018 419’/563′, so minor claimed improvement for the project.

        Thorndike/Teel is 860′ from Rt. 16. Fairmont is 635′, so predictions were that traffic wouldn’t hardly ever back up that far now! 563′ is almost to Henderson is on the north side of Mass Ave. and Lafayette is 420′. Magnolia is 1,130′, Varnum 1,360, Milton 1,585′, Melrose 1,800′, Egerton 2,025′, Chandler 2,250′, and Lake is 2,375′

        Lesson: Don’t trust claims of excess capacity in roadways. It will be needed in the future.

  2. Mark Kaepplein on

    FYI, there is some shelter near the new bus stop, especially at Little Q Hot Pot.

    The study would be more accurate if there were no police details during the last week or so. We don’t know what happens when there are none, unless the permanent plan is to have police keeping personal motor vehicles out of the bus/bike lane.

    • Adam Auster on

      I think a stop that gets that much traffic deserves a full-fledged shelter, not just huddling in a doorway.

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        There is a recessed entry at Little Q. Up to 10 people could be sheltered there alone. Full fledged shelters are bad for business – just look at the vacant storefront at 888 Mass Ave. behind the bus shelter, next to Toraya. Almost all blocked from view.

        • Adam Auster on

          I huddled for years in the doorway to the shops at Thorndike St. It was not a good experience.

          The new bus shelter there, which I fought for, is a huge improvement.

          Lake is a much busier stop than Thorndike and riders there deserve the same level of service.

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