Buses moved faster during pilot

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

A bus takes advantage of the temporary bus lane at about 7:15 AM on October 9, the first day of the trial. At Thorndike Street facing Arlington Center.

The traffic cones and police detail are gone, but preliminary data from Wayz and the MBTA suggest that the Town’s bus-priority experiment worked.

The pilot’s three main measures reduced bus trip time by 5-6 minutes on average days without adversely affecting other road users, according to preliminary data.

The time savings climbed to 10 minutes on days of high congestion.

Town employees, a consultant, and a representative of the MBTA presented preliminary pilot data and took questions at a meeting at Town Hall on Wednesday night.

Jennifer Raitt, the director of the Town’s department of community development, said that two of the measures, signal and lane changes at Route 16 and a bus-stop relocation at Lake Street, would be permanent.

The third measure, the dedicated bus lane, may be reinstituted, she said.

Bus Priority Experiment

For a month starting October 9, the Town set up a pop-up bus lane from Varnum Street nearly all the way to Route 16.

At the same time the MBTA relocated the Lake Street bus stop and the Town and the City of Cambridge reconfigured the east and westbound approaches to Route 16.

Sign showing new lane configuration

The bus lane was in effect from 6 – 9 AM every weekday morning and has been discontinued, at least for now.

The other changes are permanent and are deployed every hour of every day.

The purposes of the experiment were to “improve traffic flow, reduce travel time, and increase reliability” of bus transit.

A benefit of shortening trip times was to make buses more regular.

In addition:

Transit Priority Signal: As part of the Lake Street changes that are now permanent, the Town installed devices to extend or delay signal changes in response to the presence of MBTA buses. The changes favor getting the buses through the intersection faster.

Delays: During the first week of the pilot, non-bus trip times increased by 5 minutes in the test area at peak as drivers adapted to the changes. The effect disappeared by the second week.

Entering Traffic: The police details along the bus lane were scaled back as the pilot progressed, but access to Mass. Ave. from entering traffic functioned “in the best way the entire time,” Raitt said.

She added that the Town might add a traffic-enforcement officer in the are should the bus lane be reinstated.

Support for the pilot was great among bus riders, who were surveyed by volunteers.

Detail: The current data and preliminary analysis did not attempt to break the time savings down by specific measure, but doing so is a goal.

Bus Shelter: The MBTA is working with the Town to locate a bus shelter at the new Lake Street stop.

Pedestrian Safety: The only structural change made for the pilot was to remove a neckdown (curb bump-out) at Lafayette Street to make way for the bus lane. This has not been restored pending a final decision on reinstating the bus lane.

Questions and Comments

The reactions of the 30-odd residents present were generally positive, with a few reservations.

Questions touched on bike lanes, bus bunching, pedestrian safety, bike safety at Lake Street, and problems entering traffic from homes or streets that abut the bus lane.

Richard Fraiman, who owns the Capitol Theater, said he had heard form some theater patrons that the missed the use of the theater marquee as an informal bus shelter.

He also cited issues experienced by an abutting business owner whom he declined to name.

Mark Kaeplein, a critic of the Mass. ave Project that was completed in 2016, criticized the Mass. Ave. Project.

Future Plans

Raitt told the group that the pilot team plans to use the full final data to prepare a more-detailed analysis and make a final report to the Select Board in early 2019.

She said the Town expects to work with Cambridge to make further changes to the signal there. in addition:

  • Of the transit signal technology that favors MBTA buses at lake Street, Raitt said the Town might add it to other signals on Mass. Ave.
  • The Town will explore off-board fare collection and raised platform boarding with the T, two bus-rapid-transit measures that were not part of the pilot.
  • Broadway might also benefit from similar measures, she said.

There is more information about all of the above in the meeting’s slide presentation, which Raitt said will be posted on the Town’s website tomorrow.

Update: It is! And worth reading. There’s another account of the conclusion of the pilot on the Town website too.


4 comments so far

  1. Larry Slotnick on

    Thank you for this meeting summarization. Very helpful! If the MBTA and Town of Arlington will indeed work to add “bus prioritization” to traffic signals, then I would assume that Jenny Raitt would want to implement this at most traffic signals along Mass Ave…especially the somewhat frivolous ones at Bates Rd and Linden Street. But if the City of Cambridge doesn’t intend to take up a similar strategy along their stretch of Mass Ave west of Porter Square, having them only in East Arlington would be sort of meaningless.

    • Ray Jones on

      Do you mean Linwood Street, by chance? I’m curious why you call them frivolous.

    • Adam Auster on

      I certainly hope Cambridge gets on the stick! But why would a shorter trip be it be “meaningless” if they did not?

  2. Phil Goff on

    Thanks for the summary Adam. Larry – regarding the TSP, from what I recall, in the NExt Steps section, Jenny said that 1) they will continue working with City of Cambridge to improve things on their side and 2) to install TSP at other signals along Mass Ave. She specifically mentioned the Jason/Mill intersection but perhaps they are looking at others too.

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