Arlington largely cut off from Alewife T under MBTA proposal

Map of Arlington showing proposed new bus routes

Proposed new routes. Source: MBTA

The 350 bus, running once per hour from Alewife to Burlington via Arlington Center, and the 62, would be the only connections to Alewife from Arlington if a new bus plan for the T goes into effect.

The plan, part of a system-wide revamp of bus networks, also includes some new routes through Town, such as a bus from Arlington Center to Newton that runs though Belmont and Waltham.

The agency is accepting comments on the plan through at least late July.

The changes come as the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development has proposed a new housing mandate for Arlington based on its proximity to the Alewife T. The Town is weighing zoning and other changes that rely on frequent and reliable bus service, to give people alternatives to driving.

New Bus Network

The changes are part of a system-wide revamp designed, according to the T, to provide “new connections, more service, more frequency.”

However, the plan also includes reroutings and cutbacks that will adversely affect service in some areas. The plan for Arlington is online.

The release of this proposal starts a 3-month period of public comment, including virtual and in-person hearings. (None of the in-person events are on Arlington.)

The T says it will start to implement the plan, once finalized, over a five-year period from 2023 – 2028. It has not described the transition period, so we do not know when services will be added, eliminated, or changed.

Gains and losses

At least twice hourly, a new 54 bus would depart Arlington Center for the Riverside terminus of the D line, with stops in Belmont Center, Waverly, and Waltham Center.

The 54 would connect directly with the Fitchburg line of the commuter train, and pass near the Worcester line’s Auburndale station.

Service to alewife on the 79 (Arlington Heights), 84 (Arlmont and Arlington Heights) and 67 (Turkey Hill) would end. (The 79 and 84 have been suspended for the past two years.)

However, the proposal would extend the 87 bus—from Sullivan Square, not Lechmere—to Turkey Hill.

The T would also eliminate the no. 80 route that makes its way to Lechmere via the Medford Hillside area (Tufts University). Outside of Arlington, this route will largely be served by the new Green Line extension.

There would be no bus routes to Lechmere.

A key to the bus map showing service levels by color.

Service levels by color. Source: MBTA

A rerouted 87 crosses the new Green line on the way to the 87’s new terminus at Sullivan Square, but the nearest T stop is about 1,000 feet away, assuming the bus stops at the closest point.

Under the plan, the only “key bus route” entitled to minimum service levels of 4 times per hour would be the 77. The 78, which connects Arlmont and parts of the Heights to Harvard Square, would be degraded from every 30 minutes to once an hour (minimum service).

Changes by Route

No. Notes Minimum
54 New bus to Belmont, Newton 30 min.
62 Route unchanged 60 min
67 Merged with 87
77 Route unchanged 15 min
78 Unchanged 60 min
79 Eliminated
80 Eliminated
84 Eliminated
87 Becomes Sullivan Sq to Turkey Hill 30 min
90 New service to Arlington Ctr 60 min
95 More-frequent service 30 min
350 Route unchanged 60 min.

Update: I’d forgotten that the 84 bus, like the 79, had only been suspended by the T, not officially eliminated. The 84 served Arlmont and parts of Arlington Heights from Alewife. Both would be ended under the T’s proposal.

Also I misreported the proposed route for the 90, which would now extend to Arlington Center (and to Chelsea at the other end! Another long route.)

Further update: As this notice from the Town of Arlington points out, the proposed 95 would terminate at Wellington. The notice also implies that other route tweaks would bring more-frequent service to Arlington Center.

Thanks to notes from readers about what I’d missed.

Some notes:

  • “Minimum” is the only information the T has provided about the frequency of these buses. Probably service is better than “minimum” at many times of day.
  • The 54 is new, and the 87 is fundamentally changed.
  • Even were the 350 and the 62 (which cuts through parts of Arlington Heights on the way to Bedford) to be more frequent, most of Arlington will still not have direct service to Alewife, as these routes do not serve the same neighborhoods as the 79.
  • There is no more bus to East Cambridge.
  • This is not a done deal.

I have rushed to get this out, and probably missed some details (and maybe made errors) in the process. But I am not going to be able to attend to this for a few days, and don’t you want the latest now?

Do do want to note two things in passing. First, the disconnect from Alewife is mindbogglingly stupid.

Second, long routes are prone to bus bunching, service gaps, and unpredictable delays. There are concrete things the MBTA could do to improve this problem, but until it does so, don’t get your hopes too up about the new 54. Elongating the 87 (from Sullivan to Turkey Hill!) is just asking for problems.

I hope the the plan makes service improvements to other parts of the region.

4 comments so far

  1. Allen on

    The 90 route did change — it now starts at Arlington Center, goes to Davis, then down Highland following the current 88/90 route, then cuts up to Assembly Row, and finally goes all the way to Chelsea. It also runs every 30 minutes, not every 60.

    This doubles the service from Arlington Center to Davis via Broadway, more so if you include the fact that both the 90 and 87 would run their full routes from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM 7 days a week, vs the 87’s current Monday-Saturday schedule until around 8:00 PM.

    That having been said, the rerouting of the 87 is bizarre. It goes right to Davis, fails to link up with the new T39 that takes the 87’s old route through Union, instead takes a full loop around Davis to go up College, and then totally avoids getting close to the new GLX stations before taking up some of the 95’s current route to Sullivan.

    • Adam Auster on

      The 90 actually doesn’t come to Arlington at all today—it terminates at Davis, though I think I recall it once made it as far as Clarendon Hill.

      So yes, a much bigger change than I had reported! I will try to find time to fix it tomorrow. Thanks for pointing it out!

  2. Paul Schlichtman on

    Total fail.
    Arlington will have no access to the (nearby) Green Line Extension (GLX). Instead of killing the 80 bus, we should transform it into a high-frequency connection to Tufts-Medford.

    • Adam Auster on

      This is also a fail from a system-wide perspective.

      Ideally green-line trains at the Medford terminus would be met by buses that go directly to the West Medford commuter rail stop.

      Some of these might continue on to Arlington, others to other destinations in Medford or Winchester. This would vastly extend the reach of the GLX, and help to justify its cost.

      As proposed, to get from Medford to Lowell, you’d go inbound to North Station to catch the train, which would literally reverse the trip outbound and add something like a half hour to the trip.


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