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City proposes something like a trolley line down Blue Hill Avenue, only with buses

Blue Hill Avenue at Arbutus Street in 1929.

Blue Hill Avenue at Arbutus Street in 1929. See it larger.

StreetsBlogMass reports Boston transportation planners are looking at the idea of creating dedicated bus lanes down the center of Blue Hill Avenue - including stations along the way - as a way to improve service on the 28 line.

There's plenty of room, thanks to the right of way the old MTA left behind when it ditched trolleys there in the mid-1950s, and giving buses their own lanes could cut travel time between Mattapan and Nubian squares in half.

The same location today.

Photo from the Boston City Archives.

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Comments

But I like the way the kid waiting for a trolley is dressed (and that look he's giving the photographer) - and the trolley driver and friend on the other side of the tracks:

Kid on Blue Hill Avenue
Blue Hill Avenue trolley driver
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Voting closed 18

But it would be sad to lose all those beautiful trees down the median.

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Around BHA Mattapan section in a while, because for about roughly two miles (Mattapan Square to Woodrow Avenue) there aren’t any trees.

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In the locations where there are trees, the plan is to retain the trees. This is really only an issue from Balsam to Westview south of Harambee Park. The rest of the corridor's median is tree-free. This would in fact give the opportunity to put in many new trees along the roadway.

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Ari O you need to point out upfront that you work for the ITDP before you venture into anything linked to 28X.

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Before, what was there before. From Seaver Street to American Legion Highway the trees were magnificent. The current trees from Franklin Field to Morton Street look like saplings.

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I thought the residents completely rejected the idea of BRT more than a decade ago when the 28X was proposed.

If they're doing a median transitway, it makes no sense to do only buses, given the ridership levels on the 28. A combined light rail/bus corridor (like this, except at ground level) would be optimal, allowing the 28 to be replaced by Green Line, while also letting regular buses on other routes use the median. Of course, this could be added in afterwards, but it would be cheaper to do it all at once.

Also, at this rate, Mattapan will become one of the most transit-accessible places in the city (outside downtown) soon, especially when considering its distance from downtown. There's the proposals to significantly boost Fairmount service, this BRT proposal, and the existing Mattapan-Ashmont service. This is, of course, great news. However, in the southwest corner of the city, there's a proposal to reduce the number of travel lanes on a main street with no provision for bus lanes, in the same neighborhood that sees rail service every 2 hours on Saturdays and every 24 hours on Sundays...

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Was the state springing the idea of dedicated bus lanes on them with absolutely no community involvement - which then led to store owners fighting a plan that would have taken away much of their parking, again without any prior communication with them.

It's a touchy subject in a community that was promised a rapid-transit replacement when the Orange Line was moved and then got nothing.

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Anything that helps get the buses out of traffic on Blue Hill Ave gets my applause. Taking the 22 from the corner of Walnut & Seavern to Ashmont back when I did that commute varied from about 30 minutes on a fast day to over an hour. The worst I remember was 2 hours to get home in Lower Mills.
All of the Blue Hill routes have a lot of riders and delays impact a lot of families. If this speeds up the commute and the people who live on the line are good with it, then it can't start a minute too soon.

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Do you consider Blue Hill Ave in Mattapan (the 28X) to be the same community as Washington St north of Nubian Square (the Silver Line)? They're several miles apart.

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Much of which stemmed from the short time frame under which it needed to qualify for federal funds. But several other mistakes which included:

1) The plan was a "don't inconvenience somebody driving a car" plan first. This meant that to get bus lanes in without removing car throughput it wound up paving basically the whole corridor and making it more of a highway, just one with bus lanes down the middle. Trees? Who needs them. Bicycle lanes? What's a bicycle? The current design reduces travel lanes (in places) with the goal of prioritizing people who walk, bike or take transit, especially since with ~20 buses per hour on much of the corridor, buses carry as many people on Blue Hill Avenue as automobiles. (Data: BHA traffic peaks at ~1300 cars per hour in the morning peak inbound in Mattapan, and about 900 in the afternoon peak outbound. The 28+29+31 buses provide 7 60-foot buses and 12 40-foot buses per hour on this corridor, with seated capacity for about 900 passengers and, with standees, capacity for about 1300 passengers.)

2) The plan removed a lot of parking. This plan removes some parking, but not to the extent (I think) that the 28X plan did. The meeting last week cited the retention of 422 parking spaces between Grove Hall and Mattapan. It also doesn't create the same sorts of barriers that the 28X did, with long stretches between stations with high barriers and a lack of crosswalks (although I think more crosswalks would be helpful).

3) This is being led by the city, not the state, and is not under an artificially fast timeline. So the City can go to public meetings, engage the public, and not say it's an all-or-nothing commitment based on federal funding (although there are federal funds available, this project might be moving too fast to apply for them). The 2009 version basically didn't involve the city; at the public meeting last week there were representatives from BTD, BPDA and the T all in the room, and they all seemed to be on the same page. It also sounds like they've been talking to electeds.

4) It's 2020, not 2009. The list of people mentioned this post from Byron Rushing reads like a who's who of people who are no longer in public office. Also an article from when Gintautas Dumcius was at the Dot News. Things have changed a bit since then. This might be successful where the 28X wasn't.

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So bus riders only tie people in cars if every bus is full with standees, and every car has a solo driver with no passengers? That's disappointing. I would have expected the majority of road users to be in buses.

Maybe if we improve bus service we can tip the balance.

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The bus takes so much longer to traverse the corridor because it has to let a bunch of people on and off, and it then gets stuck behind cars which just passed it at a bus stop.

A reliable 25 minute ride from Mattapan to Dudley would probably boost ridership pretty significantly.

But think about it this way: buses carry 50% of the people on the road today with 20 vehicles per hour, versus cars, which carry the other 50%, with 1000+ vehicles per hour. Even with this BRT, buses will take up 25% of the road's space and probably carry >50%, and cars most of the remaining space (a bit on the edges for bicyclists in places). Cars are just very inefficient at moving a lot of people in confined areas.

Another local example: about 60% of the width of the Longfellow Bridge is space for cars, yet at rush hour they carry maybe 8% of the traffic across the bridge.

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The Orange Line never served the Blue Hill Ave corridor where this is being proposed. Also, while community input is all fine and dandy, it shouldn't be needed for (or allowed to kill) things like dedicated bus lanes and other transportation improvements.

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..and if the idea had been to trench a divided highway down the middle of Blue Hill Avenue, leaving a narrower surface road on either side and only occasional spots to cross?
Should community input be allowed to kill that?

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" it shouldn't be needed for (or allowed to kill) things like dedicated bus lanes and other transportation improvements."

A freaking trenched divided highway isn't a bus lane.

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Failure to remember recent incidents.

The MBTA attempted to create a Rt 28X down the center of Geneva Ave and Blue Hill Ave using a dedicated busway. After declaring the project shovel ready and accepting federal funds, they purchased the existing fleet of extra-long, center-articulated buses. However once the MBTA and massDOT started to unveil the proposed plan -- after they purchased the buses -- the residents along the route pushed back.

The MBTA and MassDOT held various so-called "public meetings" at various times and in changing locations that made it difficult for the residents to be heard and air their concerns. Eventually state reps and city councilors woke up and started attending the meetings and complained about the transportation departments efforts to ramrod the plan through and making it difficult for people to have public input.

Among the concerns was that the busway would be enclosed with Jersey barriers and people would only be able to cross at specific intersections. Many existing openings in the center divider for side streets would be closed off. People protested that they would not be able to access their local business easily, as they do now by crossing these streets, but also not being able to access their homes. A second protest issue was that the construction would not only disrupt the neighborhoods but the dust would exacerbate the chronic asthma and other lung disease this neighborhood already endures -- some of the highest rates in the city.

So with the help of elected officials, city and state, the plan was set aside. Ever since then the MBTA has been scrambling to adjust bus stops at longer intervals to increase the "passengers per mile served" ratios that they need to meet based on the funds they took from Uncle Sam. This is the only reason those extra-long buses are used on the Rt 28 now; they were purchased before the plan was approved. They were stuck with them. Even then, each public meeting that has proposed closing existing bus stops or spacing them wider has been met with resistance. Few have actually changed.

This neighborhood has a major distrust of the MBTA and MassDOT as a result. This is exacerbated by the nearby Roxbury neighborhood that made it oh-so-painfully clear that they wanted a light rail line installed when the Orange Line Elevated tracks were removed. Instead they got the Silver Line from Dudley to Downtown which most hate with a passion.

There are plenty of articles on line speaking to this which happened just 10-years ago. Here is one example. Let Google search guide you to the others.

https://www.dotnews.com/2011/transit-study-report-expected-january

Before we shout "things have changed," have they really? The public that might most benefit from such a service made it clear that they don't want that and you can expect many of the same people to make their voices heard at future public meetings. This was never about better public transit but government forcing an unknown on the populace, and also the overwhelming health concerns of a multi-year construction project.

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You can’t have transit infrastructure without construction. That point is moot. These “health concerns” will always exist, so if the neighbors don’t want it, the money can go to other parts of the city or state, but people (primarily the “advocates” that talk about things like “transit justice”) really need to stop their complaining.

Re: crossing the street and distance between bus stops - very relevant points, but I can promise you that the elevated service did not have stops every 400 feet, and while people could cross the streets, the elevated structure is generally considered an eyesore that devalues the neighborhood (and “oppresses the residents”). Underground service cannot be justified with the relatively lower population density, so surface level is the only solution. For any surface level application, you can’t have people crossing everywhere - it’s not practical because more crossings translate directly into longer travel times. I thought that in today’s terms, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (eg. in the bikes > cars assumption), so pedestrians here are obviously the few compared to everybody that rides transit (eg. 50 people on a bus waiting for 1 person to cross). There have to be sacrifices before getting something good.

Oh, one last point - the T wasn’t “stuck” with the articulated 60’ buses. There are many bus routes that can use them - such as the 32, 66, etc, all of which serve a large minority ridership. Instead, the T has kept them on the 28. It has even put many of the newest 60’ buses (ones that arrived ~2017 to replace the 60’ 2003 Neoplan CNGs that ran on the 39) on the 28, while allocating the now-older buses to the 39 — it’s apparently more equitable to serve Blue Hill Ave with new buses only, while sticking the old buses to other places in the city. To abbreviate this, the buses weren’t wasted, and the most striking fact is that they run all day/night on the 28 (whereas the 39 runs with 40’ regular buses after 9pm daily).

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The photo above sure looks like the stops are closely spaced. You can see bunches of people waiting in the background. This cried had trolleys -- not the elevated Orange Line.

The 39 has 40' buses at night because that neighborhood complained about the noise from the 60' buses. Not because the T cares less about JP than Mattapan.

Agreed on the construction dust issue.

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The T is doing stop consolidation along Comm Ave on the B line. This costly project isn't only to accommodate Type 10 cars in the future, but also because planners felt the existing stops were too close together. So, for Blue Hill Avenue, both BRT and trolley need to have stops that are more spaced out - this improves speed a LOT and helps make the service actually usable/competitive vs driving.

Also, noise was an issue with the Neoplan CNG 60' buses, but they've since been retired. No scientific evidence, but from personal experience, I think the current fleet of New Flyer hybrid 60' buses (1250-1293 series) is quieter than the 40' CNG buses that they run at night - particularly because the hybrids use an electric motor that is powered by battery when accelerating from zero before transitioning to a diesel generator at higher speeds. Despite this, the T has not returned the 60' buses - not even as an experiment/trial - to night 39 service, showing that JP is really not on the priority list for the T. (Even if the ridership might not be there, the T should still have a commitment to run high-capacity, frequent service on the 39, as part of their 1987 "temporary" suspension of service to Arborway/Forest Hills.)

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The neighborhood is sending a signal. They are tired of every transit group using their community as a testing ground. Whether its busways (ITDP) magical subway ideas (TransitMatters) or GLX pitches (too many to count)

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It's really a shame that the neighborhood and MassDOT/MBTA could not agree on a 28X plan. I know that neighbors feel like it was shoved down their throat, but it was no conspiracy. Federal funds became available as part of the stimulus plan, and the transportation leadership saw it as an opportunity to make significant service improvements to a long neglected and heavily used bus corridor. Unfortunately, people wanted a longer and more comprehensive public process than time would allow for the stimulus funding, so the project was scrapped/tabled.

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read something on city-data not sure what the specific law is.
like to qualify for federal rapid transit grants it has to be:
either grade-seperated or dedicated lanes (check).
stops at boarding platform.
pre-payment prior to boarding to reduce bottle-necking at each station.
egress from multiple doors.
connected to entire system -- free interchange.
frequency of headways.

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