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MBTA and Cities of Boston, Somerville, Everett, Chelsea to Rapidly Construct 14 Miles of Bus Lanes in Unprecedented Regional Effort to Improve Public Health, Transit Reliability, Multimodal Access in the Wake of COVID-19

Posted on August 27, 2020

MBTA and municipal partners to build new bus lanes on critical transit corridors along roadways in Boston, Somerville, Everett, and Chelsea as part of the MBTA’s Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program.


The MBTA, the City of Boston, the City of Somerville, the City of Everett, and the City of Chelsea today announced an unprecedented region-wide effort to implement up to 14 miles of dedicated bus lanes throughout the upcoming fall and spring to improve bus speed, reliability, and reduce crowded conditions in the wake of COVID-19. These projects aim to both address service delays and improve service conditions to better allow bus riders to social distance.

“The Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program is about addressing the needs of riders today while taking a transformative step forward to build a better T,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “Throughout the pandemic, the majority of our ridership has been on our bus system. Advancing this program is the fastest way we can provide thousands of our riders with significant improvements in service reliability. We could not have done this without the support of our municipal partners and their leadership during this time. This kind of collaboration will allow our region’s economy to safely re-open while improving access for all.”

“This rapid implementation program comes at a critical time when Bostonians need to know that their bus will get them safely and rapidly to wherever they need to get to,” said City of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “Along with our Healthy Streets initiative, the MBTA’s Rapid Response Program moves our region's transportation system forward, making it more resilient. We have seen great success on our bus lane projects across the City in the last few years and we are looking forward to offering to our residents improved service conditions through this program."

“This crisis has reminded us of the deep disparities across our region. Our most vulnerable residents have borne the brunt of this illness, even as many of them have been among our essential workforce that has never ceased heading into work every day,” said City of Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “Bus lanes that quickly enhance access to safe transit, cut commute travel times, and improve air quality for our most vulnerable residents are a pressing necessity in neighborhoods like East Somerville. Streamlined bus routes are safer bus routes, and they serve parts of our community that deserve priority attention.”

“Creating bus lanes in places like Sweetser Circle – the biggest travel bottleneck in the City – is critical for improving the commutes of our residents and advancing toward bus rapid transit,” said City of Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “Reliable and efficient public transportation is key to creating and preserving affordable housing for our residents and their ability to access our region’s economy.”

“Chelsea residents depend on numerous key bus routes like Route 111, which is a critical connection to Boston that carries over 12,000 riders each day to work, the grocery store, and critical services,” said City of Chelsea City Manager Thomas G. Ambrosino. “Enhancing service for Chelsea residents, particularly low and moderate income individuals, will reduce delays and overcrowding along these important routes.”

Bus lanes can reduce crowding on buses and also limit the amount of time riders spend in close proximity to others while on the bus. In some cases, bus lanes can improve service frequency to further mitigate crowded conditions. These improvements will support public health and COVID-19 recovery throughout the bus service network and region.

Projects were selected by the MBTA in partnership with municipalities to target corridors that have seen some of the highest rates of bus ridership since March and experience above-average chronic delay, thereby improving service for the most vulnerable users. 

Several of the selected project corridors are critical connections for commuters accessing essential jobs and services with benefits seen on high-ridership routes including Routes 15, 22, 23, 28, 66, 86, 111, 116, and 117. Through the implementation of all proposed Rapid Response Bus Lanes projects, the improvements will directly benefit more than 50,000 weekday bus riders presently using these services (about a third of the current weekday ridership) in addition to thousands more as anticipated increases in ridership continue in the coming months. Based on pre-pandemic ridership figures from February, these upgrades could eventually benefit more than 110,000 weekday bus riders.

Projects that will be implemented this fall and spring include: 

  • Columbus Avenue in Boston between Walnut Avenue and Jackson Square Station.
  • North Washington Street in Boston from Cross Street to Causeway Street.
  • Broadway in Chelsea from City Hall Plaza to 3rd Street.
  • Washington Street in Somerville between McGrath Highway and Sullivan Square.
  • Sweetser Circle, Main Street near Sweetser Circle, and Broadway from Sweetser Circle to Chelsea Street in Everett.
  • Washington Street in Boston to Roslindale from Forest Hills Station to Roslindale Village.

Projects to undergo further public process over the fall for potential spring implementation include:

  • Warren Street in Boston between Grove Hall and Nubian Square.
  • Malcolm X Boulevard in Boston between Nubian Square and Tremont Street.
  • Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street in Boston from Jackson Square Station to Ruggles Station, extending the bus lanes currently under construction.
  • Hyde Park Avenue in Boston between Metropolitan Parkway and Forest Hills Station.

Several projects in planning prior to the pandemic were accelerated as part of the Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program while others were identified in response to specific ridership trends since March 2020. All of the projects benefit bus routes that have continued to have high ridership since the pandemic began.

Improvements will include quick-build treatments such as striping, red paint, signage, and minor signaling changes. Further enhancements will also likely take place in 2021 and beyond. Emergency response vehicles and school buses may also use these bus lanes, which will further benefit first-responders and students. Several projects also include shared bus/bike lanes, dedicated bike facilities, and pedestrian safety improvements in order to bolster multimodal transportation.

The MBTA and each municipality have worked in close partnership on each project. Design for the projects is supported by the MBTA’s on-call design contracts with implementation predominantly funded by the MBTA and assistance from each municipality. The MBTA expects to spend approximately $20 million in 2020 and early 2021 to deliver the Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program, both through direct construction and through reimbursements to municipalities that construct projects themselves. Municipalities generally provide additional funding for non-bus-related components of the projects, such as streetscape improvements that do not directly affect bus operations, though actual cost sharing varies by each project.

The MBTA Transit Priority Group was created in 2019 with support from the Barr Foundation to further bus priority projects around the region. Since its creation last year, the group has partnered with municipalities to implement nearly four miles of dedicated bus lanes, alongside transit signal priority and other speed and reliability improvements.

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