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MBTA and MassDOT Announce Tobin Bridge Bus Lane Pilot

Posted on December 8, 2020

Dedicated 1.1 mile bus lane southbound on the Tobin Bridge opens Monday, December 14.

The MBTA and Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Highway Division are announcing that a 1.1 mile dedicated bus lane for southbound travel on the Tobin Bridge will open for use by public transportation buses on Monday, December 14. This 12-month southbound bus lane pilot, along with additional transit priority initiatives and improvements on Broadway Street in Chelsea and North Washington Street in Boston, makes the MBTA’s Route 111 bus route one of the most prioritized bus routes in the MBTA system.

“We are piloting the idea of a preferential lane for the MBTA’s 111 route and the lane’s success will be evaluated after collecting data on bus travel times, crowding, and ridership, along with how safe the dedicated lane is for all travelers,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “We’ve been pleased at how receptive in general that community members have been during the pandemic to rethinking how public space is used, and we believe this is an opportune time to try a dedicated lane for buses traveling southbound over the Tobin Bridge and toward City Square Tunnel.”

“The partnership with the MBTA is not only with the design, implementation, or service of the bus lane but, equally as important, is on collecting and evaluating information in real time,” said Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver. “And we look forward to working with the MBTA to better understand how this pilot will impact North Shore commuters and transit users.”

“We continue to see high ridership on Route 111, and one of our most valuable tools to address crowding is through transit priority infrastructure improvements like the Tobin bus lane,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “Thank you to our partner communities for continuing to collaborate with us in implementing these dedicated lanes, and thank you especially to the MassDOT Highway Division for working with us in piloting this southbound bus lane on the Tobin Bridge and improving the commuting experience for our 111 riders.”

Supporting public health and COVID-19 recovery, the MBTA’s Rapid Response Bus Lane program has identified corridors like the areas where Route 111 operates as these routes have seen some of the highest rates of bus ridership since March and experience above-average chronic delay. As of November 2020, Route 111’s current ridership is about 73 percent of its pre-COVID levels for the same time period, ranking Route 111 among one of the highest ridership routes in the MBTA bus system (third highest).

Extending 1.1 miles, the dedicated all-day bus lane exclusive to Bus Route 111 begins after the Everett Avenue on-ramp merge in Chelsea and extends across the Tobin Bridge, ending just before the City Square Tunnel in Charlestown. Dedicated 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. 

The Tobin Bridge Bus Lane pilot is a result of guidance and direction from MassDOT’s Highway Division and close collaboration between the MBTA, MassDOT, and its partner municipalities to address major bottlenecks along Route 111. This dedicated lane on the Tobin Bridge joins other recent transit priority initiatives directly benefitting Route 111, including:

  • Recent transit priority infrastructure improvements on Washington Avenue and Broadway in Chelsea as part of the Rapid Response Bus Lane program, 
  • A bus-bicycle lane on North Washington from Causeway Street to Valenti Way implemented in September 2019 that provides bus priority from the North Washington Street Bridge to Haymarket Station, 
  • Advancing plans to include an outbound bus lane on North Washington Street through the Rapid Response Bus Lane program and the City of Boston’s Healthy Streets initiative, and 
  • An inbound bus lane included in the final design of MassDOT’s project to reconstruct the North Washington Street Bridge between Charlestown and the North End, which is anticipated to be complete in 2023. 

The pilot will be in place for 1 year with the bus lane’s performance analyzed for metrics that include travel time, operations, crowding, and ridership. Roadway and vehicle data analysis will also take place with roadway operations being monitored for vehicle volumes, travel time, and safety. 

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 over ten miles of dedicated bus lanes, alongside transit signal priority and other speed and reliability improvements.

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