Deal offers chance to improve public transit, streets

December 15, 2006
By

The settlement announced last week between the Conservation Law Foundation and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has at last created an opportunity for Jamaica Plain to obtain the better transit service it deserves. The question is whether JP will seize this opportunity or let it go by. We hope that JP residents and their elected representatives will engage in a planning process that can bring us sorely-needed bus and roadway improvements—without further delay.

There is money to make these changes. The T originally budgeted $10 million “to support bus service improvements along the Arborway corridor” but was forced to use this money to plan for restoration of trolley service. The T should use the $8 million remaining to: (a) immediately begin working with the community to develop a set of recommendations to improve Route 39 service; (b) hire consultants to assist in a planning process, with real community participation, to recommend bus-related capital improvements in JP; and (c) pay for the design and construction of the capital improvements that come out of this planning process.

One of the first things Better Transit Without Trolleys (BTWT; www.btwt.org) hopes the community can agree on is that the city should remove the remaining trolley tracks and finally repave Centre and South streets—which would be a long overdue elimination of a hazard.

The current quality of bus service is unacceptable. Fortunately, the T has begun a program to improve service quality on “Key Bus Routes,” including the 39. The T should work with the community to take measures in spring, 2007 to reduce bus bunching and provide better customer information. Each quarter, the T should measure the quality of service, as experienced by the transit rider, and correct problems until they are eliminated. A 20-minute or greater gap in service when buses are supposed to come every 5 minutes is the kind of substandard performance we have today that must be fixed.

Over the next year, the planning process should propose capital improvements to be implemented jointly by the T and the city. These might include reconfiguring intersections, retiming traffic lights, relocating bus stops, giving buses priority at traffic signals and installing benches and other amenities. New service could be considered, such as a new direct bus route to Brookline Village.

The city should give transit vehicles priority in road design. Here are just a few ideas to speed up Route 39 bus service—and benefit other road users too: (1) fix the intersection at Forest Hills (South Street, New Washington Sreet, and Arborway ramps); (2) make the signals at Thomas Street and Carolina Avenue activate only when needed; (3) reduce delay at the Centre Street and S. Huntington Avenue intersection; (4) create loading zones on Huntington Avenue to reduce double parking; and (5) reconfigure the inbound 39 to eliminate the detour around the Prudential Center.

Bus service in Jamaica Plain can be better, faster and more reliable, and our streets can be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. BTWT urges JP residents, businesses and elected officials to work with the MBTA and the City of Boston to develop a workable program of bus service improvements and make them a reality. And the city should repave Centre and South streets as soon as possible.

Paul Schimek
Jon Truslow
Sara Wermiel
Jamaica Plain

The writers are members of
Better Transit Without Trolleys.