T looks at Rt. 39 bus stops

December 19, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

The MBTA offered a “first cut” proposal for consolidating and redesigning bus stops along its Route 39 corridor at a Dec. 15 meeting of the bus corridor improvement Citizens’ Working Group at the Agassiz School on Child Street.

“This is the first cut at possible options looking at T ridership and [bus stop] spacing. There are a lot of other factors” to be considered, said MBTA Project Manager Eric Sheier.

The meeting was attended by three MBTA officials; a transportation planning consultant; and the working group—about a dozen state Executive Office of Transportation (EOT)-appointed community members, most of them from the JP end of the bus route. The MBTA is overseen by the EOT.

The MBTA’s preliminary proposal for the route running between the Forest Hills T station in Jamaica Plain and the downtown Back Bay Station includes installing 19 curb extensions at bus stops between the Forest Hills and Heath Street T stations.

It also calls for the elimination of six inbound and six outbound bus stops along the same section, reducing the number of inbound stops from 16 to 10 and the number of outbound from 18 to 12.

A few of the remaining stops would be moved. The MBTA’s standards for stop spacing call for a minimum of four stops per mile and one stop every 1,320 feet. On the high end, the transit authority tries not to install more than seven stops per mile and tries to keep them at least 750 feet apart.

In JP, the average space between stops is about 660 feet.

The installation of the curb extensions and elimination of stops are meant to improve the route’s efficiency. Trips between Forest Hills and Back Bay are scheduled to take 35 minutes, but often take much longer. Buses often end up running in tandem on its route, in part because the roadways it uses—South Street, Centre Street, and S. Huntington and Huntington avenues—are often congested.

Another goal, Sheier said, is to improve Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance along the route. Bus drivers are required under regulations to pull at least the front door of their buses up to the curb when making stops. They often fail to do that and pick up and discharge passengers in the street.

The buses that serve Route 39 are 60 feet long, about twice the size of standard buses. The lengths of the bus stops were not significantly altered when the 60-foot buses were introduced in 2001, Sheier said.

For the bus stops to meet ADA standards today, 45 parking spaces would have to be eliminated along the corridor in JP.

The stop eliminations and curb extensions, however, would significantly alter that picture. Because buses would not have to use extra street space to pull into stops with curb extensions, and parking spaces could be reclaimed from retired bus stops, the space saved under the preliminary proposal would actually mean an addition of 11 parking spaces along the corridor and an addition of two parking spaces between the Monument and Green Street.

Those numbers, however, were far from hard and fast.

Sheier stressed that the plan presented is based solely on trying to meet MBTA standards for ridership and spacing.

“This is purely hypothetical. We would end up with extra parking spaces if everything falls into place perfectly, but that’s not going to happen,” he said.

According to a written description provided along with the proposal, in addition to bus stop spacing standards, planners sought to only eliminate stops where daily ridership is lower than the average of “430 combined weekday boardings/alightings.”

Weight was also given to stops near located near facilities that serve the elderly and disabled. They were also placed on the far side of intersections whenever possible because it is easier for buses to pull into those stops and they “reduce parking impact.”

Sheier told the Gazette the plans will be refined throughout the working group process and will be brought before the broader community, including other neighborhoods served by the bus route, next spring.

In the last part of the meeting the working group examined a large map of proposed changes for the first section of the Route 39 corridor—South Street between Forest Hills and the Monument. They had plenty of advice to offer.

Peter Furth, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, recommended that plans to eliminate inbound stops at St. Marks Street and Rosemary Street and replace them with a stop on the near side of Spaulding Street be altered slightly. He suggested that the stop be moved to the far side of Spaulding so it is closer to the outbound stop on the other side of the street at the intersection of South and St. Rose streets.

“Why not keep them parallel?” he said.

The complicated bus stop at the Monument, which serves as a lay-over stop for the 41 and 48 bus routes as well as a stop for Route 39, generated the most conversation.

Suggestions for the stop included making it more accessible and visible for 39 riders by moving the lay-over spot for the other buses over to the other side of the Monument on Centre Street. It was also suggested that moving the bus stop itself from in front of the Loring-Greenough House at 12 South St. to in front of Curtis Hall at 20 South St.

“If there is a bus standing at the monument, I can’t flag the 39,” said JP resident Karen Wepsic. “I just don’t ever take it from there unless I am in a very good mood.”

Another advantage to moving the stop is that in front the city-owned Curtis Hall Community Center would be a more suitable site for a bus shelter than in front of the historic house. It would also mean buses would no longer be engaging in the normally illegal activity of parking in an intersection.

But the distance between Curtis Hall and the next stop on Centre Street might be a constraint, MBTA officials said.

That issue will be discussed at the working group’s February meeting, when the MBTA presents the next section of the map detailing its preliminary route changes, MBTA officials said.

The next meeting of the advisory committee will be in February Sheier said. The MBTA hopes to have its proposals solidified by next spring, he said, to help inform a city planning process for improvements on Centre and South streets between Jackson Square and Forest Hills. [See related article.]

The February meeting will examine operation improvements along the route—including things like insuring better enforcement of departure times from Forest Hills—as well as more infrastructure issues, Sheier said.

The Dec. 15 meeting was the third working group meeting about the route held by the MBTA since October. The EOT originally announced plans for a Route 39 improvement process in September, 2007, and held a meeting about it in March of this year. The current meetings have not been announced to the general public since they began.

The Gazette found out about this meeting through a conversation with Sheier at another meeting on Dec. 3. Sheier said he had intended to send the Gazette and announcement about the Dec. 15 meeting but had missed the deadline. He will inform the Gazette about future meetings, he said.

The Route 39 planning process is the result of a lawsuit settlement between the EOT and the Conservation Law Foundation, a nonprofit environmental law firm. Excluding the Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit system, it is the MBTA’s most popular bus route.

At the Dec. 15 meeting it was announced that the nonprofit Walk Boston has received a federal grant to develop and test “public participation tools at bus stops and at neighborhood meetings…to invite involvement and comment from people who mat not otherwise have the opportunity to engage in what can be a lengthy or confusing process,” according to a flyer on the program.

WalkBoston will develop strategies to get information out to bus riders and gather their input about proposed changes. It will utilize direct interviewing and Internet outreach, among other things, the flyer says.