Thumbs Up for Bigger, Better Bus Stops

May 1, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH


Gazette Photo by John Ruch
A Route 39 bus stops illegally in a crosswalk in Monument Square on April 23. Under the MBTA’s proposed Route 39 changes, the bus stop would move, likely to a new spot in front of Curtis Hall on South Street. That would solve the problem of the current bus stop, which illegally covers two crosswalks. But smaller buses would still use the spot as a temporary parking space.

The MBTA has won general approval for its proposal for fewer and better bus stops—including some with sections of widened sidewalks at least 60 feet long to act as mini T platforms—on the Route 39 corridor from the citizens’ working group reviewing route improvement ideas.

The MBTA will now seek to tap part of $8 million in federal stimulus money to build the sidewalk exten-sions, T project director Erik Scheier said at an April 21 working group meeting at the Agassiz School. He said the construction contract likely would have to be issued by “early summer” to secure the funds.

“We actually have funding,” Scheier said.

The working group has only reviewed less than one-quarter of the 39’s route in detail. It is unclear when it will next meet and whether the rest of the route, which runs between the Forest Hills and Back Bay T Sta-tions, can be reviewed before a construction contract goes out.

But the general concept approval, which was expressed in general discussion rather than a formal vote, is a step forward from the last working group meeting in March. At that time, there was not consensus on the sidewalk extension idea.

The April meeting featured more detailed sketches of the sidewalk extensions and a promise that they would all allow for traffic to pass a pulled-over bus.

The Route 39 improvement process is focused on reducing the number of bus stops and relocating some to better areas to make for a faster trip. The widened sidewalks at some stops would allow the route’s giant buses to pull up to the curb completely for easier access, and would make room for bus shelters and other street furniture. The overall goal is to boost ridership.

Some points of controversy remain among working group members. One is the makeup of the group itself, which consists mostly of JP residents. The entire Route 39 improvement process ultimately came from a law-suit involving the removal of Green Line streetcar service from most of JP, which the Route 39 at first serving as its replacement.

“We’re lacking representation from the Mission Hill neighborhood,” said member Jeffrey Ferris, referring to a significant stretch of the route along Huntington Avenue. No meetings have been held in that major residential and institutional neighborhood.

Member Michael Reiskind repeated his concerns that operational improvements may be more effective than construction projects. Operations include driver training and policing of illegal parking in bus stops.

The MBTA has made it clear that infrastructure changes are the focus of the project, but various opera-tions ideas have been discussed as well. In one bit of news, Scheier said that the MBTA will “definitely” be painting an outline of the bus stops on the street to make it clear no parking is allowed in them.

Meanwhile, Scheier gave a hard sell on reaching consensus for the bus stop proposals. “I have plenty of other projects” that could use the stimulus money, he warned. “I’m trying to make this a shovel-ready op-tion.”

All of the ideas remain rough and conceptual. The group’s approval allows a more in-depth study to begin that may change the ideas. Also, the Route 39 improvements will be coordinated with the city’s upcoming re-design of Centre and South streets.

At the April meeting, the working group looked at more detailed sketches of the South and Centre streets section of the route from the Forest Hills T Station to the Centre/S. Huntington Avenue intersection. The nine stops on that stretch would be reduced to seven, and some would move. There would be a net gain of five on-street parking spaces on the strip.

The bus stops after the proposed improvements would include, by street name: Roseway/Moraine; Robin-wood/Beaufort; St. John/Pond; Seaverns/Burroughs; Centre/South (Monument Square); Child/Jamaica; and Spald-ing/St. Rose.

The two removed stops would be South Street very close to Forest Hills Station, and the Carolina/Custer stops at the South Street Mall and Harvest Co-Op Market. Some members noted the popularity of the Caro-lina/Custer stop, especially for people buying groceries at the market.

Sidewalk extensions are proposed for the Centre/Seaverns stop in front of the Purple Cactus restaurant; the new St. John stop in front of Gentle Dental; the Beaufort stop in front of the Forbes senior housing building; and the Roseway stop.

One point of concern for the working group was a lack of proposed improvements for the bus stop at For-est Hills Station. Currently, buses stop on decaying cobblestones and streetcar rails, and frequently park across a major entrance path for the station.

In a related point, Reiskind said his approval of the general stop improvement concepts was contingent on also improving pedestrian access from South Street to Forest Hills Station. Scheier said that issue will get a closer look.