Bus stop changes could come this summer

March 18, 2011
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Harvest opposes stop move

The MBTA’s Route 39 bus stops could see improvements and changes this summer—including much wider sidewalks and the controversial elimination of some stops near medical facilities and local businesses.

One high-profile change would be a wide sidewalk with a bus shelter, and possibly a bicycle rack and artistic curb decorations, at Centre Street and Seaverns Avenue.

Another is the proposed elimination of the stops near Harvest Co-Op Market on South Street. The MBTA acknowledged this month that it never asked Harvest about that stop during its three-year planning process, and the market is opposing the move as a “burden,” the Gazette has learned.

“Nothing we show you tonight is carved in stone,” said MBTA project manager Erik Scheier at a March 2 meeting at the Agassiz School that announced the revival of the long-stalled Route 39 improvement plan.

Scheier said that public input on such items as the Harvest stop will be reviewed. But he could not say whether there will be another public meeting before the MBTA attempts to get the bus stops upgraded in this summer’s construction season.

The Route 39 runs between JP’s Forest Hills Station and Back Bay Station, including S. Huntington Avenue and Centre and South streets in JP. It is one of the city’s busiest bus routes.

In JP, the plan would add six new bus shelters and cut the current 33 bus stops down to 25. Most stops would get new features such as benches, trash barrels and schedule signs.

Four outbound stops are pegged for wider sidewalks with new bus shelters: Centre/Seaverns; Centre/St. John Street; Centre/Roseway Street; and Centre/Perkins Street. Those 10- to 15-foot-wide sidewalks allow a bus to pull up quickly and use all three doors, while also having room for better shelters, benches and even decorative paving that was recommended in the city’s recent Centre/South streets redesign plan.

The Route 39 changes are intended to shave two to five minutes off the route’s current total trip time of 25-38 minutes. Other goals are making all of the stops fully accessible and making them more comfortable for riders.

The faster service would come mostly from stop “consolidation.” That means killing some stops and moving or creating others nearby, so that stops are roughly 750 to 1,000 feet apart. The MBTA says that is a walkable distance that cuts down on too much stop-and-start to the bus service.

But most of the consolidation would happen at stops serving medical facilities, senior housing and local business, several residents noted at the March 2 meeting. While an advisory committee of local residents oversaw the consolidation plan, it appears that little or no input was gathered from the institutions near those stops.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Southern Jamaica Plain Community Health Center, the Goddard House senior home and the Harvest market all would see existing stops move farther away.

JP resident Jeri Levitt questioned the wisdom of “eliminating stops to save a minute” when it could create a “bad quality-of-life issue.”
Plans to kill the Harvest stops at the South/Carolina Avenue/Custer Street intersection have been controversial for about two years. The MBTA already removed the shelter from the outbound stop a year ago in anticipation of killing it.

The consolidation plan calls for killing the Harvest stops and the Monument Square stops. They would be replaced by a new outbound stop with a shelter in front of Curtis Hall, and another new stop somewhere on the block around Bardwell Street.

Several residents at the March 2 complained that a longer walk could be bad for business and customers at the South Street area’s only major grocer.

“We should ask Harvest what they think. We haven’t done that,” acknowledged Scheier, the MBTA planner, after residents pressed for more information.

Harvest General Manager Mike St. Clair later told the Gazette that the market opposes the elimination of the nearby stops. The store has no parking lot and has many customers who ride the T, walk or bike, he said.

“The bus stop near our Jamaica Plain store is critical to our members and customers who rely on public transportation to reach us and other area businesses,” St. Clair wrote in an e-mail. “Moving or taking the bus option away could add one more burden to JP residents trying to shop for groceries.”

“We’re going to take a hard look at that,” Scheier later told the Gazette about the Harvest stop consolidation. He added that the MBTA also will review the consolidations proposed near the VA hospital and the health center.

Those other proposed consolidations include:

  • South/St. Mark Street stops eliminated.
  • Myrtle Street/Greenview Avenue stops and Parley Vale/Lakeville Road stops on Centre eliminated; replaced by new stops at Pond/St. John on Centre.
  • Goddard House/VA stops on S. Huntington just past Evergreen Street eliminated; other nearby stops remain.
  • Two stops at the Green Line streetcar loop at S. Huntington and Heath Street eliminated; two other S. Huntington stops nearby in front of the Back of the Hill Apartments remain.

The Forest Hills T Station stops would remain untouched by the plan, but improved pedestrian crossing would be added at the South/New Washington Street intersection accessing the station.

The plans also cover various stops on Huntington Avenue in Mission Hill and the Fenway. The MBTA might eventually change the large loop the route makes through the Back Bay, but that area was never looked at in detail by the current process.

Route 39 improvement plans have dragged on for three years and have not changed since a public presentation a year ago. The plans have drawn about $18 milion in funding, mostly federal stimulus money, which is ready to be spent, Scheier said. That money is for improvements to various key bus routes, but the Route 39 is the pilot program.

The Route 39 plan can be viewed online at www.mbta.com/keybusroutes. Public comments are being accepted at keybusroutes@mbta.com or via regular mail at Operations and Service Development, 45 High St., Boston MA 02110.