Rt. 39 bus bump-outs questioned

(Gazette Photo by John Ruch) A Route 39 bus blocks a crosswalk on June 13 while using a Monument Square bus stop set to be relocated.

A major facet of the Route 39 bus renovation plan might be in jeopardy as the project’s start date approaches.

The Route 39 bus is slated to undergo changes starting this fall, including the consolidation of some stops and improved amenities like new shelters and benches and “bump-out” sidewalk extensions.

But the MBTA has not secured abutters’ approval for the some curb extensions, including at the Perkins Street, Roseway Street and Seaverns Avenue stops. The MBTA has been in, and will continue, discussions with the abutters.

Abutters’ input has long been controversial, with the MBTA originally not seeking any. Erik Scheier, project director for operations at the MBTA, called its value “debatable” in a previous Gazette interview. But the MBTA changed course, and delayed the project, which began in 2008, to collect abutters’ input.

The MBTA said that it probably needs the abutters’ approval for the curb extensions to proceed, but the City responded that that is not necessarily true.

“Since curb extensions involve the realignment of curbing, the City will generally not approve the construction of a curb extension unless the adjacent property owners concur,” Erik Scheier, project director for operations at the MBTA, wrote in an email to the Gazette. “The MBTA can’t construct curb extensions unless the City approves since they own the sidewalks.”

Vineet Gupta, director of planning at the Boston Transportation Department (BTD), said in a phone interview with the Gazette that the BTD and the City’s Public Works Department will review the curb extensions for, among other issues, impact on safety, traffic flow and potential construction impacts.

Asked if the City would deny the curb extension unless the abutter approved, Gupta said, “That’s putting it very narrowly.”

Gupta said that the City’s decision would take into account the discussion between the MBTA, abutters and the community. He said that the City is looking for a “community consensus.”

The Route 39 project also proposes signal improvements at Canary Square. They include some new signal equipment, new phasing and retiming that will improve traffic flow for Centre Street northbound traffic, particularly for left turns onto S. Huntington Avenue and Moraine Street, according to Scheier. The project will also eliminate seven former trolley poles from sidewalks along the route.

The MBTA held a community meeting June 12 at the Kennedy Elementary School in Jamaica Plain about the Route 39 changes. Most of the audience of about 12 people expressed support for the curb extensions, especially at the Seaverns Avenue stop.

“I think the stop is the signature stop of the route,” said Michael Reiskind, a JP activist. “We really need this curb extension.”

During a discussion of another curb extension, an idea was floated about putting advertisements on the shelters from businesses affected by the blocked view. The idea was largely well-received from the audience and the MBTA.

Peter McGlothin, a JP resident, talked at the meeting about how the Casey Overpass reconstruction project, two new schools coming to the Agassiz building on Child Street and a new garage coming to the Veterans Affairs medical center would negatively affect traffic and the bus route.

Ralph DeNisco, a senior associate at the MBTA contractor Nelson Nygaard, responded, “The Route 39 will never have a 100 percent on-time performance, but we are trying to address it the best we can. We are getting better, but we will never be perfect.”

Reiskind asked the MBTA if there is a plan to add buses to the route, noting that the agency is cutting Green Line service at the Brigham Circle stop on weekends, which will increase riders. The Route 39 bus runs along the Brigham stop continuing past the Heath Street stop, where the Green Line normally ends.

Scheier replied that the MBTA has no resources to add service.

The Route 39 project is expected to be completed in spring of 2013, but that might not be the end of changes. The MBTA is considering rerouting the bus near the Back Bay area of the route. Scheier wrote in an email that stopping at both the Copley and Back Bay stations, which the bus currently does, is “fairly circuitous and time-consuming.”

“There are several alternative route alignments that skip Back Bay Station. However, they may create impacts elsewhere.  Before the MBTA decides to make any changes here, we plan to conduct a community outreach process starting later this year or next spring,” he wrote.

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