The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) held a series of public meetings this week to provide updates on the Columbus Ave. bus lanes project, as well as to briefly talk about the Egleston Square redesign project that ties into it.
William Moose, a neighborhood transportation planner at BTD, gave the presentation and was available for public comment and questions, along with BTD Transit Director Matt Moran and Andrew McFarland from the MBTA.
The Columbus Ave. bus lanes and pedestrian safety improvement project spans 0.8 miles from Walnut Ave./Sever St. to Centre St./Ritchie St., and the corridor currently “serves three high ridership bus routes,” Mosse said.
Moose explained the planning background for the project, which he said is based on the Go Boston 2030 plan to cut driving down by half, increase public transit by 1/3, increase walking by half, and increase cycling fourfold by the year 2030.
This project and the Egleston Square redesign project are also a part of the JP/ROX Transportation Action Plan, Moose said.
Several community outreach events were held regarding the bus lanes project, the majority of which Moose said took place before the COVID-19 shut down in March.
At these outreach events, BTD heard concerns regarding the Columbus Ave. corridor. Three major areas of concern include traffic delays along the corridor as congestion creates delays on the buses; “uncomfortable conditions” for people walking, biking, or waiting for the bus; and that parking is an important feature along the corridor for residents and businesses and people would like to see it retained wherever possible.
Right now, the corridor features two lanes of traffic in either direction with a narrow median.
The proposed improvements to the corridor include center-running bus lanes in both directions with eight new bus stop platforms. There will be one lane of traffic in either direction. The center lane will be for buses only, and passengers will board buses by crossing to the platform using marked and signalized crosswalks.
“Overall the impact to parking is not null, but it’s fairly modest along the corridor,” Moose explained, as there will be four bus stops along the corridor.
He said that the center running option was chosen because “the City and the MBTA came to this project with a lot of lessons learned from bus lanes” in other areas of the city and in the Greater Boston area.
Moose said that while “side running buses have been successful” in running faster and more reliable service , they “face challenges with enforcement” and people try to double park or “cheat” into the bus lanes, “creating friction.” He said that they wanted the bus lanes in this project “to be self-enforcing,” removing what Moose described as “conflicts” at the curb.
He said this is especially important during the COVID era, as efficient, reliable bus service is necessary to prevent crowding on buses due to traffic and congestion on the roads.
By reducing the travel lanes from two to one in either direction, Moose said it makes the street safer to cross, and he also believes this will hep with issues of speeding as well.
On the bus platforms themselves, which are about nine inches high, passengers will be able to board buses more easily. Each stop will have a large shelter that is about the size of three standard length bus shelters and will be fully ADA accessible.
Aside from the large shelters, the bus stops will include seating, signage, lighting, trash cans, countdown clocks, emergency call boxes, and will be wired to include fare vending machines for the eventual implementation of the MBTA’s Fare Transformation Program.
Moose also showed a map of the corridor and the project area, and explained what would happen at each stop.
At the Walnut St. stop, there will be a right only lane onto Walnut Ave., which he said was one of a “few key intersections with a turn lane.” The crosswalk will also be wider in this location, with the addition of a rectangular rapid flashing beacon to help with visibility and the safety of pedestrians.
At the Egleston Square stop, where many seniors board the bus, the stop remains in the same location, just shifted to the center lane, and a dedicated right turn lane will be put in right after the Egleston Square stop.
At the Bray St. stop, Moose said that they will be “bumping out the corners on Walnut Park and Bancroft St.,” as “those meet the intersection of Columbus as a really sharp angle,” he said. “By doing this, it will help shorten the crossing for pedestrians and make drivers take that turn at a safer speed.”
In between Bray and Dimock Streets, an additional crosswalk will also be added, he said.
The Dimock St. stop serves “important” locations like the Dimock Center and Horizons for Homeless Children, and Moose said that by being in the center lane, buses are already in the position needed to enter the Jackson Square busway, and will receive priority to leave the intersection to do so in order to speed up travel time for bus riders.
The bus lane project is expected to start in late summer of this year, or in the spring of 2021 if absolutely necessary, Moose said.
Moose said that while this project aims to increase reliability and speed of existing bus service, there is no additional service planned for the corridor as of right now.
“This is a first step for getting even more frequent service on this corridor,” he said, but adding additional service is “certainly a conversation we want to have with the T.”
Matt Moran of the BTD said that the City is working with the MBTA on surge capacity, especially during COVID, and has reserved 30 percent of the bus fleet to be sent to a specific location if there is crowding on a particular route.
Moose then explained a little bit about the Egleston Square redesign project, which has design goals of “prioritizing bicycle safety and comfort; prioritizing walking, pedestrian safety, and accessibility; manage traffic flows; and other public realm improvements,” Moose said.
This project will kick off with a planning, design, and community process later this summer and continue into into the winter, Moose said.
Many residents were concerned about the lack of consideration for cyclists in the Columbus Ave. bus lanes project, but Moose said that bicycle connections are a heavy focus of the Egleston Square redesign project.
“It’s a very high priority for us to be providing good and safe connections for people who bike as well,” Moose said. “Bicycle accommodations will be top priority.”
He said that not including dedicated bike facilities on Columbus Ave. was a “very difficult tradeoff made here,” and they had previously considered options that would have included it. He said that it was a “real challenge” accommodating parking along with bus priority and the bus stop platforms.
For a map of the project and more information, visit https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/columbus-avenue-bus-lanes.