By Michael Coughlin Jr.
On Monday, the Arborway Yard subcommittee hosted officials from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to provide a brief update on plans for the new Arborway bus facility and share a presentation about the better bus project and bus network redesign.
Susan Cibulsky, who helps organize the subcommittee, and another member, Carolyn Royce, requested an overview of the better bus project to see the “broad changes in buses” and how they relate to what is going on at the Arborway Yard.
Melissa Dullea, the MBTA’s Senior Director of Service Planning, provided a brief overview of the bus network redesign and what it means for Jamaica Plain.
She explained that the bus network redesign is the MBTA’s “Strategic vision to transform the bus network.”
Specifically, the project entails doubling the high-frequency corridors from 15 to 30, a 31% increase in high-frequency service on weekends, 25% more bus service across the network, and more.
As for what the bus network redesign means for Jamaica Plain, Dullea, in part, indicated that there would be two more high-frequency routes out of Forest Hills by “promoting the 16 and the 31 to be every 15 minutes or better, seven days a week, even late at night or early morning on weekends.”
She also mentioned plans for the new route 12 from Brookline Village and the Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA) to provide seven-day high-frequency service, connecting to Boston Medical Center, Andrew Square, the Seaport, and more.
Moreover, the LMA would see multiple new high-frequency connections from the extended 22, 28, and 47. Finally, Dullea also pointed to a new high-frequency route that goes out to West Roxbury, which connects at Forest Hills.
“Overall, with bus network redesign, we’re very much looking forward to having more service overall, a better experience and more high-frequency service — those types of every 15 minutes or better services where people don’t need to look at a watch or kind of build their schedule around things,” said Dullea.
Following the presentation, the floor was opened for questions, with several topics being discussed.
One attendee wanted to learn more about how these changes would affect the Forest Hills station. “What I’m concerned with is the Forest Hills station,” said Bernard Doherty, citing traffic issues that already exist at around 6:00 AM and from 3:30 PM to 6:30 PM.
“When you say you’re going to try for 25% more of this and 25% more of that and 15% more of that — it’ll take time — we’ll find out what we’re talking about because the community here will insist upon understanding what the impacts are to the community in a whole in Forest Hills,” he added.
However, Dullea mentioned that a traffic increase would be outside the hours Doherty pointed to since they are not adding to congestion during peak hours.
Another attendee, Gert Thorn, questioned the MBTA’s community engagement process and asked if it consults community members before they propose and suggest routes.
“We did do extensive outreach beforehand and also during and also all throughout the process,” said Dullea.
As the discussion continued, other attendees commented about community engagement and asked questions about the bus network redesign.
Later in the meeting, Alexandra Markiewicz, the MBTA’s Deputy Director of Bus Modernization, provided an update on the 15% design plans for the new Arborway bus maintenance facility, which was presented at an in-person meeting last month.
To view the latest plans and learn more about the project, you can visit www.mbta.com/arborwaybus.
Since the aforementioned meeting, Markiewicz indicated that they have been working on “back-end clean up” with the design team. Moreover, she mentioned working on confirming the space requirements based on the updated design.
“We just want to make sure that we’ve taken a hard enough look at the space requirements and recorded operational needs in a narrative so that we feel confident that this is a feasible concept and it meets all of our design guidelines and our operational requirements,” said Markiewicz.
“We have recorded the input that we’ve heard, and we put it together in a nice package that we can hand to the next design team that will be bringing this through 30% and subsequent milestones,” she added.
Following her update, Markiewicz took a few questions from attendees and listened to some comments.
Thorn made a comment regarding the eight acres of community-use space that has been included in the latest design. “We’re getting eight acres minus 150 parking spaces, minus the two ramps going to the building, minus the deceleration lane that the city is talking about along Washington Street.”
“Let’s not kid each other. You’re not giving us eight acres; it’s something like six acres,” he added. Thorn was also of the opinion that handing off the design, as mentioned by Markiewicz, was bad practice.
In response, Markiewicz refuted Thorn’s comments about ramps and said they are public roadways, not ramps, and are needed in the development “no matter what.”
She also made a comment regarding the design handoff, in part saying, “I understand where you are coming from, but this is how we are doing it for this program.”
“I have tried my hardest, genuinely, to make sure that there is a continuity of design by really focusing that 15% on just highlighting the operational requirements,” she added.
Markiewicz also took other questions relating to the schedule to resubmit a revised notice of project change (NPC), which is still being worked on, and traffic concerns with the access to the site being off Washington Street, which she indicated negative impacts are not anticipated.
Following the discussion with Markiewicz, the subcommittee took over an hour together to discuss the new plans, touching on topics such as the 150 employee parking spaces on the community land and how it could be implemented, general impressions of the updated design, and much more.
After a meeting chock-full of information and discussion, the subcommittee plans to meet again on December 18.