How to fix Comm. Ave.: Pave the trolley tracks so buses can run there, too

The Amateur Planner proposes a paved transit way with tracks for not just the B Line but the 57 and BU bus routes.

While we've never done this, other cities have, and it would have a whole host of advantages, including getting buses out of traffic (and bike lanes), stations better able to serve people with disabilities, even some additional parking spaces. Throw in the long-fabled transit priority for traffic signals and you might even see shorter commute times.

It is one of the most heavily-traveled bicycle corridors in the city. Yet we are planning for cars - minority users of the corridor - first, when we should be planning for transit first (by far the largest user of the corridor by the number of passengers carried), then bicyclists and pedestrians. Cars should be an afterthought, put in to the plans after other users have been accommodated, not before.



Free tagging: 


Um, if you pave the trolley tracks...

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If you pave the trolley tracks, the B line will have no place to go. Unless you are talking about paving it and moving the tracks somewhere else, but that will cost a lot more money and will be even less feasible.

You run the buses and the

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You run the buses and the trolleys in the same goddamn place! Kind of like how the E Line runs in the middle of the street in Mission Hill, except without the cars gumming things up. I don't think this is a good idea for any long stretches of running, but for certain overlapping sections (Peter Furth proposed a similar idea for Huntington Ave between the Riverway and Brigham Circle where the E Line and the 39 and 66 bus all get stuck in traffic) it might make sense.

Running the buses and the

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Running the buses and the trolleys in the same place would be just plain stupid. If you don't think so, spend half an hour on Comm Ave sometime and watch buses and trolleys. Now imagine all the eastbound trolleys/buses stacked up one after the other in a big long line, and all the westbound trolleys/buses likewise. Not a pretty picture, is it?

They Should

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eliminate the bike lanes, the SW corridor is a block over.

What? No it's not!

Take a look at a map. Even at it's closest, the SW corridor is several blocks away, and diverges significantly by the time it reaches Forest Hills. Different routes, serving different populations.

And then imagine if the T and

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And then imagine if the T and BTD took their thumbs out of their behinds and gave transit vehicles signal priority so that they didn't wait at traffic lights, and had off-board fare collection so that there wasn't a line of people with Charlie Cards (or quarters) paying to get on and off the train, and built stations that were more than a strip of concrete. As currently planned, this probably wouldn't work. But I made it pretty clear if you read the whole post that if you build a modern system, you should be able to move everyone through faster.

In other words: every time a three-car-long B Line train with 500 people on board sits for 45 seconds at a red light while three people driving cars get to take a left, a small child cries. Or something.

The trolleys cannot run without tracks.

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The trolleys cannot run without tracks. Wait, that's not what you are proposing, you are proposing making it like the E line? Good luck with that. Knowing Boston drivers, good luck getting people to stop for the trolleys. That's my main concern for the E line. Yes, it's the law that you're supposed to stop for the trolley, but how many people really do stop for the trolley though? Please tell me a lot, because my hypothesis is not many.

What are people not getting

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The B line is separated from all of the travel lanes. Cars wouldn't drive there any more than they drive on the T tracks because it will be marked as not a thru road.

They would just pave the track area, leaving the tracks embedded in the asphalt, and let the buses share the track lane.

The only thing I saw that someone said that is relevant is it might slow down the buses...except there won't be as many people waiting for the T if they can ride the bus instead. Right now the bus pulls up on the road where T riders can't go in time to use the bus instead. This would probably work but won't happen.

I don't think that's what he's suggesting

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The Amateur Planner doesn't explicitly spell this out, but I don't think that's what he's suggesting. I read it as though he's suggesting that we pave the B line tracks but embed the rails into the pavement, much as is currently the case with the E line out past Brigham Circle. The key difference, though, is that in the Amateur Planner's suggestion, the newly-paved area would be restricted to bus and rail traffic, not open to all drivers as Huntington Ave is.


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What a cute little grid they have going there.

That's just downtown.

The system covers an area equivalent to Boston at least. It goes as far as the Cascade foothill towns like Issaquah where Modest Mouse was born.

It reaches Tacoma to the south which is another county, 30 miles away. To the west it gets you to Vashon Island and beyond to Bremerton via ferry.

And in the north it goes clear up to Everett, also in a different county, Snohomish.

It's population is on par with Boston. There is less corruption. Minor fights get you 6 months in the slammer.

Living there was a grand experience but my mother was nearing the end of her days and it was time to come home.

Boston is Bigger

Here is a good recent article with figures regarding public transportation size and per capita access. Boston ranks 5 in the nation, Seattle 12. Boston's system also serves about a million more people.

The MBTA is handicapped by it's age and usage. It is at or over capacity several times a day and some of our subway cars are older then big parts of Seattle's system.

To be sure there is very bad decisions over the past 30 years on part of the MBTA's manager and politicians. But our system is bigger, older, and more used then Seattle's so it isn't surprising they do better in some regards.

I was describing square milage and relative population sizes.

It is a younger system without many of the built in problems Boston has.

But they made a nice fit for what they have. And there is a night owl bus component that lets you get home at times when Boston would strand you.

It has different problems.

Everything has to be built to earthquake code and a few inches of snow will seize the city up because they don't have a plowing fleet at city or Metro Transit level.

I was there during a 6.5 Richter quake. The ground had brief rolling waves but the place held together. The old crap housing stock here would probably be rubble in many areas along badly filled swamp flats where the ground gets semi liquid from that kind of vibration.

Good to see Nate has his post NYT operation going. I was an early pest at the pre NYT version of 538

Sounds good as long as there

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Sounds good as long as there's no opportunity for double parkers to block the flow. The South Enders parking on the Silver Line: to get their yuppie coffees/pick up a snack/use the ATM/any other errand of ABSOLUTELY NO IMPORTANCE is constant.


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Do they park on the B Line tracks right now? No? Ah, then your concern is satisfied. That was easy.

Why Yes In Fact They Do

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OK, this includes other tracks besides the B-Line but you get the idea.
Can you imagine how bad it would be if paved with just those do not enter signs like in the bus tunnels at Harvard?

If anything I would suggest the opposite. Seal off most of the cross streets to prevent vehicular passage across Comm Ave, leaving just small pedestrian gates. Thus the train need rarely stop, except at stops. If people want the 57 to go faster they should bring back the A line. Buses should be banned [along with all large vehicles] anyhow.

While there may be more

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While there may be more idiots turning on to the tracks, they'll turn on to pavement, not ballast, so they'll be able to drive off … hopefully to get pulled over and given a hefty fine, but not delaying transit service.


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hopefully to get pulled over and given a hefty fine

Right. Just like the do for invading Silver Line spaces and driving up the full length of the bike lane on Congress Street.


To double park on the

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To double park on the reservation, they'd have to climb up over a curb and then park on tracks. Imagine if the Silver Line had curbs between the busway and the driving lane. It would be a bit harder to just pull in and double park. The earlier comment showing half a dozen instances of people driving on the median is pretty much every time someone has gotten stuck in, what, the last two years. Seven times. And in this case, if they did make the wrong turn, they could keep driving. And maybe—since you'd be rebuilding the whole damn thing—you could put in some better signage than what you have now.

They double park and block

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They double park and block bus traffic and the bike lane. It's all coming from the same place, ultimately -- it doesn't matter if they don't double park ON THE TROLLEY TRACKS.


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Eliminate all the stops at BU and put RFID chips in BU students that makes their head explode if they try to get on my train.


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Why can't BU students pay their own way?

They hardly seem to anyway, I

They hardly seem to anyway, I see BU kids fare evade by jumping on the back almost every time I ride the B with school in session.

Good T drivers won't move until the kids come up to pay but most of the time the cowards won't until passengers yell at them to take responsibility. Either way this causes the train to be even slower.

This is a great idea. Why is

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This is a great idea. Why is BTD and BU not planning to improve the street for anyone but drivers? They are treating it like a highway project. We're going to be stuck with this bad design for 50 years. 2054. Hell our great grandkids will still be using this unsafe and inefficient street.

This is a horrible idea

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This is a horrible idea because of local politics. The A line had its dedicated reservation paved and look how quickly that was usurped for cars and then the line eliminated entirely.

Paving of any streetcar reservation will result in permanent bustitution or elimination for private cars the second an anti-transit weasel gets into a position of power.


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I second this comment. It is absolutely correct. The only thing worse than the B line is the E line.

Okay, first of all, the A

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Okay, first of all, the A Line only had a reservation on Brighton Avenue. Once it got to Union Square, it was in mixed traffic the rest of the way to Watertown. Do you think there was room for a reservation through Brighton Center?!

Second, west of Packard's Corner, there would be the current set up of the B Line: ballasted track in a reservation. You'd have to pave over the whole thing to change it to buses. And you'd have to have enough buses to serve the 26,000 riders a day—double the busiest bus route the T has. And you'd lose the ability to run in to the tunnel at Kenmore. This is just a straw man, it may have been a concern 50 years ago when BTD and the MTA were actively eliminating private transit reservations, but would never happen today.

Here's my reason this is a bad idea

I'll throw my own reason this is a bad idea. This will make the 57 bus slower. Currently the 57 beats the B line almost anytime of the day. This will make the bus either waste time going around the B line or get stuck behind it. Either way, that just make things suckier and defeats the purpose of the proposal.

My thoughts exactly.

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My thoughts exactly.

How often does the 57 pass a B? And how often does the 57 get stuck in traffic which it could skip by driving on the tracks?

If the former happens more often than the latter, then putting buses on the tracks won't help.

I was rather unimpressed by the Seattle transit tunnel. All the bus traffic made for a slow trolley ride.

The 57

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was hands down the worst bus line I ever ride. I think the Watertown terminal was the place where the drivers hung out and drank beer--there were always interminable waits followed by two or three stacked buses. Awful.

Are you insane?

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The 57 is AWESOME. They really know how to wind it up. If it's humanly possible, the 57 is gonna get you there FAST.

(it's also the line where I've said many times, "OK, THIS driver is definitely gonna kill someone". Hasn't happened yet though)

Sidewalks > Lanes

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If you are specifically referring to the wall of planters and benches erected down by BU East those are there for a specific purpose. To act as a defacto wall to lessen the number of BU students jaywalking mid-block. I would think you would be all for less jaywalking. All of the landscaping and trees and benches also make the area a more desirable spot for students to hang out between classes.

Comm Ave. is the perfect place for a separated cycle track between Kenmore and Packard's Corner, without losing any sidewalk, because the street is already so wide. At 3 lanes each way you just need to lose an unnecessary traffic lane. Although of course you will disagree just like you complain about a normal bike lane on Mass Ave in Arlington [which was never wide enough for 2 lanes, at best 1.4].

Um, you do realzie its

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Um, you do realzie its impossible to jaywalk with the B line and its giant fences right? WTF are you on about.

Jaywalk to the Platform

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The assumption, since it is the only block festooned with large numbers benches and planters, is that Markk was referring to the block in front of the BU School of Management. And indeed those structures and decorations were put there to keep people from as readily jaywalking to the Blanford stop, so they would use the crosswalk instead. That is also why at the T stop they planted bushes and flowers outside the platform, to similarly dissuade people crossing mid-block.

And it sounds like you haven't

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I live on Comm Ave, albeit further outbound.

It's three lanes on the outbound side between the BU bridge [actually starting a ways before it] and Packard's corner. That is the perfect stretch for moving parking to the other side of a separated bike lane.

Arlington was lied to

There is plenty of room for 4 lanes on Mass Ave. I'm still on the fence about filing a complaint against the FST engineers who lied to the public about several things. Licensed civil engineers put their professional license with the state at risk by lying. Mass Ave is actually wider at Lake street than at Medford St. in the center where there are 4 travel lanes and a turn lane.

Oh, and by the way, hypocrites who most wanted bike lanes on Mass Ave in east Arlington, don't want them in their own neighborhood between Whole Foods and Robbins Library! Selectmen approved a plan to stripe 4 travel lanes and no bike lanes there! Traffic volumes are actually lower there than the eastern part of the Mass Ave project where a shared lane will be lost to bike-only lanes.

Let BU instead of taxpayers fund their landscaping, along with BU providing loitering spaces for students. SideWALKS, like roadways, train lines, bike lanes, and bike tracks are for transportation, not loitering and outdoor dining. Restaurants too should pay for their own big windows if they want an outdoor dining experience for their paying customers.

BTW, Livable Streets Alliance likes pedestrians to jaywalk and endanger themselves by opposing safety fences for the Cambridge Street bridge project. Fences are an effective solution to jaywalking, even in Manhattan. Seems like LSA like bike groups wants martyrs to die for their political expansion.

Oh, and the current plan for Comm Ave is to reduce the road to two lanes each way already in order to make green line platforms wider and handicapped accessible. There isn't more room for bike tracks unless its taken from the sidewalks. Rather than the more expensive proposition of narrowing sidewalk to make bike tracks, the cost effective solution is to mark part off for cyclists and leave it elevated, and thus also separated from traffic by parked cars and elevation.

"BTW, Livable Streets

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"BTW, Livable Streets Alliance likes pedestrians to jaywalk and endanger themselves by opposing safety fences for the Cambridge Street bridge project. Fences are an effective solution to jaywalking, even in Manhattan. Seems like LSA like bike groups wants martyrs to die for their political expansion."

Actually, LivableStreets and other advocates oppose fences because they create a virtual wall along a street that make drivers feel like they can drive too fast. The point is not to encourage people to jaywalk, but to discourage drivers from going too fast.


I heard their claim that fences make drivers go faster, but never got pointed to studies to support their claim.

Only One Liar Here

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You realize that BU did fund the program:

I am not going to waste my time going point - counter point with some of the crazy statements you just made about the vast engineering conspiracy and Livable Streets seeking suicide walkers. But, keep up your railing and you're going to start seeing people take even more extreme positions just to spite you.
No cars allowed in Arlington that are not Shriner mini-cars.
This will allow Mass Ave to have several lanes of traffic each way and make watching cars more fun.

What other explanation?

So, tell me why does Livable Streets Alliance promote jay walking, even on busy, multi-lane roads? They are sure to make press statements following pedestrian accidents. LSA are part of the problem. They want tens or scores of passengers in public transit buses and personal vehicles to grind to a halt every block for one pedestrian who may want to cross via an instant walk signal. What this does is make MBTA bus drivers and others want to squeeze through every yellow light in the hope that its one less time they have to stop and go in an endless series of stopping and going to get anywhere. Bicyclists just ignore the red lights for being so tired of them. Pedestrians need to share the road. Its not all about them. They have to wait their turn too, especially when more people are served by bus, bike, or car in most areas (assuming bike riders obey traffic signals).

A solution for too many conflicts at surface grade between pedestrians, trains, cars, trucks, buses, and bicycles is add vertical levels. The most practical and well-tested solution is with an elevated train line. BU won't want that solution because it won't look nice to students and their parents even if it would keep more from injury and death. Below ground levels are too expensive, like the Big Dig.

The most practical and cost effective improvement for bike safety is to mark off space on the enormous sidewalks for bicyclists. I agree that reducing the number of streets crossing Comm. Ave. or synchronizing traffic lights will improve MBTA efficiency. So too would larger passenger loading areas with turnstiles so riders can swipe cards prior to boarding.

BU was a minority funding source for the multiple phases of projects on Comm Ave. through their vast property holdings. The feds are the main source of funds, and BU in at least one instance came up with money at the last moment because the project would have gotten shelved otherwise. This project to make Green Line passengers safer and better accommodate handicapped customers includes funding from the MBTA. I am not sure if BU is chipping in this time. Private funding for public infrastructure is very common. Want to build a business park, apartment complex, shopping mall or even a Wegman's, and you will be asked to pony up for transportation improvements.

I don't know why you seem to

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I don't know why you seem to have it out for LivableStreets, but you're doing a great job distorting their positions. LivableStreets has never said they want pedestrians to get instant walk signals everywhere. What they are advocating for on Comm Ave is for pedestrians to be treated at LEAST equally as cars. If you've tried crossing Comm Ave on foot right now, you've probably noticed that wait along time, then get just enough time to get to the median, before you have to wait again for a walk signal to cross the second half of the street, where again you get just enough time to get across. Basically, pedestrians are guaranteed to have to wait a long time. It takes 3+ minutes in many cases just to get across Comm Ave. Meanwhile, cars have very long green lights which are synchronized so that if you drive at 30 mph, you'll get multiple green lights in a row. There are often times of the day when the lights are green for so long, there is no traffic in sight, yet pedestrians are forced to wait, wait, wait. It doesn't seem outrageous to ask that pedestrians be able to cross the street in a reasonable amount of time, especially when there are so many of them.

Because they are anti-car

In your example of crossing Comm Ave, if pedestrians moved as quickly as motor vehicles or even bicycles, then two walk cycles would not be necessary. Is that the fault of motorists or bicyclists? If pedestrians wanted to get somewhere more expediently, they can take public transit, ride a bike, take a taxi, or drive. They are making a transportation choice and expecting everyone else to suffer for it! Those suffering delay would be much greater in number than the number of pedestrians in most, but certainly not all situations. So, pedestrians should not be treated as least equally as cars and public transit in most places, just those where they are the dominant transit mode.

Also consider the environmental aspects. Making motor vehicles stop and start again or idle produces added greenhouse gas, while pedestrians waiting a little longer does not.


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The kicker to letting pedestrians cross in one phase is that in most cases, the parallel green light for the side street where the pedestrians are crossing is actually long enough for pedestrians to get all the way across. It's only the walk signals that are too short. You could easily extend the length of the walk signals without taking any time away from cars.

To your larger point of making pedestrians wait excessively because there are more cars than pedestrians, what would you consider the threshold? Would you give cars as much time as possible and pedestrians that absolute minimum? Because that's what the city's done. It's funny that you make the argument that giving more time to cars is more environmentally friendly. Unfortunately what it's also doing is discouraging people from walking. Since as you say walkers don't pollute, and they take up the least amount of space on our streets, we should be encouraging more people to walk, not fewer, right? But when we make the signals so anti-pedestrian that it makes walking take even longer than it reasonably should, you're actually discouraging people from walking and encouraging them to drive. More cars on the street are going to cause a lot more pollution that the existing cars waiting at a signal for a few more seconds.

It's fine, though, your true colors are showing through. You feel that because more people drive than walk or bike, then drivers should get more space on the road (to the exclusion of bike lanes) and as much signal time as possible (to the detriment of pedestrians). I have to say I disagree with you 100% on that view of our streets. It basically means that LivableStreets will always seem like a radical organization to you, because they want everyone to at least be treated equally.

You walk less because you

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You walk less because you think you have to wait to long to cross the street? LAZY. While of course I get impatient waiting to cross at certain intersections, I certainly would never choose to take a cab instead! I walk pretty much everywhere I need to go in Boston and love it. Certain areas suck and if time permits, I choose a route around them. Walking a longer route does not bother me. Such a delicate flower you must be.
Central Square in Cambridge is the worst example of stop and go vehicular traffic due to too many traffic signals and loooong pedestrian cross times. It's so hard to breathe while walking down Mass. Ave. between the river and leading into Harvard Sq. because of the constant stop and go of cars and diesel trucks and buses. Polluted and disgusting.

Green line should wait for pedestrians too?

Giving the green to streets crossing Comm Ave. longer green lights so pedestrians can cross in one cycle and/or giving them an exclusive walk period is very detrimental to Green Line service, which is already horrendous. Do you want to discourage public transit use for the convenience of a few pedestrians? Make everybody on packed Green Line trains wait for a few walkers? Its not just private motor vehicle users that would suffer for a few pedestrians, its public transit bus and train users suffering too.

I will chime here as I have a

I will chime here as I have a feeling will dismiss Markk by his brand name - while I find this point sensible.

In the need of giving up something for make for something else. I would vote to shrink planters and those things first before I consider trading other things. Trade things that adds least first (and I would vote I rather have a narrower block of plants - jaywalking fears can be dealt with in other ways).

We all know how this works out, historically

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First you bustitute a rapid transit line, then you cut the buses.

Meanwhile, every civilized city on the planet is putting in MORE RAIL, not buses.

Nice try. Won't get fooled again.

Uhm, okay. No one is

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Uhm, okay. No one is suggesting cutting buses or transit. Civilized cities around the world are also giving buses exclusive lanes and building transit priority. The B Line ain't going anywhere. It's not 1955.

Please tell this to the Senator from Northampton

Mr. "Can't subsidize Boston so where's my $50 million to fix hurricane damage" needs to hear it.

Otherwise, don't kid yourself that it won't happen. It has happened. It will happen again if we don't resist the downgrade.