State gives green light to project to give trolleys, some buses more green lights

MassDOT announced today that it's installing specialized traffic signal systems along Beacon Street in Brookline, and Comm. Ave. and Huntington Ave. in Boston that will switch to green lights for approaching trolleys. Mass. Ave. in Cambridge will get similar treatment for buses.

The goal of the $1.3 million pilot project is to see if commuter wait times can be decreased by giving approaching trolleys or buses a better shot of getting through an intersection. The signals should be ready to go by January, MassDOT says.

Because we live in a car-oriented culture, MassDOT says that an earlier, smaller pilot at just six intersections showed "no demonstrably negative effect" on cars and their drivers.



Free tagging: 


You're misreading the pilot project

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I was watching somewhere on the internets a video about the new light rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. It was noted that the trains do not have dedicated crossings (like commuter trains, Amtrak, and freight trains do) and gave the reason.

The reason is "environmental impact." It seems that by having cars delayed by and extra 41 seconds or more (I have no idea why 41 seconds is the number, but I remember that being the number, and it might just apply in LA) more pollution from the vehicles are released into the environment than is being saved otherwise.

Not that I'm against signal prioritization from the Green Line or the #1 bus (hopefully more buses will get this.) Just pointing out that for projects like this, they have to take the environment into consideration.

True, but

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the idea is to entice more drivers to leave their cars at home and take mass transit. So if light rail/trolleys/buses are given a slight edge over automobiles which will result in faster commuting times, more drivers will considering making the switch.

Believe me, I sit on the Green line on Beacon street, stopping every other block for a red light. The temptation to ditch mass transit and just drive is always there - and on weekends, I do ditch the T.


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Keep in mind that, in this case, the MBTA vehicle getting the green is on the main thoroughfare. Every time the C Line gets the green, so too do the majority of autos in that corridor, because there are more autos on Beacon than the cross streets (btw, that project excludes the intersection with Harvard). Same goes for the #1 bus in Cambridge -- the bulk of the auto traffic is on Mass Ave.

By giving the MBTA vehicle the green more often, you're also helping to reduce idling by the majority of the autos using that same corridor.

This isn't California

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Ever driven in California? A lot more cars waiting for that 40 seconds than would be along Mass Ave in Cambridge.

Context is everything.

Good news

If the auto makers are to be believed, most of them plan to stop producing traditional combination engines within the next 5-10 years. Once cars are mostly electric or hybrid, discussion of exhaust while idle will be moot.

They do take the environment into consideration

While they are not large enough to justify a separate Health Impact Assessment under the 2008 transportation law, the projects consider health impacts and environmental impacts at the airshed level.

The above comments outline the reasons: In California, we are talking multi-lane highways in a metropolis ten times the size of Boston Metro with far fewer transit users per capita. We also have trolleys along main corridors where the bulk of traffic will travel through the priority signal with the transit vehicle. On Mass Ave, there are very few cross streets where there are enough vehicles for the wait to matter relative to the very high ridership on the bus line, and those can be dealt with by making the bus stop as it does now.

MassDOT and the MBTA are expected - required, actually - to consider the aggregate airshed impacts of their policy changes. Those impacts are quite different here than they are elsewhere.

10 times the population? Try

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10 times the population? Try 3 times, 13 million vs 4.6 million. Can’t wait for the explanation.

Metro area

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The LA metro area is 10x Boston Metro

Boston Metro (served by light rail) is 2 million.

Who said population?

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Also, compare like numbers, please. Los Angeles METRO is greater than 20 million. That's the number you compare to 4million. 13 million in LA proper would have to be compared to 750,000 in Boston proper.

Ai (Yi)^2

Both of us were wrong.

The population of LA metro is about 4 to 5 times that of Boston.

Not 10x (my bad) and not 3x (your bad). You compared the Boston MSA with the municipal population of LA. I underestimated the metro population in Boston (as the census people seem to think that Boston incorporates other large cities that are only tenuously affiliated - like New Hampshire and Worcester).

The comparable LA Metro area population is 18.7 million. The Boston Metro population of interest is around 4.6 million. These are relatively recent US Census figures (2015 ACS)

If you consider that rates of transit use in LA are about half that of the Boston area, that's a lot more drivers idling around for the trains than what you find in Boston.

There aren't far fewer

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There aren't far fewer transit users per capita in LA:

LA is a factor of 3 larger than the Boston (12.2 million vs. 4.2 million in 2010, census urban area). Between bus, rapid transit, and commuter rail, there are 2 million daily weekday transit trips in LA County (i.e. not counting Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino) vs. the MBTA's 1.3 million weekly trips (covering most of the population for the Boston area). Even ignoring non-LA County trips, that's at best a factor of 2, which isn't (especially given how low the numbers are for either) "far fewer".

I agree that signal priority is long overdue, but that doesn't justify making stuff up to make a point.

Yes there are

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Assuming you didn't just make up numbers, 2/12.2=16.4%, while 1.3/4.2= 31% (rounded numbers.) That means that Boston has per capita twice as many transit users than Los Angeles, or conversely Los Angeles has far fewer transit users.

Nothing against the efforts that Los Angeles has made getting people out of their cars, but your numbers back up Swirly's claim.


You could walk faster than the 73 bus, most mornings. I've seen people hop off and hoof it.


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Please, please eliminate half of the B line stops, especially between Packard Corner and Kenmore!
Around BU, the stops are less than 700 hundred feet from each other!

I've said this many times over the years

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The platforms along the B line are so narrow, that closing one stop and doubling up the volume would be a safety hazard.

Have you ever stood at one of those platforms as trains get expressed through? Or there's a delay? Or worse, a train goes express AT that station, so all of the passengers from, say, before Washington Street have to get off and stand on the tiny platform?

It does not take much of a delay to make it so crowded that people are nearly falling off the platform into the street, or walking on the tracks to find a safe place to stand.

So widen the platforms.

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So widen the platforms.

Like the T is already planning to do when Comm Ave is rebuilt and stations are consolidated.

A lot of that ridership (and

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A lot of that ridership (and on the 57 bus also) is just hop-on, hop-off BU kids with monthly T passes. Let the BU shuttle do its job more.

In general, signal priority for Green Line and busy bus routes is a great idea, especially if it only means extending or advancing a green light by a few seconds. My only worry is that unless the traffic lights revert back to their normal cycle after the trolley/bus passes, we'll see huge build-ups in the other directions. We get that problem sometimes now when ambulances, fire trucks, etc trigger a light change. It doesn't revert back to a normal cycle afterward - whoever had the green light when the emergency vehicle came through gets skipped and has to wait another cycle (which can be awhile if there's turning lanes, all-way pedestrian signals, etc).

Also Also:

Please, please eliminate half the lanes of traffic, especially between Packard Corner and Kenmore!
Around BU, the roads are less than 700 hundred feet from Storrow and the Pike!


There's no left turn from the BU inbound exit of Storrow. Cars are between St. Paul and Packard's Corner for a reason.

**** Turning

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I'd just put a solid, unbroken fence with only pedestrian gates from BC all the way underground. Cars need to stay on their own side of Commonwealth Ave.

The point of having multiple

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The point of having multiple lanes on Comm Ave is to accommodate through traffic. If you take away the easiest route for through traffic, it'll shift to side streets and cause a whole other set of problems.

Green line

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Just seems like there's too much congestion for anything to change. I walk three stops from Brigham & women's toward Back Bay and the trolleys stop so much it's quicker to walk.

So let me get this straight?

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So let me get this straight? They are more environment friendly but they rather have cars waiting at red lights wasting gas, money and doing more damage to our envronment?


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Read what I wrote. Read what Swirly, who does things like this for a living, wrote. They studied the environmental impact before they implemented the change. Any negative impact from the idling cars is mitigated by the quicker trolley times. Quicker trolleys means more capacity. It also means less people in their vehicles, which means less cars waiting at red lights wasting gas and doing damage to the environment.

Quicker trolleys also means

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Quicker trolleys also means lower operating costs: a 10% speedup is effectively the same as getting rid of about 9% of the trolley operators, even before taking increased ridership into account.

Commuting Is Outdated

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Probably 50+% of the people driving up and down Comm or Huntington or Beacon do almost all their work on a computer and could be working at home.

You are a sheltered little thing, aren't you?

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Every single short order cook does almost all of his work with a stove and frying pan. They have those at home and could be working from home.

Every single janitor does almost all of his work with a mop and broom. They can use those at home.

Every single doctor does almost all of his work by speaking with patients. They can do that over the phone from home.

Every single mathematician does all of his work with pencil and paper. They can do that from home.

Every single mailman and deliveryman works with a mailbox. They have one at home. They don't need to go anywhere.

No, commuting is not outdated.

Reading Comprehension

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Probably 50+% of the people driving up and down Comm or Huntington or Beacon do almost all their work on a computer and could be working at home.

Not talking about janitors or mailmen, nor hospitals or restaurants, but white collar office workers that make up the bulk of the commuters in the city.
Office workers don't need to go to offices downtown anymore.

And in case you're wondering about the estimate, it looks like that ,as of 2000, it was well over 50% and growing:

Maybe you're just being disingenuous because your boss made you dress up in a suit and its super muggy out today.

Depends on the job, but mostly no

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We can't all be free-lance writers, you see. Some of us have to work with other people.

For all but the most automatable of "white collar" work, in-person adds value that can't quite be replicated over email, texting, slack, or whatever latest and greatest app the kids these days are getting their IPOs in a twist about. Then there's the IT security nightmare that is having to support a large off-site workforce.

I'd wager that just about everyone who can work at home already does.

Silver Line Traffic Signals

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15 years ago the T promised that the S5 bus on Washington St. would be able to control the traffic signals.

We're still waiting.

In a perfect world, traffic

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In a perfect world, traffic managers would be monitoring the lights and adjusting them in real time. Shorter greens where traffic is light, longer lights to help clear backups quickly. They do this on 1A in East Boston/Revere, right before Suffolk Downs and it's great. Without that, the heavy traffic on 1A would have to stop every 30 seconds because of 2 cars coming from the intersecting street.

The normal way to solve that

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The normal way to solve that problem is to time the light so the green lasts more than 30 seconds, when traffic volumes warrant it. And *synchronize*, so that a pack of cars travelling down the major street doesn't just miss the end of every green light.

Human intervention can help when there's an unusual problem. But for typical situations, not only are automatic coordinated/sensored lights far more affordable, they're also better.

Only ten years late! I guess

Only ten years late! I guess that's swift for the T.

According to Bill Smith, who manages the Beacon Street reconstruction project for the town, the system will reallocate time among traffic lights depending on pedestrian and vehicular demand.

The MBTA, however, is not investing in a technology to integrate the Green Line trolley into the new system. "The only thing not detected is the trolley," Smith said.

The MBTA could have invested in a device that allows traffic signals to recognize trolleys and give them higher priority, Smith said, such as extending green time to let a train get through when it's approaching, or switching the light to green when a trolley arrives.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the T will not invest in trolley-recognition technology until Brookline provides the MBTA with a study that demonstrates how the T stands to benefit from it.

"The T asked the town for this information more than two years ago, and the T is still waiting for a response," Pesaturo wrote in an e-mail. "The T will not make a major investment before establishing all of the facts."

According to city officials, however, the MBTA simply was not interested in purchasing trolley-recognition devices for traffic lights.

"We gave them that option early on in the design process, and they opted not to select that," said the town's director of transportation, Peter Ditto. "My guess would be probably budgetary. They said they weren't interested."

Still Late

Given the T's record of making announcements but having no follow-though, I'd consider this late until it's actually installed. So maybe 2025?

Gotta love this quote:

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the T will not invest in trolley-recognition technology until Brookline provides the MBTA with a study that demonstrates how the T stands to benefit from it.

Yup, the T is dumbfounded by the suggestion that making the trollies go faster would actually benefit the system. If Brookline is going to make such a bold claim, they better provide scientific proof.