December 14, 2017

Boston Area Communities to Pilot BRT Elements in 2018

On December 5, 2017, ITDP joined partners from the BostonBRT initiative in announcing the recipients of three $100,000 grants provided by the Barr Foundation to demonstrate BRT’s potential in metro Boston. Working together with the MBTA (regional transit authority) and across municipal boundaries, the communities of Arlington, Everett, and Cambridge in partnership with Watertown will use the grants to test on-the-ground elements of bus rapid transit in order to improve the transit experience of more than 30,000 daily bus riders.

In early 2017, BostonBRT issued a request for proposals calling on municipalities to lead the way through innovative pilot projects that would demonstrate the potential of BRT in high-ridership, high-traffic areas, with the goal of improving the regional transit experience. Municipalities were selected by a committee comprised of Massachusetts transportation leaders convened by the Barr Foundation and BostonBRT technical consultants, including ITDP staff, that reviewed criteria such as the number of BRT elements included within proposals, proof of concept, potential impact (including density of population and employment), municipal and community support, and willingness to partner with state agencies to create a successful pilot.

The three pilots will include a combination of dedicated bus-only lanes that take bus riders out of car congestion, technology to time traffic signals so that buses get more green light time, and platforms that allow riders, including people in wheelchairs or with baby strollers, to “level-board” the bus quickly as they would a subway. And while these BRT elements represent transit improvements for the communities served, they also introduce a new level of innovation characterized by municipally driven partnerships with the MBTA and between the municipalities themselves, which is unusual in the notoriously parochial New England region.


“We applaud the leadership of organizations like the Barr Foundation and BostonBRT in building support for bus improvements, including bus rapid transit, and we appreciate the collaboration of municipal leaders in improving transit service,” said Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “We have already seen how service has improved for customers with the all-door boarding pilot in Boston, the dedicated bus lane in Everett, and the installation of transit signal prioritization systems on Commonwealth Avenue. We are hopeful that this grant funding and further conversations with communities will expand initiatives which have proven their value to our customers.”

The grant recipients are:

  • Arlington – In collaboration with the MBTA, Arlington will conduct a one-month pilot of several BRT elements on the three-mile #77 bus route along Massachusetts Avenue, the town’s main thoroughfare, which has the highest ridership in Arlington and one of the top 15 highest-ridership routes in the overall MBTA bus system. The pilot, which will operate Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., includes transit signal prioritization, bus queue jumping at traffic signals, and a dedicated bus priority lane.
  • Cambridge/Watertown – Cambridge and Watertown will partner with the MBTA to pilot numerous BRT elements for several key bus route. Elements to be tested include all-day, dedicated bus lanes for significant segments of roadway, inbound queue jump lanes on Mount Auburn Street and Belmont Street, and transit signal prioritization as feasible, which allow buses to travel without impediment from other vehicles.
  • Everett – In collaboration with the MBTA, Everett will enhance its new dedicated bus lane it implemented on the south side of Broadway, the city’s main transit corridor, by adding upgrades to further demonstrate elements of Gold Standard BRT. The pilot includes “platform level” boarding facilities (which allow of ease of boarding for riders in wheelchairs, strollers, or carts) at two bus stops in Everett Square, and transit signal prioritization at three locations along Broadway that give southbound buses priority during peak-hours.

Each of the municipalities signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the MBTA in addition to grant agreements with the Barr Foundation. The MOUs are intended to provide a roadmap for effective collaboration and detail both the individual and joint responsibilities for key elements of the pilots including public process, technical design, enforcement, and evaluation.

ITDP in collaboration with BostonBRT is coordinating between state and municipal agencies, pilot design and implementation, communications, and community engagement. A series of workshops between the involved municipalities and key stakeholders will take shape in early 2018 with the sequential roll-out of each pilot throughout the spring, summer and fall.

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