Boston Tests Faster Bus Service Simply By Laying Out Orange Cones

The same low-cost approach that cities have used to quickly reallocate street space to walking and biking can also be used to try out transit improvements.

Boston set up a bus lane using orange cones. Photo:  Jacqueline Goddard
Boston set up a bus lane using orange cones. Photo: Jacqueline Goddard

On a typical weekday, bus riders make 19,000 trips on a one-mile section of Washington Street in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. At rush hour, they put up with bus speeds that are slower than walking.

The intense traffic congestion can drag out the approximately 1.2 mile-long trip between Roslindale Square and the Forest Hills Orange Line station as long as 45 minutes, according to Andrew McFarland of Boston’s LivableStreets Alliance. Even though buses carry 60 percent of the total number of people moving through the corridor at rush hour, transit has no dedicated street space.

Until this morning.

Bus riders got a dramatically faster ride thanks to a one-day pilot in which Boston DOT and the MBTA converted a parking lane and a bike lane into a bus lane using just orange cones. The “pop-up” bus lane was in effect from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. People on bikes were allowed to use the transit lane, while car drivers were not.

Transit riders noticed the difference and have been singing the praises of the bus lane on Twitter:

The experiment shows that the same low-cost approach that cities have used to quickly reallocate street space to walking and biking can also be used to try out transit improvements.

In addition to the cones, MBTA workers were stationed to keep cars out of the bus lane.

“This is an incredibly cost-effective way to move more people more efficiently along our streets without the time and resources required for capital projects,” said McFarland. “We’ve seen a similar pilot roll-out nearby in Everett that needed only four city staff members to operate daily (two public works officials to put down cones and two parking enforcement agents to thwart cars from parking in the lane).”

Today’s experiment will be followed by another on Tuesday, then a longer three- to four-week pilot planned for the spring. The spring project will include a bus lane for the p.m. peak (though not as the same time as the morning bus lane), as well as other bus priority treatments like off-board fare collection and stop consolidation, says McFarland.

McFarland says he’d like to see the bus lane made permanent.

“Today is about trying to get riders engaged,” he said. “This is what we can have every day if we go to the city and ask for it.”

  • Charlie

    Greenbush was the new commuter rail line built to the South Shore a number of years ago. The Fall River/New Bedford commuter rail line is currently proposed as an extension of an existing line to the South Coast. These are two different projects many years apart.

  • Michael

    That’s the basic design I’d support trending towards in cities. However, the far-flung development pattern in the us, especially west of the Appalachian mountains would be much better connected at autobahn level speeds. Additionally, it’s pretty flat from the Ohio river to Rocky Mountains.

  • Robert

    I looked at the budget. Problem was it was a transportation budget that wasn’t labelled properly. But it is my own fault for reading the Boston globe. I don’t know why you think that gives you the right to continue to attack me as I have already addressed this with several others here. I hope you get run over by your precious bus and die.

  • atiba1997

    Might this work in Philadelphia? Come view all the flat orange cones before you answer.

  • Corvus Corax

    What a precocious two-year-old you are. No kidding; you want me to DIE because I disagree with your statements. Really? Die? What can I say to that? Happy Holidays.

  • Robert

    Your crow avatar made me do it

  • keenplanner

    Adding capacity just makes congestion worse

  • gustaajedrez

    The other thing is that car riders/drivers may be able to travel down alternate streets whereas bus riders are constrained to traveling along the corridor the bus goes down.

  • MarkinArl

    Didn’t read the article, huh? Adding a lane for buses and bicycles REDUCED congestion and travel times. More (capacity) is more, not more is less! How stupid are theses people who believe falsehoods that more is less?

  • Richard Bullington

    Dear, dear MarkinArt. Thank you for your radical suggestion! No one has proposed this mind-bending possibility before. But, before we go too far down the highway of our dreams, I would like to point out one possible obstacle. You failed to SPECIFY exactly where you would add those “more travel lanes”. Where are you going to put them? Boston is a pretty old city after all. When it was laid out, people mostly walked.

    So please, give us a block-by-block inventory of what needs to be bulldozed in the old crusty parts so that the Gazillionaires from the exurbs can drive quickly to work. Truly, be SPECIFIC, and include your actual name and address so that the lucky people to be turned out of their houses for your convenience can thank you personally.

  • Richard Bullington

    Typical of someone who has a car as his icon. Are you a Pixar character?

  • Richard Bullington

    Says the dude with an obsolete gas guzzler for his.

  • MarkinArl

    Since wide sidewalks have yet to induce demand and make themselves congested, we might as well reallocate any unused, excess sidewalk for more demanded transportation modes such as bicycling and driving. Its a better transportation use than underpriced al fresco business seating.

    Like every transportation project, principals need to be applied in a context sensitive way where they work.

    In a democracy and capitalist country, give people what they want, including the travel modes they want, not what the Communist central planning committee decides!

  • ride_it_like_you_stole_it

    “In a democracy and capitalist country, give people what they want, including the travel modes they want, not what the Communist central planning committee decides!”

    Hear hear – some people in San Francisco thought that people wanted more parking and more space allocated for drivers and got Proposition L put on the ballot. In the end, Proposition L lost by almost a 2:1 margin as people voted for the city government to keep supporting transit, walking, and bicycling. https://ballotpedia.org/City_of_San_Francisco_%22Restore_Transportation_Balance%22_Parking_Meter_and_Traffic_Laws_Initiative,_Proposition_L_(November_2014)

  • ride_it_like_you_stole_it

    It’s true – shortening transit travel times by 30 minutes like this example in Boston means there could be one or two fewer buses needed per line, which can be a significant cost savings in addition to the major time savings for the people on the bus. Shortening the transit travel time means more drivers will be more likely to get out of their cars and onto the bus. And getting the bus out of the traffic lane means less congestion for drivers. It’s a win-win-win-win. The only loss is the ability for some people to store their cars on the street in the old parking lane.

  • MarkinArl

    …and Toronto elected Rob Ford to roll back bike lanes.

    SF has the the reduced travel lanes and resultant congestion they voted for, yea! And the US has the president it voted for. Voters can make bad decisions, so decisions need to be made on WHAT PEOPLE *DO*, not what they say. MV transport is by far the most popular, including public bus service, then walking, and lastly bicycling.

  • Richard Bullington

    Excellent thinking, and very popular in Omaha, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, Columbus and a dozen other medium sized, radial cities in the Midwest with their red carpets rolled out for YOU!

  • F Nelson

    Bus lanes aren’t that revolutionary in Europe (I live in London) but most of us still suffer poor air quality and crowded streets in the UK because people are too scared to cycle, have little access to public transport and forget that they can do most short journeys on foot.
    This summer I went to Groningen, a city in the Netherlands where they banned cars in the centre in the 1970s. Most people travel by bike. There are cafes and neighbourhood stores everywhere as people shop little and often and locally. It was a nice place to be. The air was OK too.

  • Robert

    I just put it on. Do you like it?

  • Robert

    If I was, I would be the king

  • neroden

    The important part here was the workers enforcing the lane. The problem with bus lanes, everywhere, is that car drivers drive into them with impunity. In London they have terrifyingly aggressive camera enforcement. Without that, the problme will continue.

  • neroden

    Incorrect, Mark! Look at the sidewalks of Midtown Manhattan. They are congested and overflowing onto the street. They need to be widened!

  • neroden

    No, the US voted for Hillary Clinton. Look up the vote count. Facts are facts. The *Electoral College*, whatever the hell that is, voted for Trump.

  • neroden

    And we have car-worshipping public officials.

  • MarkinArl

    Midtown Manhattan is one special case. Induced demand for sidewalks doesn’t even work for most of Manhattan, let alone Staten Island, Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens!

  • Aubrey

    No, mostly because of pesky democracy.

  • Winfried

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