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.”

78 thoughts on Boston Tests Faster Bus Service Simply By Laying Out Orange Cones

  1. Yes, by all means make life easier for the subsidized riders on the bus at the expense of everyone else that are paying the taxes and insurance to own a car. It’s not bad enough that 50% of the state’s budget already go directly to the MBTA, now state government wants to spit in your face too.

  2. “Yes, by all means make life easier for the subsidized riders on the bus at the expense of everyone else that are paying the taxes and insurance to own a car.”

    >50% of the people moving on this corridor are in buses, and you have a problem with buses getting 50% of the roadway?

    And it’s not even taking away a travel lane, just a line of street parking for 2 hours.


    “It’s not bad enough that 50% of the state’s budget already go directly to the MBTA,”

    Well, that’s certainly one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever read. The MA state budget is ~$40 billion.

    The MBTA operating budget is ~$2 billion and most of it ISN’T funded by the state budget, it’s from other sources (levy on participating towns, sales tax portion, fares, etc), it’s only getting ~$150m out of the state budget.

    The MBTA capital investment budget is ~$1 billion, and again, only a fraction (~$350m) is coming from the state budget.

    The ~1.25% of the state budget the MBTA is getting is truly a great offense against car drivers.

  3. Not only gas taxes, you have excise taxes, sales tax on your car every time you purchase a new or used one. But worst yet is the fact that 50% of the state budget goes directly to the MBTA regardless if you use it or not. In turn, the MBTA greatly subsidizes the cost of each fare. Btw, the state will never be able to manage road construction costs. The waste, fraud and graft I witness every night infuriates me. The people in charge should hang

  4. There are plenty of subsidies on for cars, transit and everything in between. But the fact is that there is no prohibition that says a person who drives a car can not switch to riding the bus. You could join the masses that are able to get where they are going without sitting in 30 min of traffic. Effectually it helps everyone. More people will take transit which will remove cars that delay car trips. (Except that is that nasty thing called induced demand, in which case there will ALWAYS be traffic if roads remain free for drivers)

  5. It’s funny to see someone who has no idea how roads are funded condescend to those who do. Tell you what: Go ahead and look up how much of your taxes go to roads (none of your insurance does). I’ll wait here. Actually, scratch that, I have somewhere to be, gonna hop on the bus.

  6. Please give me a link to the budget. I can no longer access the article in the globe that I was sighting and I refuse to pay them anything.

  7. I am locked out by a paywall. Perhaps it was an older budget that included building out greenbush, idk. Do you have a link to the current budget?

  8. I totally agree with you. Subsidies for transportation should be eliminated. This will push up my bus ticket up to four dollars and my gallon of gas up to 7 and my ‘right’ to park on a city street to around 1,500 annually. Probably best just to pack the street parking into the registration to reduce the bureaucratic overhead.

  9. For the sake of argument, I will assume your numbers to be correct. How is the sales tax allocated? Sales tax is paid directly to the DOR. Does the state earmark Sales tax collections per individual town and use that money in state grants back to the town’s for different municipal projects? Where can I find more information on this?

  10. These uber and Lyft drivers will pull over and stop anywhere. They create massive traffic problems by stopping ANYWHERE. Yesterday one of these guys pulls over in the left lane of Huntington ave just beyond the lights if you were going to turn right to go to the Sheraton and stops as if he is waiting for someone to meet him in the middle of the road or perhaps get a very good look at his GPS on his phone. It’s worse yet in the financial district and the waterfront area. I can only imagine how many cars ate brought into the city to try and pick up fares where there are more customers. How does the city that charges insane amounts of money for a hackney license as well as all of the myriad of regulations that taxi drivers must conform to, allow uber to operate . So my question is this… Do you think having uber operate in Boston is a good thing for the city or should the city try and impose regulations on these types of services or perhaps ban them altogether?

  11. 1: The company should be forced to compete on a level playing field. Drivers are being taken advantage as there is no limiting factor on supply/competition. Uber needs to be forced to employ their drivers.

    2: Uber drivers are taking advantage of the same subsidies as anyone driving a car: They and their passengers aren’t paying a fraction of what they are costing the city. Therefore, it costs close to nothing just cruising around, being yet another empty car on the road, waiting for the next gig.

    3: There is zero enforcement of traffic statutes. Road users drive accordingly. This is not limited in any way to Uber.

    4: The interface is a mobile phone used while driving. This needs to change (see number 3)

  12. The bus carries typically 50-60 humans in space on the road of 3-4 cars averaging 1.5 each. Why should the car users get road space so inefficiently?

  13. The model that I’ve seen across major cities in Europe is a dedicated bus/taxi/motorcycle lanes in congested street-level corridors. It seems like the right mix. In the US, we could do something like bus/HOV-3/motorcycle.

  14. If this is working so well, why wait until spring to do a three day pilot? Why not make it five days a week starting right now? Not only will the riders save up to 30 minutes per trip, the number of buses required on this route could perhaps be reduced. After a week or two it should be possible to reduce the number of employees required.

  15. In my opinion, standard paint striped bike lanes are bit of distraction from what we need to be doing. Local residential streets should be safe for everyone: my test is that a grandmother with bad eyes & bad hearing, and looking down at the ground while using her walker should be able to cross a residential street safely. It should be obvious in these environments that pedestrians have the right of way and drivers operate with the utmost attention. If that’s currently not the case, the street needs to be calmed through narrowing and changing the surface material so a paver stone (both of which will have lower long term maintenance costs to the city – woohoo!). Regarding arterials where were trying move cars & freight faster than 10-20 miles an hour, we need grade separate bike infrastructure. Depending on the corridor a bus/taxi/bike dedicated lane could be appropriate. The main issue in the US is that we’ve applied highway dimensions to surface streets – which is not only extremely costly and dangerous, but extremely frustrating to drive on going sub-70 miles per hour.

    The model we should be approaching is more like Germany & Austria, where on streets we drive 10 miles per hour but on highways we can drop the hammer and go 75 to 100-plus on immaculately maintained 2-3 lane wide highways.

  16. in all likelihood bus lanes would save taxpayers money. it’s the opposite of spitting in anyone’s face, it’s the wise thing to do.

  17. “50% of the state budget goes directly to the MBTA”
    The state budget is ~$40bn, MBTA doesn’t get anything close to $20bn! (Oh, and MBTA’s funding comes from other sources too)

  18. Enjoy sitting in stalled traffic. And from the tenor of your ill-informed posts, cursing and laying on your horn too.

  19. Try reading – and understanding some of the above replies. You might learn something. Like that you are wrong again.

  20. Eh? I pay $50 a year to own a car in Medford. Explain why that would give me bitching rights against the MBTA

  21. So do those who drive a car. So what’s your point? That I should pay as much for road upkeep because I buy things as do those who not only buy things, but further degrade roads by driving everywhere they want to go and who get to store their private cars for free? That’s 100 square feet that they are subsidized by my taxes. How is that fair? Where’s my 100 square feet?

  22. What a funny little man you are: you want me to believe that you are calm in traffic, yet you come out swinging and name-calling because I dared to suggest otherwise. D’ya get the irony there?

    And why am I a moron? Was there something I wrote that was incredibly stupid? Did I make many pointless posts misstating the source of funding for road and street upkeep? Did I trumpet (wrongly) that my gas taxes and sales tax of my car covered the upkeep of roads? Did I proclaim that I was covering 1/2 of the cost of public transportation, and repeat that misstatement even after I was informed by more knowledgeable commenters that such is not the case? Was I too parsimonious to pay to obtain some real information before making a fool of myself in public? Was I too lazy to bother to google that information for free?


  23. Adding travel lanes such as as this is the needed solution to transportation problems. Keeping streets at 75 year old levels while continuing development and economic growth produces congestion and constrains economic growth. People won’t go out and spend or earn money when the hassle is too much. Believers of the little supported “less is more” or more is less induced demand theory are simply wrong. Less is less, not more. If widening increased traffic, we would have seen overcrowded pedestrians when sidewalks are widened, but its never happened. More travel lanes are needed, and even anti- (net) neutrality, bus/bike only lanes are better than nothing.

  24. What exactly do you mean by “Greenbush Expansion”? Is Greenbush a private bus company, like the Peter Pan Bus?

  25. Simply adding another travel lane would not have been nearly as effective. Buses would have had a slightly faster trip than before, but still would have been at the mercy of the rest of the traffic. And it would have forced bikes to wait in the same congestion with no way to filter forward, since the only way to add this lane was to reallocate space from the parking lane AND the bike lane.

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