Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Staffs Up for Better Bus Service and Safer Walking and Biking

Walsh's budget signals a commitment to act on his transportation promises.

If House Republicans get their way, the next federal transportation bill will set off a round of fare hikes and service cuts. Photo: LivableStreets Alliance
If House Republicans get their way, the next federal transportation bill will set off a round of fare hikes and service cuts. Photo: LivableStreets Alliance

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wants City Hall to staff up to improve bus service, increase cycling, and reduce traffic fatalities. It could be a breakthrough for a city where advocates have ramped up the pressure on the mayor to follow through on his transportation promises with real policy change.

Walsh’s upcoming budget will direct $5 million to hire 20 employees to better manage bus priority treatments, parking, sidewalks, and traffic signals, he announced earlier this week. To fund the positions, the city will increase parking violation fines from the $30-45 range to the $55-75 range, which is more in line with peer cities.

The staffers will be charged with carrying out the mayor’s Go Boston 2030 plan, which aims to increase transit ridership by a third, quadruple biking rates, and cut solo driving in half.

Five of the new city employees will be assigned to speed up bus service by designing and managing bus lanes and implementing transit signals that give buses fewer red lights.

The bus lanes are sorely needed and could make a big difference for riders. A recent report by Boston’s LivableStreets Alliance identified seven miles of streets where traffic congestion slows down service for 92,000 bus riders — about a fifth of all MBTA ridership.

Earlier this year, Boston tested out a dedicated bus lane on a busy stretch of Washington Street in Roslindale. Riders reported that travel times improved dramatically.

Under Walsh’s budget, Boston would join cities including New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore, and Providence that have city staff dedicated to improving bus service. Many of the ingredients that make bus service more useful — dedicated lanes, signal priority, comfortable bus stops, and safe walking and biking networks — fall under the city’s jurisdiction, not the transit agency’s.

The mayor also plans to hire two planners and two engineers to reduce traffic deaths and injuries under the city’s Vision Zero program, and he’s allocating $700,000 to complete missing links in the bike network. His announcement promises to add protected bike lanes, neighborhood slow-speed zones, and intersection redesigns over the next four years.

The LivableStreets Alliance and other advocates had pressed Walsh to start making good on his traffic safety promises. Until now, there wasn’t much evidence that the mayor would follow through, but LivableStreets Executive Director Stacy Thompson thinks Walsh’s budget is a promising sign.

“This is exactly the kind of investment needed to meet the ambition of the Go Boston 2030 action plan,” Thompson said in a statement.

  • Richard Klancer

    Sweet, thanks for the details. The Globe’s headline about this, annoyingly, emphasized the parking ticket fines: “Walsh wants big hike in parking ticket fees to fund transit work” (oh, and it called the *fines* “fees”…)

    By the way, what needs to happen to make “Streetsblog BOS” a thing?

  • Newtonmarunner

    Thanks for this, Angie.

    The GoBoston2030 BRT plans for Mattapan to LMA and North Station to Seaport via South Station both have negative transportation value. The modal transfer penalty for going from rail to a bus during the last mile is too brutal that nobody is going to take the North Station to Seaport via CBD route. The Mattapan to LMA BRT route (1) takes away Blue Hill Ave.’s important 1-seat ride to Dudley Sq., (2) likely won’t solve the 28 bus’s capacity problems, and (3) likely precludes for a generation something of greater transportation value (e.g., a tramway/subway on Blue Hill Ave./Washington St. hooking into the Tremont St. Subway and then GLX).

    Just my $0.02, though probably worth less than that as a Bostonian.

  • Eric Norton

    Looks like a good step forward for Boston. But I’m curious about the list of cities that have staff “dedicated to improving bus service”. Speaking from Baltimore, I don’t know that our City DOT is especially proactive in working with our local transit operator to speed up buses.

  • BicycleUrbanist

    StreetsblogBOS is in the works. Hit me up on Twitter at @bicycleurbanist for deets.

  • Richard Klancer

    Excellent! Having complained a bit about the Globe, I’m reminded that they seem to be covering transit better these days. Perhaps since moving to Downtown Crossing.

    viz, their editorial today highlighting the Ted Williams Tunnel ramp that was supposed to be for the Silver Line but which the Staties have claimed as solely for their use.

  • LazyReader

    Nationwide
    transit ridership in 2017, was 4.6 percent less than in the
    same month in 2016. light-rail ridership is declining in most cities
    that have it including Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cleveland,
    Portland, St. Louis, Sacramento, Salt Lake City. While increasing
    in some; Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles, those
    increases are more than offset by declining bus ridership, often due to
    cuts in bus service forced by the high cost of rail construction and
    upkeep. The NAACP sued Los Angeles for
    massive cuts to bus services in black neighborhoods namely due to money
    was diverted to pay for the Gold Line. Cuts to bus service
    disproportionately effect low-income residents and communities of color.
    the failure in logic here is that these small and moderate size cities
    are pushing for transportation infrastructure on par with their big city
    cousins.They don’t HAVE THE POPULATION and thus the tax base or revenue
    to afford billion dollar projects and the projects have reputations for
    embarrassingly going over projected budgets. NO CITY With less than a
    million people needs rail transit.

  • MarkinArl

    All the Boston media covered this story as an increase in parking fines that was somehow supposed to relieve congestion and other transportation issues. Only here have I seen the story being about what is being funded and the means being the minor detail. “Man on the street” interviews generally accepted 10 years with no increases put Boston on the low end of ticket prices, just as non-enforced $10 bicycle traffic infractions.

    Notably, higher fines, like parking costs put the financial hurt on non-residents. Residents still enjoy free street parking stickers. Its what re-elects a Boston mayor.

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