Boston Makes Its Bus Lane Experiment Permanent

Bus travel times dropped 20 to 25 percent during the morning rush thanks to the Washington Street bus lane, the city reports.

Boston's Washington Street bus/bike lane pilot. Photo: LivableStreets Alliance
Boston's Washington Street bus/bike lane pilot. Photo: LivableStreets Alliance

It doesn’t take much money to make riding the bus a lot more convenient. With little more than orange cones, Boston set up a bus lane on one of its most important but congested bus corridors — and it worked wonders.

At first, the city let the one-month bus lane experiment on Washington Street expire, frustrating bus riders and advocates who expected the test run to transition seamlessly to a permanent improvement.

But the administration of Mayor Marty Walsh quickly came around and announced yesterday that the bus lane will be back beginning June 18. The city won’t wait for permanent markings and signage to reinstitute bus priority each weekday morning from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The bus lane speeds up trips for six bus routes carrying 19,000 daily trips on Washington Street in the Roslindale neighborhood, connecting to the Forest Hills Orange Line Station. Previously, the curb lane was reserved for parked cars during rush hours and buses operated at a snail’s pace in general traffic, weaving in and out of rush-hour congestion at every stop.

Beginning in early May, the city converted a parking lane during the morning rush hour to a buses-and-bikes-only lane using orange cones. Bus riders and cyclists got a taste for how much better their commute could be.

During the most congested hour (7:30 to 8:30 a.m.), when about 1,100 bus riders travel the corridor, bus travel times dropped 20 to 25 percent, the city reports.

According to survey data from the City of Boston, 94 percent of bike and bus riders said they wanted the pilot made permanent.

Andrew McFarland of the advocacy group LivableStreets Boston hopes to see that success replicated elsewhere. Boston has identified a number of other streets as high-impact locations for dedicated bus lanes.

“This is all the more reason the city should looking at the other four or five corridors that are really congested,” McFarland said.

17 thoughts on Boston Makes Its Bus Lane Experiment Permanent

  1. “each weekday morning from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.”

    That should be 9 a.m., yes? Because this is only in the mornings?

  2. This is the connection from the former elevated rail line route to the new depressed rail line route, so it’s very high density population and the area has a culture of using public transportation. It’s sad that there was *ever* a period when the buses were forced to crawl through private car traffic.

    Good for the Mayor on fixing this.

  3. problem is bus lanes along abandoned rail routes fill up very quickly, eventually requiring tracking since the city had been built along those old RoWs (also explaining the surface congestion)–it’s a traffic chicken-and-egg

  4. To be pedantic, the areas on the Washington St. buses to Forest Hills (32/34/35/36/37/38/50) buses — Roslindale, Hyde Park, and W. Roxbury — aren’t thaaat dense. All the mentioned neighborhoods are at most 60 percent of Boston proper’s 13-14K people per square mile (Rozzie @ 8.5K ppl per square mile). That said, Rozzie is one of the few areas willing to upzone, Hyde Park (32) would be much better served by regional rail, and Rozzie and W. Roxbury (34/35/36/37/50) would be better served with either (1) an Orange Line Extension to W. Roxbury along the Needham Line or (2) regional rail + 4-Tracking the SW Corridor. Having dedicated bus lanes on Washington St. works longer term for the Washington St. bus (34) in W. Roxbury.

  5. In London, I noticed lanes in several places throughout the city core that were permanently dedicated to “bus, motorcycle, taxi.” In the US, we could do something similar with a lane for bus, motorcycle and HOV-3.

    The advantage to this design is 1) simplicity. It’s the same regime 24/7. 2) It creates more reliable corridors not just for transit agencies, but also school buses, paratransit, private coach operators, shared vans, etc. 3) It dramatically changes the politics of street space from “a giveaway from hard-working drivers & families to low class, lazy bus riders & whiny yuppies” (how it’s portrayed on AM talk radio as the drivers nod their heads whilst sitting in traffic…) to “from cars to school kids, suburban commuter buses, the elderly in their nursing home vans, and – oh yeah – transit.)

  6. Newton – please stop trotting out the non-starter will never happen Orange Line extension.

  7. The OL to W. Roxbury is in TransitMatters’s list of proposals. Heck, GoBoston2030 had OL to Roslindale as one of their proposals. CTPS had OL to Needham in the early 2000s.

    OL to W. Roxbury is waaay cheaper than South Station Expansion. It’s cheaper than 4-tracking the Southwest Corridor. That’s why it’s consistently been in the list of potential projects for some time.

  8. It’s in GoBoston because some people who made comments on what they wanted had read about people saying it should have been done when the OL was built. Let me repeat so we can finally kill what is otherwise a good idea. It would be massively expensive with little or no additional ridership because: 1) requires building electrification with either overhead or 3rd rail for miles of route where there is now only single track; 2) to gain space for 2nd track would have to take eminent domain in Arnold Arboretum and well over 100 private properties. Currently Needham Line serves well although it needs additional capacity at peak hours.

  9. The Silver Line aka SL5 to Dudle is a joke it does not run on its own lanes except in the tunnel and does not go anywhere as near as fast as the elevated it replaced.

  10. The 65-page report includes what is being done in the next five years to improve the MBTA, including replacing Orange, Red and Green Line trains, extending the Green Line and implementing a new fare collection system. The document also lays out what’s being planned between now and 2040, including connecting the Blue and Red lines, providing a pedestrian connection between State Street and Downtown Crossing stations, implementing platform barriers and doors and expanding bus service.

    But grabbing the headlines are the so-called big ideas: a transit “superstation” at downtown crossing with underground pedestrian walkways connecting various T lines, extending the Blue Line to Lynn, the Green Line to Hyde Square and the Orange Line to Everett and Roslindale. The long-range plan also calls for autonomous bus shuttles and beefing up climate change resiliency.

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