The city of Everett pioneered rush-hour bus lanes in Greater Boston back in 2016, when it set aside street space to let transit riders bypass traffic on a long stretch of Broadway. But until recently, the smooth ride abruptly ground to a halt as buses approached the traffic congestion at Sweetser Circle.
That Achilles' heel has since been treated with another transit first for the region: a bus-only lane throughout the rotary.
The traffic circle bus lane was among a number of transit improvements that Everett and state officials introduced at an event last Tuesday morning. Other improvements include extended bus lanes on Broadway and Main Street, which also feeds into Sweetser Circle.
After gaining traction in recent years as a way to make transit faster than driving, officials say the dedicated bus lanes have taken on new importance during the coronavirus pandemic because they allow buses to complete their trips more quickly, reducing both crowding and the time passengers spend near each other. While transit ridership has dropped dramatically this year, some buses — including in Everett — have maintained high rates of passengers.
“It is our moral imperative to keep them moving," Mayor Carlo DeMaria said. "We do this by removing the barriers to fast, reliable bus service.”
For all its novelty, the Sweetser Circle bus lane is about what you might expect: a ring of red paint along the outside edge of the rotary.
Connecting Broadway, Main Street, and Route 16, Sweetser Circle has long stood as a busy rotary funneling cars into a chaotic free-for-all. It gained some order in recent years, however, ahead of the opening of the Encore Boston Harbor casino. Casino operator Wynn Resorts paid to add new signs and lane markings, which included a wide shoulder lane.
The new bus lane essentially fills in the shoulder with red paint — meaning that, unlike most other bus lanes, this one didn’t take much space from motorists. The lane is interrupted near the rotary exits, where buses and cars would be forced to mingle.
The MBTA paid for the lane, which cost $270,000 under a new bulk paint purchasing program between the agency and participating communities.
Worcester rail improvements
Massachusetts has secured nearly $30 million in federal grant funding for a major initiative at Union Station in Worcester that should improve service between Boston and New England’s second largest city.
The funding will cover about half the costs of the project, which will add a new 800-foot island-style platform to the station that will let passengers access trains at multiple tracks.
The project will go out to bid in December and is expected to take about two years to complete. It also includes a pedestrian bridge to help passengers reach the new platform, accessibility improvements for riders with disabilities, and improvements to track and signal infrastructure.
But the new platform is the highlight. Right now, Union Station has only one platform that serves just a single track for incoming and outgoing MBTA and Amtrak trains, limiting schedule flexibility and exacerbating disruptions during a breakdown.
The added platform will give passengers access to two tracks, which could ultimately allow for more frequent rail service to and from Worcester in the more distant future.
Chance to chime in
For now, however, MBTA riders should be bracing for service reductions. Battered by reduced fare revenue, the agency is planning a series of cuts across much of the system next year.
Riders will get the chance to level their complaints at 11 online public meetings scheduled in November and early December. The full schedule is available at mbta.com/forging-ahead; two meetings will focus on the entire system, while the rest are divided to focus on specific regions.
The online meetings will come after a Nov. 9 meeting where MBTA officials will detail proposed cuts to its governing board.
So far, officials have said they want to preserve as much service as possible on most bus routes, the subway, and the Fairmount commuter line. These parts of the system have been deemed “essential” because they’ve remained busy throughout the pandemic or serve riders with no other options to get around.' Even so, they could still see significant cuts.
And other parts of the system could face much more severe reductions, especially the lines that mostly serve white-collar workers who are likely to continue working from home for many more months. Much of the commuter rail, for instance, could see severe reductions in service, and officials have suggested they might outright eliminate the Hingham/Hull ferry line — a proposal that has already been met with some resistance along the South Shore.