Bus riders, transit wonks, and motorists between Roslindale Square and the Forest Hills MBTA station will want to mark May 7 on their calendars. That’s when the city begins a longer test of a new bus lane that promises to zoom riders past gridlock.
The city will ban parking on the inbound side of Washington Street during rush hour, cordoning it off with traffic cones and reserving it for buses. The process will be repeated every weekday for four weeks, when officials will decide whether to make it permanent.
The Walsh administration and transit advocates have targeted Washington Street for a bus-only lane because nearly 60 percent of the people traveling on the road during rush hour are in buses; at least nine MBTA bus lines use that section of the street.
The bus lane will be set aside only during the morning peak, and will revert to parking afterward. It’s the same setup as an inbound, morning-only bus lane on Broadway in the city of Everett that launched in 2016.
Boston Transportation Department planning director Vineet Gupta said the long-term prospects for the lane will be based on whether it shortens bus trips, as well as on feedback from riders, residents, business owners, and drivers. The city conducted a short test of the bus lane over two weekdays last year. According to the MBTA, the average bus trip on Washington Street was reduced from 13 minutes to 9 on one of the days, although some riders said on social media that it cut their overall commute by as much as 30 minutes.
While some car owners who park on Washington will be unhappy, Boston transportation commissioner Gina Fiandaca said others will likely benefit from the parking ban.
“We’ve heard from folks saying they’ve had trouble pulling out of their driveways in the morning” because of on-street parking, Fiandaca said. “And people who live on the street are probably some of the people using the buses, as well.”
The MBTA has been pressing cities and towns to clear space for bus lanes in a bid to improve service. In Boston, the Roslindale lane will be the first in a decade, and the city also plans to include one in the upcoming rebuild of the North Washington Street Bridge, between the North End and Charlestown. Elsewhere in Boston, parts of the Silver Line run in a bus-only lane and a tunnel through the Seaport District.
Walsh’s citywide transportation plan calls for several other bus-only lanes, including between North Station and the Seaport District, and between the Longwood Medical Area and Mattapan and Dorchester. Boston is also planning to hire a “transit team” to coordinate service with the state-run MBTA, including four people to manage bus lanes.
Elsewhere, Somerville recently launched a bus lane on a short stretch approaching Union Square, and Arlington, Cambridge, and Watertown won grants from the Barr Foundation to set up their own lanes. The lane through Cambridge and Watertown is expected to launch in June, and the Arlington lane is tentatively slated for the fall.