Bicycle lane extension also part of transit corridor upgrade
SOMERVILLE, MA – As part of an MBTA initiative to make bus service more efficient and safer for passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Somerville will be installing a westbound dedicated bus lane along Washington St. in East Somerville between Tufts St. and McGrath Highway. In the eastbound direction, a dedicated protected bike lane will start at Joy St., linking with the protected bike lane that begins at New Washington St. This project is expected to be installed in September or shortly thereafter and will not require the removal of any parking spaces.
This bus lane upgrade was given priority by the MBTA, which is seeking to protect essential workers and those reliant on public transit during the pandemic as part of an ongoing effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. Dedicated bus lanes can reduce crowding and also reduce the amount of time riders spend in close proximity to others while on the bus. In some cases, bus lanes can support improved service frequency to even further mitigate crowded conditions. These improvements can support public health and COVID-19 recovery throughout the bus service network and region.
“Every element of what we do and how we get around is being reevaluated during this pandemic,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “Among other things, a quicker bus trip is a safer bus trip. This is especially important for people at higher risk for serious COVID-19 complications if infected, such as seniors and those who are immunocompromised. For many people, the bus is their primary mode of transportation, an essential link to their jobs and every other facet of their lives. We will seek to provide them a greater measure of safety and security as our battle to contain this disease continues.”
The project will improve travel time and reliability for MBTA Route 86, Route 91, and Route CT2 bus service. Between these three routes, this road corridor serves approximately 120 weekday inbound bus trips and 10,000 total weekday riders. Route 86 is a Top 20 Route in the MBTA system, serving approximately 6,150 weekday passengers, but on-street traffic congestion contributes to poor on-time performance.
Route 86 has experienced steady ridership through the COVID-19 emergency, which lends additional urgency to these mobility improvements. The project is anticipated to shave two to four minutes off each trip.
“The improvements to bus reliability and trip times, and hence to the MBTA’s ability to manage crowding during the COVID-19 emergency, is a substantial public benefit that is consistent with the City of Somerville’s holistic response to the pandemic,” said Somerville Director of Mobility Brad Rawson. “Every minute we can shave off a trip reduces the risk to riders.”
The new bus lane also will link up with the recently installed network of Shared Streets throughout East Somerville at the corner of Washington St. and Tufts St. In addition, later this fall, the inbound bus stop at Washington St. and Tufts St. and the outbound stop at Washington St. and New Washington St. will be converted to fully-curbed and protected “floating bus stops,” where the bus stop will have a bicycle lane run behind it. This creates a protected waiting area for bus riders and greater safety for cyclists, who will not need to negotiate around bus traffic at those intersections.
The MBTA’s Rapid Response Program plans also announced improvements in Boston, Everett, and Chelsea, and will continue to roll out new projects into spring 2021.
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