The Little Things

As has become increasingly clear over the past year, Gov. Charlie Baker isn’t interested in investing in or improving the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. His administration is so ideologically committed to his slogan of “Reform before revenue” that his hand-picked control board has used funny accounting regarding commuter rail service and cherry picked data to justify ending late night service.

The board has also seemingly committed to a potentially illegal fare hike (while the governor and Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo pledge not to raise taxes or fees!) to go on top of service cuts. The whole thing stinks. The reform side seems lacking, as well.

According to Boston Magazine, Transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack has said that the $7 billion maintenance backlog will be cleared away over the next 25 years. I guess the region is supposed to not grow or only grow in a car-dependent way until 2041.

However, no matter what reasons or screwy accounting they come up with to justify their perverse measures, they are still in charge for at least three more years, so it bears thinking about what the MBTA can do to improve service with the resources at its disposal and the constraints that have been placed upon it.

There are a lot of little tweaks that can be made to the system. They wouldn’t be showy and they wouldn’t be ideal, but they would be doable with the T’s limited resources. I think they would result not only in service improvements, but they would make the system easier and less stressful to use.

Houston recently debuted a reconfigured system designed by Jarrett Walker, which used the system’s existing resources to provide higher quality service by eliminating route branching and making long routes shorter. According to Streetsblog, ridership is up four percent already and Walker predicts ridership to increase 20 percent within two years.

In Boston, there are definitely opportunities for improvement. For instance, there are a few routes that could be greatly improved by being straightened out. Route 64, for example, has three distinct detours that make it run longer for no appreciable increase in service.

64 route

Similarly, Route 66 has an unnecesarry detour that takes it through Union Square and results in it having too many stops in Allston and having to perform an ackward manuever of turning right into a stop and immediately after having to turn left against two lanes of traffic. Not surprisingly, it’s often unable to turn.

Route 66 Union Sq

If it went straight down Harvard Avenue to Cambridge Street, not only would three stops, a left turn and about a mile of extraneous route be eliminated, but a better connection could be made with Route 57, which runs along Brighton Avenue. Currently, if one is on the 66 and wants to transfer to the 57, things can be nightmarish. If one is on the 66 heading towards Harvard and wants to go to Brighton, you can use the Quint Street stop. If you’re heading toward Dudley, but want to go to Brighton, you have to cross Union Square — the intersection of Cambridge Street, North Beacon Street and Brighton Avenue, which is dangerous, car-oriented and frustrating. Similarly, if you’re on the 57 and want to go to Harvard, you have to cross that monstrous perversion.

But the intersection of Harvard Avenue and Brighton Avenue is much safer and simpler and so having the stops there would improve the route’s usability enormously.

Similar little improvements could be made at Barry’s Corner, where the stops of the 66, 86 and 70 could be combined to improve transfers.

Route 66 Barry's Corner

The 66 has two stops in Barry’s Corner, Kingley Street and the old Charlesview on the far side of Western Avenue, which it shares with the 86. The 70 also has two stops in Barry’s Corner, Riverdale Street (shared with the 86) and Travis Street.

Route 70 Barry's Corner

Those four could easily be combined into one at North Harvard Street and Western Avenue.

Another obvious idea is in Harvard Square. I don’t understand why the 66 has so many stops in Harvard Square, especially since they don’t allow for easy connections to anything except the One bus.

I see two possibilities for very easy improvement. One would be to just have one stop inbound and one out. It would cross the Charles like normal, but instead of stopping across from Eliot Street, it would stop right at Harvard Square Station. It would then do the loop and come down and pick up outbound passengers across the street from the station in front of the Harvard Coop.

An alternative would be to send it through the Harvard Busway. Like the 86 it could turn left onto Eliot Street and go down Bennett Alley to drop passengers off in the upper busway, loop around to pick up passengers in the lower busway and out via Bennett Alley and Eliot Street.

A further improvement in Harvard Square would use a modest investment to make them fare-controlled areas, reducing dwell times.

The last little improvement that would make a huge difference is all the way down in Roxbury Crossing. The station is built around a bridge of Tremont Street over Orange Line and commuter rail tracks. Heading towards Dudley, the 66 stops right outside the station doors. Heading towards Harvard, it stops right across the street. So far so good. The problem is that Tremont Street is four lanes wide and this patently obvious desire line has no protection. They want you to walk down to Columbus Avenue, wait for a pedestrian signal and cross there.

No. Absolutely not. Ideally, the station platform would be extended and an escalator and stairs constructed on the other side, but it would be a lot cheaper and simpler if a signalized crossing could be built there.

Yes, these changes would inconvenience some drivers, but quite frankly, I don’t give a shit about them.


3 thoughts on “The Little Things

  1. The 66/57 transfer is most easily done at Allston Street / opp Quint Ave, not at Union Square.

    The jog in the 66 bus route exists because the old 86 bus route used to end at Union Square (and the other end was in Union Square as well — Somerville). The Allston to Dudley bus route (old 66) and the Allston to Somerville via Cambridge bus routes were reformed as the current 66 and current 86. ‘Straightening’ out the new 66 bus route would be a detriment to the transit service that Union Square (Allston) residents have been receiving. In particular, the low income communities around Hano Street would face longer walks to buses serving major destinations that they were dependent upon — while favoring Brookline residents who would gain slightly better bus service to Harvard. It’s not the greatest optics…

    The Hano Street community fought hard to restore their bus stop at Emery Road, and for the crosswalk adjacent to it. These improvements only happened after a 12 year old boy was killed crossing the street to try to catch a 66 bus going to Dudley, mind you. I used to believe in straightening out the 66, but I don’t think I could anymore unless a better solution was found for Union Square.

    • I forgot about Allston Street, but I never found that to be much better than Union Square.

      And the MBTA ought to keep the stops at Harvard and Cambridge, to maintain treansfers between the 64 and the 66.

      Personally, I would take a longer walk for a better service. And I think that most people would prefer a faster, more reliable service to one that saves them an extra five minutes of walking.

  2. I think I understand the reason behind having multiple stops on the 66 in the Harvard Square area: it’s because traffic is often pretty terrible. There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting on your bus for five minutes as you SLOWWWWLY crawl past your destination just so you can get out and walk another five minutes back to it. Similarly for walking past a stopped 66 just so you can catch the one running behind it, meaning you get to wit the 10 minute headway plus sit in traffic for five minutes. As for running the 66 into the Harvard tunnel: apparently it used to do that at some point, but it’s not possible right now, because the 66 uses CNG buses, and those don’t fit in the tunnel. Maybe once they buy some new buses (which is happening soon, because the current CNGs are falling apart), they’ll have ones that can fit in the tunnel and they can start running the 66 there again. Of course, running more buses through the tunnel would increase the risk of congestion there, but making it a fare control zone would nicely solve most of that problem, as well as speeding up the outbound 71 and 73.

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