Thread: MBTA Bus & BRT
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Old 03-09-2015, 03:44 PM   #3
Senior Member
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Cambridge, UK
Posts: 3,585
Re: MBTA Bus & BRT

It's hard to make changes in bus routes here. You might want to consult that history of the MBTA that contains a changelog of every bus route modification since 1964.

If you can't find it, I have it around somewhere.

I know that there's been some talk around the country (esp. Houston) about what I might call "refactoring" of bus routes, and I think that it's a positive thing. However, Boston might have a uniquely difficult system to refactor. Our bus routes are replacements of streetcar lines that acted as feeders for a set of hubs connected by rapid transit. The development patterns that grew up around these streetcar lines continue to exist and mostly function the way they used to do, albeit crippled by impositions of automobile traffic, auto-centric zoning, and free/underpriced street parking.

Witness the outcome of the refactoring of the 86 and 66 buses, back in the 80s and 90s. The 86 used to run from Union Square, Allston to Union Square, Somerville (later extended to Sullivan). The 66 bus ran from Dudley Square to Allston. The Transit History document says that they replaced the 63 bus with a newly rerouted 86 bus (today's route), and then extended the 66 to Harvard Square as compensation. In the past, it made sense for the 66 to turn left onto Brighton Ave to reach Union Square, but now it is a strange detour in a busy, congested place. However, from conversations with folks around here, I've gathered that there was significant community opposition to rerouting the 66 the straight way along Harvard Ave, because people who settled near Union Square, Allston, did so because of the convenience of access to Harvard Square. And so the 66 bus makes that weird jog in its route, and probably will do so for the foreseeable future.

The other major difficulty is that Boston's street network, for all of its charm, is somewhat poorly connected in many unfortunate ways; most especially in the areas developed as streetcar suburbs. Those streets were laid out by developers primarily interested in providing convenient foot access to their streetcar lines running along major boulevards that skirted some challenging geography in some places. Those streetcar lines tended to be radial, as well. So we've ended up with a lot of larger radial streets that concentrate travel, and few, if any, alternatives. The major boulevards meet at weirdly shaped intersections forming Boston's "squares" (that are not really square), and most of them were not really ever meant to handle large volumes of motorized traffic.

So all this doesn't leave you with too many options for refactoring bus routes outside of reducing service on one line and adding it to another. It's difficult to do a Houston-style refactoring where you ask some riders to walk a little further in order to get better service in the end, because there just isn't another way to run the buses. For the 66, going via Tremont to Harvard Street/Ave is basically the only option for serving the places it does. For the 22, 23, and 28, there really aren't any alternatives to the streets used, Seaver, Warren, Washington and Blue Hill Ave.

The same challenges await anyone who tries to piece together a quiet side-street route for biking, as I'm sure you're aware.
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