Let’s dedicate a bus lane!

Proposed Washington Street Dedicated Bus Lane

Proposed Washington Street Dedicated Bus Lane

For people who want to walk more and drive less in Roslindale, and encourage others to do so as well, the stretch of Washington Street from Rozzie Square to Forest Hills has long been an extreme pain point. The Commuter Rail makes the trip in less than five minutes but is infrequent and too expensive for many. We believe the cost for getting downtown from Roslindale should be the same, or nearly so, whether on Commuter Rail or bus/subway, but changing that will require political will at the state level and so far we’re not seeing much in that direction.

Meanwhile, this corridor is well served by buses — nearly ten different lines from points south and west converge here, so in theory the wait should always be short and the one-mile trip to the end of the Orange Line quick. But these buses share a single lane with traffic, making the entire route indistinguishable from a parking lot at rush hour. This isn’t right and it’s time to fix it.

The GoBoston 2030 study found that an average of 19,000 bus riders pass along this corridor every day, and more than half the people traveling along Washington Street between Forest Hills and Roslindale Square are in a bus. With heavy mixed use development going up around Forest Hills as well as a growing population in Roslindale and points south, this route is only going to become more well traveled, but it’s physically impossible to accommodate hundreds or thousands more people trying to make this trip in single-occupant vehicles[1]. Moreover, if the bus trip were faster and more convenient, it’s near certain that many more would opt for that mode, making it an overwhelming favorite.

A potential solution has been on the radar for years and it’s time to give it a try. Several groups, including the City of Boston itself, have proposed removing a lane of parking and turning it into a dedicated bus lane — inbound in the morning, and outbound in the evening. A similar experiment was quite successful last winter in Everett and we’d like to see how it works here. Community feedback on the idea has been overwhelmingly positive thus far and we’re hopeful to get a trial going soon to see how much it reduces the bus commute time, and to gather information on how it might impact other users of the road. Once we have real data in hand, we can have a well-informed conversation about the trade-offs involved in this sort of dedication of our street space.

One concern is the bus lane will likely have to be shared with the bike lane. This arrangement works well on the Silver Line route in the South End, but this stretch of Washington Street is much tighter. In some future enlightened world, the City will remove parking on both sides of Washington Street to provide separate dedicated bike and bus lanes for the public good, but short term this project makes imperative the rapid funding and construction of the Roslindale Gateway Path as a completely off-street alternative. We’re also intent on making sure the bus drivers on this route are well-trained and sensitized to the shared use with cyclists to maximize peaceful coexistence.

Finally, any loss of on-street parking will inevitably touch a nerve with some. A critical upside of the trial run is that we’ll then have data to inform this discussion: if we can move 20,000 or more people in half the time it currently takes, is that worth sacrificing real estate that is currently dedicated to a few dozen vehicles for free?

Moreover, last year the Metropolitan Area Planning Council researched the corridor’s parking patterns, including by analyzing license plate registration of parked cars. They found that “the Washington Street corridor between Forest Hills station and Roslindale Square has the highest rates of bus utilization in the entire MBTA service district, with 60% of travelers utilizing an MBTA bus during the AM and PM peak hours.” The report also documented low parking usage during the peak travel times, especially during the early morning, and that over 80% of parked cars were from outside the neighborhood driven in by people heading to the Forest Hills T-station. If these spots go away, these people from outside the neighborhood (and presumably most from outside the city) will have to find an alternate commute–perhaps this will stimulate a virtuous circle where these people opt for commuter rail closer to their home once their “free” parking alternative is limited. That’s an outcome we at WalkUP Roslindale can support.

If you want to help make this happen, spread the word to you neighbors and reach out to your City Councilors and the Mayor to express your support. We’re optimistic there will be good news about the trial run soon.

Press coverage and more information:

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Unless those single-occupant vehicles happen to all be bicycles. That would be fortunate!

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