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Select Board Approves Installation of a Permanent Bus Lane on Mass Ave

DPCD presented results and recommendations at Feb. 25 meeting

Post Date:02/28/2019 4:28 PM

The Arlington Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) presented the results of the bus rapid transit (BRT) pilot, the MBTA data analysis, and the post-pilot survey, and made recommendations to implement a permanent bus lane to the Select Board at its February 25 meeting. The results showed that the pilot made substantial improvements in bus travel times and reliability, and resident reactions were overwhelmingly positive. Based on the data analysis and recommendations, the Select Board unanimously approved the implementation of the bus lane. Estimated implementation is set for summer 2019.

From October 9 to November 9, 2018, elements of BRT were piloted in Arlington on the eastbound side of Mass Ave between Lake Street and Alewife Brook Parkway. The pilot was made possible by a grant from the Barr Foundation in support of implementing bus priority for routes 77, 79, and 350. The pilot included the following elements: relocation of the bus stop to the far side of the Mass Ave and Lake Street intersection; transit signal priority (TSP) and a queue jump at the same intersection; the repurposing of parking spaces from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM for a dedicated bus and bike lane from the intersection of Mass Ave and Varnum Street to the Alewife Brook Parkway; and traffic signal and lane changes at the intersection of Mass Ave and Alewife Brook Parkway.

Following the completion of the pilot, an analysis of the MBTA data showed that buses ran faster through the pilot area than they did before the pilot, and also consistently ran faster and reliability increased. The dedicated bus lane saved, on average, five minutes in commute time for all bus routes during the hours it was piloted. On time performance for routes 79 and 350 increased significantly during the pilot, and has continued to be higher than before the pilot was implemented. Finally, moving the eastbound bus stop on Lake Street from the near side of the intersection to the far side of the intersection saved approximately one minute of travel time in the peak morning commute hours.

Three surveys were conducted over the course of the pilot to understand how corridor users felt about the pilot. Combined the three surveys totaled 970 responses. The post-pilot survey received 382 responses and responses were split between Arlington residents who drive (43%), ride the bus (36%), bicycle (14%), and walk (4%) on Mass Ave. Over two-thirds of respondents were very satisfied or satisfied with their pilot experience; 73% said the dedicated bus lane should remain, and 58% said the dedicated lane should be extended to Lake Street.

Due to this impressive success, DPCD recommended to the Select Board that a permanent bus priority lane be created in the same location as was tested during the pilot. The bus lane would run eastbound along Mass Avenue between Varnum Street and Alewife Brook Parkway, serving routes 77, 79, and 350 from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM on weekdays. However, instead of using cones to delineate the bus lane from the travel lanes, signage and pavement markings will be used. Regulatory signage will be placed along the dedicated bus lane to establish its location and that it will be enforced. Pavement markings will be placed along the dedicated bus lane to establish its location and clearly communicate to drivers that parking is not allowed at certain times of the day. Red paint and the words “BUS ONLY” will be used. However, bicyclists will also be able to travel in the lane without restriction during its hours of operation.

To ensure the bus lane is free from vehicle obstructions, the Arlington Police Department will dedicate one traffic officer to the area for the first 30 calendar days of implementation to enforce the parking restriction in the bus lane during its operation, 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM on weekdays. After this 30 day period, a Sector Officer will be assigned to the area who can periodically monitor the bus lane for illegally parked vehicles and take enforcement action as necessary.

Finally, keeping the parking lane clear of snow and ice is an important consideration to ensuring MBTA buses can travel through the lane in its hours of operation. The parking lane will be cleared as normal to the extent that parked vehicles and buses can use the lane after the snow event has finished. However, if there is so much snow that the parking lane cannot be fully cleared, buses can continue to use the regular travel lane during the morning commute, as they do currently. 

For more information, please contact Daniel Amstutz, Senior Transportation Planner, at 781-316-3093 or damstutz@town.arlington.ma.us, or visit www.arlingtonma.gov/projects
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