Sunday, August 16, 2015

Response to Greater Boston BRT Study Group Report

by Franklyn Salimbene

After a preliminary reading of the Greater Boston BRT Study Group 2015 Report on “bus rapid transit,” I have prepared the following comments on three of its assertions. They should raise several flags for long range transportation planners.

First - Capacity: 

BRT is not capable of providing the level of capacity needed to increase transit ridership. Only rail can do so. It is misleading to affirm otherwise. A simple example taken from MBTA sources demonstrates the point. The Huntington Avenue Green Line service (the E-line) runs at 5-minute headways during rush hour. The line uses two-car trains with a total carrying capacity of 353 people per train. (MBTA Arborway Study, 1999) This means that during one-hour, the carrying capacity of the line is 4,236 people. If BRT were the transit mode along Huntington Avenue, a bus would have to arrive every 1¼ minutes to equal the carrying capacity of the Green Line. This is because each 60’ articulated bus has a maximum carrying capacity of only 88 passengers. (MBTA Arborway Study, 1999) If a BRT system running at 5-minute intervals were the operational mode on Huntington Avenue, the carrying capacity would total only 1,056 for BRT compared to the 4,236 rail.

Vehicle ModeOne-Hour Capacity at
5-Minute Headways
Light Rail/Streetcar4,236
BRT1,056

Relate these facts to a BRT system to Lynn instead of a Blue Line extension or BRT to Hyde Park in place of an Orange Line extension and you can see an even more stark result. BRT capacity cannot compete with rail capacity.

Second - Cost:

While short term construction costs for BRT can be lower than light rail or streetcar, long term operational costs for BRT will be much higher. In planning for the future, operational costs are key. From the previous discussion consider the costs in terms of transit driver salaries. Two-car trains that can carry 4,236 riders at 5-minutes intervals over a 60-minute time period require paying 24 drivers. To attain the same capacity per hour using BRT would require running 48 buses and paying 48 drivers to operate them. That’s twice the annual salaries to achieve the same capacity as light rail. BRT would result in a significant increase in long-term costs for the MBTA.

Another operational cost factor is vehicle life. The US Department of Transportation estimates the average life-span of a bus is 12 years before a major overhaul or retirement of the bus is required. It estimates the average life-span of a rail vehicle to be 25 years. Roughly speaking this means that a BRT system would have to buy 2.1 buses for every 1 streetcar during a 25-year period. To give an example, the MBTA purchased 192 Neoplan buses in 2004/2005. These buses are now under contract for a major overhaul—after only 10 years. In 1986, the MBTA purchased 50 Type 7 streetcars. These cars are now under contract to be overhauled—after 29 years of service. In practice, therefore, the life span of a BRT bus is only about 1/3 that of a streetcar. For this reason, BRT operational costs are significantly higher in the long-run than might otherwise appear at first blush. BRT is no long-term bargain.

Third - Routing of Service:

The Study Group proposal promotes the idea that running BRT through downtown locations is advantageous. See, for example, the proposal to run BRT from Haymarket to Dudley. In the 1890s, Boston built a subway system because it learned that running transit vehicles in downtown traffic was a bad transit choice. Speaking to this specific issue, Vuchan Vuchic , the UPS Foundation Professor of Transportation Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, in a letter to Mass DEP in 2001, wrote:
Extending buses into downtown would represent a major deterioration of transit service: instead of offering reliable and fast travel in fully controlled tunnels, independent of street traffic, transit service would become strongly affected by, as well as a major contributor to street traffic congestion.
This is a lesson Boston learned once; we should not have to relearn it.

Concluding Thoughts

During the last 10 to 15 years, many cities in the United States have decided to build or expand light rail and streetcar systems. BRT projects, which were the preferred choice of the Bush administration, have given way to the Obama administration’s conviction that the best investment for cities in the long run is light rail. Major light rail and streetcar projects are underway in Atlanta GA, Charlotte NC, Houston TX, Kansas City, Minneapolis MN, Phoenix AZ, Seattle WA, and Washington DC, to name a few. While there might be some short-term savings with BRT over light rail, there is no cheap solution for the long-term. Boston transit has lived hand to mouth for too long. BRT is not what it seems.

Finally, I noted that among those Study Group members invited to travel to Mexico City by the Barr Foundation, there was not one community activist who supports light rail while there was at least one traveler who is hostile to it. Neither Wig Zamore from Somerville, nor Bob Terrell from Roxbury, nor Michael Reiskind or Tobias Johnson from Jamaica Plain was included. I believe that their presence and insights would have raised the questions similar to what I raised above.

Franklyn P. Salimbene, Board Member
Arborway Committee for Public Transit, Inc.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

E-Line Hyde Square Extension on BNN

by Tobias Johnson

Our event at the Connolly Library on July 15 unveiled 4 concepts of what an E-line terminus in Hyde Square might look like.

The concepts really got people talking, including the local press.  See video below featuring Arborway Committee board member Franklyn Salimbene discussing the initiative with Chris Lovett of BNN News. Aired July 27, 2015.



Sunday, July 5, 2015

Rethinking Transit Meeting: Green Line To Hyde Square

By Alan Smith

Join us at the event Rethinking Transit: Extending Green Line Service To Hyde Square to discuss the ongoing initiative to extend the Green Line to Hyde Square.  Don't miss this important discussion!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015
7:00 PM
Connolly Library
433 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

At this event, we will facilitate a conversation among residents, business leaders and policy makers on urban transportation and specifically the benefits of streetcars in urban settings. Concepts for a Hyde Square Terminus will be unveiled and discussed.  Scroll down for a sneak peek of one concept.

Guest speaker Josh Ostroff, from Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA.org), will join Srdjan Nedeljkovic, of the Arborway Committee to lead the discussion.

See below for more information on this initiative, which has been gaining momentum for the past year or more!

A Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) planning group circulated a final document of its plan for South Huntington Avenue entitled Framework for Future Development Review for the South Huntington Avenue Corridor in March of 2013, which included the Green Line Extension as a measure that needed to be considered in their recommendations.

On June 24, 2014, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council voted as a body 12-2 in favor of the motion: “The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council recommends support for the concept of bringing the Green Line Street car service to Hyde Square.”

Furthermore, various important institutions along the South Huntington Avenue corridor have written letters to public officials in support of the extension, including the Mount Pleasant Home, the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center, and the Sherrill House.

The image above depicts one possible option for a terminus of the E-line branch of the Green Line in Hyde Square.  This option follows the complete streets model of planning allowing room for automobiles and cyclists as well as enhancing pedestrian accommodation within the intersection of South Huntington Ave. and Centre Street.

Click here for a more detailed rendering of the South Huntington Ave. concept.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rethinking Transit: Extending Green Line Service To Hyde Square

By Alan Smith

Cancelled for Tonight!

The Connolly Library is closed on January 28, 2015 due to the blizzard of 2015.  Therefore, this event will be rescheduled.  Please stay tuned for a rescheduled date.

Join us at the event Rethinking Transit: Extending Green Line Service To Hyde Square to discuss the ongoing initiative to extend the Green Line to Hyde Square.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
7:00 PM
Connolly Library
433 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

At this event, we will facilitate a discussion among residents, business leaders and policy makers on urban transportation and specifically the benefits of streetcars in urban settings.  Concepts for a Hyde Square Terminus will be unveiled and discussed.  Don't miss this important discussion!

Guest speaker Stephanie Pollack, from the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, will join Srdjan Nedeljkovic, of the Arborway Committee to lead the discussion.

See below for more information on this initiative, which has been gaining momentum for the past year or more!

A Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) planning group circulated a final document of its plan for South Huntington Avenue entitled Framework for Future Development Review for the South Huntington Avenue Corridor in March of 2013, which included the Green Line Extension as a measure that needed to be considered in their recommendations.

On June 24, 2014, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council voted as a body 12-2 in favor of the motion: “The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council recommends support for the concept of bringing the Green Line Street car service to Hyde Square.”

Furthermore, various important institutions along the South Huntington Avenue corridor have written letters to public officials in support of the extension, including the Mount Pleasant Home, the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center, and the Sherrill House.


Local leaders in the Hispanic merchant and civic community have written to public officials expressing their support for this extension, including Nobel García, owner of El Oriental de Cuba, Damaris Pimentel, owner of Ultra Beauty Shop, Saúl Adiel Cifuentes, owner of Beauty Master Salon, Ruddy L. Castillo, owner of Centre Tailor Shop, Rafael Mejía, owner of Evelyn’s Market, and president of the Hyde Square Business Association, and Luis González, owner of Crystal Fruit.


Cancelled for Tonight!
The Connolly Library is closed on January 28, 2015 due to the blizzard of 2015.  Therefore, this event will be rescheduled.  Please stay tuned for a rescheduled date.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

JPNC Public Service Committee Supports Green Line to Hyde Square

by Tobias Johnson

On Tuesday May 6, 2014 at their regular monthly meeting, the Public Service Committee of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council took up the issue of extending the Green Line to Hyde Square and voted 5-2 to support the concept.

The meeting was chaired by Jeff Wiesner as the usual chair, Michael Reiskind, was absent.  Seven members of the Committee were in attendance and three members of the Arborway Committee, including me, attended to add supporting commentary and answer questions.

The Hyde Square Extension presentation to the Committee was made by Franklyn Salimbene in a detailed and methodical fashion.  After some Q/A and discussion by the members the Committee during which some objection to the topic was raised, such as the 39 bus is perfectly adequate and the issue reopens old wounds in the community, a motion was made and a vote taken.

The motion, which passed 5-2, read:
The Jamaica Plain Public Service Committee recommends that the full Council support the concept of bringing the Green Line streetcar service to Hyde Square.
This is a significant advance for the goal of extending the Green Line to Hyde Square.  Letters of support for the concept have been pouring in recently and the issue is gaining traction both politically and hopefully the Walsh administration as well the MBTA are listening.

The full Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council will take up the issue during its June 24, 2014 meeting.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Good Week For Streetcar Press

By Tobias Johnson

Within the past five days, streetcars have seen some good press in New York Times!  The first of the stories, Business Section, covers the long-awaited opening of the new streetcar line in our nation's capital.

I had the opportunity to take some pictures of the completed track in DC back in August 2012.  At that time, residents believed the opening of the line was imminent.
H Street track completed in 2012.

Apparently, the cars are still undergoing testing and the H Street line will commence operation this summer. The line is the first of eight planned which is seen as a "new generator of economic wealth that will more than pay for the... streetcar lines, eventually extending for 37 miles throughout the District of Columbia. District planners are projecting as much as $8 billion in new investment within 10 years of the lines’ completion."

In fact, I witnessed the massive construction of retail and residential units going up along the corridor firsthand.  A Whole Foods is even planned for 2016!  Sound familiar?

Interestingly enough, unlike the studies conducted in Boston around E-Line restoration in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which concluded that there would be no appreciable benefit to streetcar restoration (compared to bus service), studies of the H Street line, concluded just the opposite:

The “visible permanence” of the streetcar “can serve as a powerful attraction to private real estate investment,” the study added. These economic benefits, the study said, “would exceed the projected cost of creating the system by 600 percent to 1,000 percent.”  
Wow!  What a difference in projected outcome a few years, a few hundred miles an a whole lot of politics makes!

A few days later in the Art and Design Section of the Times, an article featured the imagining of a streetcar line connecting Brooklyn and Queens.  Perhaps a little streetcar envy with DC?  Again, the permanence of visible transit infrastructure is a major selling point.

...while Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to refine his agenda, including that promise of 200,000 units of affordable housing, he might consider a streetcar connecting Red Hook to Astoria. 
Why a streetcar? Buses are a more obvious solution. Improved bus service is an easier sell, faster to get up and running, and cheaper up front. A bus would be ... fine. 
But where’s the romance? A streetcar is a tangible, lasting commitment to urban change. It invites investment and becomes its own attraction. I’m not talking Ye Olde Trolley. This is transit for New Yorkers who can’t wait another half-century for the next subway station.
DC's streetcars with underground power c1960.
Note the lack of visible catenary in the final picture. DC's streetcars of that era were powered from below to meet the prohibition of overhead wires in the downtown region.  If today's streetcars are going to connect the entire district, the ordinances and regulations will need to be reconciled.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

South Huntington Ave. Institutions Support Green Line to Hyde Square

by Tobias Johnson

Letters of support continue to arrive as the idea of extending the Green Line to Hyde Square gains visibility and traction.

The concept of a 0.6 mile extension from Heath Street along the length of the broad South Huntington Ave. to the dense, diverse and cultural hub which is Boston's Latin Quarter, Hyde Square, seems an easy one to buy into.

Recent institutional support along the South Huntington Ave. corridor includes the following. Click the links to read the full letter.

Letters are being addressed and written to the MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly A. Scott, MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey, City of Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, Representative Jeffery Sanchez and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz.

Write your own letter of support today!

Mount Pleasant Home

Our support of extending the Green Line to Hyde Square and reducing the number of particulate emitting vehicles is an extension of our long standing commitment to a healthy neighborhood that includes our residents.

AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center

[MBTA] expanded services would benefit the neighborhood, business and the city, especially with pending construction that will bring some 1,000 more permanent residents to the area.

Sherrill House

Extending Green Line service would encourage new residents to leave their cars at home, and would make commuting by T a more viable option for those in the Hyde Square and and central Jamaica Plain area.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hyde Square Business Leaders Support Green Line to Hyde Square

by Tobias Johnson

A group of business leaders from Hyde Square sent a letter on March 15, 2014 to Mayor Walsh to urge him to support the extension of the E Line to Hyde Square.


Hyde Square Business Leaders call for
Green Line Extension to Hyde Square
View the full letter here.

Among other things, the letter asks that the Mayor

...actively support this logical and straightforward improvement in public transit which will enrich the lives of the residents along S. Huntington Avenue and Hyde Square, as well as incentivize and promote the commercial and cultural richness of our neighborhood.

Referencing “Boston's Latin Quarter” the business leaders also note that new development along South Huntington Street will see an influx of a 1000 or more new residents in coming years and the 39 bus “is incapable of adequately bearing this anticipated load.”

The signers of the letter include:
  • Nobel Garcia, owner Oriental de Cuba, 416 Centre St.
  • Damaris Pimentel, owner Ultra Beauty Shop, 401 Centre St.
  • Saul Adiel Cifuentes, owner Beauty Master Salon, 397 Centre St.
  • Ruddy Castillo, owner Centre Tailor Shop, 366 Centre St.
  • Rafael Mejia, owner Evelyn's Market, 298 Centre St.
  • Luis Gonzalez, owner Crystal Fruit, 278 Centre St.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

MBTA to receive 25% of Transportation Plan Funding

By Tobias Johnson

Earlier this month MassDOT unveiled its annual capital plan and while the budgeting for the next 5 years includes money for new Red, Orange and Green line train orders, the headline from our perspective might read: MBTA to receive 25% of Transportation Plan Funding.  The real question is, where is the other 75% of the money going?  Read the full Boston Globe article here.

Of course, the MBTA is but one part of MassDOT as a whole, and so more than 50% of the total funds are allocated to highways and roadways.

The plan hangs in the balance however, with an initiative to repeal the automatically increasing gas tax on the ballot in the fall.  The gasoline tax underscores the stark policy differences between the urban eastern portion of the state and the less dense western portion of the state.  The gas tax has always been a political hot potato.

It would appear, even in spite of the Governor's push to expand rail far afield from the urban core including Fall River, that planners at the MBTA are beginning to think of actually improving service in Boston including the Seaport. Looking long-term, greater use of diesel engines (DMUs) that can make more frequent stops on the Indigo line will fill in much needed service in existing poorly served areas.


See the new MBTA map projections of what service might be line in 2024.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Transit Divide: Politics of Decline or Smart Investment?

by Srdjan S. Nedeljkovic

In light of the recent piece examining the mounting opposition to Cincinnatti's streetcar project in the New York Times on Dec 23, I thought I'd share my opinion and some facts to support it.

It's always difficult for me to understand the arguments against these types of transportation investments.

Did you know that at the same time inertia and obstructionism is being threatened to kill their streetcar project, the fine folks in Cincinnati are also debating building a $1.4 billion transportation project for its eastern suburbs. Most of the cost is allocated to roadway enlargement and expansion (Rt 32/Rt 74 highway expansion). The folks in Cincinnati are also moving forward with a major expansion of their Rt 75 interstate highway, adding 4 lanes to it and building a new bridge across the Ohio River, at a cost of almost $4 billion. What gives?

None of these roadway projects will benefit the inner core of Cincinnati! None of these roadway expansions that are on the drawing board will encourage economic growth or improve the tax base in Cincinnati, which is now a townlet of only 296,000 people with a population density of 3810/sq mile, similar to that of Browning, Montana.

Cincinnati is half the size it was when many of the people engaged in this debate were born. Why do some want to encourage further disinvestment and collapse of their city?

Economists and urbanists have long argued that density plays a key role in innovation and economic growth. There are now about 476 cities in the world with more than 1 million people, and over 160 of those are in China. The question for Cincinnati is: Would we like to see growth and prosperity or will we sit by and watch further decline?

Just like in Boston, there is a battle between urban and anti-urban interests in Cincinnati. Do we spend $2.2 billion to construct the New Bedford rail project through miles of wetlands and forest with its $36 million/yr annual operating costs and $345/month commuter rail passes that is projected to service only about 4000 riders per day?

Or do we make investments in relatively low cost, smaller, but high impact urban projects like the Hyde Square extension that can help keep our city neighborhoods strong and vibrant?

It's a clear choice to me!