COVID-19 Mobility Response: Quick-Build Bus Lanes

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"This crisis has reminded us of the deep disparities across our region. Our roadmap to recovery must include efforts like bus lanes that quickly enhance access to safe transit, cut commute travel times, and improve air quality for our most vulnerable residents.” - Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.



What are quick-build bus lanes?

The concept of "quick-build" transportation improvements is based on using temporary, inexpensive materials to implement projects in the short-term that help us plan for longer-term improvements. Often, one of the main defining aspects of a quick-build project is that it can be implemented on a much faster timeline than typical capital projects (a matter of months for quick-build compared to years for traditional capital projects).

For the quick-build bus and bike lanes that you'll see popping up around the City, we'll use paint, flex posts, and signage to improve bus mobility and bicycle safety. Because the projects will be implemented in this low-cost way that doesn't require major infrastructure construction, they will be a good way to test mobility and safety solutions, get public input, and collect and analyze data to inform longer-term improvements.

Still have questions?


Why is the City doing this now?

As part of the City’s comprehensive response to the COVID-19 emergency, we are working with neighboring communities, MassDOT, and the MBTA to create dedicated bus lanes that can be installed quickly on streets that serve major bus routes throughout Somerville and connect the region. Bus lanes are effective because they keep buses from getting stuck in traffic, making bus travel faster and more reliable.

Better bus service can support public health by reducing crowding, limiting the amount of time riders spend in close proximity to others while on the bus, and allowing riders to social distance on transit. Within the region and across the country, major cities including Boston, Everett, Chelsea, New York, Chicago, and others are installing bus-priority lanes to support pandemic recovery efforts and meet the urgent needs of our new reality.

One essential part of our daily lives that has changed drastically during COVID-19 is how we get around - how we get to work and essential services safely and efficiently on a daily basis. We're seeing more people walking and biking, and some of the neighborhoods most impacted by COVID-19 remain reliant on transit to access jobs, groceries, healthcare, and other essential services. Given that nearly one in four households in Somerville don't have access to a car, and half of all households have access to only one vehicle, enhancing the safety and efficiency of local and regional transit connections is a top priority for the City.


What are the projects?

The City plans to install quick-build bus lanes at the following locations. Additional locations may be added.

Davis Square (Holland and College) Bus Priority

In 2021, the City is scheduled to reconstruct sidewalks and resurface roadways on College Avenue and Holland Street. Our community process so far has indicated strong interest in prioritizing bus transit to better serve residents, businesses and commuters along these key corridors. Street design will continue in the coming months.

Meanwhile, in Fall 2020 the City will install short sections of "bus-only" pavement markings in the heart of Davis Square to facilitate safe and efficient bus operations for MBTA Routes 89, 94 and 96 (College Avenue) and Routes 87, 88 and 89 (Holland Street). As shown in the graphic below, the bus only markings will be installed from the Red Line station entrance to the square on both Holland and College. The Holland Street bus only markings will extend through the intersection to Day Street.

This project should not result in any significant changes to how drivers experience the square. As a result of this summer's outdoor dining in the square, the traffic pattern entering Davis on Holland Street already follows this pattern.

Eastern Washington Street Bus and Bike Lanes (McGrath to Sullivan Square)

Through the MassDOT Shared Streets and Spaces Grant Program, the Washington Street bus lane project will deliver a quick-build dedicated bus lane, protected bike lanes, enhanced bus stop treatments and pedestrian safety upgrades at a strategically-important location in East Somerville. The project will improve travel time and reliability for MBTA Route 86, Route 91 and Route CT2 bus service by installing a 700-foot queue-jump facility at the high-delay intersection of Washington Street and State Route 28 (McGrath Highway). Between these three routes, this corridor serves approximately 120 daily weekday inbound trips and 10,000 total weekday riders. Route 86 is a Top 20 Route, serving approximately 6,150 weekday passengers, but on-street traffic congestion contributes to a very poor on-time performance of 61%.

Some key aspects of the project include:

  • Travel time savings of 2-4 minutes per trip
  • Reallocation of street space in order to more equitably serve people walking, rolling, riding buses and riding bicycles
  • Improved safety for bike riders of all ages and abilities and direct connections to the MBTA Green Line Extension’s East Somerville station and the regionally-significant Community Path Extension.

As part of this project, we're also working with the MBTA to consider bus mobility improvements at the intersection of Washington Street and Inner Belt Road.


Western Washington Street Bus and Bike Lanes (Beacon Street to Union Square)

Through the MBTA's Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program, the City is working with residents and stakeholders on a pilot project to improve bus and bike mobility on the western portion of Washington Street between Union Square and Beacon Street. The MBTA is focused on improvements along high-ridership corridors that have sustained ridership throughout the pandemic, and Washington Street (Route 86) meets those criteria.

The photo below shows how long the lines of traffic can get on Washington just between Dane St. and Beacon St (over 600 feet!). Allowing the bus to bypass all of this traffic would result in significant improvements for riders.

Plans are currently being developed and final design will depend on feedback from community stakeholders. Up to half of the current on-street parking inventory in this corridor may be removed to support this pilot (read more below on trade-offs that are needed in order to make meaningful improvements to bus mobility and bike safety)

Project elements currently include:

  • New bus priority lanes that let buses bypass waiting traffic at busy intersections
  • Protected bike lanes along sections of the corridor
  • Narrowed travel lanes to deter speeding and improve safety for all users

This pilot project is being undertaken using low-cost pavement markings materials on the existing pavement surface. Our intention with this project is to demonstrate the potential benefits of street redesign in advance of planned reconstruction of Washington Street. The figure below shows the project area and how this project could divide the corridor to better accommodate all modes.


Do bus lanes work?

After bus lane projects are implemented, Somerville and cities around the region and country collect and analyze data on vehicle speeds and bus travel times to understand if and how the changes are working.

In Somerville, after the Central Broadway dedicated bus and bike lanes were implemented in 2019, we collected data to understand vehicle volumes, speeds and travel times throughout the corridor. Some of the main results included:

  • Lower traffic volumes - The number of vehicles on the section of Broadway where the bus and bike lane was implemented decreased by about 20-30% compared to before the dedicated lane was implemented.
  • Lower vehicle speeds - The percentage of vehicles traveling at or above 25 mph was reduced from 56% in 2019 to 29% after the project was completed.
  • Improved bus travel time - Data provided by the MBTA showed that bus travel times in the dedicated lane were shorter and more consistent throughout the day as a result of the project.

Overall, the Central Broadway project resulted in lower volumes and slower travel speeds for vehicles while improving bus reliability and bicycle safety. These changes help make Broadway a safer and more equitable corridor that better serves the many ways that our residents travel around the City.

Everett and Arlington are two of our neighbors that have recently implemented bus lane pilot projects.

  • In 2016, the City of Everett tested out a quick-build peak hour bus lane along a 1 mile stretch of Broadway. The project resulted in travel time savings of 20-30% (6 minutes), and was so successful that it was installed permanently after 9 months of the pilot.
  • To try to alleviate significant bus delays on Massachusetts Ave., the Town of Arlington used a quick-build approach to test a shared bus-bike lane during the morning peak hours (5:45-9:15 am). Results included a 50% (5-6 minute) reduction in bus travel times and a 40% reduction in travel time variability.


What are some of the trade-offs I can expect to see?

While the equity, mobility, and health and safety improvements created by these quick-build bus lanes have been experienced both in Somerville and around the region, there are some changes you will notice that may take some time to get used to. In order to understand those and be responsive, we want to hear from you through this website about what's working and what you're experiencing. These projects are being implemented with a quick-build approach specifically so that we can collect data, use it to assess our success criteria for these projects, hear from you, and take the time to plan the longer-term mobility and infrastructure improvements needed in these corridors.

Streets in Somerville take up about 1 square mile of our total 4 square mile land area. Yet street space is limited and the City needs this space to be used in the most efficient way possible to benefit as many people as possible. Typically when bus and bike lanes are created, space is reallocated either from vehicle travel lanes or from parking lanes. In 2017, the City converted a travel lane on Prospect Street in Union Square to a full-time bus facility. In 2019, the City provided bus lanes on Broadway in Winter Hill reallocating a motor vehicle travel lane to the bus. Our Somerville Climate Forward Plan recommends bus lanes as a top priority needed to meet our commitment to eliminating carbon emissions. For the long-term health and safety of our residents, and to do our part in the global fight against climate change, the City will continue to emphasize streets that prioritize low-carbon transportation.


How do I use a bus lane?

The graphic below summarizes the rules of the road for all users of streets with bus-only (or bus and bike) lanes.

Image courtesy of City of Cambridge.


Stay In Touch

More information and Frequently Asked Questions are below. Don't hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns. You can ask questions through this website (below) or email us at Transportation@somervillema.gov.

For other ways to get involved in mobility issues in the city, check out the Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee.

"This crisis has reminded us of the deep disparities across our region. Our roadmap to recovery must include efforts like bus lanes that quickly enhance access to safe transit, cut commute travel times, and improve air quality for our most vulnerable residents.” - Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.



What are quick-build bus lanes?

The concept of "quick-build" transportation improvements is based on using temporary, inexpensive materials to implement projects in the short-term that help us plan for longer-term improvements. Often, one of the main defining aspects of a quick-build project is that it can be implemented on a much faster timeline than typical capital projects (a matter of months for quick-build compared to years for traditional capital projects).

For the quick-build bus and bike lanes that you'll see popping up around the City, we'll use paint, flex posts, and signage to improve bus mobility and bicycle safety. Because the projects will be implemented in this low-cost way that doesn't require major infrastructure construction, they will be a good way to test mobility and safety solutions, get public input, and collect and analyze data to inform longer-term improvements.

Still have questions?


Why is the City doing this now?

As part of the City’s comprehensive response to the COVID-19 emergency, we are working with neighboring communities, MassDOT, and the MBTA to create dedicated bus lanes that can be installed quickly on streets that serve major bus routes throughout Somerville and connect the region. Bus lanes are effective because they keep buses from getting stuck in traffic, making bus travel faster and more reliable.

Better bus service can support public health by reducing crowding, limiting the amount of time riders spend in close proximity to others while on the bus, and allowing riders to social distance on transit. Within the region and across the country, major cities including Boston, Everett, Chelsea, New York, Chicago, and others are installing bus-priority lanes to support pandemic recovery efforts and meet the urgent needs of our new reality.

One essential part of our daily lives that has changed drastically during COVID-19 is how we get around - how we get to work and essential services safely and efficiently on a daily basis. We're seeing more people walking and biking, and some of the neighborhoods most impacted by COVID-19 remain reliant on transit to access jobs, groceries, healthcare, and other essential services. Given that nearly one in four households in Somerville don't have access to a car, and half of all households have access to only one vehicle, enhancing the safety and efficiency of local and regional transit connections is a top priority for the City.


What are the projects?

The City plans to install quick-build bus lanes at the following locations. Additional locations may be added.

Davis Square (Holland and College) Bus Priority

In 2021, the City is scheduled to reconstruct sidewalks and resurface roadways on College Avenue and Holland Street. Our community process so far has indicated strong interest in prioritizing bus transit to better serve residents, businesses and commuters along these key corridors. Street design will continue in the coming months.

Meanwhile, in Fall 2020 the City will install short sections of "bus-only" pavement markings in the heart of Davis Square to facilitate safe and efficient bus operations for MBTA Routes 89, 94 and 96 (College Avenue) and Routes 87, 88 and 89 (Holland Street). As shown in the graphic below, the bus only markings will be installed from the Red Line station entrance to the square on both Holland and College. The Holland Street bus only markings will extend through the intersection to Day Street.

This project should not result in any significant changes to how drivers experience the square. As a result of this summer's outdoor dining in the square, the traffic pattern entering Davis on Holland Street already follows this pattern.

Eastern Washington Street Bus and Bike Lanes (McGrath to Sullivan Square)

Through the MassDOT Shared Streets and Spaces Grant Program, the Washington Street bus lane project will deliver a quick-build dedicated bus lane, protected bike lanes, enhanced bus stop treatments and pedestrian safety upgrades at a strategically-important location in East Somerville. The project will improve travel time and reliability for MBTA Route 86, Route 91 and Route CT2 bus service by installing a 700-foot queue-jump facility at the high-delay intersection of Washington Street and State Route 28 (McGrath Highway). Between these three routes, this corridor serves approximately 120 daily weekday inbound trips and 10,000 total weekday riders. Route 86 is a Top 20 Route, serving approximately 6,150 weekday passengers, but on-street traffic congestion contributes to a very poor on-time performance of 61%.

Some key aspects of the project include:

  • Travel time savings of 2-4 minutes per trip
  • Reallocation of street space in order to more equitably serve people walking, rolling, riding buses and riding bicycles
  • Improved safety for bike riders of all ages and abilities and direct connections to the MBTA Green Line Extension’s East Somerville station and the regionally-significant Community Path Extension.

As part of this project, we're also working with the MBTA to consider bus mobility improvements at the intersection of Washington Street and Inner Belt Road.


Western Washington Street Bus and Bike Lanes (Beacon Street to Union Square)

Through the MBTA's Rapid Response Bus Lanes Program, the City is working with residents and stakeholders on a pilot project to improve bus and bike mobility on the western portion of Washington Street between Union Square and Beacon Street. The MBTA is focused on improvements along high-ridership corridors that have sustained ridership throughout the pandemic, and Washington Street (Route 86) meets those criteria.

The photo below shows how long the lines of traffic can get on Washington just between Dane St. and Beacon St (over 600 feet!). Allowing the bus to bypass all of this traffic would result in significant improvements for riders.

Plans are currently being developed and final design will depend on feedback from community stakeholders. Up to half of the current on-street parking inventory in this corridor may be removed to support this pilot (read more below on trade-offs that are needed in order to make meaningful improvements to bus mobility and bike safety)

Project elements currently include:

  • New bus priority lanes that let buses bypass waiting traffic at busy intersections
  • Protected bike lanes along sections of the corridor
  • Narrowed travel lanes to deter speeding and improve safety for all users

This pilot project is being undertaken using low-cost pavement markings materials on the existing pavement surface. Our intention with this project is to demonstrate the potential benefits of street redesign in advance of planned reconstruction of Washington Street. The figure below shows the project area and how this project could divide the corridor to better accommodate all modes.


Do bus lanes work?

After bus lane projects are implemented, Somerville and cities around the region and country collect and analyze data on vehicle speeds and bus travel times to understand if and how the changes are working.

In Somerville, after the Central Broadway dedicated bus and bike lanes were implemented in 2019, we collected data to understand vehicle volumes, speeds and travel times throughout the corridor. Some of the main results included:

  • Lower traffic volumes - The number of vehicles on the section of Broadway where the bus and bike lane was implemented decreased by about 20-30% compared to before the dedicated lane was implemented.
  • Lower vehicle speeds - The percentage of vehicles traveling at or above 25 mph was reduced from 56% in 2019 to 29% after the project was completed.
  • Improved bus travel time - Data provided by the MBTA showed that bus travel times in the dedicated lane were shorter and more consistent throughout the day as a result of the project.

Overall, the Central Broadway project resulted in lower volumes and slower travel speeds for vehicles while improving bus reliability and bicycle safety. These changes help make Broadway a safer and more equitable corridor that better serves the many ways that our residents travel around the City.

Everett and Arlington are two of our neighbors that have recently implemented bus lane pilot projects.

  • In 2016, the City of Everett tested out a quick-build peak hour bus lane along a 1 mile stretch of Broadway. The project resulted in travel time savings of 20-30% (6 minutes), and was so successful that it was installed permanently after 9 months of the pilot.
  • To try to alleviate significant bus delays on Massachusetts Ave., the Town of Arlington used a quick-build approach to test a shared bus-bike lane during the morning peak hours (5:45-9:15 am). Results included a 50% (5-6 minute) reduction in bus travel times and a 40% reduction in travel time variability.


What are some of the trade-offs I can expect to see?

While the equity, mobility, and health and safety improvements created by these quick-build bus lanes have been experienced both in Somerville and around the region, there are some changes you will notice that may take some time to get used to. In order to understand those and be responsive, we want to hear from you through this website about what's working and what you're experiencing. These projects are being implemented with a quick-build approach specifically so that we can collect data, use it to assess our success criteria for these projects, hear from you, and take the time to plan the longer-term mobility and infrastructure improvements needed in these corridors.

Streets in Somerville take up about 1 square mile of our total 4 square mile land area. Yet street space is limited and the City needs this space to be used in the most efficient way possible to benefit as many people as possible. Typically when bus and bike lanes are created, space is reallocated either from vehicle travel lanes or from parking lanes. In 2017, the City converted a travel lane on Prospect Street in Union Square to a full-time bus facility. In 2019, the City provided bus lanes on Broadway in Winter Hill reallocating a motor vehicle travel lane to the bus. Our Somerville Climate Forward Plan recommends bus lanes as a top priority needed to meet our commitment to eliminating carbon emissions. For the long-term health and safety of our residents, and to do our part in the global fight against climate change, the City will continue to emphasize streets that prioritize low-carbon transportation.


How do I use a bus lane?

The graphic below summarizes the rules of the road for all users of streets with bus-only (or bus and bike) lanes.

Image courtesy of City of Cambridge.


Stay In Touch

More information and Frequently Asked Questions are below. Don't hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns. You can ask questions through this website (below) or email us at Transportation@somervillema.gov.

For other ways to get involved in mobility issues in the city, check out the Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee.

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