Cambridge City
MA

Committee Report
CRT 2019 #17
REPORT ACCEPTED AND PLACED ON
Mar 18, 2019 5:30 PM

A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on February 26, 2019 to discuss the MBTA’s Better Bus Project report as it relates to proposed changes to bus lines and service throughout Cambridge.

Information

Department:City Clerk's OfficeSponsors:
Category:Transportation & Public Utilities

Body

TRANSPORTATION & PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair

Councillor Dennis J. Carlone,

Councillor Quinton Zondervan

Councillor Craig A. Kelley

Councillor Alanna M. Mallon

In City Council March 18, 2019

 

The Transportation & Public Utilities Committee held a public hearing on

February 26, 2019, at 2:05 P.M. in the Sullivan Chamber.

             

The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the MBTA’s Better Bus Project report as it relates to proposed changes to bus lines and service throughout Cambridge.

 

Present at the hearing were Vice Mayor Devereux, Chair of the Committee,

Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Zondervan,

Councillor Siddiqui, Assistant City Manager for Community Development Iram Farooq, Environmental and Transportation Director, CDD, Susanne Rasmussen,

Transportation and Environmental Planner, CDD, Tegin Teich, Transportation, Traffic and Parking Director, Joe Barr and City Clerk Donna P. Lopez. 

 

Also present were Stephen Kaiser, 191 Hamilton Street, Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street, James Williamson, 1000 Jackson Place and Heather Hoffman, 213 Hurley Street.

 

Vice Mayor Devereux convened the hearing and explained the purpose. An agenda was distributed (ATTACHMENT A).  She stated that the MBTA has undertaken a look at a ‘cost neutral’ approach for these schedule changes and has planned improvements for some segments of some bus routes. Introductions were made.

 

Ms. Rasmussen stated that the MBTA is holding an official public hearing on the proposal, scheduled at CRLS from 6-8 PM on the same evening as this committee’s hearing. 

 

Ms. Teich gave a presentation (ATTACHMENT B).  She stated that the information in the presentation came from the MBTA.  She spoke about the timeline. Last year there was a public process to identify opportunities for interim improvements. Currently, the MBTA is in Round 2 of the public engagement process.  Last year there was a multi-year investment strategy plan presented for fiscal year 2020.  There would be more buses and drivers needed to handle increased frequency, but additional buses are not provided for in this set of cost-neutral changes. She added that more priority will be provided for transportation in the future service planning.  Mass DOT in Phase 2 is proposing selecting a network redesign consultant.  She stated that there are four changes in Cambridge with a proposed implementation date of September 1, 2019 that will impact riders.

 

The Cambridge routes that will be impacted are:

              Routes 1/CT1                            Harvard/Central to Dudley/Boston Medical Center via                                                                       Massachusetts Avenue;

              Route 64                            Central to Oak Square, Brighton

              Routes 70/70A              Central to Waltham

              Routes 72/74/75              Harvard to Aberdeen/Belmont Center.

 

Ms. Teich highlighted changes to the individual routes.

 

CTI route:  CT1 will be eliminated on the east/southern side of Boston Medical Center campus.  There will be a better coordination of the route and it will be combined into the Route 1 from Harvard to Dudley.  She explained the changes from Harvard Square to Dudley via Massachusetts Avenue. The proposal will eliminate the two stops on the current Johnson Gate and Quincy Street loop in Harvard Square. Instead of looping around Harvard Yard, after the Holyoke Gate stop buses would turn left onto Dunster Street and make another left onto Mount Auburn Street to loop back toward Central Square.  She spoke about the resulting reduced travel time for riders between Harvard, Central, Dudley and Harrison Avenue.  The buses would come more frequently.  The currently frequency is 10 minutes at peak and it will be reduced to 8 minutes. With the elimination of two stops, some riders would have to walk further to get the bus at the Holyoke Gate stop, though. She stated that all changes need to be put into the MBTA scheduling system and some benefits may not be as currently described in the proposals.

 

Councillor Zondervan asked if there are any routes with conditional stops.  Ms. Teich responded in the negative.  Ms. Rasmussen noted that this is a significant loop and would be hard to build into the route.  This will provide better coordination for buses.  She stated that the drawback is the walk time from the Boston Medical Center, which is up to a 6-minute walk.  Councillor Zondervan asked why it is good to add a 6-minute walk to eliminate 3-minutes of a ride.  Ms. Teich responded that the MBTA looks at the benefit to the total load of ridership versus the effects on those who are walking.  She added that more detail is needed about who is getting on and off the buses at the intersection of Dunster Street, which is a heavily traveled area.  Councillor Zondervan questioned the benefit.  Ms. Teich stated that the assessment may vary on the route time. 

 

Vice Mayor Devereux noted that with the cost neutral framework of these changes, it seems the MBTA was accounting for the greatest good, as opposed to the benefit of all riders and the future planned monetary investment could overcome some of these concerns.

 

Route 64: Route 64 goes to and from Oak Square in Brighton and Cambridge.  This service currently extends into Kendall Square at peak times.  The proposal is always to run the route into Kendall Square and to potentially shift service to Main Street instead of Prospect Street and Broadway.  There has been a lot of demand for a one-seat ride to Kendall Square all day from Brighton.  Off-peak and weekend service to University Park would be eliminated, though Route 70 would provide alternate service to many of those riders. Ms. Teich spoke about the drawbacks.  No resources are being added to this route; the frequency will be worse, and longer walk times will result.  She commented that additional evaluations would need to be performed to address the impacts of moving service off Prospect and Broadway. 

 

Vice Mayor Devereux asked if the planned re-construction of River Street will have an impact.  Ms. Teich stated that it will impact Route 70/70A, but that it is hard to determine at this point what those impacts will be.

 

Route 70/70A:   This route goes from Central Square to Waltham.  It is a heavily traveled route.  She stated that the intent is to combine the resources of two routes and truncate route 70A at Waltham Center.  This impacts Waltham riders who are served by the North Waltham loop and use bus stops on Lexington Street.  She stated that the benefit is a more consistent, better coordinated route and the drawbacks are a 15-minute transfer wait time for some customers in Waltham between the new Route 70 and new Route 70A.

 

Route 72/74/75 Harvard to Aberdeen/Belmont Center

 

Route 74: The loop on Bright Road and Blanchard Road will be eliminated. This will affect three stops, but two are served by the 75. The stated benefit is a better coordinated route and improved frequency.  Routes 74 and 78 provide parallel service to Blanchard Road.  This could better coordinate routes 74/78 so frequency may be improved for riders along those routes. 

 

Route 72 will become a peak-only service, and riders will have to instead use the 75 route at off-peak times, which does not serve Aberdeen Avenue. At all times, the 75 will be re-routed to use Huron Avenue (the same route taken by the 72) instead of Concord Avenue and Fresh Pond Parkway.  There are no stops on Fresh Pond Parkway, and there is typically heavy traffic that slows down buses.  Stops on Concord Avenue from Huron Avenue to Fresh Pond Parkway would no longer receive Route 75 service but would still have Routes 74 and 78 service.  She highlighted the benefits to the combined 72/75 route as it retains the stop used for high school students, a 2-minute faster ride on route 75 and better frequency.  The drawbacks are that there is up to a 7-minute walk for former Route 72 riders to get to the Route 75 during off-peak hours, an 8-minute walk for Route 74 and a 4-minute worse frequency for stops on Concord Avenue between the Sozio Rotary and Huron Avenue.

 

Councillor Carlone asked if all the extra walking times listed are the maximum.  Ms. Teich responded in the affirmative. 

 

Ms. Teich spoke about next steps.  There are a few public hearings being held on the proposals.  The official public comment period for the MBTA Better Bus Project proposals closes on March 13, 2019.

 

Vice Mayor Devereux stated that it is hard to fully understand the impacts without having information about the full route schedules.  She added that it doesn’t make sense that public comments will have to be given without seeing the schedules.  Ms. Teich stated that the equity analysis evaluated whether there is a disproportionate burden on a vulnerable community.  It looks at the wait times for the vulnerable populations versus the non-vulnerable populations. 

 

Councillor Zondervan asked whether the City owns the bus stops.  Ms. Teich responded that the City owns the streets and sidewalks.  Mr. Barr stated that the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department posts the bus stop signs.  Councillor Zondervan asked when changes are made does the MBTA come back to the City to change the route.  Mr. Barr stated if they are moving a bus stop it is more of a negotiation between the City and the MBTA.

 

Councillor Zondervan commented that this is an old school way of doing business and asked why phones and on demand rides cannot be used to create a more flexible transit system.  Ms. Teich stated that shuttle partnership pilots have been tried in the past by companies such as Bridj, which is no longer operating.  Ms. Rasmussen stated that there are challenges with operating on demand service. Once it gets beyond 3-4 passengers, sharing the ride is much more challenging.  Mr. Barr noted that there has been an attempt to match people and create a flexible service, but in terms of significant replacement of MBTA’s buses, there has not been a benefit.

 

Councillor Zondervan stated that this is being done on static data.  If there is high demand on a certain route for a certain time, there could be more flexibility on the route by adding another bus.  He spoke about school buses and that Route 72 is an important route for the high school.  Ms. Teich stated that there’s no indication from the MBTA that there is an interest in serving more of our high school transportation needs. 

 

Councillor Mallon spoke about the school trips and how this will affect students going to the high school.  She asked what outreach is being done with the School Department and how they are planning for these changes.  She noted that a 7-8-minute walk time is a long time to be out in the cold during winter.  Ms. Teich noted that there has been a conversation about Route 68 not getting students to school on time.  The Better Bus Project outreach to the School Department was supplemented by the City with additional informational outreach to get feedback.  Councillor Mallon stated that now that these recommendations are real and immediate, the School Administration and parents need to get involved, as it affects the students and there could be academic implications from students missing the bus.  She has concerns with the #72 bus route changing.  Ms. Teich spoke about getting more specific feedback from the schools.  Councillor Mallon stated that the bunching of buses is her concern for the Route 1. She asked whether this proposal will address bunching.  Ms. Teich stated that bunching happens for several reasons.  The Route 1 and CT1 are scheduled at the same time and the new route changes will be based on the run times.  There will still be congestion on the way but some of this will be address with this change to the 1/CT1.  This change attempts to improve the reliability.

 

Councillor Carlone asked to what extent Ms. Teich and the other City Transportation Staff think that these proposals respond to Cambridge’s needs.  Ms. Teich outlined all the coordination and work between the City and the MBTA.  The changes do not address all the needs of the City, in part because they have been constrained by the fact that this is a cost-neutral process.  Councillor Carlone asked what are the concerns that are not met.  Ms. Teich stated that new routing is needed from Somerville to Kendall Square.  There is also an increased ridership in Kendall Square that needs to be met without a decrease in frequency.  Councillor Carlone stated the western Concord Avenue (the Alewife Quad) area is developing rapidly.  The zoning there will likely mean there will be more offices and more traffic.  He asked whether there is the capability to meet this demand.  Ms. Teich stated that there will be a slight improvement, but she foresees the need for a connection to Alewife.  Ms. Rasmussen stated that the Harvard Square to the Quad route is being promoted as service needs to grow as the area develops.  She spoke about a signal priority that would give buses priority through the corridor.  As well as buses getting priority in and out of Alewife station.  Councillor Carlone commented that the MBTA is twenty years behind reality.

 

Councillor Kelley asked how much control the City has over the sidewalks; a 15-minute layover in Waltham will encourage car use, so we need alternatives to cars.  He spoke about testing out a new mode of transportation in Kendall Square, and adding the conversation around micro-mobility to this discussion about buses.  Ms. Teich spoke about what the City can do to improve transit.  One type of improvement that’s under the City’s control are bus priority lanes.  The MBTA has provided funding and implemented changes.  Less operational aspects to the T.  The Waltham transfer time sounds significant, but she does not know enough about the specifics to suggest an alternative.  Ms. Rasmussen noted that there should be micro-mobility service between Central Square and Kendall Square.  She stated that Bluebikes are being used throughout the City and are used at an especially high rate between Central and Kendall.  She stated that a scooter pilot program is being worked on, to be rolled out after there is a regulatory change in Massachusetts. 

 

Councillor Zondervan asked if there are any thoughts of running the City’s own bus service.  Ms. Rasmussen stated that an analysis was performed in the past for the City operating a shuttle service.  The analysis found that it would be too costly for a City-owned shuttle to run with frequency on high traffic routes.  It would be better to invest more in the MBTA than to go off on our own to operate buses.  Councillor Zondervan suggested experimenting to see whether a low frequency bus route could still have a benefit.  If it’s a success, it could then attract more funding and frequency could be increased.  He spoke about the new bus priority lanes on South Massachusetts Avenue and whether there is yet any data on the impact on Route 1 from this change.  Mr. Barr stated that it is too early; there should be data later in the year. He is eager to see the data.  Ms. Teich stated that priority bus lanes are also in use on Mt. Auburn Street. There are early positive results, but better data is needed.

 

At 3:15 PM Vice Mayor Devereux opened the hearing to public comment.

 

Stephen Kaiser, 191 Hamilton Street spoke about the format of the handout, and how it was difficult to see in his black and white copy.  He stated that the handout was informative but not formatted well for the readers.  He added that the Presentation is incomplete; it is supposed to be about the Better Bus Project and does not address certain routes.  He spoke about bunching caused by bad bus dispatching.  He stated that Route 1 was the biggest money maker for the MBTA in the past; but it is not now.  He stated that the MBTA cannot manage buses.  He stated that the 350 bus is on schedule until it gets to Alewife and cannot get into the station.  He noted that the MBTA does not want to discuss bunching, and this is an important issue that needs to be considered.  He stated that there would be a 50% increase in frequency of use if buses ran on time.  He expressed his opinion that the MBTA is not open to new ideas. 

 

Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street, stated he is a member of the Transit Advisory Committee but was not speaking for the committee.  He stated that the MBTA has not released a bus plan for over a decade.  Kendall Square was smaller then, and the Seaport District was not in existence twenty years ago and has also grown immensely in the last decade.  The cost-neutral aspect impacts the effectiveness of these proposals.  He stated that the MBTA has no spare buses.  All buses are in use.  If there is more demand, there are no extra buses to help address the demand.  Bus service is dying in congestion and it is not being addressed.  This process will be implemented in September 2019 and the fares will increase in July.  He asked why the additional revenue from the fare increase is not being put back into the system.  There is another planning process by Mass DOT to redesign the system.  This is just a mess.  He stated that he rides Routes 1 and CTI.  The City has had project proposals for bus tracking in Central Square that have not been implemented.  He stated that knowing when a bus will arrive leads to better usage.

 

James Williamson, 1000 Jackson Place, stated that the River Street reconstruction hearing is scheduled at the same time as the MBTA hearing being held tonight, and this is an unfortunate conflict.  He asked how the City proceeds from here and how all the views are coordinated among staff, City Council and MBTA.  How do we advocate for the most needed changes?  How can any goals truly be achieved without adding resources?  He stated that he takes the Route 1 from Harvard Yard and he has a bad leg; it would be a long walk through the yard to get to the stop on the other side at Holyoke Gate.  He would not like to lose the Johnson Gate stop in exchange for the perceived benefit of turning down Dunster Street.  The Route 1 stop was moved back because of bike lanes and has been slowed between Sidney Street and Mass Avenue because of the construction of protected bike lanes.  He stated that the CT1 does not make the same stops as the Route 1.  If the CT1 is eliminated, are all CT1 stops being added to the Route 1?  He stated that better service is needed on the Route 47.  He urged that the Route 68 service be extended until the library closes at 9 PM.

 

Heather Hoffman, 213 Hurley Street, stated that the T lies about arrival times.  The Better Bus Project does not serve her area.  She wanted bus routes for East Cambridge advocated for.  The bus routes were eliminated for East Cambridge and no one is advocating now for East Cambridge.  She added that East Cambridge is losing service as the Green Line is extended, which doesn’t make sense.

 

Vice Mayor Devereux closed public comment.

 

Vice Mayor Devereux spoke about the public’s low expectations of what the MBTA can do to improve and urged the staff to ask for what Cambridge wants.  She encouraged the staff to let the MBTA know that this is not getting Cambridge what it wants.  She stated that tonight’s MBTA meeting also conflicts with the City Council’s roundtable meeting tonight, and there will be no way to provide feedback in person.  She stated that the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization is conducting a survey to seek public feedback on the status of public transit and general mobility from seniors and persons with disabilities.  She spoke about the equity issues on bus service.  She asked if Harvard University has provided feedback on the changes.  Ms. Teich stated that there is a representative from Harvard University on the Transit Committee, but she does not know their position with respect to these changes.  Additional comments needed for the CT1/1 and if this proposal is acceptable then there will be a detailed conversation on this.  Vice Mayor Devereux stated that it would be good to know Harvard University’s position on this.  She stated that the Concord Avenue corridor projections are unrealistic.  There are 40,000-50,000 cars that go through the rotaries at Concord Avenue and Fresh Pond Parkway daily and this will only increase.  With that increase, the delays will grow.  She stated that she has concerns with the proposed changes to Route 72 and agrees with Mr. Attanucci’s comments in his memo (ATTACHMENT C).  This change will encourage more car usage in West Cambridge.  She asked what outcomes from this hearing would be helpful to the staff.

 

Ms. Rasmussen stated that it would be helpful to have specific concerns to relay to the MBTA.  The ridership specifics still need to be analyzed in additional to the operational changes.

 

Councillor Carlone reinforced that the staff should discuss what they feel needs to be addressed.

 

Vice Mayor Devereux wanted to be told what the staff hears from the MBTA hearing being held tonight.  When a stop is suddenly eliminated, the general public will state that they did not know about this beforehand.  The Route 72 in its current configuration knits through the commercial corridors (Harvard Square, Observatory Hill, Huron Village, the Star Market shopping center). 

 

Councillor Carlone asked if station stops are reduced, will the City have to prioritize bus shelters, so people have a place to wait.  Ms. Teich spoke about the bus shelters.  She explained that if a sidewalk is not wide enough, it limits the installation of a bus shelter.  She also stated that once they are installed, shelters need to be maintained.  Councillor Carlone wanted to see a list of where shelters can be installed, where they cannot, and why not.

 

Councillor Mallon asked whether the coming multi-year investment strategy will layer on more bus routes.  Ms. Teich stated that what was presented yesterday was that they would invest in adding additional drivers.  Mr. Barr spoke about challenges of where buses are stored when not in use and for service.  Ms. Rasmussen stated that the financial circumstance of the MBTA is dire and there needs to be additional resources raised for the MBTA to get the system the City wants.  She stated that there is no funding for an expansion of service.  Councillor Mallon stated that there should be objections to the Route 72/74/75 proposal and to take a hard stance on this.  She asked the staff to tell the City Council what they need in order to raise those objections. 

 

Vice Mayor Devereux asked what the benefit is to add additional drivers without additional buses.  Ms. Teich this would address dropped trips.  Mr. Barr stated that there is frequency decline when bus routes and drivers are taken from Cambridge routes.

 

Councillor Zondervan wanted the City to think beyond these constraints and look for ways to increase revenue for transit.

 

A communication was received from John P. Attanucci, Research Associate, MIT and attached as (ATTACHMENT C).

 

A communication was received from Jean Leventhal, Huron Village, transmitting comments on the proposed changes to the Route 72/75 (ATTACHMENT D).

 

Vice Mayor Devereux thanked all those present for their attendance.

 

The hearing adjourned at 4 P.M.                                                                     

 

 

For the Committee,

 

                                                                      ________________________________

                                                                      Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, Chair

                                                                      Transportation & Public Utilities Committee

 

Meeting History

Mar 18, 2019 5:30 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting
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RESULT:REPORT ACCEPTED AND PLACED ON