Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets

SASS comments on the MBTA draft Bus Network Redesign (BNR)

SASS has submitted a comment on the MBTA draft Bus Network Redesign. If any or all of this letter resonates with you, please also send a comment via email to BetterBusProject@mbta.com or via their website: https://www.mbta.com/projects/bus-network-redesign/update/bus-network-redesign-proposal

Comments are due by July 31, 2022. Feel free to copy some or all of the letter in your own comments. You can also review their proposals and see how their proposed changes affect you on their website.

To the MBTA BNR team, 

Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets (SASS) appreciates all the work that went into overhauling the 50+ year MBTA bus network to meet current needs. We welcome the four new high-frequency routes T39, T96, T101, and T109 planned for Somerville in the draft Bus Network Redesign (BNR), and hope that there will be bus priority routes or signalling to support the proposed frequency.

However, after reviewing the proposed changes, we and concerned residents have noticed that some key routes that Somervillians use to get around within the city were removed in the draft BNR, leaving transit gaps. We summarize our feedback here, and provide the justification for it below.

Feedback summary: 

  • Removing existing high-ridership routes will leave many Somerville residents stranded who currently depend on buses (87, 80, 88, 89, and 91). The draft alternatives will impose considerable time costs on these existing bus riders.
  • Bus routes should broaden access to the GLX; in the BNR draft only, one bus connects to a GLX station on the Medford branch. 
  • Alewife Brook Parkway and McGrath Highway have important destinations, are wide enough for dedicated bus lanes, and have huge potential for bus connections, but the BNR draft proposes no bus service on these roads.
  • Many destinations within Somerville would require 2-seat bus rides, according to the BNR draft.This markedly contrasts with current service, which spans more of Somerville. Particularly egregious is the 2-seat ride proposed between Davis and Union Squares.
  • The BNR draft has no new service to Assembly Square, a major destination and growing source of employment in Somerville that is very difficult to access without a car, unless one lives along the #90 bus line. 
  • The proposal does not make good use of the existing bus lanes (Broadway and Mystic Ave), which the City of Somerville installed on these major roads to benefit riders and encourage bus ridership. A plan that prioritizes reliability should use the bus lanes. 
  • Low-income neighborhoods in Somerville are still not receiving better bus service under the BNR draft. These neighborhoods (which we name below) need good access to bus routes.

Feedback details:

At a recent “inner core” BNR public meeting, MBTA staff stated that the bus route removals were because of the forthcoming GLX. But, ending bus routes such as the current 87 route along Somerville Ave, and the 80, 88, 89, and 91 routes would disproportionately impact residents in Clarendon Hill, Winter Hill, Mystic Ave; working-class residents, students, seniors, disabled residents, and others without cars who aren’t within a 5-10-minute walk of the new GLX, or who want to travel to destinations that are outside the area of the GLX, such as Davis Square, Dilboy stadium, Market Basket, or Assembly Square. The MBTA states that one goal of the BNR is to provide more service to environmental justice communities, but removal of these routes does not align with the MBTA’s goal.

Related to GLX, we notice very few bus routes in the BNR draft will connect to the forthcoming GLX stations. The intent of GLX from the start was to have residents access the stations on foot, by bike or by bus, and the BNR does not support the intent for robust bus access. For example, there are no bus connections to the Ball, Magoun, and Gilman Squares stations. We notice that some of the bus routes slated for removal (listed above) in fact do connect to these new GLX stations.

Why are there no bus routes planned for McGrath Highway (soon to become a boulevard with the width to support facilities for multiple modes of travel) or Alewife Brook Parkway (to support access to Dilboy Stadium, linkages for West Somerville, East Arlington, and Medford to the eventual GLX Route 16 terminus and the Red Line Alewife station)? These are missed opportunities for both roads. Notice that McGrath could become a north/south route, which Somerville badly needs. 

Why does the MBTA want to remove high-ridership routes along Somerville’s main east-west connecting streets: Broadway (with its bus priority lane), Somerville Ave., and Highland Ave? These roads have important daily destinations for residents, as must be evident in MBTA ridership data.

In the draft BNR, some destinations will require two-seat rides (replacing one-seat rides), such as traveling between Union and Davis Squares. This requires a level of schedule adherence we don’t normally see in Somerville due to traffic congestion. We wonder how this added travel complexity will reliably serve ridership between two important destinations. 

Despite the MBTA’s stated intent to add service to new/growing commercial areas such as Assembly Square (which was cited specifically in the “inner core” MBTA BNR meeting), the draft BNR does not add any new service to Assembly Square beyond the existing 90 bus route. This lack of multiple connections within Somerville to Assembly Square has been a problem since this Orange Line station opened, and now Assembly Square is adding  thousands of job opportunities, which are out of reach to Somervillians who rely on public transit but don’t live along the sole bus line that stops there. Assembly deserves the robust transit connections that Union Square has.

Much of the MBTA’s BNR presentation was about understanding where people want to go and how to get them there; people who live elsewhere in Somerville want to be able to get to Davis Square in one trip. Why were connections to Davis Square made more difficult in the BNR draft, as in the previously mentioned connection to Union Square? For another example, why remove the Sullivan Station-Davis Square connection via Broadway (currently the 89 bus)? Why is this latter change proposed given that Somerville installed a dedicated bus lane on Broadway as part of a larger effort to create the infrastructure for MORE buses, not fewer?

Regarding bus lanes, the bus lane on Mystic Ave does not lead to more frequent bus service on Mystic Ave. in the BNR draft. The current 95 route (and proposed 87) run through an environmental justice neighborhood where residents rely on buses to get to jobs, appointments, and supermarkets. The proposed new 87 route on Mystic Ave raises the issue of safety on a road that has seen too many crashes and pedestrian fatalities. As part of Somerville’s “Corridor of Death,” Mystic Ave will need much safer crossings for riders to get to and from bus stops. For example, residents who live in Winter Hill will need to cross Mystic Ave safely to board the proposed 87 bus. The lack of additional bus service on Mystic Ave will push more people into cars. And people who can’t afford a car or ride shares will be burdened with juggling multiple seat bus rides. Once again, this neighborhood is being ignored and forgotten by a government agency in favor of more affluent, mostly white neighborhoods. 

The proposed BNR plan seems like a win for people outside of Somerville who want to come to our great city and enjoy its many offerings and job opportunities in Davis Square, Union Square, and Assembly Square. But the proposed changes make it a loss for Somervillians who want to get around their own city on public transportation. The removal of bus service from many neighborhoods would force an increase in car usage within Somerville because there would be no reasonable alternative. This counters the MBTA’s stated goal of making the bus network more equitable. This also runs counter to Somerville and the Commonwealth’s mobility and climate goals. These changes would disproportionately isolate residents who cannot replace their lost bus service with car rides. We ask that you consider the needs of the residents in this very dense city. We need public transit within Somerville to keep our city functioning. Somerville has some of the lowest per capita car ownership in Massachusetts; we rely on our public transportation to serve us. The GLX is a boon, but the rest of the city still deserves good public transit.

Best regards,

Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets (SASS)



2 thoughts on “SASS comments on the MBTA draft Bus Network Redesign (BNR)”

  • I live in Winter Hill and I’m deeply concerned about the proposed changes, which will make a neighborhood that is already one of the worst-served in Somerville even less accessible by public transit. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about this until after the period for comment had closed. Is there anything I can still do?

    • Hi Emma,
      We would suggest contacting your state reps with your thoughts, who have called for more time to gather input on the draft. The representatives for Somerville have submitted comments similar to these, as has the mayor. Local advocates have collected feedback from many residents, including from Winter Hill, so hopefully similar views were captured. I would also encourage you to sign up for updates on the Better Bus Network changes, so when they have another meeting or call for input, you can respond then.
      -Joan

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