BRT Pilot Wrap-up - Nov 14th, 2018

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The town conducted a month-long Bus Rapid Transit pilot along Mass Ave. Tonight's forum is a wrap-up, where the Department of Planning and Community Development presented preliminary results from the pilot.

Overview and Benefits. (Jenny Raitt) The BRT pilot was motivated by traffic congestion in Mass Ave, and the desire to improve bus transit.

Each day, over 10,000 riders board the 77, 79, and 350 buses in Arlington. People want to ride the bus, but there are service issues to overcome. There's a 3--5 minute delay at the 50th percentile, and a 10--20 minute delay at the 90th percentile.

The Barr foundation provided funding for the pilot project. The town tried to review Mass Ave as a whole. The initial studies led to a set of conceptual designs, and these were presented in August.

The pilot ran from 6am -- 9am, from October 9th to November 9th. The MBTA has provided trip data through Oct 24th and data from the rest of the pilot period is forthcoming. Each bus contains a set of telemetry equipment that records information about ridership, bus location, and speed. This data is anchored to bus stops, so one can look at the number of people that boarded at a specific stop, or look at trip time between a pair of stops.

The pilot involved a minimal amount of construction (removing one bump out). Much of the work was done with signs, traffic cones, and public outreach. We added a queue jump at Lake Street, along with a bus stop relocation. The MBTA helped with transit signal priority equipment, and we had a dedicated bus lane from Varnum Street to the Alewife Brook Parkway.

The dedicated lane may become a permanent feature. More analysis is required in order to make a decision.

Cambridge and the DCR helped with traffic changes at the intersection of Mass Ave and the Alewife Brook Parkway. The project added a lane shift, a queue jump, and split-phase traffic signaling. The signal changes made a big improvement.

Feedback and Data. (Dan Amstutz) DPCD received 314 responses to a pre-pilot survey. The respondents were a mix of transit users, and most were aware of the pilot program. Two-thirds of pre-pilot bus riders were dissatisfied with MBTA bus service along mass ave. Other modes of transit had neutral satisfaction. 25% of cyclists were uncomfortable with the layout of Mass Ave. Traffic and bus bunching were common issues.

Arlington is a Waze partner, which means the town has a mechanism for notifying Waze about road work, and the town is able to receive some (aggregate) traffic data from Waze. DPCD used Waze data to monitor traffic in the pilot area. There was some additional congestion during the first few days of the pilot, but traffic flowed normally after that.

(Ralph, Stantec) Street Teams interviewed bus riders. Most riders took the bus at least four days per week. 80% of riders liked the dedicated bus lane, and were happy riding the bus. The majority felt that their bus trips took less time. Note that this is a subjective result ("it felt shorter") -- the town has some trip timing data from the MBTA, and is awaiting more of it.

44% of interviewees wanted the pilot changes to become permanent.

MBTA buses are equipped with sensors and telemetry devices. They can tell how many people boarded at a particular stop; they can also tell how long it took the but to get from stop A to stop B. All telemetry data is anchored to bus stop locations. For this pilot, the MBTA is providing data from one stop before the pilot area to one stop after the pilot area.

Pre-pilot, the 77 took approximately 12 minutes to travel through the pilot area (50th percentile). During the pilot, this fell to about six minutes. At the 90th percentile the trip took 22 minutes pre-pilot, and 10 minutes during the pilot. This is a positive result: we have a reduction in travel time, along with a reduction in variability.

The pilot took place over 12.5% of the Mass Ave corridor, but the area is responsible for most of the variability in travel times.

Lessons Learned. (Jenny Raitt) The main preliminary findings are: positive feedback from riders; the dedicated lane improved functionality of the roadway; there was little impact to vehicular traffic; and, there was limited impact to parking (the pilot took place between 6am and 9am).

What's next? DPCD is conducting a post-pilot survey. They'll review the rest of the MBTA telemetry data (when it's available), and will make a report to the Select Board. The town is working with DCR and Cambridge to improve traffic flow at the intersection of Mass Ave and the Alewife Brook Parkway. They're also looking at measures to improve pedestrian safety along the roadway.

The town may consider adding transit signal priority to other intersections, level boarding platforms, and off-board fare collection. DPCD will look at these measures for other parts of Mass Ave, and perhaps parts of Broadway.

Questions and Comments. The rest of the forum is devoted to questions and comments.

Comment: The Massachusetts Ave rehabilitation project was based on fantasy projections that turned out to be false. Transit use is declining because of Uber and Lyft. You have to plan projects with sufficient capacity.

Question: Would you consider a permanent bus lane during non-peak hours?

We'd have to investigate. We're considering making the dedicated lane permanent between 6:00 and 9:00 am. We may consider making the permanent lane longer, perhaps going all the way back to Lake street. Dedicated lanes don't solve all of the issues.

Question: Can we download your presentation slides?

They'll be posted to the town website, in the next day or so.

Comment: Great job. The pilot looked very well run. I liked the list of next steps, especially considering these provisions for the 87 bus. I'm also glad you're looking at bus bunching. I hope you'll look more at pedestrian safety.

The BRT provisions help to prevent bunching. MBTA management also plays a role, and this is something that the MBTA continuously looks at.

Question: I think this was great. Will we need more police officers to ease traffic in from side streets?

We may look at the addition of a traffic enforcement officer, to guide drivers in the proper lane. This would have to be done in conjunction with the Arlington Police Department.

Question: Now that the Lake Street bus stop has been moved, will there be a permanent bus shelter? The Capitol Theater's awning always worked as a de-facto bus shelter.

The MBTA has to engage the town on this matter.

Question: Regarding the reduction in trip times, did your results come from subjective or measured data?

We gathered both. Subjective data from surveys, and measured data from bus telemetry.

Question: How much of the improvement was due to the Alewife intersection alone?

We haven't looked at this, but we could. Bus telemetry allows us to look at the stop before Alewife Brook Parkway to the stop afterwards. The measurements are tied to bus stops, so we need two of them for a measurement.

Question: Have you gotten responses from businesses? One business owner was distressed about the loss of early morning parking.

We have gotten responses from businesses, and we'll continue to stay in touch with business owners.

Question: Is there a way to have separate lanes for cyclists and buses?

Bus/cyclist interaction was a concern, even before the pilot started. There are 7--8 buses/hour traveling down Mass Ave; there is interaction, but not a lot of it. Cyclist safety is a concern. The MBTA trains bus drivers on how to deal with cyclists. During the pilot, none of the bus drivers reported concerns about cyclists.

Question: Could you consider adding a HAWK signal for pedestrian crossing?

We could consider this. We don't want bus improvements to diminish pedestrian safety.

Comment: With respect to cyclists, you might be able to gather some information from the exterior video cameras on buses. I'm concerned that drivers might have bad interactions with cyclists, and not report them.

If anyone has a bad interaction with a bus driver, I encourage you to not the bus number and report it to the MBTA.

Comment: My evening commute involves riding a bicycle from Lexington center, down Mass Ave, to Capitol square in Arlington. I do this five days a week. I've always found that bus drivers are pretty easy to negotiate with: "you go first", or "wait a minute, I'm going to go first". They drivers are attentive. I offer this as one cyclist's point of view.

Question: What are some other factors in bus bunching?

Slow loading or unloading is a major cause. The MBTA sometimes bunches buses intentionally -- this is called "platooning". If a bus hasn't run in a while, we'll send several out to meet demand. However, they tend to stay bunched.