Eyes On the Street: New Bus, Bike Lanes Popping Up All Along the Orange Line

A view down an empty "bus only" lane on Boylston Street, looking towards downtown Boston, on the day before Orange Line replacement bus shuttle service takes effect.
A new bus-only lane on Boylston Street extends from the Copley Place shopping mall to Copley Square.

Later this evening, the Orange Line will shut down for a month. A few days later, the segment of the Green Line north of downtown Boston will follow suit.

The City of Boston and other municipalities have had just over three weeks to prepare for this major disruption, and in the last few days, state and municipal agencies have been making major changes to the streets to accommodate an anticipated surge in shuttle bus and bike traffic.

“This has been an all-hands-on-deck, cross-departmental effort for the City of Boston,” said Mayor Michelle Wu at a press conference in the City of Boston’s traffic management center on Thursday morning.

“We know that this shutdown is going to be disruptive and challenging for the city,” said Mayor Wu’s Chief of Streets, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, at the same press conference. “So over the last two weeks we have engaged in an unprecedented effort to reconfigure our streets, to boost alternative transportation options, and to help residents and businesses in Boston prepare.”

On Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, StreetsblogMASS took a bike ride around downtown Boston and Back Bay to see some of those changes in person.

Back Bay and Copley Square

Shuttle buses serving the southern part of the Orange Line are expected to load and unload most of their passengers near Copley Square. Buses will travel down Columbus Avenue, loop around Copley Square to allow transfers to the Back Bay commuter rail and Copley Green Line stations.

The City of Boston has stenciled new “BUS ONLY” pavement markings on Columbus Ave., Dartmouth St., Boylston St., and Clarendon St., and has also posted no-parking restrictions to designate large shuttle bus loading zones, like this one next to the Dartmouth Street entrance of the Back Bay station:

A "no parking tow zone" sign sits along side a new shuttle bus loading zone outside Back Bay Station on Dartmouth Street in Boston. A dozen taxis are parked in the loading zone.
The Boston Transportation Department has set up block-long shuttle bus loading zones on both sides of Back Bay station, on Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets. This photo was taken on Thursday afternoon, before shuttle service was in effect.

 

A view down an empty "bus only" lane on Boylston Street, looking towards downtown Boston, on the day before Orange Line replacement bus shuttle service takes effect.
A new bus-only lane on Boylston Street extends from the Copley Place shopping mall to Copley Square.

 

Two shuttle buses on training runs pass a "tow zone - Orange Line shuttle bus stop" sign on Clarendon Street next to Trinity Church in Copley Square.
Two shuttle buses on training runs pass each other on Thursday afternoon on Clarendon Street next to Trinity Church in Copley Square.

Additionally, the block of Dartmouth St. between the Boston Public Library and Copley Square will be closed to general traffic, and open only to bikes and buses.

Mayor Wu noted that this summer’s popular “Copley Connect” event, a 10-day open streets festival that closed the same block of Dartmouth Street to general vehicular traffic, provided a valuable proof of concept for the current measures the city is taking to restrict private vehicles around Copley Square.

Pop-up bike lanes return to Columbus Avenue

During the pandemic, the city had set up cones and barrels to designate a parking-protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue between Back Bay station and Park Plaza – a heavily-used bike route that connects the Southwest Corridor and downtown Boston. Those cones got put into storage last fall, but they’re back for the Orange Line closure:

A bicycle rider enters a bike lane delineated with cones and construction barrels on Columbus Avenue in Back Bay. The bike lane runs along the curb, with a row of parked cars to its left.
A pop-up protected bike lane has been reinstalled on Columbus Avenue in Back Bay, between Clarendon Street and Church Street. A similar pop-up protected bike lane on this segment of Columbus Avenue had been in place in 2020 and 2021, when it was part of Boston’s “Healthy Streets” pandemic response.

In a press release last week, the City of Boston also said that it planned to install more temporary protected bike lanes using similar materials on nearby segments of Boylston Street (between Copley Square and the Public Garden) and Stuart Street (between Clarendon and Church).

A map of the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston showing proposed pop-up protected bike lanes that the City of Boston plans to implement with cones and barrels during the month-long closure of the Orange Line.
A map of proposed pop-up protected bike lanes that the City of Boston plans to implement with cones and barrels during the month-long closure of the Orange Line.

 

A truck full of construction cones is parked in a lane marked "BUS ONLY" while a worker in a yellow vest sets out cones to delineate the lane from general motor vehicle traffic
Boston Transportation Department crews set up cones to delineate a bus-only lane on Columbus Avenue near Dartmouth Street in Back Bay.

Government Center

The two shuttle bus routes that are serving the northern part of the Orange Line from Oak Grove and the Union Square branch of the Green Line will all terminate at Government Center.

The City of Boston has painted new dedicated bus lanes on Congress St., State St., Court St., and Cambridge St.

Additionally, the short block of State St. between Congress St. and Washington St. (next to the Old State House) will be closed to general traffic, and only buses will be allowed to make the right turn from Congress St. onto State Street.

A lane marked "BUS ONLY" runs along the curb of Congress Street next to City Hall (left) and Faneuil Hall (right)
New “BUS ONLY” stencils on Congress Street next to City Hall (left) and Faneuil Hall (right).

North Station and beyond

Further north, the City of Boston is implementing dedicated bus lanes along Lomasney Way, Martha Road, and Nashua Street (bus-only lanes had previously been installed along these streets for Green Line shuttle buses during the multi-year Lechmere viaduct closure, which ended earlier this year with the opening of the new Union Square branch). Franklin-Hodge said on Thursday that those bus lanes would likely be painted next week.

MassDOT is also planning to implement new bus-only lanes on the Gilmore Bridge, which connects the Lechmere area to the Community College Orange Line stop in Charlestown; that work is being coordinated with additional bus lane additions for the City of Boston’s Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square roadways.

Just over the city line, Somerville is also using construction barrels to implement a one-block segment of bus-and-bike lane on Broadway near Sullivan Square:

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG