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Boston Test-Drives Dedicated Bus Lanes Through Longwood

A black-and-yellow MBTA route 47 bus drives in an empty lane delineated by a row of cones from an adjacent car lane where multiple cars and SUVs are stuck in traffic. To the left of the bus, along the curb, is a bicycle lane.

An MBTA route 47 bus uses the new pop-up bus lane along Brookline Avenue in the Longwood Medical Area in October 2022.

New pop-up bus lanes along Brookline Avenue are providing the city and MBTA a preview of how the Longwood Medical Area could benefit from dedicated bus lanes on one of its most crowded streets. 

Last month, the T announced it would shutdown the Green Line D Branch for a total of 27 days in order to facilitate track work on the line as part of ongoing Green Line Transformation efforts, with shuttle buses replacing regular Green Line service. 

The shutdown, split into three parts between September and October, will allow work crews to replace 6,000 feet of track, improve six pedestrian crossings, and install equipment to help prevent train-on-train collisions. 

During the first of the three shutdown periods, shuttle bus riders expressed frustration over traffic delays along the route, prompting the T to work with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) to install pop-up bus lanes along Brookline Avenue and give shuttles a clearer path. 

Along both sides of Brookline Avenue between Longwood Avenue and Riverway/Fenway, the pop-up bus lanes offer a less congested path not just for the Green Line shuttle buses, but also for the LMA’s shuttles, and riders of the many MBTA bus routes that serve the LMA area, including the 8, 19, 47, 60, and 65. 

The lanes also provide a clear path for ambulances rushing patients to the area’s hospitals, and they give bicyclists an additional buffer between the existing flexpost-protected bike lane and car traffic. 

As part of a team effort between multiple agencies, the T has been having regular morning phone calls between BTD, the Town of Brookline, and representatives from the Longwood Collective, an organization representing hospitals and several higher education institutions in the area.

In the past, the MBTA has suggested that bus-priority lanes in the Longwood Medical Area would be critical for its plans to increase bus service through the neighborhood as part of its upcoming bus network redesign.

Because it’s a major destination for jobs and medical appointments, the T wants to boost bus service considerably in the Longwood area. The first draft of its proposed new bus network featured four high-frequency bus routes running along Brookline Avenue.

But it would be almost impossible for the T to run that many buses through Longwood without dedicated bus lanes.

In a meeting with municipal stakeholders last fall, Caroline Vanasse, then the Manager of Transit Planning at MassDOT, acknowledged that “areas like (Longwood) are currently very challenging to get bus service in and out” and said that “the infrastructure to support these routes is critical.”

But despite the many benefits to the current and future bus network, it’s not clear yet whether the bus lanes being tested on Brookline Avenue this fall will become permanent or not. 

“Based on the preliminary feedback from the D Branch shuttle contractor, these tactical bus lanes have improved transit run-times, but more data is needed to fully analyze the potential benefits,” explained an MBTA spokesperson.  

“MBTA staff will continue to coordinate with our partners at the City of Boston and key area stakeholders to determine the best design moving forward with an eye to moving as many people as sustainably and safely as possible,” they added.

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