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Buses Get Pushed to the Side in Boston’s Latest Design for Summer Street

A view of a sidewalk-level bike lane running alongside newly planted sidewalk trees through a neighborhood of historic brick buildings. In the distance a downtown Boston skyscraper is visible.

Summer Street in Fort Point. This 0.2-mile section of Summer Street was reconstructed in 2018 and 2019 to build wider sidewalks and protected bike lanes. In 2023, a 6-month pilot project will create shared curbside truck-and-bus lanes.

After three years of planning, the City of Boston is finally getting ready to install new bus lanes on Summer Street through the Seaport neighborhood this summer, but the city's plans have been watered down considerably since the idea for a new Seaport busway first emerged in 2020.

Under the administration of former mayor Marty Walsh, the City of Boston had proposed a center-running dedicated busway on Summer Street through the Seaport to benefit riders of the MBTA’s 7-City Point bus, which connects South Boston, the Seaport District, South Station, and the downtown financial district.

A conceptual rendering of proposed center-running bus lanes on Summer Street near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Courtesy of the City of Boston.
What might have been: a 2020 conceptual rendering illustrates the Walsh administration's proposal for center-running bus lanes on Summer Street near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Courtesy of the City of Boston.
A conceptual rendering of proposed center-running bus lanes on Summer Street near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

Under the city's latest proposal, the center-running bus lanes have been replaced by curbside bus lanes, which are more likely to be blocked by illegally-parked vehicles and other traffic.

And, at the insistence of Massport, the state agency which owns considerable property in the neighborhood and operates a container shipping terminal near the southern end of Summer Street, it will be a "bus-and-freight" lane, which means that the MTBA's buses will share the lane with trucks.

"The idea for center-running bus lanes got a lot of pushback from Massport and BCEC (the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center), so it has changed to having side-running bus lanes," explained Sophia Cotman, a staffer with the Boston Transportation Department's transit team, in a phone call with StreetsblogMASS on Wednesday. "And in addition to that, these are going to be bus-and-freight lanes to hopefully alleviate some of the traffic congestion for trucks, which is something that Massport is pretty excited about."

The plan will also install new segments of protected bike lanes along Summer Street.

"Currently the existing bike infrastructure will be added upon and improved to be more continuous," said Cotman. "We’ll be adding connections through the places that are missing protection with striping and flexposts to add some additional separation."

Summer Street currently has a short section of high-quality, curb-protected bike lanes near the Fort Point Channel (pictured above) and painted curbside bike lanes south of the convention center. The construction of the new Omni Hotel across the street from the convention center added another single-block segment of sidewalk-level bike lane on the north side of Summer Street between D Street and World Trade Center Ave., but it's currently not connected to any other bike infrastructure, and the hotel's management frequently blocks the bike lane and the adjacent sidewalk with illegally-parked cars.

Cotman explained that the new roadway configuration will be tested and evaluated in a 6-month pilot program, which would begin after new roadway striping and signal adjustments can be installed later this spring.

The city plans to analyze how the pilot affects bus ridership, speeds, roadway safety, and rider satisfaction,"then make a decision about whether it should be permanently implemented," explained Cotman. "If data shows that it’s not super helpful, the city will go from there to evaluate what else could be done."

The proposal to install center-running buses on Summer Street was formerly ranked as the neighborhood's highest-impact opportunity for improved transit infrastructure in the city's South Boston Seaport Strategic Transit Plan, an ongoing study of ways to improve transit service and capacity in one of the city's fastest-growing neighborhoods.

The 7 runs frequently – every 6 to 10 minutes during peak commuting hours – and as of March 2023, the line was carrying roughly 2,500 passengers on a typical weekday, which is roughly 50 percent of its pre-pandemic ridership, according to data compiled by TransitMatters.

The city is hosting three open houses this month with food and refreshments to discuss its plans in greater detail with neighborhood residents and workers.

"City Hall staff will be there with additional information about the project, discussing why the project is being done, how evaluated, and looking for feedback," said Cotman. "It’ll be an opportunity for people to talk with city staff members one-on-one and get all their questions answered."

In-person neighborhood open house details:

    • Thursday, April 13th from 5 - 8 pm at Seaport Hampton Inn, 670 Summer Street
    • Wednesday, April 19th from 5 - 8 pm at Tynan School in South Boston, 650 E Fourth Street
    • Monday, May 1st from 5 - 8 pm at the Seaport District Hall, 75 Northern Avenue

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