Thursday, July 16, 2009


Bob La Trémouille reports:

1. Introduction.
2. Archie’s analysis.
3. Response.
a. History of the Urban Ring dates to the 80’s.
b. Northern v. Southern Tier.
c. Light v. Heavy Rail.

1. Introduction.

Archie Mazmanian has presented a well thought out paper on Bus Rapid Transit versus Light / Heavy Rail.

The analysis is copied in part 2. Because he has done such a good job, I feel like giving my two bits worth following Archie.

My response will be technical. Archie has done such a good job, I think it would be inappropriate to do back and forth’s giving my perception of history and trying to come to agreement. He wrote a good analysis. I will give it its proper respect. I will just respond.

2. Archie’s analysis.

When the Urban Ring was spawned by the MBTA some 14 years r so ago, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a system of 60-foot articulated buses, was its standard for Phase 2. There had been no debate about this standard nor had the concept of BRT been the brainchild from the ground up of public transit riders. Rather, this was the decision of MBTA. After 14 years, it is time to have such a debate. Phase 3 of the Urban Ring calls for light/heavy rail. The failure to implement Phase 2 over such a long period of time might suggest the BRT approach has failed.

Growing up in Roxbury in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and beyond in Jamaica Plan through the ‘60s into the early ‘70s, I was a frequent rider on the elevated Orange Line on my trips to and from downtown Boston while in college, law school and then in my law practice. Shifting the Orange Line route and tearing down the elevated structure was a good thing for residents along Washington Street from Forest Hills to downtown Boston. But these residents did need good, reliable public transit. They were promised light rail on Washington Street with dedicated rights of way.

Eventually, after too many years, the MBTA did come up with public transit (the Silver Line) on Washington Street, but not in the form of light rail with dedicated rights of way. Rather, the MBTA shifted to a BRT system. However, instead of providing truly dedicated rights of way for this BRT system, the MBTA provided buslanes along some portions of Washington Street. The problem with buslanes is that they can and do accommodate mixed traffic in the absence of strict law enforcement. The result for the Silver Line was slow and unreliable public transit. Residents had been deceived: They were promised light rail with dedicated rights of way but instead got the BRT system on this surface route of Washington Street.

The Silver Line along Washington Street has been a failure. A second phase of the Silver Line’s tunnel to the airport area has been a success but only because of its dedicated and exclusive right of way in this tunnel. But the connection between these phases, Phase 3, has bogged down because of disputes of neighborhoods affected and the expense of another tunnel. The surface routes between Phase 1 and Phase 2’s tunnel cannot provide appropriate dedicated rights of way.

EOT has taken over from the MBTA and continues with the push for Phase 2 of the Urban Ring with a BRT system. While a BRT system might work in certain communities with broad boulevards, the Phase 2 routes do not provide such broad boulevards. So EOT has to resort to the gimmick of buslanes in an effort to satisfy the Federal Transit Agency’s funding requirement of a minimum of 50% of dedicated rights of way. As noted above, without strict law enforcement, buslanes end up with mixed traffic, eliminating Rapid from BRT.

The current Southern Tier proposal in EOT’s Notice of Project Change would involve greater ridership than the Northern Tier. EOT has been unable as yet to settle upon proposed surface routes in the Longwood Medical/Fenway/Academies area. EOT has to overcome the major impediment presented with the Charles River crossing that requires accommodations with CSX regarding the Grand Junction Rail Line, including the trestle bridge under the BU Bridge. This major impediment also affects the Allston connection that would service Harvard’s proposed Allston campus as well as Harvard’s potential development of the Beacon Yards. If such an accommodation cannot be made, then the BU Bridge would serve as Phase 2’s Charles River crossing and the Allston connection would be via Commonwealth Avenue westerly of the BU Bridge. Frankly, the BU Bridge/Commonwealth Avenue area has too many traffic and transportation problems currently and the addition of Phase 2’s surface routes would only make them worse. This would affect both sides of the Charles River.

So perhaps it is time to start a serious debate on Bus Rapid Transit versus Light/Heavy Rail. While a BRT system may work in Bogata, Colombia, with its wide boulevards, it will not work along the Southern Tier with its narrow, curved and heavily traveled streets. In other parts of the US, the utilization of the BRT system is being questioned, including in a Washington Post editorial, Sunday, July 12, 2009, involving Maryland’s “purple line” that would connect with the District of Columbia’s Metro system. After some 14 years, it is finally time for a real debate on Phase 2 of the Urban Ring and to consider going directly to Phase 3 with light/heavy rail. If a BRT system on the Urban Ring cannot provide timely trips, its passengers will revert to light/heavy radial lines into the hub in downtown Boston and then out on another radial line to destinations. If Phase 2 were to be approved as currently proposed, we might be stuck with it and never get to Phase 3. Now is the time to speak up and demand a debate.

3. Response.

a. History of the Urban Ring dates to the 80’s.

Archie comments about the spawning of the Urban Ring 14 years ago, as a bus phase 2, real rapid transit phase 3.

I have been working on the Urban Ring since 1985. It was a rapid transit proposal then. Only later did it get watered down to buses. In the middle, the state adopted my alternate Kenmore Crossing as a second possibility for crossing the Charles River, compared to the original thoughts of crossing next to the BU Bridge.

b. Northern v. Southern Tier.

Archie talks of Southern Tier and Northern Tier in this week’s proposal. There are a lot of lovely maps at, but, basically, the Northern Tier is a bunch of busways mostly north of Cambridge and north of Boston Harbor. The Southern Tier is the rest of the “phase 2” bus package.

The Northern Tier is separated out, in my opinion, because it makes sense for buses. The Southern Tier is so much nonsense.

c. Light v. Heavy Rail.

Light rail is street cars. Heavy Rail is the Red Line and the other big guys.

There are people running around trying to confuse the two, and they are indulging in quite irresponsible behavior trying to confuse the two.

The reason they are trying to confuse the two is that they are also fighting for the BU Bridge Crossing in the Rapid Transit phase 3.

The dirty tricks come from the fact that the Phase 3 BU Bridge crossing is light rail and the Phase 3 Kenmore Crossing is heavy rail.

The purpose of the Urban Ring is to provide a viable crosstown alternative to going downtown in the Subway system. Light rail cannot provide the speed needed to get people off the downtown subways. So the people fighting, for other reasons, for the BU Bridge crossing, use any and all techniques to fool people into an inferior alternative.

One of the key techniques is to give the impression that there is meaningful competition between the two alternatives. I have elsewhere in this Blog gone into very detailed analysis between the two.

My analysis is confirmed by the nonstop dirty tricks.

Just one example of too many:

There is a “transportation” group in the Boston area whose board has been fooled into supporting the BU Bridge without ever being told that they are supporting the BU Bridge Crossing and without ever being allowed to discuss the comparative merits.

There seem to be two willful activists involved and a much larger number of victims. The two activists clearly have no concern with fair play.

Any attempt to question this silly position has been replied to with cyberabuse by one of the two.

The other of the two is the head of the organization. He supports cyberabuse “on the grounds of free speech.” When the victim publicly objected to receiving off line abusive emails, the victim was permanently thrown off the listserve by the “leader.” Cyberabuse is protected by free speech. The victim objecting to cyberabuse gets the cyber death sentence.

That says a lot as to the level of discourse. And the real purpose is to protect the BU Bridge light rail Phase 3 crossing from meaningful discussion once the two have fooled the board into supporting it without telling them that they are supporting it.

I do not think Light and Heavy Rail should be confused. The bad guys have good reason for confusion. They have no merit to their position.