Dedicated Bus Lane to Start on Mystic/Tobin Bridge This Monday

The heavily-used 111 bus route will become the most prioritized route in the MBTA system starting on Monday when a 1.1 mile dedicated bus lane from Chelsea to Charlestown begins on the Mystic/Tobin Bridge – a pilot program brought on quickly after the threat of a lawsuit by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).

The bus lane will also be accompanied by transit priority improvements on either side of the Bridge.

The MBTA and Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Highway Division announced the 1.1 mile dedicated bus lane for southbound travel on the Tobin Bridge will open for use by public transportation buses on Monday, December 14. This 12-month southbound bus lane pilot, along with additional transit priority initiatives and improvements on Broadway in Chelsea and North Washington Street Charlestown/North End, makes the MBTA’s Route 111 bus route one of the most prioritized bus routes in the MBTA system.

“We are piloting the idea of a preferential lane for the MBTA’s 111 route and the lane’s success will be evaluated after collecting data on bus travel times, crowding, and ridership, along with how safe the dedicated lane is for all travelers,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “We’ve been pleased at how receptive in general that community members have been during the pandemic to rethinking how public space is used, and we believe this is an opportune time to try a dedicated lane for buses traveling southbound over the Tobin Bridge and toward City Square Tunnel.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan has been following the study of the lane, and was pleased to see it come sooner rather than later.

“I wholeheartedly support the pilot initiative by the MBTA regarding the Tobin Bridge bus lanes and for continuing to prioritize the 111 as one of the most critical routes in the system,” he said. “I also want to acknowledge our municipal partners on both ends of the Tobin for prioritizing public transit and creating dedicated bus lanes throughout this part of the system. We are starting to transform how we look at our streets and how they work for people. This pilot program is a big step.”

The study of such a lane began last summer by DOT and the regional planning consortium, but it was hastened by the threat of a lawsuit by Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). That lawsuit was centered on restoring the HOV land on I-93 southbound, which was taken away as part of mitigation for the Mystic/Tobin Bridge repair project. As part of the settlement though, CFL was able to get the bus lane put into place immediately.

“Now is the time to improve transit options and avoid the gridlock that plagued our region before the pandemic,” said Staci Rubin, Senior Attorney at CLF. “Reinstating the HOV lane and committing to pilot bus lanes on both I-93 and the Tobin Bridge will drastically improve commute times and protect the health of overburdened communities like Chelsea and Somerville. By law, Massachusetts must prioritize bus riders and carpoolers on I-93 to address climate change, pollution, and congestion, and this settlement will hold our leaders accountable.” 

Supporting public health and COVID-19 recovery, the MBTA’s Rapid Response Bus Lane program has identified corridors like the areas where Route 111 operates as these routes have seen some of the highest rates of bus ridership since March and experience above-average chronic delay. As of November 2020, Route 111’s current ridership is about 73 percent of its pre-COVID levels for the same time period, ranking Route 111 among one of the highest ridership routes in the MBTA bus system (third highest).

Extending 1.1 miles, the dedicated all-day bus lane exclusive to Bus Route 111 begins after the Everett Avenue on-ramp merge in Chelsea and extends across the Tobin Bridge, ending just before the City Square Tunnel in Charlestown. Dedicated bus lanes can reduce crowding on buses and also limit the amount of time riders spend in close proximity to others while on the bus. In some cases, bus lanes can improve service frequency to further mitigate crowded conditions. 

This dedicated lane on the Tobin Bridge joins other recent transit priority initiatives directly benefitting Route 111, including:

•A bus-bicycle lane on North Washington from Causeway Street to Valenti Way implemented in September 2019 that provides bus priority from the North Washington Street Bridge to Haymarket Station,

•Advancing plans to include an outbound bus lane on North Washington Street through the Rapid Response Bus Lane program and the City of Boston’s Healthy Streets initiative, and 

•An inbound bus lane included in the final design of MassDOT’s project to reconstruct the North Washington Street Bridge between Charlestown and the North End, which is anticipated to be complete in 2023. 

The pilot will be in place for one year with the bus lane’s performance analyzed for metrics that include travel time, operations, crowding, and ridership. Roadway and vehicle data analysis will also take place with roadway operations being monitored for vehicle volumes, travel time, and safety.

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