Charlestown Bridge Replacement

The City of Boston will begin replacement of the Charlestown Bridge, also known as the North Washington Street Bridge. Work will start in 2016 and go for approximately 2.5 years.

The new bridge will feature wider sidewalks, bicycle tracks separated from vehicle traffic, but the key feature that's missing is dedicated bus lanes for the 20,000 commuters who ride the 92, 93, 111, 426 and 428 across this bridge amidst traffic every day.

This is an opportunity to dramatically improve bus service between Boston, Charlestown, Chelsea and Lynn. The current conditions force thousands of bus riders to sit in traffic and delay MBTA buses which could be used to increase service.

Existing Conditions

  1. MBTA routes 92, 93, 111, 426 and 428 carry at least 40% of all weekday bridge users despite the poor service quality and lack of priority. Routes 93 and 111 carry the majority of passengers across the bridge; these serve significant low-income and minority communities.
  2. Buses carry over 20,000 passengers per day across the bridge, 12,000 of which are carried by the 111 bus alone. Its primary service area, the City of Chelsea, is an environmental justice community with significant low-income and immigrant populations as well as employment centers, yet Chelsea has no frequent rapid transit link to the rest of the region.
  3. 66 buses per hour/more than one bus per minute travel over the bridge during peak periods the bridge, which means there is always a bus on the bridge.
  4. Partners Healthcare shuttle buses operate between the Charlestown Navy Yard and North Station for time-critical connections with infrequent Commuter Rail trains.
  5. Buses can be stuck in traffic for up to 30 minutes at peak times, when ridership is highest. The MBTA has no vehicles with which to increase service in part because its buses spend so much time in traffic when they are most needed.
  6. Traffic queues on Chelsea St can be as long as one mile, heavily impacting Route 93 and Partners Healthcare shuttle bus operations as well as several delivery businesses located along Terminal St, with delays upward of 30 minutes. Most of this traffic appears to originate in the east end of the Navy Yard.
  7. A single full bus carries more people than two lanes of car traffic backed up across the bridge.

What We Can Do About It

  1. Fast and reliable service is critical for an effective network that allows unlimited access and mobility throughout the city, and can attract and retain riders.
  2. Industry best practices recommend exclusive bus lanes where one-way bus volumes exceed 20 buses per hour.
  3. MassDOT Mode Shift and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals require the prioritization of buses on critical corridors. A recent MassPIRG study shows even a one percent decrease in car use yields significant benefits for society.
  4. If buses were a viable alternative to car travel by bypassing stopped traffic, many car drivers would switch to buses, thereby reducing traffic congestion
  5. Exclusive bus lanes on the bridge and the Chelsea Street approach would make Route 93 and Partners Healthcare shuttles fast and reliable and could remove many of these cars from the road by encouraging a car-free commute.

What We Recommend

As a concerned rider and one of 20,000 daily bus riders suffering from slow, unreliable service, tell MassDOT and the City of Boston that you want:

  • Exclusive Bus Lanes on the bridge in both directions, including both approaches and descents, for a faster bus ride when the bridge is complete
  • Signal Priority for Buses at both ends of the bridge, including access to/from the Tobin Bridge
  • Dedicated Enforcement and Physical Barriers to prevent unauthorized access to bus lanes
  • All Practical Efforts to Facilitate Bus Priority During Construction including:
    • One Reversing Bus Lane that provides priority in the rush-hour direction for a faster bus ride during construction
    • Bus Lanes on Bridge Approaches
    • 24/7 Access for Buses over the bridge during nightly closures
    • Increased Commuter Rail Service between Chelsea and North Station as an alternative to using the bridge
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