OP-ED: Improving Rail Service Can Reduce Congestion at Rush Hour

The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, D – Belmont, who also represents Watertown and parts of Boston:

A closer look at recently-reported traffic numbers offers hope that expansions of rail service can make a real difference in rush hour congestion. I was discouraged by two analyses that came out over the summer. MassDOT’s report, Congestion in the Commonwealth, showed that daily vehicle volume dwarfs daily commuter rail ridership along the major radial commuting paths into the core of the Boston area. Around the same time, preliminary results from the Rail Vision model showed that even major expansions of commuter rail service outside 128 would garner ridership increases apparently too small to make a dent in vehicle volume. For example, the Congestion report shows at page 89 that on I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), there are roughly 150,000 vehicles per day as compared to only 18,000 daily riders on the parallel Worcester line.

Changes to Bus Routes in Watertown Begin Sept. 1

The Express Buses going to and from Watertown Yard will be impacted by changes made by the MBTA beginning in September. Planned changes to improve some of the MBTA’s bus routes will take effect on Sept. 1, 2019, including some that go to Watertown. The changes are part of the Better Bus program, and on Sept. 1 the express bus routes to Watertown Yard will see some changes.

Labor Day Travel Tips for Drivers, MBTA & More

The following information was provided by MassDOT:

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is advising Labor Day travelers to make informed decisions, utilize all the available technology tools including www.mass511.com, and consider public transportation if possible to reach destinations. MassDOT is taking several steps to ensure reliable travel for members of the public who utilize transportation systems across the Commonwealth and will be shutting down construction outside of fixed work zones for the Labor Day travel period effective at 5 a.m., Friday, August 30. Scheduled road work will then resume at the start of normal business hours on Tuesday, September 3. “We know there typically are higher volumes on some state highways during Labor Day weekend, and we advise everyone to make smart decisions before getting behind the wheel and heading to their holiday travel destinations,” said Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver. “Everyone should utilize the appropriate technology tools and wayfinding resources, consider the best route and time to travel, remain sober or use a designated driver, and exercise safe driving behavior at all times.”

The High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane on I-93 between Boston and Quincy will have normal morning hours this week and open early for the afternoon commute at 2 p.m., on Thursday, August 29, and 1 p.m., on Friday, August 30.  The HOV lane will be closed on Monday, September 2, and will then re-open for regularly scheduled hours on Tuesday, September 3.

OP-ED: Update on Repairs to the MBTA’s Red Line

The following information was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger of Belmont who also represents Watertown and parts of Boston:

Please see also 7/26 update further below. MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak called me this morning to brief me about the Red Line’s troubles and his response. Below is a summary of our conversation. The Timeline for Service Restoration

Normally during rush hour, there are approximately 14 trains per hour. Unfortunately, at least through Labor Day, there will only be 10 trains per hour.

Tree Falls on Major Watertown Roadway, Impacts Bus

Bus service on the MBTA’s 73 route was impacted Sunday after a tree fell on Belmont Street in Watertown. A tree fell across a major road in Watertown Sunday afternoon, impacting MBTA bus service in Watertown. The tree fell on Belmont Street near Prentiss Street, according to an Instagram post from the Watertown Fire Department. It struck wires used by the MBTA’s 73 bus. View this post on Instagram Early this afternoon a large tree fell across Belmont Street at Prentiss Street.

MTBA CharlieCards Now Available in Watertown

The following information was provided by MassDOT:

The MBTA announced that the Town of Watertown has partnered with the T in the growing initiative to increase the availability of CharlieCards to residents who rely on public transportation. Under the initiative, free no-balance CharlieCards are available at the following Watertown locations:

•        Watertown Town Hall 149 Main Street Watertown, MA 02472

CharlieCards available in the Clerk’s Office on the ground floor and in the Planning Department on the third floor. •         Watertown Free Public Library 123 Main Street Watertown, MA 02472

The Town of Watertown joins a growing list of Cities and Towns partnering with the MBTA to increase access to CharlieCards. The City of Chelsea partnered with the MBTA in January 2019 with CharlieCards pre-loaded with $5 as well as free no-balance CharlieCards available in the Treasury Office of Chelsea City Hall. CharlieCards available in the City of Lynn and the City of Salem are also coming soon.

OP-ED: MBTA Behind on Climate Change Adaptation

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger of Belmont who also represents Watertown and parts of Boston:

At a recent MBTA board meeting, it became alarmingly clear that the MBTA is behind in its planning for climate resiliency.  Add that challenge to the challenges of catching up on maintenance, assuring safety, and expanding service. Andrew Brennan, Senior Director for Energy and Environment, explained to the board that the MBTA completed a “high-level” vulnerability assessment of the system in 2017.  His presentation materials are here and his talk begins at 2:55 in this livestream of the June 10 board meeting. The 2017 high level assessment revealed the obvious: Namely, that the most exposed asset is the Blue Line and that the greatest risk to the Blue line comes from flooding due to sea level rise. Only months after the assessment, the winter high tide of 2018 flooded Aquarium station. As to the lowest lying assets on the Blue line (Aquarium station and the Orient Heights Maintenance Facility), more detailed engineering studies have been completed to identify just how they would be flooded and what can be done to protect them: for example, raising openings like vent shafts and raising the most water sensitive components like transformers.

OP-ED: State Senator on the Bad Week for the MBTA

The following piece was written by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who represents Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston:

It has been a very bad week for the MBTA. Two train derailments injured dozens and massively inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of people. 

As I write, no one seems to know yet how long it will take to repair critical signal systems that the derailed train destroyed. Red line riders may have to endure diminished service and extraordinary rush hour crowding for days or weeks. While expediting repairs, the MBTA has rightly brought in an outside consulting team to review the events. The legislature will take great interest in the results of that review. 

For me, here is the big question: What will that review reveal about the work force and operational management of the MBTA? We knew that from time to time scheduled bus trips simply don’t happen because an employee doesn’t show up. We know that the MBTA’s derailment rate is high. We knew that a terrifying runaway train incident was triggered by an operator disabling a safety device. Investigators have already concluded that the recent green line derailment was operator error. 

While safety is always nominally the number one mission of any transit agency, how strong is the safety culture really? Are line managers overextended and under too much pressure to deliver timely service with inadequate staffing? What do these incidents say about employee morale and discipline? As legislators, we tend to focus less on operational conditions, which are hard to evaluate from outside, and more on the issues of system repair and service expansion. My impression has been and remains that the MBTA’s board and leadership team have been doing a very good job in turning around a state of physical system decay that was produced by decades of inadequate investment.