OP-ED: MBTA, State Cheat Watertown Out of Decent Public Transit, It’s Time They Anteed Up

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Charlie Breitrose An MBTA 71 bus.

By Mark Pickering

I’ve been commuting from Watertown to a variety of jobs and locations for a generation now. I’ve used public transit and several cars.

When I worked second shift in Boston, getting off work sometimes as late as 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., I was annoyed that the T was no longer operating. There oughta be a law!

Of course, when I was commuting by car it was clear that the problem with Watertown Square was the Charles River bridge. Obviously, it needed to be widened by a couple of lanes. Then, of course, we needed to widen Galen Street so I could get to the Mass. Pike more quickly. (Later, I added in the widening of the Bridge Street crossing.)

Judging from the April meeting on redesigning Watertown Square, the Charles River bridge there still needs to be widened!

Levity aside, the plan to send the No. 71 buses across the river to the MBTA’s Watertown Yard sounds like a bad idea. It puts more traffic on the narrow bridge and accomplishes pretty much nothing, as far as transportation goes.

Looking at the big picture, two parts of the Watertown transit system work reasonably well. That would be the No. 71 bus to Harvard Square and the Mass Pike.

The current Watertown Square redesign plan sends the No. 71 over the river, with no dedicated bus lanes. That would add even more of traffic to the bridge and, to some degree, undermine the No. 71 service.

Such a move would be worth it if the MBTA and the state were making a commitment to setting up a major transit hub at the Watertown Yard. That does not seem to be in the cards yet, however.

Right now the No. 70 bus is the workhorse route. Most people taking the Watertown buses to Boston and Cambridge seem to get to the square by car, on foot and via the No.70.

The No. 70 is the missing link in the current Watertown Square plan, which ignores this connection entirely.

The big picture here: No reasonable person would look at the No. 70 route and see it as a bus line. It goes through some of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Greater Boston including the Charles River mess where Mass. Pike ramps, local traffic, Storrow Drive and Memorial Drive all crash together.

The bus route does, however, look more like an extension of the Red Line. If the MBTA got going on that right away, that would make a lot of sense.

Now, there’s money available for new projects that was not there before. That’s because the so-called Millionaires Tax creates a new pool of money, hopefully to fix Massachusetts transit woes. Watertown deserves to be at the top of the list for getting that cash.

The state and the MBTA have cheated Watertown out of having a decent public transportation network. The MBTA got rid of the Green Line “A” branch in 1969. Since then, the T has failed to provide any meaningful replacement service.

That’s why Watertown has the worst public transit setup of any community abutting Boston or any of that city’s neighborhoods.

In contrast, when the MBTA tore down the elevated Orange Line, Roxbury got some stops on the new Orange Line and numerous dedicated bus lanes heading into Dudley Station.

The state and the MBTA are to blame for Watertown’s woeful public transit service. They need to ante up.

Of course it’s always easier to ask for something than to get it. But if we don’t try, we will be stuck with only the crumbs we get now.

Mark Pickering is a veteran of the local news business, having worked on the business desk and the opinion pages of the Boston Herald.

Send letters and op-eds to watertownmanews@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “OP-ED: MBTA, State Cheat Watertown Out of Decent Public Transit, It’s Time They Anteed Up

  1. I agree with your main point that the MBTA has failed Watertown (and the whole state) egregiously! However, I would like to point out a few misundertandings about the Watertown Square redesign process. It is not your enemy : )

    First, the current Watertown Square redesign effort DOES account for the #70 bus and all bus routes through the square. The design team has been in constant contact with the MBTA (as was stated at the April meeting and previously).

    And the question of whether to make 2 lanes of the bridge into dedicated bus lanes has not been decided (also mentioned during the April meeting).

    The current plan is to remove the bus stops in front of the Steward building, on the north side of the river, so that roadway can become sort of an “off-ramp” to divert eastbound traffic coming from Main/Pleasant St., headed toward the Mass Pike, thus keeping all those cars out of the main Four Corners intersection. That’s a great idea!

    Drifting up to the big picture level… The purpose of the Watertown Square redesign isn’t to make life easier for drivers and bus riders. Because this area is our city center, we want a “walkable” Watertown Square for the *whole community* including pedestrians, bike riders, blind people, disabled walkers, senior citizens, children, etc. We want retail and restaurants to be successful there, if we can make the Square an attractive and *safe* area where people want to go. Doing this will require reducing the number of traffic lanes, which will (among other benefits) reduce speeds of drivers through the Square. I hope you’ll agree that safety for pedestrians is as important as convenience for drivers!

    As was pointed out near the end of the April meeting (around 9:30pm if you stayed that late)… the more traffic lanes you add, the more cars will drive through Watertown Square on their way to somewhere else. This is because Google Maps & Waze will divert traffic coming from outside Watertown, going to somewhere outside Watertown, to pass through our city using those lanes.

    The current Four Corners plan includes a reduction in the number of lanes while also providing for faster lights, which will actually improve traffic flow. The reason we all wait so long for a change of light in the Square, with all those cars idling for long periods at those lights, is because of the complex 5-way intersection… which will be redesigned. And if you’re a pedestrian trying to cross all those lanes, good luck!

    If the first meeting you attended was April 2024, I can understand the gap. These general objectives have been described repeatedly during the public meetings since last October 2023 (all of which I have attended). The plan is a bit complicated, but it behooves all citizens to dig into the details.

    • Hi Kathi! Do you mind clarifying, how it “does account for bus #70”? I did not see any mentioning of this route. So it would be even further away compared to the current bus connection in the delta if bus 71/59 are moved to Galen st. Thank you!

  2. Totally agree the MBTA has failed Watertown. The combination of the 502 and 504 is the latest example. A commute from Watertown yard to Fenway or downtown is an hour easy. Harvard is only slightly better. Combine this with the loss of park and pedal at Herter Park (taken over by construction workers) there are no good ways to get into the city except driving or Uber.

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