JULY 31, 2022
Dear Cambridge and Somerville Constituents —
The past few weeks on Beacon Hill have been a whirlwind of activity — from passing a state budget that makes historic investments in housing and education and includes groundbreaking policies like free school meals for all and no cost calls for people who are incarcerated, to strong actions in defense of abortion rights, gender-affirming care, and gun control in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s outrageous decisions in the Dobbs and Bruen matters, to major new investments in climate resilience, transportation, and criminal justice reform, along with the adoption of several local amendments I filed to support nonprofit services and state infrastructure.
In addition, the House is voting this afternoon to allocate some $400 million to immediately address the safety problems at the MBTA. This is in addition to existing and future funding allocations. We’ve also added language to put an end to the Baker Administration’s practice of covering up safety incidents. The legislature is also now conducting oversight hearings to hold the Baker Administration accountable for the long list of safety incidents and recent catastrophes on the T.
I’ll be talking a lot more about all that we’ve done this session in the coming days — but right now, I want to draw your attention to the MBTA’s draft Bus Network Redesign. I wrote to you about this back in May, and I’ve been engaged in the public process throughout the summer. I am writing again because today is the final day to offer feedback on the first draft of the redesign plan.
In case you missed it, here is the draft map for Cambridge, and here is the draft map for Somerville. These maps are also available for other communities and in other languages at this page. To offer feedback, please visit this page and take the online survey by the end of the day today, Sunday, July 31. You may also call 617-222-3011 and leave a voicemail with your feedback.
First, I’d like to outline some of what the bus network redesign seeks to do, and highlight some of the elements we should welcome and embrace. Next, I am going to address a number of concerns with the process surrounding this effort so far. And finally, I am going to address a number of specific concerns that have been raised by the people of our district, including several changes I am opposing.
I plan to submit my final set of comments to the T later this evening. What follows is fairly lengthy — I welcome you to incorporate any elements of this message in your own feedback to the T — and please send me additional feedback to include in my final set of comments and in my future advocacy if you notice I’ve missed anything here that’s important to you.
In addition, I would like to amplify and provide you with access to comments from some of our community partners; my comments incorporate material from each of these letters:
- Letter from the City of Cambridge re: draft Bus Network Redesign
- Letter from the City of Somerville re: draft Bus Network Redesign
- Letter from the East Cambridge Planning Team
- Letter from the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership
- Letter from the Community Action Agency of Somerville
Thank you, as always, for being an informed and engaged constituent!
Bus Network Redesign — Commendable Goals
To start, I want to acknowledge the elements of the bus redesign plan that are commendable.
When this process was first envisioned several years ago, it appeared to be little more than “rearranging deck chairs.” The original idea was to reconfigure existing bus resources for more efficiency without adding any additional service. However, as a result of our strong, collective advocacy for more bus service, the MBTA recently committed to adding 25% additional overall bus service over the next five years. That’s something we should applaud. It means more buses, more operators, more routes, more passengers on transit — all good — although implementation of added service will be no trivial matter (as the T has struggled to hire staff and procure equipment in a timely manner for some time now).
So, what the first draft of the bus redesign represents is an attempt to add 25% additional service over the next five years, while at the same time consolidating and reconfiguring certain routes for more efficiency. To be sure, the organizing principle of high-frequency bus service is a good one. Many Cambridge and Somerville residents are promised faster, more efficient service to the destinations they frequent in this first draft. However, even if the system is able to reliably deliver increased service to certain areas, a significant portion of vulnerable users, namely seniors, and those living in moderate to low income, and environmental justice communities will see troubling reductions in service under the proposed draft. This is why I have been strongly advocating for adjustments to the redesign process, more time for deliberations and public engagement, and the preservation of several key routes in our district.
On the plus side, the MBTA is proposing additional service on Routes 1, 66, 71, 73, 77 and others. New frequent bus routes are proposed to add service to Central and Kendall Squares, important destinations with cultural, civic, and employment centers. These new, high-frequency bus routes include:
- Route T39 Porter to Jamaica Plain via Union Square, Central Square, and Longwood Medical Area
- Route T70 Waltham to Kendall via Watertown and Central Squares
- Route T96 Malden to Porter Square via Medford Square and Davis Square
- Route T101 Medford to Kendall via East Somerville, Charlestown, and Lechmere
- Route T109 Linden Square, Everett to Harvard via Everett Square, Sullivan Square, and Union Square
Bus Network Redesign — Process Problems
While there are some commendable goals driving the Bus Network Redesign, there have also been some very significant problems with the process.
First of all, the MBTA reportedly based the first draft of the redesign on cellphone data. We know many seniors and lower-income folks in particular may not have mobile phones or may have very basic or less consistent mobile plans, so right out of the gate this is very concerning and frankly unacceptable. More kinds of data are needed to make informed decisions.
Moreover, the MBTA hasn’t broadly released all of the data they used in formulating the initial draft of the redesign, and they’ve made other relevant data inaccessible.
In May, I joined with Senator Jehlen and other local legislators to request that the MBTA more proactively share all of the data that was used to support each route change. We have some very smart transit advocates in our community, and so I’m sure the process would be improved if advocates and the general public were able to look inside the data that was used to propose these changes. It is very difficult to justify any consolidation choices when the underlying data is not available.
Moreover, I am also advocating for this process to proceed in a more deliberate manner, especially in light of the current shortage of dedicated bus travel and safety infrastructure, vehicles, vehicle operators and supervisors. I think it’s fair to have doubts that the MBTA is currently prepared to deliver the proposed high frequency lines. Therefore, I am advocating for the first year of implementation to be solely dedicated to piloting these new high frequency lines — without any reductions or cuts to existing service. This approach will give the MBTA an opportunity to increase user confidence, especially in populations where tradeoffs which include the high frequency lines are being proposed.
So far, the MBTA reports they’ve received some 15,000 pieces of feedback over the past two and a half months. That’s terrific, and yet, I think even more time is needed to allow for feedback. After all, the bus network averaged 400,000 daily riders, pre-pandemic. So clearly, the vast majority of bus users have yet to be fully engaged.
The MBTA has previously indicated that following the current public engagement period, they will review all the feedback they’ve collected and prepare a final redesign map and present it to the Board for a vote in the fall. I am calling on the MBTA to include a second-round of robust public engagement and feedback opportunities throughout the fall. The task of overhauling the entire bus network all at once is so enormous, that several additional months of engagement and feedback will be necessary for the public to adequately comment on the second-draft map. Once this has been done, a third-draft map could then be presented to the Board for a final vote late this year or early next year.
In addition, I would also point out that voters will be asked to consider the Fair Share Amendment this fall. This ballot question has the potential to deliver an additional $1+ billion per year in new, progressive revenue to help fund our transportation system. Therefore, it strikes me as premature to consider any particular service cuts when so much additional funding could be on the way to the MBTA in the near future.
Finally, with regard to changes proposed for Somerville and Cambridge (a lot more about that below), I have been strongly advocating to the MBTA that no local bus service be slated for elimination at least until the Green Line Extension has been fully completed (including the Medford branch). Once the GLX is fully completed and operational, we can then look at real-world bus ridership data to see if and how the new trolley service is impacting bus usage.
Bus Network Redesign — Specific Concerns and Opposition
Proposed elimination of the 47 bus (and replacement with T39 bus)
While increased service connecting Central Square to Longwood is beneficial through the introduction of the higher frequency T39 bus, this change could impact Cambridgeport residents traveling to destinations such as Ruggles Station. A potential solution could be to extend the T39 to Ruggles or offer an alternating schedule which includes a Ruggles terminus.
In any case, I do not support the full redesign of this corridor without more intentional engagement with Cambridgeport riders who use this corridor to get to Ruggles and other southbound destinations. While I recognize the opportunity for more frequent service via the proposed T39 line, the MBTA must engage more with Cambridge residents who are concerned that their 47 bus trips could become more onerous with certain forced transfers.
Proposed reduction in frequency of the 68 bus
After the pandemic struck, the MBTA proposed eliminating the 68 bus in Cambridge. I was proud to help lead the effort to preserve service on this line, and I appreciate how the MBTA responded to our advocacy.
However, under the current draft redesign, the 68 bus is once again facing some cuts. The 68 bus connects Cambridge’s most income and racially diverse neighborhoods with important social services and civic centers like City Hall, the Public Library, CRLS, and other destinations.
I oppose the draft proposal that would reduce service to Peak-Only times, as these destinations are accessed throughout the day by residents of The Port and Wellington-Harrington neighborhoods. Therefore, I am asking the MBTA to maintain all-day service on Route 68.
I am also open to an idea suggested by the City of Cambridge — combining Route 68 and Route 74 into a new, all-day bus route to connect Kendall Square to Concord Avenue without sacrificing any service to the Port and Wellington-Harrington neighborhoods.
Proposed elimination of the 80, 87 and 88 buses
I oppose the proposed changes to the 80, 87, and 88 buses. This set of changes is too blunt and drastically affects the ability of riders to travel between East Cambridge and important destinations like medical appointments and grocery stores near Union Square, Porter Square and Davis Square (which many East Cambridge constituents use as a node for further travel to North Cambridge). I agree with the East Cambridge Planning Team that elimination of these lines is a matter of transportation equity. East Cambridge is home to three public housing buildings that serve elderly and disabled residents, i.e. Millers River, Truman Apartments, and Putnam Apartments.
I understand the Green Line Extension is thought to be filling the void left by this proposed change, but important gaps remain that drastically increase trip times, as the Green Line Extension won’t serve all of these vital destinations as well as the current bus service does. According to the trip comparison tool (which does not account for a variety of different wait times between transfers), constituents traveling from East Cambridge to the local healthcare facilities could see their one-seat 88 bus trip double or even triple in travel time to a two-seat 69-T77 trip.
Constituents traveling to local grocery stores would also see a one seat 87 bus trip increase to a two seat trip, and while the commute time increase is not as drastic, considering the essential use cases, this change is not sustainable for vulnerable constituents. Constituents traveling to important destinations in Porter Square could see their one seat 87 bus trip double in commute time to a two seat T101-RL trip. These trends hold for trips to Arlington, other Somerville destinations, and Malden as well. In particular, I would highlight the importance of preserving Route 87 as is. Route 87 serves North Point and connects with important destinations in Somerville and Arlington.
Proposed change of terminus of 83 bus
I am joining with the City of Cambridge in opposing the plan to change the terminus of the 83 bus to Kendall Square. I am asking that this bus route continue to go to Central Square.
Proposed elimination of the 89 bus
From a demographic and equity perspective, consolidating bus lines in the environmental justice community of East Somerville is unacceptable. While the proposed increase in frequency to the 90 bus is appreciated, the net loss of connectivity with East Somerville and Winter Hill areas and the Red Line and Orange Line is unacceptable. Multiple buses covering similar (not identical) routes give relief to choke points in the system and that relief would be eliminated under this draft. Bus routes should broaden access to the GLX, however, this proposed draft, as exemplified by the elimination of the 89, actually cuts access by bus to the Green Line.
Proposed elimination of the CT2
I oppose the current plan to eliminate the CT2.
The CT2 is a rare north-south connection between East Somerville, Union Square, and Inman Square to Kendall Square and destinations south of the Charles River. Coupled with plans to modify or eliminate the 55 and 85 buses, this would mean pushing north-south riders to more complicated and lengthy trips.
Therefore, I do not support the proposed elimination of the CT2. The CT2 or 85 should remain as an all-day service between East Somerville, Union Square, and Kendall Square. In addition, the route should connect Kendall Square, MIT, Cambridgeport, and the Longwood Medical Area.
A note about the 86 bus and T109
I agree with the City of Cambridge that the proposal for the 86 bus needs further review. Members of the Cambridge community have raised a number of issues with dividing today’s 86 at Harvard Square. I ask that the MBTA further engage riders on the 86 about this proposal.
A note about the 91 bus
I am generally open to the current proposal connecting Longwood Medical Area, Central Square and Union Square with a frequent bus route. However, I ask that the MBTA further engage with people who travel from Central Square to East Somerville and Sullivan Square about proposed changes.
A note about the proposed T101 bus
This newly-proposed, high-frequency route appears to offer great potential — especially if it can perform at a 10-minute frequency all day long, seven days per week. However, we do not yet have sufficient data to see if this is better than service on the 89 and 91 buses. We need more data to fully assess this and other changes.
A note about dedicated bus lanes on Broadway in Somerville
The City of Somerville has so far executed a total of 11 bus lane and bus priority projects. Broadway in the Winter Hill neighborhood is the most significant of these projects — however, the draft bus redesign appears to reduce service in this area.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the MBTA had indicated they would reward cities that were making the effort to add dedicated bus lanes with extra service. Unfortunately, extra service along Broadway in Somerville was never added, and now the draft redesign looks to actually cut service in this area. I strongly encourage the MBTA to reconsider.
A note about the 90 bus and Somerville Connectivity
The draft does not add any new service to Assembly Square beyond the existing 90 bus route. This lack of connectivity within Somerville to Assembly Square has been a persistent equity issue since the Orange Line station opened. Assembly Square is adding thousands of job opportunities, which are out of reach to Somervillians who rely on public transit but don’t live along the sole bus line that serves this destination. Therefore, I am asking the MBTA to consider converting the reconfigured Route 90 service in the East Somerville area to high-frequency bus service.
Furthermore, the draft does not utilize McGrath Highway as a resource. As you know the corridor is going to be substantially reimagined in the short term with re-stripping and in the long term through the grounding and green-boulevarding of the corridor. Bus service, with dedicated infrastructure, can and should be planned for this essential north-south corridor.
A note about Cambridge Connectivity
This draft underutilized the Tobin bridge corridor to connect workers in Chelsea with jobs in Kendall Square. Given the bus priority infrastructure on the Tobin Bridge, this routing may be more reliable than previously thought. The MBTA should consider adding a new all-day route between these two destinations.
A note about bus connections to Green Line light rail service in Somerville
The draft redesign seems to assume that many existing bus riders can substitute bus trips with subway or light rail transit trips. While this may be a good option for some riders; for many other riders it may not be realistic. The initial planning scenario for Bus Network Redesign seems to rely heavily on shifting existing Somerville bus riders to the Green Line Extension (GLX). The GLX includes five new stations in Somerville. Only two of these stations would be directly served by MBTA buses in the initial planning scenario. Green Line-to-bus transfers would require approximately ¼-mile walking connections. I join with City of Somerville officials in respectfully requesting that the MBTA prepare a modified draft proposal that provides a direct intermodal transfer at the GLX stations. Possible solutions could include options for north-south bus service linking Mystic Avenue and Union Square via Gilman Square, continuing to Kendall Square in Cambridge.
A note about growth and density in Cambridge and Somerville and the need for even more bus service
It should be noted that both Cambridge and Somerville are rapidly growing cities that have promoted dense, new multifamily housing near transit. Local planners typically assume the vast majority of new trips created by new development will occur via non-driving travel modes.
As State Representative, I am concerned that the MBTA may be considering a static picture of current bus demand, without recognizing that the neighborhoods of the 26th Middlesex District have been growing in population and are very likely to continue to do so in future years. I respectfully ask for the MBTA to factor things like zoning, development, and future growth into the plans for this bus network redesign, and to appropriately consider the additional needs of our community for present and future bus capacity.
A note about different kinds of two-seat trips
I can fully appreciate how the current system necessitates some users taking two seat trips — and while we work to advance progressive revenue, staff training and retention, infrastructure enhancements and repairs, and more deliberate and accountable oversight that would support a fully-funded transportation without compromise — this is the current reality. I would respectfully draw the distinction however, between a two seat trip which involves a high frequency light rail, bus line, or subway line and a two seat trip which involves a low frequency bus line. This distinction underpins many of my comments above.
In conclusion, I am grateful to all of the Cambridge and Somerville residents who are making their voices heard in this process, and I appreciate the steps the MBTA has taken to engage with the public. With the promise of 25% additional service overall, and with plans for several new high-frequency bus routes, there's a lot to be hopeful about in the draft plan. That said, it is also abundantly clear that more work remains to be done, and the MBTA bus do more to fully consider the impacts of the proposed changes on vulnerable populations in Cambridge and Somerville. I look forward to continuing to advocate to the T for the best possible outcomes for our community in the months ahead.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns about this or any other matter.
Yours in service,
Rep. Mike Connolly