NOVEMBER 16, 2022
Dear Cambridge and Somerville Constituents —
Tomorrow, MBTA staff will be presenting the second draft of the Bus Network Redesign to the MBTA Board of Directors for initial approval.
I have been deeply involved in this process at all stages — advocating for the preservation and improvement of necessary services for my Cambridge and Somerville constituents in the 26th Middlesex District.
As you recall, I wrote to you back in May when the process started, and again in July when the first draft proposal was under review. In case you missed it, here is my nine-page letter to the MBTA which incorporated feedback from constituents and community partners.
If you would like to make a comment to the MBTA Board prior to tomorrow's preliminary vote, today is the deadline to do so. Options include leaving a voice message that will be presented to board members, writing an email or sending a letter.
The meeting will begin at 9 am tomorrow, and there are other items on the agenda in addition to the Bus Network Redesign. I plan to leave a voicemail message later this afternoon for playback during tomorrow's meeting, and I will be submitting additional written comments as well. I have also been in active conversation with the MBTA staffers who are working on this plan.
Bus Network Redesign: Links to the latest materials
Bus Network Redesign: Commendable goals
I want to acknowledge the elements of the bus redesign plan that are commendable. Greater equity, more frequent service in busy neighborhoods, more all-day service, new connections to more places, a network that's simpler to use, and more transit priority and other infrastructure to improve reliability and accessibility are all very important objectives that I support.
It's worth remembering how when this process was first envisioned, 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 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 severely struggled to hire staff and procure equipment for some time now. We can be hopeful that with passage of the Fair Share Amendment and the incoming Healey Administration, things will be better.
Bus Network Redesign Second Draft: Significant improvements on first draft, and continued concerns
The first draft of the bus redesign promised many Cambridge and Somerville residents a faster, more efficient ride to destinations they often frequent.
However, the first draft resulted in a significant portion of vulnerable users, namely seniors, and those living in moderate to low income situations, and environmental justice communities all seeing troubling reductions in service.
That is why I've been so involved in advocating for the preservation of several key routes in our district, and I'm pleased to report our collective advocacy has resulted in significant improvements in the second draft.
We've secured complete or partial victories with regards to the 47, 80, 83, 87, 89, and 90 buses. Thank you to the MBTA staff who worked with me and my staff and our legislative colleagues and our local municipal partners and listened to our residents in making these changes and improvements.
We have continued questions and concerns regarding the timing and routing of the 68, 80, and 88 buses, along with the conversion of the CT2 to the new 85 bus. That said, the T is offering justifications and explanations for each of these changes. For example, the 88 is essentially being combined with the 90 bus, and the 85 bus is offering various advantages over the current CT2. Meanwhile, the 68 is being preserved for its most active uses, particularly for CRLS students.
One area of concern has to do with assumptions the MBTA has made regarding the future Green Line Extension. As I will explain below, I am calling on the Board to require significant additional public processes so that our community isn't negatively impacted by any such assumptions.
Overall, the second draft seems to be a step forward for our community — with a big caveat that it does make assumptions about future GLX service. I believe the T should give us all the benefit of time to gather data and learn from new travel patterns relative to the GLX before considering any cuts or reductions to our local service.
By and large, transportation planning officials in Cambridge and Somerville seem happy with the second draft, and for my part, I will remain very focused on each individual bus line in our district. I will continue advocating for all of our concerns to be addressed in the months and years ahead.
Bus Network Redesign: Continued process problems
While there are some commendable goals driving the Bus Network Redesign, there have also been some very significant problems with the process, which I've covered in depth in my previous communications and blog posts.
More recently, these process problems have unfortunately persisted.
On November 2nd, I participated in a three-hour public meeting to review the second draft of the redesign. The meeting quickly turned into something of a disaster as it became clear the MBTA's Zoom subscription had reached its limit of 300 people. I spent the better part of the meeting fielding complaints and concerns from constituents who couldn't access the meeting while also relaying these concerns to MBTA staff in real time and documenting the situation on Twitter.
The centerpiece of the meeting was supposed to be a breakout room for local residents — but the Somerville/Cambridge breakout room was badly mismanaged, and by time the staff presentation was completed, there wasn't enough time left to answer a single question! Residents were kicked out of the meeting with their hands raised, an unacceptable mismanagement of the public process.
In response, the MBTA quickly agreed to a second public meeting — that meeting occured this past Monday. This meeting also lasted three hours, and I participated in this one as well. However, as of this writing the videos of that meeting and its breakout rooms have yet to be posted online. I had asked for these materials to be posted as soon as possible.
This second meeting was much better run than the previous one — but at this meeting it was revealed the second draft as written would be presented to the MBTA's Board for a vote tomorrow — and that essentially, none of the public feedback or dialog on the second draft would be factored in to the presentation to the Board.
Meanwhile, a federal equity analysis is also underway — this analysis appears to be based on the second draft as written, regardless of the latest public feedback. This analysis will be completed by December, at which point MBTA staff intend to seek a final vote of approval from the Board.
My Recommendation to the MBTA Board Regarding Future Process
In my comments to the Board tomorrow, I am going to recommend that the Board impose future requirements on the MBTA for a more robust and ongoing public process prior to each major step of the implementation of this five-year plan.
Before any currently operating bus line is eliminated, merged into another line, or reduced in service, I am calling for the MBTA to provide at least 90 days notice to the impacted communities, and within that 90-day window, I am suggesting that a local meeting be scheduled within each impacted community. At these local community meetings, pending changes can be further explained, and questions and feedback from residents should be considered. After the local meeting occurs, the MBTA should have to present all pending actions to the MBTA Board for final approval. The MBTA generally updates bus schedules on a periodic basis, so they could incorporate this additional public process into their regular efforts to engage the public and the Board about pending scheduling updates.
This kind of ongoing public process, public comment, and Board approval is particularly important in our community, where the Green Line Extension is not yet fully operational, where we can only speculate as to the actual future impact of GLX service on existing bus lines, and where a historic real estate development boom continues apace, both in housing and commercial development.
There are so many moving pieces to this plan, and our local context is so dynamic, that I feel there needs to be an ongoing commitment to gathering data, gathering feedback, engaging the public and stakeholders, and seeking Board approval for future changes. No one is going to want to wake up 5 years from now and be told a bus line is about to go away simply because of a decision that was made five years ago! I know the T is proud of the fact that some 20,000 pieces of feedback have been collected so far — but when you do the math on how many bus lines are being affected here, it actually works out to a fairly modest amount of pubic engagement.
Thank you, as always, for being an engaged and informed constituent. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns on this or any other matter.
Yours in service,
Rep. Mike Connolly