Saturday, May 17, 2014

About the upcoming annual Green Line forum on May 28th: recommendations and a call for action

Senator Brownsberger is hosting another Green Line forum this upcoming May 28th, 6pm, at the BPL Copley Rabb Lecture Hall. Hopefully the room will be packed with riders able to demonstrate the importance of the Green Line and fixing its numerous problems. In past years, the experience has been interesting. A good sized crowd showed up last year. Several of the speakers made some very good comments. I remember the first person to speak was a father, who brought his young son, they both stood up at the front of the room and he called upon the MBTA officials to implement signal priority: why should a train filled with hundreds of people have to wait for a few cars?

On the other hand, several of the speakers made some truly bonkers comments. Like one older gentleman, who said he had been riding for forty years, but for some reason was upset at the fact that he saw empty 2-car trains sometimes. The MBTA official who responded actually handled this one correctly, and she pointed out that an empty train in Brighton could easily be a full train further down the line.

Unfortunately, the MBTA did not handle it correctly when another crazed speaker whined about seeing one or two people sneaking in the rear doors. The MBTA continues to punish all riders collectively, despite having no evidence to back up their reprehensible "front door only" policy. Refusing to open the rear doors causes massive delays and train bunching, but the MBTA clearly has no respect for the paying customers, nor for their own wasted money on overtime as delays pile up. The correct response would have been to say something like: "the importance of following schedules and keeping dwell times low far outweighs the possibility that someone might sneak in the rear door, and anyway, we are going to implement proof-of-payment soon!"

Ultimately, what came out of the process last year was a letter from Dr. Scott that briefly responded to a few issues but made very few changes. The real headline grabber was the announcement of Green Line tracking in 2015. There were a few passive changes to signalization: I noticed the change at Packard's Corner before I read the letter, actually, so I suppose it has helped a tiny bit. But that was it. We are still waiting for the public process on station consolidation, although I have heard more rumors of it brewing lately. There has been no movement on the signal priority front, despite its great potential, and despite the fact that Huntington Ave is fully modernized and ready to go anytime the T wants to try (unlike Comm Ave). And all-door boarding/proof-of-payment seems to have disappeared off the agenda entirely, although it has huge potential for accessibility and schedule-keeping improvement.

Commonwealth Ave reconstruction phases
For this year, I think we can do better. Phase 2A of the Comm Ave rebuild is going to be funded starting in October, and that will open up all kinds of possibilities, because it involves reconstructing a segment of the "B" branch that has the most closely spaced stations. I would say that the items we need to focus on pushing the MBTA to consider are:

  • Station consolidation, as described in this blog post. We need to bring the station spacing up to modern standards, which is closer to 1200-1400 feet than the current 725 feet. This will help improve speeds and simplify operations. It also reduces the number of stations the MBTA has to bring up to ADA standards, and it also frees up space for use by pedestrians and bicyclists on Comm Ave.
  • Signal priority to help reduce the schedule unreliability caused by capricious traffic signalization. This does not have to be as preemptive as Houston's in order to have a positive effect, although it would be appreciated!
  • All door boarding, if not full blown proof-of-payment. There's a few ways to go about this that don't require proof-of-payment to be implemented. For example, fare inspectors could stand in the back of random Green Line cars and ask to see the pass of anyone who steps in the rear. I know this is feasible because they used to do it on a regular basis! In the future, I think the T would be best served by implementing MUNI-style proof-of-payment, though, which basically is cash-up-front and CharlieCards-at-all-doors. Then the T should also encourage the purchase of monthly/weekly passes as much as possible. This approach is the best for both revenue protection and schedule protection, in my opinion.
  • Easy access to stations and platforms. Unfortunately, the MBTA has a terrible habit of destroying accessibility whenever they "modernize" a station. If you look at the rebuilt stations on the Green Line, many of them are harder for a pedestrian to access than the older asphalt strips. So, while they abide by the ADA legal requirements, they do so in a manner that is as obnoxious as possible. This is insane. The MBTA needs to recognize that station access time is part of every rider's journey, and optimizing it is just as important as getting signal priority or other improvements done right. In short: every MBTA platform should have at least two exits/entrances: one at either end of the platform, with crosswalks (signalized or not) to the sidewalk. Walking to the station from any direction should be achievable with as straight-line a path as reasonably possible. Nobody should ever be forced to walk 200 yards out of their way to access a station because of a stupidly placed fence. That's valuable minutes wasted (and even worse for seniors or the disabled) that could determine whether someone misses a train, or even bothers to ride at all!

The Commonwealth Ave jail: the punishment inflicted by the MBTA on riders
My suggestions spring from a simple philosophy: riding the Green Line should be as easy, accessible, and reliable as possible. Everything I advocate for comes from that principle. I know that people like to dump on the Green Line, but it actually has a lot of potential that is simply wasted by the MBTA. Fact is, the Green Line has a major advantage over buses and streetcars: it has dedicated lanes (mostly). And the Green Line has a major advantage over subways and elevated trains: it is on the surface, which should make access easy if the MBTA would only allow it, no stairs nor elevators required! If you consider door-to-door journey time, then with signal priority, all-door boarding, and station consolidation combined with convenient station accessibility, the Green Line could be quite competitive with full blown subways.

I hope that people will show up on May 28th and advocate positively for improvements to the Green Line; improvements that will truly benefit the 30,000+ people who ride it every day. You are welcome to use any of my suggestions, and I look forward to hearing some of yours as well.

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