Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are You Being Served: The Urban Ring

Finally! Sorry for the delays, let's just say I've been experiencing some "technical difficulties" lately. I've also tweaked the format of the series a bit, as well as the names of each post. Hope you enjoy!

- The Lone Rider

So there has been a lot of buzz lately around the Urban Ring project. The tentative plan for it (including proposed routings, etc.) has been somewhat finalized. However, there is still some room for tweaking. Several community meetings held in Chelsea, Roxbury, Cambridge, and The Fenway gave residents (and possible future riders) a chance to learn more about the project, raise their concerns, and chip in some suggestions. Some chaps I know over at Alternatives For Community and Environment (ACE) stopped by the Roxbury meeting. Check out their blog to see what they think about the Urban Ring:

So what is the Urban Ring, that experiment in rapid transit that has everyone talking? The Urban Ring is a proposed bus rapid transit system that would connect the outlying "spokes" of the current rapid transit system. Using a combination of private rights of way, dedicated bus lanes, and a massive $1,000,000,000+ tunnel under the Longwood Medical Area, commuters would no longer have to go into the downtown core to transfer between lines.

Or take often congested and slow buses across town...

*cough*Route 01*cough*Route 66*

Sorry, I think I may be coming down with something.

Trip times between major points such as Dudley Square and Cambridge, would drop drastically. As I said before, places that currently require passengers to take local buses (or if you belong to MASCO, a private shuttle) to get to and fro. Each stop would be a little mini-station, similar to the ones on the Silver Line Washington Street. Hopefully, they will be better designed. The Urban Ring would also have key features such as priority signaling, CAD/AVL (like that found on the current bus fleet) and much more state-of-the-art technology to ensure maximum efficiency and performance. And of course no new BRT line would be complete without a fleet of state of the art buses. Hopefully New Flyer Industries, my favorite bus manufacturer, will get the bid. It is projected to attract up to 175,000 passengers per day.

According to one of the slides from the Roxbury meeting (you may view a PDF of each of the meeting presentations on the official Urban Ring website, www.theurbanring.com) another goal of the Urban Ring is to bring "new rapid transit for environmental justice communities". That's sounds fantastic! Apparently, included in their definition of an environmental justice community are places such as The Fenway and Admiral's Hill in Chelsea. Those places seem kinda upscale to me, not really areas that jump out at you as "EJ". Check out their handy-dandy map outlining which areas are "EJ" and which ones aren't here, on page five. Just in case you're curious, Everett Shops and Briggs Field also count as EJ areas. Really? You mean the place where they store retired RTS buses before they are scrapped and the MIT sports field in Cambridge? Reminds me of how in the MBTA 2005 Title VI report several parks and even a pond were shown to be "Minority Transportation Access Zones", a rough equivalent to the Urban Ring's "EJ communities." Do they really count fish as minorities? Seems kinda insulting...

MASCO will certainly be happy: no more shuttles! The Urban Ring will pretty much do the job for them. Think of the money they'll save.

My enthusiasm, however, is somewhat curbed...

I'm all for a new transit line. Hopefully, it will draw people away from their cars and onto public transit. But the Urban Ring is going to be Bus Rapid Transit (or as some mocking call it, "Barely Rapid Transit"). Since the Silver Line debuted in 2002, I've wary of the whole concept. I'm still not entirely sold on the idea of a bus being considered rapid transit. I won't get into the particulars right now, that'll be the next post! When I first heard about the project several years ago, heavy rail rapid transit (i.e. a subway) was being considered as one of the options. Of course that never came to be. Would've been nice though.

It is the fact that Roxbury and Dorchester are almost all but skimmed over that really troubles me. Proposed stations in these areas include Ruggles, Melnea Cass Boulevard, Dudley Square, Newmarket (1010 Mass Ave.), Edward Everett Square, and UMass Boston. If you look at their Environmental Justice map (EJ areas are colored red), a large swath of communities are overlooked. True, the ring is focused on the "urban core", but while you're at it maybe build a new light rail line or two in Roxbury? The Urban Ring could be like one of those hippie bracelets that has strings of beads hanging from it. Only, those strings would be light rail lines feeding into the Urban Ring. All of this investment, about $2.2 billion dollars, but some people are still being left out. So once again, some riders will just be left waiting at the bus stop.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Are You Being Served?

Greetings, dear readers.

I am launching a series of articles called Are You Being Served? They shall have the overarching theme of looking at environmental justice and transit equity issues, and of course what would be best for the daily riders and the MBTA itself. I will attempt to be as fair and unbiased as possible. But of course, this is a blog after all! Thus I will be interjecting my educated opinion, but not in the Fox News-y kinda way.

It shall be divided into four parts:

Part 1 - The Urban Ring: Boston's Transit Solution or Nightmare?

Part 2 - The Silver Line: Sterling or Tarnished?

Part 3 - The MBTA Bus System (Sorry, no witty subtitle...yet!)

Part 4 - Light Rail On Hyde Park Ave: My Vision For Boston's Transit Future

Sorry for the cheesy names I gave some of them. I just couldn't help it.

So as I embark on this project I hope to open your eyes to some of the issues raised, invite you to share your opinions and of course criticism, and basically give you something to think about.