Transit vehicle, coming through.
That’s essentially what trolleys and buses have been electronically telling certain traffic signals over the last few months as part of a pilot to speed up transit along city streets.
Over the next several months, the MBTA plans to expand its transit signal priority program along four corridors in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge to improve reliability and cut down the travel times for riders on buses and trolleys.
The ongoing pilot has given priority to trolleys at five intersections on the B, C and E branches of the Green Line, and at one intersection in Cambridge’s Central Square for the Route 1 and CT1 buses.
Moving ahead, the T plans to expand signal prioritization along all of Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Beacon Street in Brookline, and Commonwealth and Huntington avenues in Boston, Jess Casey, the MBTA’s deputy chief operating officer for service planning and strategy, said Monday.
The prioritization can prolong a green light for trolleys and buses or shorten red lights affecting those transit vehicles, Casey said. The pilot has not shown any “demonstrable negative effect to general traffic,” according to a presentation Casey made to the T’s control board.
Expanding the signal program on four corridors will cost about $1.125 million, with the new technology costing about $12,600 per signal, Casey said. She said Cambridge has offered to kick in about $220,000, Brookline has anted up $50,000 and the T is “working with Boston to be able to advance the conversation” around cost-sharing.
The T has worked with consultants CH2M and IBI on the project, and the MBTA owns the technology, according to Casey, who said she expects the cost per-installation to go down as the program expands.
The technology senses when a bus or trolley is near a signal and then evaluates whether to hold a green light or shorten the red light for that vehicle, Casey said. Over nine days of testing the new system, prioritization was granted to B and E branch trolleys 390 times with green lights extended an average of 14 seconds and red lights shortened by 8 seconds on average according to the T.
“We haven’t heard any complaints or negative feedback,” said Casey, describing the data from the pilot as “wonderful.”
MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board Chairman Joseph Aiello said it was a “terrific initiative.”
Transit signal prioritization is one element of bus rapid transit – an approach to busing that can include off-board fare collection, sheltered boarding platforms, and dedicated bus lanes. As officials seek to limit carbon emissions and improve safety, motorists in Greater Boston have already had to cede asphalt for bike lanes.
Cities and towns control their own traffic signals, so giving priority to trolleys and buses has required coordination with local officials, Casey said.
Boston, Brookline and Cambridge are not the only Bay State municipalities adopting elements of bus rapid transit. As part of the Wynn Boston Harbor casino project, Everett is developing its own signal prioritization system for five intersections on Broadway and has instituted bus-only lanes, according to T spokesman Joe Pesaturo. Boston also has signal prioritization along Washington Street for the Silver Line buses and at four intersections on the route 57 bus, according to Pesaturo.
In 2019, the T hopes to further expand its signal prioritization program, according to Casey, who displayed for the control board a map showing high-ridership bus routes with high rates of delay spanning 20 communities that could be candidates for the program in the future.