Tales of the T: a silver lining

In my last columnI spoke of the Silver Line, the black sheep of T. To recap: The Silver Line was designed as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – buses offering metro-like service using several key design features, including large capacity stations and dedicated stations. lanes. What we got instead was a random cocktail of overpriced build, slow speeds, and broken promises, an embarrassment of a BRT system. But that would change to 2018, date of the opening of the SL3 line.

The SL3 connects South Station to the Seaport, before plunging under Boston Harbor via Interstate 90 to the Blue Line Airport Station, where shuttles run from the airport terminals to Logan. It crosses Chelsea Creek to Chelsea – a dense, predominantly POC community historically underserved by public transport – before ending at Chelsea Station on the Newburyport / Rockport commuter train line adjoining Mystic Mall.

What sets the SL3 apart from the rest of the Silver Line is the use of a Exclusive 1.3 mile long busway between Chelsea Creek and Chelsea Station. Built on an old railway line, this bus-only route is wide and straight with few intersections, away from the congested streets of the rest of the Silver Line. Of course, the SL3 always passes through mixed traffic between the bus lane and the seaport. But it’s fast, reliable, and the closest thing to a proper BRT.

Now imagine a network of these high-capacity expressways circling downtown Boston. This is the vision of the MBTA Urban Ring project. ESince its construction, the T has faced a key design problem: All of its metro lines feed into the city center, with no cross lines between surrounding communities. It wasn’t a problem when most of the jobs, industries, and attractions were downtown, but that’s no longer the case. Today, city riders have to travel through crowded train stations in the city center or take slow and also crowded buses. Unsurprisingly, many use cars – perhaps faster, but certainly not durable.

The Urban Ring project seeks to remedy this with a circumferential BRT line in the city center. Departing from Seaport and going counterclockwise, the road would serve Logan Airport and Chelsea, before crossing the Mystic to serve Assembly, Lechmere and Kendall. Crossing the Charles on the Boston University Bridge, the road would serve Kenmore, the Longwood Medical Region, Ruggles, Nubian and finally, Seaport. The route would accommodate frequent service on several overlapping bus lines, some of which would diverge to serve Harvard and JFK / UMass. And half of the route would be on dedicated bus lanes or lanes.

Transfers would be available for each metro and commuter train line, at existing or new stations, greatly simplifying journeys between cities. The line was to carry more than 170,000 daily passengers – more than the Green or Blue lines – many of whom would be diverted from congested downtown stations. And in the future, the line could even be transformed into a metro line.

The BRT route would cost $ 2.4 billion – and that’s where the problem arose. In 2010, the eternal penniless MBTA suspended the Urban Ring project for lack of funds. But that wasn’t the end of the bus line: the Seaport to Chelsea section would still be built as SL3, a taste of what could have been. And who knows, if the MBTA gets the funding and support it needs, the Urban Ring may one day become a reality.

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