MAPC Releases “Get It Rolling” Workbook on Bus Improvements

Photo Credit: City of Boston
Photo Credit: City of Boston

MAPC Releases “Get It Rolling” Workbook on Bus Improvements

In 2016, Everett piloted the first shared bus/bike lane in the Greater Boston region since the Silver Line in Boston. Everett’s transformative bus lane led to a domino effect in Greater Boston, with numerous other municipalities piloting and laying down permanent fixtures for bus lanes throughout the region: over the next four years, Roslindale, Arlington, Cambridge, Watertown, Allston, and Somerville saw the benefits of improved commute times for bus riders.  

To help other communities build on the lessons learned from these projects, today MAPC released “Get it Rolling: A brief guide to mobilize bus improvements in Greater Boston.”  

The guide lays out steps to help municipal staff, community leaders, and advocates launch successful bus improvements in high ridership, high delay corridors. These projects are important tools in achieving climate, equity, and transit goals, as well as improving quality of life for the thousands of people in our region. 

The information in "Get It Rolling” was distilled from studying six local bus priority projects that started turning the wheels of change in the region. These projects were the first to involve quick, temporary, and easy to change elements in order to influence the permanent design: 

Buses are often the travel mainstay for people with lower incomes and for communities of color who are financially or geographically shutout from other transportation options. During the pandemic, buses have provided essential connection for our communities’ essential workers, supporting the highest ridership of all MBTA modes.  

Correcting transportation inequities and injustices of the past can start with better buses. Simple, low-cost, and quick bus improvements create better service for communities, neighborhoods, and riders who have been disproportionately impacted by inadequate transit service in the past. These projects can ease delays during peak commute hours, facilitate mobility throughout the region, contribute to local and regional climate goals, and increase safety on our streets.  

Arlington bus lane on Mass Ave

Implementing these projects can be complex. But the people who would see the most benefits from bus improvements – and their champions among advocates, municipal staff, and elected officials – are oftentimes new to this type or this scale of project. That’s where “Get it Rolling” comes in.  

The workbook provides an overview of how to improve bus transit, implement pilot programs, and communicate with community members. It identifies crucial stakeholders and project milestones, offers examples of successful strategies, and distills lessons learned.

While every project won’t be the same, “Get it Rolling” offers a framework to begin, offering tips, questions to consider, resources, and examples for how to: 

  • Define the problem and identify possible solutions 
  • Review current plans 
  • Investigate funding sources  
  • Collect and use data 
  • Connect with key stakeholders 
  • Identify partners  
  • Create and document project goals 
  • Make change feel easier 
  • Create a community engagement strategy 
  • Create a communications strategy 
  • Incorporate public art and interactive materials 
  • Determine design and engineering needs 
  • Create an implementation plan 
  • Identify tasks and materials needed 
  • Determine operations and management of new infrastructure 

Each of the projects highlighted in the guide saved thousands of weekday riders time on their commutes – as much as one hour per week. Each was viewed positively by a clear majority of surveyed riders. And each has lessons that can be learned from what went well and where challenges arose.  

Photo by Boston BRT

These examples show that bus priority in Greater Boston has taken on multiple forms, strategies, and tactics. Rarely has any other major transportation improvement made such a strong impact on dense, urban mobility and received such strong community support.  

These projects have changed the assumption that successful transportation projects are impossible without months, even years, of pre-construction planning and public meetings. It is possible do a project quickly, efficiently, and at low-cost, using existing materials and street space, and build public support while doing it. 

Greater Boston's bus lane pilots brought tactical urbanism into the mainstream planning process. Now, the door is open for experimentation and innovation.  

Now it’s your turn. 

Read the full guide.