Totally out of nowhere, the MBTA has released its proposals for the bus network in the first phase of the Better Bus Project. These changes are meant to be easy targets that are cost-neutral, with the bigger fixes coming later down the line in Phase 2. Each route gets a “profile” with really in-depth ridership information (and I am so excited to pore through it all), and a big chunk of routes are getting changes. If they were to go into effect, it would be on September 2019. Also, remember to give feedback on these proposals after reading them! Okay, let’s get right to it!

SL2: Oh thank goodness, they want to get rid of the 88 Black Falcon Ave deviation. I’ve always thought it was a waste of time, giving the stop a 1/10 in my original review, and the T seems to agree. Eliminating the deviation would save two minutes per trip, plus it would make the route a lot less complicated. Also, the profile seems to admit that way too much service is provided on the SL2 during off-peak times, but I guess they’re not doing anything about that at this juncture.

1 and CT1: Oh yes, they finally played the “Hey, maybe we should cut the CT1!” card. So many transit advocates (me included) have been saying for years that this thing needs to be cut, moving its resources to put better service on the 1. Adding to that better service is the second proposal, which involves having the 1 loop around via Dunster Street in Harvard Square instead of going all the way around the yard. As long as they can ensure buses will be able to traverse Dunster okay (i.e. double down on making sure people don’t double-park and block the road), I am totally in favor of this. That Harvard Square loop has always been a nightmare.

4: The proposal to the 4 is just to eliminate the Northern Ave jog in the Seaport District. Sure, that’s all well and good, but the 4 has some big problems that go beyond just that one deviation, namely the fact that although it does provide a one-seat ride from North Station to the Seaport, the traffic it faces is soooooo bad. The three-seat ride via subway and Silver Line is honestly probably faster than using the 4…

5 and 16: Huh, really interesting idea here. The MBTA proposes cutting the 5 and extending the 16 to JFK Station and UMass Boston weekdays and Saturdays to cover for the lost service. The bus used on the 5 would be added to the 16, slightly improving frequency along the whole route. This is a neat proposal, and it will overall improve service for most people.

8: Make the 8 less crazy? Heck yeah! The proposal is to cut a bunch of jogs from the 8 in order to straighten the route. Most of them are great: straightening the route through the Longwood Medical Area, getting rid of the complex routing to the Boston Medical Center, and eliminating the South Bay Center deviation (a bold move, but I like it). The one cut I’m not a fan of is having outbound buses skip the Ruggles Busway. Apparently this would save 5 minutes of running time, but even if it does save time, it would make finding the bus from Ruggles really confusing, so signage would have to be really good to help people get to the route. Although…5 minutes is a lot of time. Alright, they said that this redesign would have some out-of-the-box proposals. Just make sure those signs are as clear as possible!

9: Oh hey, it’s the exact proposal I made four and a half years ago in my original review to straighten the route’s inbound routing at Broadway. Well, I will happily take all the credit for this one, MBTA! Okay, in all seriousness, it’s great to see that crazy inbound route getting fixed, regardless of where they got the idea from.

18: The proposal here is to have the route skip the Fields Corner busway. This one is easier for me to swallow than the 8 skipping Ruggles, since…well, very few people use the 18. Still, despite saving 6 minutes, I’m gonna say it again: the signage had better be good. Also, despite the route’s profile pointing out that the Auckland Street jog gets “less than one passenger” per trip, the MBTA does not propose getting rid of it. Would it really be so controversial to make people walk an extra one minute to get to Dot Ave? Heck, the time savings for the bus would be equal to or greater than the extra walking time!

19: First of all, like the 8, the MBTA wants to have the 19 skip the Ruggles busway in the outbound direction. Again, just make sure the signage is good. Otherwise, the plan is to extend the route to Kenmore at all times. Currently, it only runs there during rush hour. I like this change – it’ll make it a lot easier for residents of Roxbury and Dorchester to get to the Longwood Medical Area. However, this extension comes with a cost: the amount of buses on the line won’t be increased, so frequency will drop by 5 to 15 minutes. Considering the route runs every hour midday, any further drop in frequency could be devastating. For now, riders will have to decide if the extension is worth it with the frequency drop, but I hope the T will be able to improve service when Phase 2 of the redesign comes around.

26 and 27: At first I was disappointed to see my beloved 26 loop disappear, but this does seem like…well, an interesting proposal. Basically, run the 26 down Norfolk Street to Blue Hill Ave, then down to Mattapan (replacing the western half of the old loop) and have the 27 use Washington Street to get to River Street, then continue with the current route to Mattapan (replacing the eastern half of the loop). There are a lot of advantages here: it eliminates duplicate service on both Dorchester Ave and Gallivan Boulevard, and the bidirectional service would be a lot simpler than the confusing loop that exists now. On the downside, the routes that these were duplicating aren’t frequent enough to cover the loss of service, and the new 26 will only run every 25/45 minutes peak/off peak, versus the current 15/30. The 27 will lose frequency too – apparently wait times will be about 8 minutes longer than they currently are. Overall, I think this proposal has merit, but I would rather wait until Phase 2 to see it happen, so that the frequencies of these and connecting routes can be maintained and increased.

34 and 34E: Okay, so the 34 and 34E would be combined into one route. That makes sense. Also, a deviation to Legacy Place every 30 minutes would be added. That also makes sense – Legacy Place is a major destination, after all, and I complained about the walk from the bus in my review. This last bit is confusing, though: service would be simplified to three variants: Dedham Mall, Legacy Place, and Walpole Center/East Walpole. Well, getting rid of all of the 34E’s other weird variants is great, and I am definitely in favor of that. But…does this mean that Dedham Mall and Legacy Place will only be termini and not deviations? Will Walpole Center trips skip both of those destinations? It’s hard to say, and the document does not explain it well. But hey, I’m all for eliminating variants!

36: The 36 is too confusing! Luckily, it is proposed to operate with just two variants: Forest Hills to Millennium Park via VA Hospital would operate during the day, while it would instead terminate at Rivermoor Industrial Park at night. Buses would operate through the hospital, no longer serving Charles River Loop. Service would be slightly less frequent, but also a lot more simple, so I think this is a great change overall.

37: This is a simple one: eliminate the LaGrange and Corey variant…except during school hours. Well, it’s something, at least.

44: It is proposed to eliminate this route’s John Eliot Square jog that runs evenings and weekends. I don’t have much to say – I think it’s a great idea to speed up service, and very few people use the deviation.

47: The 47 is a crazy route with a lot of problems, so it’s a little sad that its changes aren’t particularly drastic. Basically, straighten out the route in the Longwood Medical Area and bypass the Ruggles busway going outbound. I’ve already covered other routes that are doing this, so my thoughts on those are the same here.

52: Cutting the 52’s variants is the story here. The route will be pared down to just one, running via Wheeler Road. Also, all trips after 9 AM will run to the Dedham Mall, although the Old Navy stop will be eliminated (this will apply to all other Dedham Mall routes, except, for some reason, the 35). It all sounds good to me!

59: Again, the T wants to cut the 59’s variants. All trips are proposed to run via Needham Street.

60: The 60’s route would be shortened slightly by cutting it back to Chestnut Hill Square. This does screw over riders to the Chestnut Hill Mall, who would have to walk across several parking lots and treacherous Route 9 to get to the bus. All this for…service that’s one minute more frequent. Huh, well, that’s a letdown. It looks like Chestnut Hill Square is a much bigger destination than the Chestnut Hill Mall, though, so I guess it will save those people time.

64: The 64 has two, count ’em, two proposals. I’m going to start with the second one, because it’s one I’m fully in favor of: get rid of the Hobart Street jog. Hobart Street is criminally narrow for buses, and this change has been a long time coming. Cutting this jog will improve headways by one minute (yay?), but more importantly, it will save people a lot of time from not having to sit on buses struggling to make a turn that they shouldn’t have to make.

And then Proposal 1. Now, this is one that a lot of Cambridge transit advocates have been clamoring for: extend the route to Kendall Square all day. Well, I like that they’ve chosen to run it via Main Street, which should save time. I’m just not sure how big the market is for midday one-seat rides to Kendall Square that will take longer than just connecting to the Red Line. Plus, overall service on the route will decrease from every 35 minutes middays to every 45 minutes. I hope I can be proven wrong here, but I don’t really see this as an overall positive extension.

65: Okay, this is an interesting one. The proposal is to reroute the 65 from Kenmore to Ruggles. I’m going to give a tentative thumbs-up here. The route intersects with every Green Line branch that serves Kenmore, so it’s easy to transfer if you’re going there. The connection to the Orange Line would be useful, and the route would run straight through the Longwood Medical Area on its way to Ruggles. This change would result in up to ten minutes of lost frequency, but at least the route is providing a new connection instead of the redundant connection with the 64 extension.

70 and 70A: Hallelujah, let’s make a start on fixing this beast! First of all, the 70 will see more trips running to Market Place Drive middays and evenings, and hopefully with this change will come better coordination between the route’s different termini. The 70A will, huzzah, be relegated to its own loop from Waltham to North Waltham. The route will no longer be a figure-8, becoming more of a figure-backwards-9, leading to simpler service. Also, the loop would gain Sunday service! Although…huh, it would apparently be every 90 minutes. Ugh. Well, it’s a start.

72, 74, and 75: This one has been a long time coming. The 72 and 75 will finally be combined at all times, with the 75 running via Huron Ave…oh, except at rush hour, the 72 will also run. Okay, weird. I wonder if with the new wires, the T will now have a rush hour-only trackless trolley route! Hey, better than nothing. Although in all seriousness, I don’t even think the 72 needs to run at rush hour. Other than that, the 74 would omit its Bright Road deviation, saving time for through riders. These changes combined would allow for better overall bus frequency for West Cambridge and Belmont, so yay!

89: Eliminate the 89’s Clarendon Hill branch? Sure! This will simplify the route, and the 87/88 generally provide frequent enough service for the transfer to Clarendon Hill at Davis to not be too painful.

90: I’ve never thought about it, but this one makes perfect sense! The 90 would get cut back from Wellington to terminate at Assembly Square. No longer will buses have to deal with the brutal traffic to Wellington that is redundant to the Orange Line anyway! Alright, well, that’s it, what a great change…wait, they want to have buses skip Sullivan??? Okay, I have some beef with that. Unlike with Ruggles or Fields Corner, Sullivan is not in a walkable area. Making 378 Sullivan riders per day walk seven minutes along and underneath highways just to get to the Orange Line does not seem like a good idea. Look, yes, it is an annoying deviation. But it’s serving a train station! It’s important! A ton of people use it! You cannot call Lombardi Street a connection with the Orange Line, which combined with the route’s truncation at Assembly, would mean the 90 would no longer connect to the Orange Line. And that’s no good.

92: The proposal here is to cut the 92 from Assembly Square to Sullivan full-time. Yes, that is a great idea! It will improve frequency significantly, and riders can just take the Orange Line to Assembly instead.

93: Yeah, sure, cut the Navy Yard variant. Makes sense.

95: Ooh, this one is juicy! Basically, the 95 would stop serving Playstead Road and instead run to…Arlington Center! You don’t realize how close those Medford Square and Arlington Center are when you’re on transit because it’s basically impossible to get between the two, but now there will be a direct connection! Yeah, I love this. Very few people use the Playstead Road portion of the route to begin with, and those that do can just walk to the 134 to Wellington instead. The MBTA says that people will have longer wait times, but apparently this new routing will run every 30 minutes, which is the same frequency as the current route. Maybe it will also be every 30 at rush hour (versus every 25)? Well, I still think that’s a decent trade-off for what will be a fantastic direct connection.

106: They want to cut all service back to the Lebanon Loop. Absolutely. Let’s do it. Barely anyone uses the service to Franklin Square to begin with, and this will make the route so much simpler.

111: I’ve never understood why the 111 gets extended to Broadway and Park Ave in the evening and only in the evening. Well, apparently, neither does the MBTA, because that extension would be eliminated with this proposal. This will allow for a simpler schedule and more frequent service for a route that needs as much service as it can get.

120: First of all, the 120’s awkward and pointless loop in Central Square, East Boston would be eliminated. Good riddance. Also, the terminus would be moved to Jeffries Point to improve the reliability of trips leaving from there. Yeah, I think that makes sense!

131, 136, and 137: Another one that fell under my radar but is a good idea. Aside from early-morning trips, the 136 and 137 would be cut back to Oak Grove, allowing for more frequent service on those routes. As for the 131, it would serve Malden Center full-time, covering for the lost bus service along Main Street. Yes, that would affect the 131’s frequency, but the trade-off is worth it to improve headways on the far more important 136/137.

134: Okay, uh, the 134 has this one deviation that runs six times a day that serves the Cambridge District Court. This proposal is to, uh, not do it anymore. Okay, yeah, that’s awesome, but is that really all you could do for this variant-filled monster? Ugh, there had better be some big changes in store here for Phase 2.

201/202: With this proposal, the 201/202 would remain a loop on weekends, no more serving North Quincy. This seems reasonable – it would improve frequencies, and the section to North Quincy mostly serves offices anyway. There is just one caveat: the report claims that “Route 210 continues to provide Saturday service [along the North Quincy segment].” Uhh…no, that’s completely wrong. The 210 only runs between North Quincy and Quincy Center on Saturdays. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s important to note that this service will well and truly be eliminated on weekends, with no replacement whatsoever.

215: This proposal would cut an early morning round trip to North Quincy meant to serve the first Braintree train of the day. Instead, the trip would leave earlier in the morning and run to Ashmont to get the first train from there. This will make the route that much simpler, and it won’t have a huge effect on riders.

220: Some more variant cutting here. Buses would no longer serve the Hingham Shipyard, as well as, interestingly, the Hingham loop. I totally get cutting the Hingham Shipyard deviation – it only operates twice a day in each direction, the shipyard is an easy walk to Lincoln Street, and only 3 riders per day use the deviation. The Hingham loop is more interesting, though. It would improve frequency a tad, but some people would lose service. How many? 10 per day. Oh! Okay, wow, I did not realize the loop was that lightly used. Alright, sure, cut it!

222: More weird Quincy variants. This proposal would cut the odd midday trips to Essex Street, losing just 3 riders per day. Yeah, sounds good to me.

225: I remember looking at an old MBTA system map and seeing a route 252 direct from Braintree to Columbian Square. I always thought that looked like a really convenient connection. Well, it’s (sort of) coming back! Yes, the 225 would be cut back full-time to Lincoln Square, while a new route, the 226, would run from Braintree to Lincoln Square, then down to Columbian Square! This is an awesome idea that will improve frequency for the 225, although: we have no idea how often this 226 character would run and when. There’s no indication of it in the proposal. So, we’ll have to wait and see how useful the service actually is. Oh, also, service will be “reduced” on one of the 225’s variants, but apparently not entirely cut. Darn it, I was hoping it would be simplified to just one!

238: Remember when the MBTA cut the 238 back to Quincy Adams and then immediately rescinded it because of the backlash? Well, they’re proposing it again! I’ve always been in favor of this plan. This time, too, the T says it will improve frequency on the route with the new cutback. Even better!

350: I remember way back in 2012 when my predecessor, (T)he Adventure, proposed that the 350 should serve Northwest Park. And that was when the place had barely developed! Well, finally, the 350 would serve Northwest Park, including its many offices and the trendy 3rd Ave retail development. This would increase headways by five minutes, and it would force buses to skip the Burlington Mall (stopping on the Mall Road instead), but this would overall be a huge boon for the Northwest Park development, particularly 3rd Ave.

411: Oh, the crazy 411. This change will make it just slightly less crazy, at least in the peak: buses would only run between Malden Center and Kennedy Drive at rush hour. Yes, that is cutting off a ton of the route, but it’s a part of the route that’s A) covered by other buses, and B) doesn’t get a lot of ridership at rush hour anyway. I like this. This makes a lot of sense.

424: Part 1 of the Great De-Expressing of the North Shore is one of the easiest to swallow. After all, morning 424s already end at Wonderland. This proposal would make the evening ones end there too. It would also take a more efficient route to get to the station.

428: Cut the route back to Lynn Fells Parkway? But…they already did that. That’s literally already in effect. Okay then…

430: The 430 currently takes a crazy route in Saugus, running from the Square One Mall to Cliftondale Square and then back up to Saugus Center, then looping around to serve the Saugus Iron Works. This proposal would run service directly from the mall to Saugus Center, as well as cut the Saugus loop. Ultimately, this would speed up the route a lot and give it higher frequencies. The disadvantage is that Cliftondale Square would lose a direct connection to the Orange Line, though, and the transfer between the 429 and the 430 probably wouldn’t work out a lot of the time. It’s a big trade-off, and more people use the route from Cliftondale Square than from Saugus Center – although then again, maybe that’s because it’s so circuitous. We’ll have to see if the 430 ends up getting more Saugus Center riders, I guess.

435: This route would lose its twice-daily Pine Hill variant. Anything to simplify this mess of a route seems good to me. Only 4 riders would lose service.

441, 442, 448, and 449: Bye-bye, 448 and 449! All service on these corridors would be to Wonderland only. It looks like the T is really gonna double down on service from Lynn to Wonderland, including better frequencies and new express runs between Lynn and Wonderland. I won’t be fully happy until the 441/442 become Key Bus Routes, but this seems like a good start, a good start indeed.

455/459: So long, 459! All service on this route would only run to Wonderland. This will allow for huge frequency increases for the 455, with average wait times decreasing by 20 minutes! And since this is the final cut express route, let me just explain why I’m happy they’re getting rid of these: the Blue Line is faster than sitting on traffic-prone highways, and people will actually save money from not having to pay an express bus fare. Even for those going to the Seaport, the SL3 now makes that commute viable – even though it runs through the Ted Williams, you’re sitting in the same traffic that you would’ve on the express bus.

501, 502, 503, and 504: A radical change for Newton Corner! Now, these express routes will only loop Newton Corner when they have to, i.e. the 501/503 will do it in the outbound direction and the 502/504 will do it in the inbound. This mainly saves time for 502/504 riders to Watertown, who used to have to sit through the Newton Corner deviation in both directions. I like this change, but I do hope the MBTA makes it clear how to get to and from Newton Corner by express bus. If anything, having all four routes share a schedule card might be the best way to make the service pattern as clear as possible.

Okay, and those are the 47 changes documented in Phase 1 of the Better Bus Project! Overall, I think most of them are great. Yes, there are plenty of routes that should’ve been tweaked but weren’t (hi, 112) and a few changes that I wasn’t a fan of, but I am so happy to see the MBTA finally giving the bus system some love. Let me know what you thought of these changes and if you disagree with me on any of my opinions, but more importantly, let the MBTA know! This redesign is supposed to be based on rider feedback, so make sure you give them something to work with.