ID: 10016

Blue Hill Avenue BRT

Ari Ofsevit, Jeremy Garczynski

Of all major transit corridors in the city, Boston’s Blue Hill Avenue is a prime candidate for bus rapid transit. Until the 1950s, streetcars ran in a mid-street reservation, but were removed in favor of car lanes. Today, several bus lines, including the 28 bus, struggle up and down the street, weaving in and out of traffic and serving unattractive stops which are often no more than a pole and a sign. Blue Hill Avenue forms a 90- to 100-foot-wide sea of concrete through some of Boston’s most densely-populated neighborhoods.

The corridor is anchored at both ends by transit facilities. At the south end, buses enter Mattapan Station through a graceful arch. At the north end, the corridor is anchored by Dudley Station. There, the former elevated railroad station was not scrapped with the rest of the El, but repurposed as a bus station. Designed by Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Jr., and built in 1901, this Beaux Arts-French Renaissance structure served the elevated for nearly nine decades, and today is the contributing property to the Dudley Square historic district. 

Our design takes cues from these anchoring structure and builds a modern transit system which pays homage to the architecture of the neighborhood and of these stations in particular. Boston is a city of history, and modern transit facilities need not turn their backs on the architecture of the city, but rather complement it, using the internal arches and fenestration to provide a light and welcoming space for travelers. And rather than attempting to create an entirely new brand, we can leverage the existing features at either end of the corridor to create a cohesive message which uses design to communicate where the bus will take you.

For a street like Blue Hill Avenue, there is ample room to build a center-running bus rapid transit system without a wholescale disruption of the surrounding area. Moving the station away from major intersecting streets provides several benefits:

It allows the station to provide a pedestrian crossing where none exists today and pedestrians must walk a quarter of a mile to cross the street.
It allows, for the side-platform station, a facility which can accommodate multiple buses; the portion of the Avenue we show plays host to several bus lines and the station would allow transfers between BRT and intersecting lines without straying from cover or having to cross traffic.
Our stations assume a proof-of-payment ticketing system. This reduces the need to install fare gate infrastructure in the stations (a cost consideration) and saves space, a consideration for narrower streets in the region (and nearly every street proposed for BRT has less width than Blue Hill Avenue, which is still narrow compared with the streets utilized by many “gold standard” BRT systems worldwide). 
By locating platforms adjacent to minor cross streets, we are able to minimize the impact to parking spaces, with a net reduction of just 11 spaces, retaining 90% of on-street parking. The elimination of parking has been a point of contention for BRT in the past, and reducing the conflict will make it an easier “sell” for the neighborhoods. While not a specific design object, this realpolitik measure allows easier adoption in many neighborhoods.
In both designs, state-of-the-art bicycling facilities are located on the street. Whether at street level or sidewalk level, these lanes are separated from moving traffic by a buffer of parked cars, allowing cyclists to more comfortably use the corridor and access the BRT station. It also eliminates the scourge of the cyclist: double-parked vehicles in the bike lane (and, of course, the worry of passing a stopped bus).
Transitions in and out of the station leave plots of land which can be managed with plantings and for storm water retention, reducing the need for drainage in the corridor, or even used for bicycle parking.

Both of our designs include arched entryways for passengers, which not only give the stations a sense of place but also pay homage to the original transit stations at either end of the route. Additionally, our two-platform design incorporates a structure over the busway, allowing covered passage between platforms and making the bold statement that the station is not a lowly bus stop but a world-class transit facility.
Bus lanes are shown with a red pavement treatment and could also be slightly elevated from the rest of the street, allowing emergency vehicle access but signifying that they are for the exclusive use of transit. In San Francisco, such “red carpet” treatment has been shown to reduce transit lane violations by 51% and reduce the rate of collisions as well.
Two lanes of traffic are maintained throughout the corridor in order to minimize traffic disruption on this busy thoroughfare. At major intersections, provisions for turn lanes can be considered.

Boston is an old, congested city with narrow, curving and undulating streets. In corridors like Blue Hill Avenue, however, there is the opportunity to build world-class transit segments which will greatly enhance mobility for transit users. Rather than turning its back on the history of the neighborhood, however, our design incorporates elements of the existing transit infrastructure while applying it to this new mode and striving for “gold standard”-level BRT.