|Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group
FACT SHEET No 132
Years of unrelenting disagreement in Boston (Mass) between those strongly advocating the return of light rail to Arborway and the concerns about the effects on the rest of the system and the loss of parking along the route has reached a climax. The "trigger" for resolving this stand-off came in the form of an instruction to the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) to re-open the outer end of the GREEN line route "E" to Arborway. This ruling by the DEP (The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection) was made after the MBTA had failed to prove that a tram service was "unfeasible".
PCC TRAMS CLAIMED AS UNRELIABLE
This long standing and bitter confrontation actually started during December 1985 when the Arborway tram service was rather abruptly cut-back by about 3-kms to the Heath Street Loop. At the time it was reported as only a temporary measure until some street construction work had been completed. A further delay in restoring the service was put down to a lack of reliability by the trams on this corridor (1). A promise to restart the service when new LRV's had been delivered was not kept (2) and for 16 years the MBTA has resisted all moves to switch back from bus operation. The proposed idea of 60 foot (18.2m) long articulated buses burning compressed natural gas and running at 4 minute intervals during rush hours on what has now become the busiest route in Boston did not appeal to residents. Also, the well known passenger preference for trams compared with buses has only added to the seemingly impossible task that confronted MBTA, that of producing an "unfeasible" case for trams. This was eventually summed up by a transport consultant, QUOTE "A tram service tends to control traffic whereas a bus service is controlled by traffic". For the record, the MBTA was instructed to file its time plan for tramway reinstatement by the 31st of December 2001 at the latest and it is understood that reinstatement work will start in 2003.
PARKING PROVISION - A MAJOR STUMBLING BLOCK
For the past 16 years there appears to have been a psychological struggle, firstly with the concern of the traders about loss of parking, secondly environmentalists firmly believe that buses in narrow streets are a major contribution to health and safety problems and lastly by the passengers themselves who seem to prefer trams to buses anyway (3). Although there is a mountain of evidence that light rail would be good for trade and many traders support the reinstatement, there is concern by some about the upheaval of the restoration process.
ENGINEERING PROBLEMS - DECIDING FACTORS
From an engineering standpoint, tram reinstatement would not be an easy option because of the width of the street, only 40 feet (12m) in places. One very important difficulty though, applicable to both trams and buses, is the necessity to comply with the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) standards. Working examples from Europe could probably play a major part in helping to establish safety procedures when boarding transit vehicles in narrow streets. Being mindful of this could be of benefit when reviewing the two options considered for the extension on from Huntington Avenue to Forest Hills. (4)
BOSTON - BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The 37.6-km, 4 route Green Line network operated by MBTA, is one of the most heavy used parts of Boston's transit system and claimed to be handling an average of 225 000 passengers/day. (The suggestion that the Green Line trunk section would be unable to handle the extra passenger traffic if Arborway was reinstated will no doubt have entered the equation during discussions). Of the four routes that make up the Green Line, the branch that now goes to Riverside is the longest. This was a former commuter railway line which in 1959 was converted to light rail and then connected to the Green Line network (5). Less well known is an isolated tram line extending for 2.55 miles (4.1-km) from the Red heavy rapid transit line at Ashmont to Mattapan and operated by PCC type trams (6).
HESITATION AT OFFICIAL LEVEL
Reports circulating within the US Transportation Research Board give some indication of the complexity of the Bus/LRT debate and throws some light onto the "stand-off" in Boston. For instance, the GAO (General Accounting Office) report, "Bus Rapid Transit Shows Promise" does little to clarify attitudes, especially the Federal Transit Administration's reported policy : "Think Rail, Use Buses" (7).
Boston, like many other places, has been caught up in a TRAM/BUS debate involving narrow thoroughfares. A vast amount practical experience in Europe though has-demonstrated that "narrow street operation" with trams is far more passenger friendly and less demanding on road space because with orderly parking bays between tram stops it will be motorist friendly also.
In 2002 The MBTA created the Arborway Rail Restoration Project Advisory Committee (ARRPAC), an official body composed of members of the community, technical personnel, representatives of city and state agencies, and other interested parties to make recommendations on restoration of the Green Line. For further information see the arborway committee website.