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MBTA classism, Somerville edition

My definition of decent bus service is "every 10 minutes", frequent enough you can go wait for it, especially if you have to make transfers. *Good* would be every 5, but never mind. When I moved to Boston, I took one look at the bus frequency table on the map and lowered my standards to every 20 minutes, all times outside of late night; even so, only 13 lines out of one or two hundred qualify. MBTA agrees with me that they're important, calling them "high-value" bus lines (unlike all the low-value ones?), though for some reason they include the 116/117, with crap frequency.

They even, I found, have a map:

handily confirming what I already suspected.

Cambridge has 5 of the 13 lines: the 1 and 77 provide backbone service along Mass Ave, along with connections to Boston or Arlington; the 71 and 73 go to other suburbs like Watertown and Belmont, and the 66 connects through the interesting part of Brookline and back into Boston again. In addition, we of course have the Red Line serving as our backbone, plus the Green Line dipping into Lechmere. Compared to other cities this is amazing service for a suburb -- but then, Cambridge is actually denser than Boston overall, so lots of transit makes sense.

But you know who else is even denser than Cambridge? Somerville. And what high-value service do they have? Nothing. Not a single bus. Trains aren't much better: the Red Line dips into Davis on the west. I'd thought the Orange Line ran up the east side, but technically not a single station is in Somerville -- Sullivan is in Charlestown, Wellington in Medford, and it goes on from there. A new Assembly Square station in Somerville is being worked on, and a Green Line extension to Union Square is supposed to happen some decade now (well, 2018, if it doesn't get postponed *again*) but right now there's nothing serving the bulk of Somerville, the densest city in the state. If you live near one edge of the other you can walk to the Red or Orange lines, but if you want to get across in a timely fashion, tough luck.

Oh, there are some buses going through, but no high-value ones, nothing you'd want to go out and just wait for. As the MBTA doesn't quite come out and say, Somerville is low-value to it.

Why would this be? I can't help noting that Cambridge is rich and with two "high-value" universities, while Somerville is poorer and immigrant-heavy. You'd think that'd mean they could use good transit *more* -- but hey, the MBTA previously tore down the Washington Elevated to Roxbury, promising first a light rail replacement, then BRT, and finally delivering nothing more than a bus with a fancy name and fewer stops. Roxbury, I note, also has Somerville-level density and even deeper poverty -- and to be fair, most of the rest of the "high-value" buses and the Orange Line through part of it. Still, keeping promises of high service to poor areas is obviously not an MBTA priority.


The map's odd in other ways. No good buses to Medford, Malden, or Everett (Orange goes to a bit of that, but not much); Everett is a big desert for any good transit, despite being as dense as Boston. Most of Brookline and Newton are unserved (branches of the Green Line do fill some of that in, though apart from the D they're hardly better than buses themselves.) This despite the 32 going way the fuck south... we can also see a gap to the west of that, and in South Boston, though there's some Red and Silver line access to the latter. Granted, most of those areas are notably less dense, so not as obvious candidates as the densest city in the state.

We can also perhaps blame Somerville's government; it's big enough to have its own bus service, unless the MBTA is sucking up all the available federal subsidies. Bloomington Indiana had about as many people and various every-30-minute bus lines; a town with five times the density should be able to have some high-frequency circulators.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/395050.html#comments


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 14th, 2014 02:32 am (UTC)
Would you be willing to make the map smaller or put it under a cut?
Jun. 14th, 2014 02:39 am (UTC)
Jun. 15th, 2014 01:55 am (UTC)
Thanks very much.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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