City Excited to Get Started on Bus-Priority Traffic Lights

December 22, 2017
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By Seth Daniel

As Boston just begins to roll out its first pilot of a bus-only lane, Everett’s permanent bus lane on Broadway is more than one year old, and now the City is moving fast to implement traffic signals that will sense the bus coming, and turn green as it approaches.

Such an innovation would further reduce commute times on the Broadway corridor, and hopefully convince more Everett commuters to abandon their vehicles and take the bus to Boston.

The newest innovation is currently nearing complete design, with a goal of getting it out to bid by January.

Mayor Carlo DeMaria said it was all part of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) grant the City just received from the Barr Foundation, which has spotlighted Everett for its ability to forge ahead in partnership with the MBTA – rather than waiting for the state to come to the rescue in solving traffic congestion and insufficient public transit service.

DeMaria said the City is paying for the new bus priority signals, but will use the Barr Foundation grant to help defray those costs.

Jay Monti, the City’s transportation planner, said he expects a roll out this year.

“We believe construction can start in April or May and then we can have a June rollout,” he said.

Monti said there would be two different systems working in Everett. On Lower Broadway, the MBTA system will operate and will be tied into the Boston Transportation Departments Central Traffic Facility, which is like a huge traffic observation center in Boston City Hall. The MBTA system, he said, only operates if buses are running late. If they are late, the Central Traffic Facility can set its controls to change the lights when buses are coming. However, if buses are on time or early, the system is non-operational. That will be in effect on Lower Broadway in Everett.

But it’s not quite good enough for the rest of Everett.

Monti said on the proposed locations on Broadway, which includes Everett Square, they will use a more advanced sensor system that will change the light to green no matter what.

“It can tell that a bus or large truck is coming, so there is no chance that a car could get in the lane and change all the lights to green,” he said. “It will be different than a detection camera in a typical intersection. It will be able to tell that something is coming from about 100 feet away and then adjust the signal to change in time for the bus to get through on green.”

Such a change could result in more buses arriving at Sullivan Square early, forcing the MBTA to re-think its system and its bus routes.

“If the sensors allow the buses to move through and get to Sullivan Square quicker, then there will be a lot of early buses,” he said. “If the buses keep showing up early at Sullivan Square, the hope is the T would adjust the scheduled for the scheduled times and maybe that would result in them budgeting to supply us with more service.”