THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Starts & Stops

T still pursuing ways to stop illegal parking at bus stops

Cambridge officials installed an extended curb for the bus stop at Berkshire and Cambridge streets. The design cuts down on illegal parking. Cambridge officials installed an extended curb for the bus stop at Berkshire and Cambridge streets. The design cuts down on illegal parking. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / July 18, 2010

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Three weeks have passed since I wrote about the mixed success of the campaign to keep people from parking at bus stops, and the comments keep coming in. Some readers sent photos of offenders, including one that showed an SUV stamped MAYOR’S OFFICE occupying a bus stop on Brookline Avenue near Fenway Park.

The state last year enacted a law and mounted a public relations campaign to discourage motorists from parking at bus stops, calling it a civil rights issue because many riders with wheelchairs, strollers, or sight impairments can board safely only when a bus is able to pull flush with the curb. The law replaced a sporadically enforced ticketing system and fines that varied from town to town with a new statewide fine, set at $100.

MBTA police have increased their ticket-writing fivefold, but the department’s limited resources mean the effectiveness of the law is contingent on awareness by drivers and cooperation from municipal police and parking departments in the 47 communities with T bus service, and in other parts of the state served by regional transit authorities.

Readers wrote in citing a variety of continued problem areas, including Boylston Street by the Prudential, where Linda P. says the “most egregious violators’’ are cabdrivers who spill over from a taxi stand at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Linda, who uses a cane, said cabdrivers have laughed, or worse, at her requests that they move. She said she has seen Boston Transportation Department officers ask them to leave but not ticket them, emboldening drivers to return later.

Others wrote to ask if it is legal to park in bus stops temporarily — running in and out of a bank, say — or for MBTA employees themselves to park T vehicles that don’t carry passengers at stops (documented with photos), and to complain that some bus drivers don’t pull flush with the curb even when it is clear. None of that is acceptable, said Lydia Rivera, a T spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, MBTA general manager Richard A. Davey said he is brainstorming ways to enforce the law on a limited budget, including possibly using cameras mounted on some buses to snap photos of license plates for automated tickets — as is done with turnpike-toll evaders.

In Amsterdam, bus drivers are empowered to write tickets, and those tickets are twice as expensive as Boston’s, said Christopher Hart, project coordinator for transit issues at the Institute for Human Centered Design, a Boston-based international organization. That’s unlikely to happen here, but MBTA drivers do have a special button they can push to signal the operations center that a stop is blocked. But drivers have limited incentive to push the button because it does not clear an obstruction. The T and its member communities, at the encouragement of the T’s Access Advisory Committee, are trying to do more to encourage drivers to push the button for data collection purposes. The data will help to better target enforcement.

The June report was illustrative, with 434 blocked stops — not insignificant at 15 a day, but likely just a fraction of all offenses. More than one-third of the button-pushing occurred on just one of the T’s nearly 200 routes (the busy 66, which runs from Harvard Square to Roxbury). Three different stops for the 66 on Tremont Street racked up double-digit pushes. But no offenses were reported on some other busy routes known to be problematic, like the 39 that runs between Back Bay and Jamaica Plain.

Hart, whose organization promotes access through better design, said a simple construction solution could prevent parking, speed up bus service (and traffic flow), and eliminate the need to police those stops: an extension of the curb and sidewalk over the usual parking lane at the bus stop. Bringing the curb to the bus, instead of the other way around, cuts out a challenging maneuver for bus drivers and eliminates it as a parking spot.

Cambridge installed such bump-outs when it rebuilt Cambridge Street and has more planned when Western Avenue is repaved. According to the T, similar designs will follow in Boston next year at several stops for the 39 and the 23, which runs from Ashmont to Ruggles, when roadways on the routes are reconstructed with stimulus funds.

Because most road reconstruction is done at the municipal level, Hart said, the key will be coordination by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and MBTA with cities and towns to identify problem areas and add bump-outs when those roads are repaved.

Green Line extension deadline nears
Friday is the deadline for public comments on the Green Line extension’s final environmental impact report, a major milestone for state environmental approval before transportation officials seek federal funding to complete the project.

On Wednesday, the MBTA board — which doubles as the board overseeing the year-old Massachusetts Department of Transportation — received an update on the project, just days after Transportation Secretary Jeffrey B. Mullan revealed that completion would be delayed 10 months to October 2015, despite a legal requirement to finish the project by 2014 to comply with the federal Clean Air Act.

Mullan has said the delay is a result of time spent negotiating with the community of Somerville, investigating alternatives, and ultimately revising plans on where to build a storage and maintenance yard needed for the extension. The state ultimately opted to place it not in the middle of Somerville’s Brickbottom-Inner Belt area, but at the eastern edge, next to the T’s commuter rail maintenance facility, a 24-hour, 30-acre campus that serves trains on both North Station and South Station lines.

That decision, announced in May, was celebrated by officials (including Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and US Representative Michael Capuano) as a far-sighted investment that could pay off by sparking Brickbottom-Inner Belt redevelopment. However, some advocates, including the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, think the state could do even more to consolidate the commuter rail facility and squeeze in the Green Line yard on a tighter footprint.

The environmental report under review details an extension with seven stations — a new Lechmere stop, a spur at Union Square, and five more stops on a main line through Somerville and into Medford — ending at College Avenue by Tufts University. It will not cut across Tufts to Route 16, a final stop that state officials are putting off for a later phase. That has disappointed advocates who see the potential for greater ridership there and fear it will not be completed.

The working price tag of $954 million, half of which the state hopes will be reimbursed by the feds, covers those seven stations and rail improvements, new cars, and the maintenance yard, as well as planning and design costs for a 2-mile bike and walking path to connect neighborhoods and stations. It does not include the $30 million or so needed to build that path.

That path would be the final link on a bike network connecting Lexington, Arlington, and other suburbs on the Minuteman Bikeway to the cusp of downtown Boston and the Charles River Basin. Not constructing the path with the Green Line project could create insurmountable obstacles for it later, like the need to widen bridges overhead or interrupt transit service.

Several advocates for the path spoke at the T board meeting, including the Friends of the Community Path, the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership, and the MBTA’s Rider Oversight Committee.

The city of Somerville is applying for a highly competitive stimulus-funded federal grant to cover some or all of the path’s cost. Should that fall short, the financially strained DOT would be challenged to add it to a project that just a few years ago was expected to cost $600 million.

But members of the MBTA/DOT board say it could be worth it, especially because none of the new stations are planned with parking lots.

“If you’re building a project like this, having a way for people to get to it that’s safe and convenient is critical,’’ board member Elizabeth Levin said. “To me it’s integral and it’s part of our sustainability.’’

Bike path upgrade draws compliments for state
For all the e-mails sent to the state by frustrated commuters (511, anyone?), some bring compliments. The folks at the Department of Conservation and Recreation received a series of thank-you notes after investing $80,000 in the first repairs in years to the 3.5-mile Pierre Lallement Bike Path. The path runs along Southwest Corridor Park and connects Forest Hills to Back Bay.

DCR smoothed over a series of cracks, crevices, and exposed roots that had been wreaking havoc on bike commuters, some who come in from Boston’s neighborhoods and some who rely on it on longer bike commutes from the suburbs.

“It is fantastic!’’ bike commuter Steve Gag of Roslindale wrote, one of several notes that DCR spokeswoman Wendy Fox shared with the e-mailers’ permission.

“I’ve cut down on my use because it has been so unpleasant over the past 2 to 3 years given the tree root problem. Now it is the best biking surface in the City of Boston. Thank you so much!’’

Of course, no e-mails came in from Pierre Lallement himself.

Lallement was the Parisian who obtained an early patent on the bicycle and lived for a spell in New Haven before dying a pauper in Boston in 1891.

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