By Yanshu Li

BOSTON – The Green Line “B Branch” is proposed to get a makeover. A renewed look is expected.

On Oct. 16, a proposal outlining the consolidation of four stops caught the public’s attention. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) plans to combine the Babcock and Pleasant St. Station, next to that of St. Paul and Boston University West Station. With state funding, $8.4 million budget is going into the project, according to Andrew Bettinelli, a legislative aide with Sen. William Brownsberger in the House of the State.

Figure 1 Four Stops proposed to consolidate into two. (Figure credit: MBTA and Yanshu Li)
Figure 1 Four Stops proposed to consolidate into two. (Figure credit: MBTA and Yanshu Li)

“Thank God!” Herbert Bassett says, looking determined. “I would definitely appreciate it if they made any changes that could better (it).”

Herbert Bassett is a 33-year-old programmer at Meditech. Being a Bostonian, he thinks the current light rail train is outdated.

“It’s the 21st century. It really needs to be updated,” he says, looking determined.

Starting in the late 19th Century, Bostonians had their first underground railway when other Americans commuted on the ground.

As one of the oldest subways, the B-Line underwent fixes and merges to adapt to the developing city. Now it starts at Boston College, running along the Commonwealth Ave. after 16 stops to Blandford St. station. Then it goes underground and merge with other Green Line branches.

Figure 2 B-Line stations with the proposed stops highlighted.  (Figure credit: MBTA and Yanshu Li)
Figure 2 B-Line stations with the proposed stops highlighted. (Figure credit: MBTA and Yanshu Li)

Bettinelli’s office believes that after the consolidation of stops, riders will save one or two minutes per trip.

“It doesn’t sound a lot,” he says. “But for over the course of the entire day, you can save one or two minutes each way, you can add more trips. Which will ultimately increase impute on the system. It doesn’t seem much on an individual trip. But on aggregate, there will be a huge efficiency that would be added to the system.”

Knowing how much time it will save, the programmer Herbert Bassett says. “I don’t think that’s enough. I think they need to do more.”

Bassett thinks it is ridiculous to have the trains go on the road, with lanes of cars.

He looks ahead and says, “I heard that the Boston has the first underground commune system because of the snowstorm. It was kind of innovative and they need to really continue that since Boston has grown. They really need to expand that theory.”

Constructing subway transportation system has been a trend in major cities around the globe. There are now 195 metro systems worldwide, according to the World Metro Database of Metrobits.org.

Talking about possibility for the B-Line being completely underground, Bettinelli says, “I think it’s just [the] cost. We’d love to. But in a world you have a limited budget, competing priorities, who’s to say putting the Green Line underground is better use of three billion dollars building a new highway, or building a new train system, or building a different system. Because it’s so effective right now, serving so many people.”

One regular B-Line rider is Abhiram Prasan, 25, is a second-year graduate student majoring in Project Management at Boston University. Prasan says that it takes him around 30 minutes to get to school near B.U. Central Station.

Prasan is supportive of the proposal.

“I like it,” Prasan says. “It’ll be five or six minutes faster. It will probably take me twenty minutes.”

One more spot Prasan goes daily is the gym, located between Pleasant St. and St. Paul Street stations. The consolidation will drive the two stops apart for hundreds of feet. He doesn’t mind walking there. But he says that after exercising, “I am tired, I have no T stop and I had to walk a lot. It will be a problem.”

“Because in winter, the snow probably will be an issue,” Prasan added.

Another B-Line rider Kristen Riceitiello, 18, is a freshman from San Francisco studying Art & Computer Science at B.U.

Riceitiello’s stop would be unchanged.

She says, “It might suck for the people whose stop is no longer there. It will suck in the winter.”

Liusa Mayorga, 29, has been living in Boston from Colombia for two years. As a physician, she is aware of the full accessibility of the renewed B-Line.

She mentions one of her patients who moves around in a wheelchair. “He has a lot of issues trying to get in the T, because the four stops that are nearby are not accessible,” she says.

“I’ve heard that with this new project they will make those stops more accessible. So I think it would be good.”

According to Bettinelli, the amount of money spending on the stations is another factor triggering the consolidation proposal. The law requires upgrading the handicapped accessibility, which directly relates to a cost measure.

For accessibility, Bettinelli says, “Updating the two stops instead of the four, there is additional cost savings there.”

Another rider is Yanqitian Huang, 22, a senior majoring in advertising at the B.U. College of Communication.

Huang had the experience with B-Line when he lived near the Packard’s Corner station in the past summer. He says that the train took 30 minutes to go from his station all the way to Kenmore.

“They stop at every single stop, stop at every single traffic light, and people getting on and getting off the trolley, (people) just can’t find a place to sit and to stand. It just takes forever,” he says.

Figure 4 Existing Intersections B-Line goes through on Commonwealth Ave. (Figure credit: B.U. Transportation Master Plan and Yanshu Li)
Figure 4 Existing Intersections B-Line goes through on Commonwealth Ave. (Figure credit: B.U. Transportation Master Plan and Yanshu Li)

Stopping for red lights at every intersection has been a pervasive subject being discussed among transit advocates. They suggested implementing the Transit Signal Priority (TSP) on the B-Line, according to Bettinelli.

TSP is a tracking system that allows the coming vehicles to trigger traffic lights by holding green lights longer and shortening the red lights. In December of last year, MBTA began to implement the TSP on 15 busiest bus routes.

Allston resident Matthew Danish, 31, is the writer of the blog “A Walking Bostonian.”

Being a transit advocate, he thinks despite the cluster of stops and lack of signal priority at intersections, the front-door boarding policy caused “too slow boarding and alighting procedures” which drags down efficiency.

“That is wrong,” he says in email. “Trains should allow passengers to board and alight from all the doors, all the time.”

Although the consolidation only resolves one aspect, “it is a good step in the right direction,” Danish says. “The average speeds will rise in that section, and the platforms will be more accessible.”

He also expects the trips will be much smoother and more reliable, “if the consolidation is combined with signal priority.”

A B-Line train driver was between shifts in the staff room at Boston College station. He wants to be anonymous and says the reduction of stops might decrease the riding time. For driving the train, he says he doesn’t find it annoying to frequently stop the train for the red lights.

The neigbourhoods around the four stops are where Café, restaurants, and convenient stores only few steps away.

Jack Yuen, 25, a shift supervisor at CVS near the St. Paul station, says, “Our customers are living behind this store.”

He means the neighborhoods north of the Commonwealth Ave. Since the St Paul Street station is right in front of the store, costomers stop by before or after the ride. Yuen assumes that when the station moves toward B.U. West, the costomer traffic might reduce.

“It will probably affect the business,” Yuen says. “It’ll take them longer to walk, or they get home from other stops. So they won’t even stop by.”

Some business frown while others are not worried.

Arianna Johnson is a 20-year-old employee at Cane’s café, at the Pleasant Street station. The proposed new stop will be driven westward.

Johnson thinks the customers are people living in the neighborhoods. She says, “People still get to walk here, or students living around here.” She thinks in winter most customers take the bus to come. The new location of the train station is not a problem.

“I don’t think it will affect the business too much,” Johnson says, looking through the window.

Pointing at the map, Bettinelli says near the St. Paul station, the new stations will be middle block; riders still walk down to the end and serve the nearby shops as before. He also points out that, another new platform will be further from B.U. West station.

He assumes the business nearby “potentially won’t see as much traffic as they currently do.

“But if anybody is interested going there, it’s not a huge burden to go,” he added.

Prasan thinks the project will improve the ridership efficiency. He says, “B.U. Central has a lot of people. Packard’s Corner has a lot of people. And Harvard Avenue has a lot of people. But then, the four stops don’t have so many people getting in and getting out. If you reduce the stops, it might become faster.”

Based on MBTA’s Green Line Surface Ridership data, the average ridership for each stop on B-Line is around 1,500 riders on a typical weekday boarding counts from both directions. The number for the four stops is around 1,100.

Figure 5 B-Line Ridership Heatmap by Yanshu Li.  Data provided by MBTA from 2006 to 2010.
Figure 5 B-Line Ridership Heatmap by Yanshu Li. Data provided by MBTA from 2006 to 2010.

“That’s pretty low,” Bettinelli says. “Don’t forget most of the traffic on the Green Line is coming from far west. So there will be localized impact.”

“But there will be very small negative local impacts than the overall benefits for the project will be widely filled,” he added.

According to Bettinelli’s office, the final design will be finished by the next summer. Then it goes to public bidding. He says the whole construction will take 12-18 months.

“It’s still in a conceptual stage,” Bettinelli says. “So, I guess I’ll put this to 2016 to 2017.”

“It is not any time soon,” Bettinelli says, looking at the map and smiling.

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