Housing for buses or people?


Boston’s Arborway Bus Yard sits just 1500 feet from the Forest Hills T stop which is served by commuter rail, the Orange Line, and about two dozen bus routes. (Image: Pi.1415926535, Wikimedia)

The Boston region would benefit from increased bus service, but to add more buses the city would need more space to store the vehicles and open space is hard to come by. In a recent blog post, local advocate Ari Ofsevit discusses the tradeoffs between using valuable urban land as bus yards to store buses versus transit-oriented development to house people.

A local quirk of Boston’s transit history has resulted in bus yards located near major transit transfer points in the city. From a bus route perspective, these pieces of land are valuable because they result in short distances from the yard to the start of bus routes (i.e. low deadhead or non-revenue service). But those bus yard locations are also optimal from a TOD/housing perspective for the same reason. Unfortunately, bus yards can be bad neighbors because of the noise and round the clock activity.

The MBTA knows the value of the land many of their bus yards occupy since it has recently sold several, including one at Harvard Square which is the new home of the Kennedy School. Ofsevit argues that if the agency wants to have new, modern yards where buses aren’t exposed to blizzards and cold snaps in the winter, then state-owned, unused freeway loop on-ramps could be ideal spaces for bus yards. They tend to be undesirable for other uses and are close to freeways which could keep deadhead low.

While it is a difficult decision, it’s an interesting debate given this public land is valuable in more ways than one. This particular discussion is relevant in light of the redevelopment of a bus transfer center in Phoenix we discussed in a previous newsletter. As agencies look to support TOD, improve service, and raise revenue there might be an opportunity over at the bus barn.

For more information about innovation in thinking about transportation and development problems, check out TODresources.org with great resources such as The Innovative DOTwhich looks at agencies that have thought outside the box on the big issues of the day.

Recent TOD news

Here are a few things that have been happening this week with TOD projects across the country.