Red Line through Cambridge

A talk by Jonathan King

Cambridge, Boston and surrounding communities are blessed with effective public transit systems. In fact ours - opened in 1897 between Park Street and Boylston Street downtown - is the oldest continuously operating system in the country.

In the ensuing 115 years the system has grown dramatically and become an intimate circulation system for the area. The MBTA serves 175 communities, and a population of 4.7 million people.

You are all intimately familiar with the rapid transit or subway lines on the T. In this map the width shows the relatively usage – clearly the red line is one of the backbones of the overall system.

The system is overseen by the State Dept. of Transportation, established by Gov. Patrick in 2009. A five member Board of Directors governs the DOT. They also have authority over the Mass Bay Transportation Authority –the MBTA -, which operates the area public transit system, including the Red Line. The political process is regional, with a number of bodies contributing, most notably the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

There is no explicit municipal authority over the T, neither Red Line nor buses; thus the City of Cambridge cannot purchase rail cars, order an increase in the frequency of trains, or otherwise alter service. 

I will present some quantitative and semi-quantitative data with respect to the Red Line; the numbers come from the following sources:

Hub and Spoke: Core Transit Congestion and the Future of Transit and Development in Greater Boston. Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy, Northeastern University. June 2012.

Ridership and Service Statistics, MBTA Bluebook
Thirteenth Edition 2010.

Draft Capital Investment Program FY2013-FY2017. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. November 28, 2011.

Long-Range Transportation Plan of the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (with Amendments). Boston Region MPO. Adopted June 28, 2012.

Current and Projected Growth of T Ridership:

In the 20 years between 1991 and 2011 the ridership of the T grew at an average rate of 1.2%. However in the past five years, in part due to the increase in gasoline prices, in part to increasing vehicular congestion, ridership accelerated with growth at 2.9% from 2006 – 2011. Thus the growth rate has more than doubled.

The T keeps ridership statistics, and the next slide shows the steady growth over the past few years of the numbers of people getting on the T at Central Square and Kendall Square.

All indications are increased number of transit riders, due to:

1.  New construction of residential, commercial, mixed use and institutional space.

2.  More intensive use of existing commercial space that is, crowding more people into fewer square feet.

3.  Active promotion of public transit use to lower vehicle trips.

With respect to #2, some of you may have heard Barry Bluestone speaking recently at City Hall, promoting micro apartments, squeezing more residents in to many fewer square feet than most of us would accept. With respect to #3, these programs are very well developed in Cambridge, and have broad support. Minka has described Cambridge Transportation Demand Management Ordinance adopted in 1998, in the period from 1990 to 2010 public transit share increased from 21% to 27%.

The most recent report by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council indicates potential for 75,000 new residential units and 130,000 new jobs to built near MBTA stations by 2035. This projection does not include the K2-C2 proposals under consideration.

The Hub and Spoke report projects three scenarios, low, medium and high [Next slide]. The MBTA system wide about carries currently about 1.3 million weekday riders; in the moderate growth scenarios this grows to 1.5 million weekday trips; in the high growth rate - currently experiencing – by 2012 1.67 million riders.

    The proposals that are coming out of the Kendall Square and Central Square Advisory Committees bring us into the high area. As you heard from Richard, Krushnic they represent 12,000,000 to 16,000,000 square feet of new construction.

    I should note that these projections are still modest. The US Federal Transit Administration has reported that metropolitan areas were underestimating transit growth needs and therefore amounts of capital investment needed;

They suggest 2.8% as the upper bound

Similarly American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials suggests an upper bound estimate of 3.5% annually, doubling of ridership in next 20 years. The Mass Central Transportation Planning Staff projects from 1.22 million in 2008 (baseline) >>1.74 million average weekday trips in 2030 (43% increase over 22 years). The NE report states that we should plan for ridership growth from 2011 level of 1.28 million average weekday trips to 1.4 – 1.7 million by 2021.

Does the transit system have the capacity to accommodate hundreds of thousands of additional trips every weekday?

Calculating hourly capacity:

Numbers of passengers that can fit in a car x number of cars per train x number of trains per hour.

            The MBTA describes  “Service capacity” as offering a safe and comfortable ride with all seats taken plus some standing. They further refer to  “crush capacity”, seated passengers plus standing passengers packed to 1.5 sq. feet. /passenger.

Congestion on the MBTA:

    As noted in the Hub and Spoke report ‘Transit congestion is a serious problem on the MBTA, particularly in the core portions of the rapid transit system…As the MBTA acknowledged in its 2010 Program for Mass Transportation, “meeting anticipated 2030 demand for transit poses a significant challenge for the MBTA”’

    By these standards the Red Line is already over service capacity, with peak ridership numbers periodically at crush capacity. All indications are that congestion is going to increase.

Limited rolling stock:

    According to the Hub and spoke report, the Red Line has been able to run with the 168 vehicles needed [to keep up with current capacity], but barely — there are generally 171or 172 Red Line cars available at any given time.

    “Recent breakdowns on the Red Line may well become a common occurrence if the procurement of new cars is delayed due to lack of funds and the number of available vehicles falls below the minimum number needed to maintain current capacity." Pg. 20

    Kendall Square is one of the busiest on the Red Line and it seems unlikely that absent the addition of new cars, the station and will be able to serve the more than 3,000 additional peak hour riders generated by the planned new construction.

    Furthermore, the report indicates that the "big red" cars that allow for more standing room have already been introduced. Thus any congestion already accounts for the use of higher capacity cars.

What is needed to increase capacity?

            a) New signal systems:
            b) Upgraded and new power supply stations
            c) New rolling stock:

            Billions of dollars will be needed – to maintain capacity according to the modest growth projections; this leaves out actual expansion or extension of the system to additional communities, which also competes for investment $$. Lets examine just the capital needed for additional cars.

The Red Line Fleet:

            #1 group: 74 41-year old cars;
            #2 group: 58 23-year old cars;
            #3 group: 86 16 –year old cars;

MBTA Capital budget FY2013-FY2017:

            Reinvestment #1 (new parts and components)                $17.6 million.
            Overhaul #2 (Major maintenance):                                  $46 million.
            Upgrade #3 (circuits):                                                     $11.2 million.

Current costs of Bombardier cars (recent Toronto purchase) = ~$3.2 million a car. Thus for Red Line alone, buying 50 new cars requires $160 million in additional capital outlays.

MBTA budget for new car purchase:                                            $0.00 million.

    The proposed K2C2 Up-zoning proposals will results in increased commuting density that will overwhelm the Red Line for many years to come.

Having to stand, to be crushed in the cars or on the platform, to wait for multiple trains to pass, lowers the quality of life for all current Cambridge Residents.

            At a minimum: City agencies should not support “Crush” conditions as a solution to the problem.

            The only rational policy for Cambridge is to hold off high-density development until the federal and state funds needed to increase Red Line capacity are appropriated and the contracts for the needed improvements are let.



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