Better Transit Without Trolleys Official Thread

Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

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Better Transit Without Trolleys Official Thread

Postby CS » Mon May 03, 2004 3:55 pm

This is the official thread for the guest series (do not be alarmed, I just editted the original message - this is the same thread). I want to lay down some ground rules and there's only one - no flaming. Let's remember that the representative is a GUEST and should be treated as one. Let the conversations begin!
Last edited by CS on Fri May 14, 2004 7:37 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby vanshnookenraggen » Mon May 03, 2004 6:36 pm

So how will this work? A chat room? A thread with questions?

Postby CS » Mon May 03, 2004 9:06 pm

It will be a thread of questions. For example, you may post a question, then they'll answer it. I would have liked to do it in a chat room but I realize that people have jobs and lives so this way, everyone can join the Q&A session.
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Check out website

Postby TrainWithoutTracks » Tue May 04, 2004 1:37 pm


I'm posting a little early. You might want to first check out the Better Transit Without Trolleys website,


Postby jrc520 » Tue May 04, 2004 4:11 pm

Well, welcome. I will ask the first question then, since you have given us a link to the site(which does render well in Safari, I might add.)

Question: Where do these double parked cars come from?
Expanded: Why do you condone double parking?(Please don't say that you do not, because you do. It is rather obvious) I've been down the 39 route, and the buses suffer as much, if not more so, than the LRVs would. After all, a 60 foot bus trying to go around a DP'd car can get stuck, and block BOTH lanes. The LRV never would. Also, the buses never use the stops - they are almost always blocked. When not blocked, the driver doesn't bother.

Also, are you aware that streetcars have the right-of-way in this state? Not over all, but they do over normal motor vehicles. They are basically the same as a school bus, but you can pass it on the other side.

I have held back greatly in this post, since I have many more things. I pray that all here remain rational.

To quote Dilbert: "I eagerly await your bizarre and other-worldly response"

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Thanks for comming! (I just can't agree...)

Postby juni0r75 » Tue May 04, 2004 9:36 pm

First and foremost, I think it is great that BTWT is here talking about their views. Now, lets face it, this is pobably not going to be a very receptive crowd! But hopefully we ALL (me included) can be civil and open-minded to talk about these issues. Thanks for coming aboard BTWT!

Now,I have to say that I have read your points and one that you plainly have missed (or do not deal with) is that one of the biggest things that the people in JP have indicated they wanted is a one-seat ride into downtown (Park Street). The streetcar is the only transit mode that can provide that because buses cannot enter the Central Subway. How would the bus, short of a special transfer for the 39 line, be comparable to that?

Further, JP is one of the most built up neighborhoods within the rapid-transit area which does not have close access to a mass transit Rapid transit (MT/RT) line. One argument that I have seen made in other places is that the Orane provides MT/RT access to this neighborhood. The traditional transport corridor in Jamacia Plain runs from JP center via Centre St-Huntington-Subway. This is why the opening of the Orange line has not really cut the amount of people using the 39 bus. The Orange garners its ridership for a different (but slightly overlapping) catchment area. Thus, previous to 1985, JP had direct MT/RT access along its traditional corridor. How do you justify allocating an up and comming neighborhood which meets the criteria of both MT and RT a secondary service which does not connect DIRECTLY to the MT/RT system?

I know that streetcar is slower than the heavy-rail lines (Red, Blue and Orange), but it IS faster than the bus. As much as you pose that the bus is hindered by the fact that it stops at many more stops than the streetcar, even with less stops, I still pose that the bus would be slower becuase it does not have the right of way as the streetcar will. Also, the stops wiuld need to be made ADA compatible, which would both add to the cost and add to the parking problem. Even the T, who was adamantly against restoring the line, indicated that the bus would cause a loss of parking places. How can you make the bus seem to be a better option when you run into the same loss of street space with the bus?

Finally, I cannot but disagree at your assessment that the bus is cheaper to operate. The working life of a streetcar is estimated at 30-40 years. A bus's life is estimated at 10-12 years. The streetcar over that time will cost less even though the inital start-up cost is more. Your remarks that the streetcar tracks will cause bad road quality does not take into account that the tracks will be sunk into cement and installed using the most current RT standards. Also, the rails will be banded with a rubber-like buffer which will keep the pavement from being dammaged by the movement of the rails.

I don't mean to sound like a jerk but in some ways this converstaion is a bit moot since the 2001 consent decree was issued by the DEP. The T had almost 10 years to prove beyond a doubt that streetcars would not be compatible or feasible in JP. They were able to prove neither, even when they were adamantly against restoration. My recommendation is to take your complaints to the Arborway Committee and make clear your concerns so that perhaps there can be some mittigation. The streetcar's return though is almost assured.

-A :)
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Postby vanshnookenraggen » Tue May 04, 2004 11:26 pm

One big issue that I hear alot is that the trains will hinder bikers. As a biker, I can say that a train will be no more of a problem than other traffic, if not less of one. Streetcars arn't as wide as busses and will alow plenty of room to bike. Also, to actually fall into and trip in the spaces between the track and the pavement can only be done if you arn't paying attention. Infact, I ride over tracks all the time and I have never had a problem. I can see somehow if a biker has to move out of the way if someone opens their car door but they will be just as likely to get hit by a car. That and if their are bikes are around, drivers SHOULD be aware of them. This goes for Streetcar operators as well.

Bikes and trains can work fine together as long as they are aware of each other.


Postby TrainWithoutTracks » Thu May 06, 2004 9:18 am

Here are my responses:

Double parking.
My solution for double-parking is to install parking meters to increase turnover and to increase parking enforcement (using the revenue from the meters). The point is that if ever there is a car double-parked, a bus can maneuver around it, but a trolley has no choice but to wait for the person to move the car. This was an issue, I have heard, when the streetcars last operated on Centre & South Sts.

Bus stops.
Between Forest Hills and Brigham Circle, only 7 outbound and 2 inbound stops meet the MBTA's stop length guidelines for 60-ft buses. This is one reason why the artics do not pull over so often. There are some plans afoot to lengthen stops, and, I hope, also to relocate & consolidate stops (currently there are 71 stops over a 10 mile round-trip!).

Laws applying to streetcars
I am aware that there is a state law prohibiting passing of a stopped streetcar on the right side. I am also aware that the City of Boston code prohibits streetcars in mixed traffic from traveling faster than 15 mph. I did not know that streetcars have the right of way over all other vehicles, as jrc520 suggests, nor what that means. Please explain.

One-seat ride.
As juni0r75 suggested, the Orange Line provides direct access from JP to downtown. Since 1987, it has been closer to Centre St. than it was when the Arborway trolley was running. Because the Orange Line is so much quicker than surface route 39 (whether bus or streetcar!), it is quicker to walk to or transfer to the Orange Line than to have a "one-seat" ride downtown. And this would continue to be true if the Arborway trolley returns. The 1987 report on the Arborway Trolley shows that average travel time inbound was 2 min. faster on the trolley than the bus, but 2 min. slower outbound. The main point is that the speed is not that different. The second point is that the detour around Prudential Center makes the inbound trip 4 min. slower than the outbound (a figure confirmed by GPS-based reporting over the past 6 months).

Also, the "one-seat ride" from Forest Hills to Park Street was not a one-seat ride to Government Center or Lechmere.

I am asking the T to provide a free transfer from Rt. 39 to the Orange Line at Forest Hills (currently available only with a subway pass), to facilitate taking Rt. 39 outbound to Forest Hills to get inbound. I'm also trying to get free transfers between E and 39 anywhere along the route (choice is good!).

Loss of parking spaces.
Widening bus stops to accomodate the 60-footers will result in some loss of parking. I think this could be balanced by reducing the number of stops somewhat, although not as great a reduction in stops as currently proposed for the trolley restoration. (Parking meters & more turnover would help, too.)

Operating & capital cost.
Yes, streetcars last longer than buses. The way to compare is to annualize the purchase price over the useful life using an appropriate discount rate. But in comparing capital costs you need to also consider the infrastructure cost. In terms of operating costs, you need to include the costs to maintain track, wire, and substations. The conclusion is that streetcars cost more than buses per car mile both in terms of capital & operating costs. Now, it might be worthwhile to pay the extra cost if you can cram lots more people in the streetcar, as on most of the Green Line. But since ridership drops off considerably on Rt. 39 as you head to Forest Hills, it would not make sense. If streetcars were clearly cheaper than buses, wouldn't it make sense to restore the wonderful 1940-s era system described in Bradford Clarke's great Streetcar Lines of Boston?

The CNG buses, alas, are much more expensive than diesel buses, both in terms of capital & operating costs. And they basically provide no additional benefits (unless you like noise), since current generation diesels running on ultra-low sulfur fuel are as clean. Unfortunately, the MBTA listened to ACE and other activists who have targeted diesel as a great evil in the world, and thereby they have worsened air quality (by delaying or preventing the introduction of cost-effective clean diesel).

DEP Position
Actually the discussion is not moot. In February the DEP Commissioner wrote a letter to the MBTA & EOTC stating that all CA/T replacement projects must be completed to achieve air quality benefits, but that substitution is possible. This letter basically overrode the DEP's 2001 decision.

vanshnookenraggen, I'm glad you mentioned this, since it is one of my favorite topics (see me in today's Boston Phoenix). It is in fact very easy to fall because of the tracks. Almost every cyclist I know in JP has done it at least once. (And usually no more than once, except for Seth Donlin, who is so clumsy that he did it twice within two weeks, but still thinks he is sacrificing for the cause.) Here's why: a bicycle always wants to fall over, and you must steer it just to stay upright (this is what you learned, without knowing it, when you learned to ride). If the wheel is channeled along a groove, such as a gutter seam or a trolley track, the rider can't steer and the bicycle falls over. To avoid this, the rider can deliberately and unnaturally steer across the track at a sharp angle. This is tricky to do in moving traffic while looking back to make sure no one is overtaking (and you have to do it once for each of up to 4 rails).

When riding along, you normally stay to the right of the rails. This is no problem on South Huntington where there is plenty of room between the tracks and parked cars. But in places on Centre & South streets, there is as little as 2-3 ft. between parked cars and rail. Since a car door is also 2-3 feet, this leaves very little room to ride safely outside the "door zone." It also makes it tricky to pass double-parked cars or stopped buses. Even if there is enough width you still have to worry about the tracks when moving to the center of the road to prepare a left turn.

It is tragic that there have been so many completely unnecessary injuries over the past 18 1/2 years because of tracks that will have to be removed anyhow (whether the trolley comes or not). However, the current plan will make things even worse for cyclists. The tracks are proposed to swerve to the curb at every stop, leaving insufficient room for a cyclist to safely pass between raised curb and rail. This is also planned for South Huntington, where the tracks are currently not much of a problem for cyclists. It also looks like stations between Heath St. & Brigham Circle will have to be retrofitted to be ADA-compliant, if the Rt. 39 bus no longer serves them. Thus there will be more hazards for cyclists all the way from Forest Hills to Brigham Circle.

What I find particularly gaulling is that the Arborway Committee's response to this is: you already have two nearby bike paths, why should you want to ride on our streetcar route? Well, state law clearly gives cyclists a right to, and it would be hard to change this if you tried. Secondly, people live, work, and shop on these streets. Thirdly, the paths are often a worse substitute, because of intersection conflicts, muggings, and ice in winter.


Postby jrc520 » Thu May 06, 2004 10:12 am

ah yes, I should have clarified. I looked up the statute, and it turns out it only applies to post office trolleys(which were painted white). However, I don't think you would like to play chicken with 500 tons of steel. Nor would most drivers. Still, I'm sure there is something in there about streetcars, since they can't move off the tracks.
as for the 15 mph limit, bah. you can't go more than 15-20 down there anyways(I know, I've driven down there before.)

Oh yea, transfers don't work very well. Basic transit theory. It's ok if people are going into downtown, but not if people are going to make a change. People only make 1 change per trip. Adding another would result in failed trips, and lost ridership.

As for streetcars being cheaper than busses, they were, in some ways. Of course, Not many groups make streetcars now, so it's not as low-cost. Still, with the right work, it can be made lower cost.

As for bikes, well, sadly, the drivers in this state do not seem to like bikes. I do, but I'm not in the majority(I even signal my turns ;-) )

Very good. Glad to hear some wonderful responses(Just so you know, I'm a horridly cynical person at times. Don't take it personally)

One more question. How about Trackless Trolleys? Nice hybrid, and hey, they ran them in that area before. I know that the mayor hates wires overhead(even though you don't notice them unless you are looking for them), but still, such a network has worked well in the past, and could work well again. If the Silver Lie can do it, why not others?
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Postby CS » Thu May 06, 2004 10:28 am

While I don't like to get into arguements (being the moderator, I am suppose to see both sides) but this oppurtunity is to good to pass.

First off, Paul I would love to thank you so much for making the first guest series a sucess. Also thanks for taking your time to come here and when the series ends, please feel free to post and gain information here whenever you want. You may find some interesting things here.

Now as for the one seat ride, the E line terminates at Lechmere. But none the less, Park Street is fine for most people. When you have to transfer at Heath Street to the E line and then at Park, it's too much. I decide not to go to JP alot because of the transfering.
Also it is cheaper for the customers. There are no real or reliable bus - subway transfer on the T so it cost us more when we could just pay $1.25 and go about our way.

Generally, this is about a convient ride to Park Street. Alot of the concerns with trolleys will not happen all of the time. The cars will not break down that much and when they do, they'll be pushed away in a matter of minuites. Also the 60ft CNG's aren't much smaller than the Trolleys. They are about 14 feet shorter, but are not as wide as the buses.
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More responses

Postby TrainWithoutTracks » Thu May 06, 2004 2:22 pm

Park St or Lechmere?
Yes, the current E branch runs from Heath Street to Lechmere, normally, but the Arborway Trolley used to run from Arborway to Park, and would again, according to the plans. In the 1940s, there were two trolley routes along Huntington: the #57 to Longwood and the #39 to Arborway. That's the same as what we have now, only #39 happens to be a trolley without tracks.

Since the 39 bus is a "temporary" replacement, you can use your subway pass on it. You can even purchase a bus to rail transfer (for the additional $0.35 to make the total price $1.25) for use only at Copley or Back Bay, or get a free transfer from the machines in the paid area of those stations. I would like to get those transfers available anywhere along the route. This might actually happen when the T switches to Automatic Fare Collection, starting in 2005. In fact, I would like to see the T restore the pre-1962 "system fare" and thereby eliminate two-fare zones. I think this would greatly boost bus ridership, as it did in NYC starting in July, 1997.

Length of Vehicles
It's true that 60-ft. buses are only a little shorter than LRVs. However, the LRVs will sometimes be running in two-car trains, making them nearly 150 feet long. Moreover, they can't leave the tracks. A two-car train of LRVs stuck in traffic or behind a double-parked car makes a formidable obstacle. Oh, and by the way, in many places there is not enough clearance for streetcars to safely pass cyclists who are keeping out of the door zone. So streetcars will be limited to bicycle speed (now, in my case, that won't be a problem, since I usually can do better than the 15 mph streetcar max.)

Playing Chicken with 500 Tons of Steel
Actually, I've seen drivers do this all the time -- turning left in front of the trolley on Huntington Ave, or, worse, waiting on the tracks for a gap in traffic. Less friction (steel on steel) is nice when you want to move, but bad when you want to stop quickly. This is one reason that the bus usually moves quicker than the trolley on Huntington, even though it makes twice as many stops.

Getting to Park Street
Right now the 39 bus averages about 10 mph, and the worst case is 5 mph. The trolley averaged about the same when it ran (with exception noted in previous post). From Forest Hills to Park St. by bus + trolley takes about 40-50 min. now, not counting waiting time. But it takes 20 min. or less by Orange Line (Downtown Crossing is one short block from Park St). A direct trolley trip would take 35 min. You would still be better off on the Orange Line, even if you had to walk 10 min. more to get there.

A big advantage of the Orange Line is the even distribution of headways. This is pretty easy to do since it has its own right of way, signal system, and control center. Right now, the bus has none of these. The variation in headways can lead to waits of 15 to 30 min. for service scheduled to come every 7-12 min. That's clearly the biggest problem with the current service. The T is slated to install a new radio system next year which will enable it to monitor, for the first time, the position of buses along the route. Can any of you imagine managing a train line without knowing where the vehicles are along the route?

Trackless Trolleys
I like these vehicles a lot. I think it's a damn shame the MTA dismantled the extensive network, mostly because once the wires are down you can never get permission to put them back up. No one complained about the unused catenary in JP from 1985 to 2003. However, TTs have significantly greater capital costs than diesel buses. One of the main reasons for using them, lower emissions, has practically disappeared since new diesels are so clean. Still, they are much quieter than motor buses or streetcars, and certainly a lot quieter than the rumble-monster CNG artics currently operating on the 39 route. I'll be looking forward to riding the new TTs out of Harvard Square.


Postby NealG » Fri May 07, 2004 9:22 am

City of Boston code prohibits streetcars in mixed traffic from traveling faster than 15 mph.

Just FYI, The City of Boston Code does not apply to the MBTA, a state agency.
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City of Boston code on Street Cars

Postby TrainWithoutTracks » Fri May 07, 2004 10:20 am

I think the City of Boston code applies to MBTA streetcars.

The MBTA is not a state agency, it is a publicly-owned corporation. It has inherited all the rights and obligations of the Boston Elevated Railway and other street railway companies. It also has unlimited liability, unlike state agencies.

Furthermore, the Boston code was last recodified in 1975. I think that if it did not apply they would have altered it.

I think that the restrictions and speed limits are not just a quaint historical artifact, but are testament to the safety concerns of operating heavy vehicles that do not stop quickly on public rights of way in mixed traffic. In any case, they are the restrictions that applied when streetcars were previously so operated in Boston.

Here is the Streetcar section of the code in its entirety, for your reading pleasure:

16-16.1 Speed Limits.
No person having the control of the speed of a street railway car on the surface of any street, except in spaces especially reserved for street railway cars, shall allow such car to go at a rate of speed faster than ten (10 m.p.h.) miles per hour in any part of the City included within the following bounds: Charles Street, Park Square, Eliot Street, Kneeland Street, Atlantic Avenue, Commercial Street, Causeway Street and Leverett Street, including said boundary streets; or in any other part of the City Proper, so called, lying north of Massachusetts Avenue and Southampton Street, at a rate of speed faster than twelve (12 m.p.h.) miles per hour; or in any other part of the City at a rate of speed faster than fifteen (15 m.p.h.) miles per hour; or in turning a corner in any part of the City at a rate of speed faster than four (4 m.p.h.) miles per hour.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 325)

16-16.2 Intersections.
In approaching any public or private way intersecting that in which the railway is located, the speed of the car must be reduced to such a rate as will make it possible to stop immediately.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 326)

16-16.3 Curves.
In rounding curves and in all cases where the view of the motorman is obstructed for any reason, the speed of the car must be reduced to meet the condition of limited vision of railway and highway.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 327)

16-16.4 Grades.
Before taking any heavy descending grade the speed of the car must be so reduced as to test the working of the brakes.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 328)

16-16.5 Proximity to Roads.
Where the railway lies within a highway and is close to narrow travelled road the speed of the car must be reduced to meet this condition whenever such road is in rightful use by others.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 329)

16-16.6 Joint Use of Roads.
Where the railway occupies a portion of the travelled road the absence of any exclusive right of way on the part of the car makes it necessary that its speed be from time to time so restricted as to permit others to safely exercise their common right to a reasonable use of the road.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 330)

16-16.7 Safety Distances.
No person having the control of the speed of a street-railway car in any street shall, except in case of accident, or to prevent injury to persons or property, allow such a car to go within ten (10') feet of a car or other vehicle in front.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 331)

16-16.8 Avoiding Collisions; Obeying Police Directions.
No person having control of the speed of a street-railway car shall allow it in any street to go against or afoul of any person, vehicle, or thing whatsoever; nor shall any such person fail to stop his car at any place in a street when directed by a Police Officer so to do.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 332)

16-16.9 Precautions; Warning Bells.
No person having control of the speed of a street-railway car passing in a street shall fail to keep a vigilant watch for all teams, carriages, and persons, especially children, nor shall such person fail to strike a bell several times in quick succession on approaching any team, carriage, or person, and no person shall, after such striking of a bell, delay or hinder the passage of the car.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 333)

16-16.10 Prompt Stopping.
No person having control of the speed of a street-railway car passing in a street shall, on the appearance of danger to any team, carriage, or person from, or on the appearance of any obstruction to, his car, fail to stop the car in the shortest time and space possible.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 334)

16-16.11 Stopping in Intersections.
No person having control of the speed of a street-railway car shall stop any such car on a cross-walk or in front of an intersecting street, except to avoid collisions or danger to persons or as directed by a Police Officer.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 335)

16-16.12 Spreading of Gravel, Sand, Etc.
No street-railway company shall, except by permission of the Commissioner of Public Works, sprinkle any gravel or sand, or any salt or other article of a decomposing nature, on its tracks or rails in a street, or wash such tracks or rails with brine or pickle.

(CBC 1975 Ord. T14 § 336)

Postby jrc520 » Fri May 07, 2004 10:33 am


16-16.7 Safety Distances.
No person having the control of the speed of a street-railway car in any street shall, except in case of accident, or to prevent injury to persons or property, allow such a car to go within ten (10') feet of a car or other vehicle in front.

HA! Tell that to the T. Try about 5 inches from the coupler to the bumper. This is no longer valid, not by rule of law, but by necessity. Try that today, and you make things worse.

16-16.12 Spreading of Gravel, Sand, Etc.
No street-railway company shall, except by permission of the Commissioner of Public Works, sprinkle any gravel or sand, or any salt or other article of a decomposing nature, on its tracks or rails in a street, or wash such tracks or rails with brine or pickle.

Yea wow, that helps. So you have to call the CPW every time you need to use the sander to help stop or start the train? bah.

Ok, I know these are laws, but they are old. very old. The fact that these mention teams is enough to make them moot. These would need to be radically altered to make any kind of sense in today's world.
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Postby Charliemta » Fri May 07, 2004 12:07 pm

From the BTWT website: "This will require elimination of on-street parking spaces to provide adequate loading zones for businesses."

I think the chief motivator for these people opposing trolleys is their fear of losing on-street parking spaces for their businesses.

To address all of the concerns about double parking blocking trolleys, I would split the street into two parallel facilities: a two-lane traffic street, about 24' wide, with NO parking allowed, and also a separate reservation for the two track trolley line. I would think in places the line could be narrowed to one track to allow space for staggered station platforms. The headway between trains on the line should be long enough to allow short one track intermmittent sections. The technology is available to make one-track short sections workable.

The seperate off-street track reservation would eliminate the chance of illegal parking on the trolley tracks. It would also totally eliminate on-street parking, but that's a trade-off for good transit.
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