Sometimes small decisions make big differences in unexpected ways. One such change could arise if the MBTA replaced Boston’s fleet of buses — which have doors on the right side only — with buses that have doors on both sides.
During the pandemic, several cities in Greater Boston have taken advantage of reduced traffic to add miles of dedicated bus (and bike) lanes. By making it possible to board and exit on either side, as in a subway car, buses with doors on the left and the right would build on this progress.
Think of Boston’s notoriously narrow streets. Silver Line buses downtown currently operate with right-side doors on one-way streets, cutting into bike lanes when they pick up passengers. Buses with doors on the left side would make it feasible to install a bus lane on the left side of the street, eliminating these conflicts, which are dangerous for both cyclists and bus riders.
On wider two-way streets, buses with dual-side doors open up the possibility of bus lanes in the center and bus stops on platforms there, where they would be safe from right-turning vehicles and other curbside conflicts. Having a single, well-protected bus platform in the center of a two-way street would save space because buses with dual-side doors could use it while running in either direction. Reducing the number of bus stops in this way would free up roadway and sidewalk space for protected bike lanes, outdoor dining, bikeshare hubs, miniature parks, or parking for cars.
Ultimately, we should embrace a vision in which buses get priority and infrastructure improvements allow efficient boarding and payment that’s more typical of subway systems. Dual-side-door buses unlock these benefits. Many global cities now employ them, deciding that the movement and storage of single-occupancy vehicles can no longer take precedence over the movement and activity of people. We should more fully adopt this vision here in Greater Boston.
Julia Wallerce leads the Boston program at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Ari Ofsevit is senior associate in the Institute’s Boston program.
A version of this article is part of the Seizing the Moment series from Boston Indicators, the research arm of the Boston Foundation. It features 15 papers on sectors including transportation, housing, business equity, food security, philanthropy, and workforce development. On Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., Boston Indicators and the Boston Foundation will host a webinar on the series, featuring presentations by and discussions with many of the authors. Details at TBF.org/events.