The next generation of bus lanes is coming to Greater Boston - Boston Globe

Transportation planners in several cities are considering putting bus lanes in the center lanes of some main roads, with new concrete islands for passenger boarding and deboarding. Because they would not be in the right lanes along curbs, buses would be less likely to be held up by other traffic attempting to park or making a turn. Also, state transportation officials say they’re considering letting buses run exclusively on the shoulders of certain highways.

Neither concept is exactly novel. Many cities around the world and even in the United States already feature center-running bus lanes, a key facet of systems known as “bus rapid transit.” One was once even considered in Boston, on Blue Hill Avenue, back in 2009, long before the current bus lane renaissance. And on the highways, Massachusetts is decades behind other states that allow buses to operate apart from traffic.

But better late than never for Greater Boston to make bus travel more attractive as part of the fight against pollution and congestion, advocates say.

“It’s prioritizing transit,” said Julia Wallerce of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, whose Boston office has been pushing for more bus-only lanes in the region. “And anywhere we can do that, we should.”

The center-running lanes may first appear in Boston, straddling the Roxbury-Jamaica Plain border on Columbus Avenue between Egleston and Jackson squares.

It’s only a half-mile stretch, but it’s ideal for the configuration because of its width — it already features four lanes, plus space for parking, and a median strip — and because a high number of bus riders use it, said Boston transportation planning director Vineet Gupta. About a third of all people traveling along that busy stretch are in buses, but traffic jams can triple the length of their commute.

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