BRT in Mexico City

We’re Calling on Cities to Lead the Way to Better Transit

Mary Skelton Roberts shares an opportunity for communities to pilot elements of Gold Standard Bus Rapid Transit.

In cities such as Medellín, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico; Cleveland, Ohio, and many others across the globe, bus rapid transit (BRT) has become integral to multi-modal, modern transportation systems. BRT is linking people throughout their cities to the places they need to go, and in the process, is supporting revitalization in commercial centers that surround this mode of transit.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned since Barr began exploring BRT in 2013, it’s that the best BRT systems are unique, custom-designed to fit the transportation needs of their communities. We cannot fully grasp or model the potential of BRT unless cities and municipalities are engaged to conceptualize, right-size, and then try it out in their communities. But, what would that look like here in Massachusetts?

Now cities and towns throughout Massachusetts will have that chance to explore this question. BostonBRT, a research and community engagement initiative supported by the Barr Foundation, is seeking proposals to pilot BRT projects in Massachusetts. Through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process launched today, BostonBRT will provide technical, planning, and outreach support to selected grantees to advance projects piloting elements of BRT, with funding of up to $100,000 from Barr.

This initiative takes advantage of a powerful trait of BRT: it requires less change to city infrastructure compared to a streetcar or other heavy rail projects. That means core elements of BRT—level boarding, off-board payment, dedicated bus lanes—can be tested in real time, during the daily commute. With strategic support, we can better understand and demonstrate how this might work in our own communities.

It’s the perfect time to test this mode of transit here, as the concept of BRT has been gaining momentum over the past year or so. There are currently two pilot projects in the region to test elements of BRT, one in operation and another in the works.

It’s the perfect time to test this mode of transit.

The City of Boston is planning, with the state, this spring to test many of the elements of gold standard BRT along the Washington Street Silver Line corridor in Chinatown. And the City of Everett, in a partnership with MassDOT (which you can read about in this CityLab article), just completed a highly successful pilot.

There will be more opportunities to explore BRT in the future. The City of Boston recently released the Go Boston 2030 transportation plan, which proposes multiple BRT corridors across the area. And there may be other cities and municipalities throughout the Commonwealth considering BRT that Barr may not be aware of.

While gold standard BRT throughout the Commonwealth seems like a heavy lift right now, with the MBTA strapped for cash in the immediate future, MassDOT is making progress in improving the T’s financial situation. If Massachusetts is to remain economically competitive, we will need to pivot from fixing what’s broken to modernizing the transportation system to meet current and future needs of the Commonwealth’s residents.

If Massachusetts is to remain economically competitive, we will need to pivot from fixing what’s broken to modernizing the transportation system.

When this shift happens, cities and towns with transportation projects that move people around efficiently, can be built at a reasonable cost, are resilient to our changing climate, and link to the existing transit network will have the advantage over others. Barr and our partners believe BRT fits this description. If you and your team are ready to take on the challenge, we hope you’ll review the full RFP here.

This call for pilot projects is just one of a series of initiatives in which BostonBRT will invite our communities, our creative talent, and our transit riders to envision how BRT might work for them. Over the next several weeks, we’ll release more about these initiatives and you’ll have a chance to hear directly from some of the people working on them.

Want to give BRT a try in your community? We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Learn more and respond to the RFP

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Mary Skelton Roberts

Mary Skelton Roberts

Co-Director of Climate