Boston

The Diamond Ring

Proposed MBTA System Map

Proposed MBTA System Map, with the Diamond Ring shown in yellow

[Update] New reports on BRT and TOD in Boston have been released since this workshop.  See bostonbrt.org, produced by the Greater Boston BRT Study Group, and tstation.info, produced by MAPC and the Dukakis Center.

The Diamond Ring represents a new approach to an old idea.

Concepts for a circumferential transit line through the dense communities surrounding Boston date back at least to the Boston Transportation Planning Review of the 1960s. Such a line would supplement the predominantly radial rail transit network, generating significant travel time savings and freeing capacity in the downtown rail network. The proposed corridor will help alleviate the growing congestion in the transit network’s downtown core by improving connections between existing rail lines and two major employment centers, the Longwood Medical Area and Kendall Square, while also increasing transit access for surrounding residential communities.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) began an official study of the circumferential corridor in 1995. It dubbed the corridor the Urban Ring, identified major destinations to serve, and established an implementation timeline. Originally intended as Phase 1 of the Urban Ring, cross-town (CT) buses now travel circumferential routes that connect radial lines in Boston and the neighboring towns of Cambridge and Somerville, but these lines have generated little ridership. Subsequent phases of the Urban Ring project were put on hold in 2008, but recent planning efforts have revived the possibility of new BRT corridors in the city.

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Transportation

1st St. stop configuration

1st St. stop configuration

The main transport objectives of the project are to:

  • Relieve crowding in the downtown core of the transit system
  • Decrease auto use
  • Link major employment centers, including the Longwood Medical Area and Kendall Square, which contain the largest number of jobs outside of Downtown and the Back Bay
  • Increase transit service for underserved communities
  • Foster opportunities for development along the ring, especially in areas with strong potential for redevelopment of industrial land

This page highlights ways to achieve these objectives, the transportation context of the corridor, and our analysis of demand. For the 8 mile (12 km) long first phase of the corridor, we expect medium-term demand in the range of 30,000 to 50,000 average weekday boardings.
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Policy and Institutions

The Diamond Ring project opens new opportunities to address policy issues beyond transportation, including housing, the environment, and equitable economic development. Yet the potential to leverage synergies between these policy areas and maximize the impact of the project is limited by the current governmental structure in Massachusetts. We propose a state-sponsored convening body to implement the Diamond Ring, based on successful precedents in other places.

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Funding and Financing

By our calculations, the Diamond Ring will cost an estimated $360 million dollars to construct and $18 million dollars annually to operate. While this figure is not an insignificant sum for an already-burdened transportation system, it also promises great benefits to the region in terms of connectivity and improved accessibility. Through the funding and revenue sources outlined below, we believe this project can be a feasible and worthwhile investment to carry Boston’s public transportation system into the future.

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1 | Somerville

Somerville’s Inner Belt and Brickbottom districts have the potential to support transformative residential and commercial development. This proposal seeks to use green space and transit as scaffolding for this new development in order to bring together existing neighborhoods and support community visions.

The proposed Diamond Ring bus rapid transit service is only one catalyst for the new transit-oriented development that we envision. Maximizing this investment relies on a range of other urban design strategies and public policies that respond to the site’s unique context. (more…)

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2 | Cambridge

The Cambridge segment of the Diamond Ring has specific transportation, policy and financing needs. This segment is unique in that it contains MIT and Kendall Square, two major attractors of people and jobs. The area is home to about 27,000 residents and over 56,000 jobs according to 2010 Census data. MIT and Kendall Square continue to influence the development of the area with large amounts of development planned for East Cambridge, Kendall Square, and Central Square. The City of Cambridge has a history of progressive planning and transportation initiatives and generally supports transit expansion, though its ability to make major changes is limited by the State. (more…)

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3 | Brookline

This segment presents several major challenges, both technical and political. Technically, it includes two of the project’s most expensive infrastructure investments (the Charles River crossing and the proposed Fenway-Ruggles Tunnel). This segment must integrate with existing systems, including three branches of the Green Line and the Framingham/Worcester commuter rail line, and it must contend with the complex geometry of the Charles River crossing. Politically, it knits together three separate municipalities and several major institutional stakeholders, all of which have their own priorities. (more…)

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4 | Dudley

This 3.1 mile segment of the corridor begins at the Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA) and passes through Yawkey Station, the Fenway area, Ruggles Station, and then through Dudley Square and Dudley Common. This section is notable for the presence of major health institutions at the west end and by areas of historic marginalization and segregation at the east end. Primary design goals are to contribute to the revitalization of Dudley Square, decompress traffic and development in the Longwood Medical Area, and improve the transit connections between the two. (more…)

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