Given the financial state of the MBTA and the current prospects for a green line extension, Needham has been pressing hard for some way to use the old Upper Falls railroad corridor to spur economic development. Now available from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Newton and Needham participated in a study funded by Forterra and the Mass Smart Growth Alliance to explore the possibility of someday running the existing 128 Business Council shuttle over the MBTA-owned right of way from Easy Street over the Charles to Wexford Street. Most of this route is already approved for the Upper Falls Greenway linear park.
The report cites the high cost and many constraints and challenges of building a busway. And for what benefit? The existing bus shuttle serves just under 100 passenger trips per day. Moving it to a shared trail/busway would produce… are you ready? 5 to 30 new trips per day, most of which could be achieved adding the same additional buses to the existing route! Reduction in trip times would be modest, as the bus would still run on a portion of the congested Needham Street corridor to and from Newton Highlands. The study did not even attempt to compare the busway against the proposed green line extension, a more permanent investment with an estimated 6900-9400 trips and single seat ride which would actually drive economic growth.
This shuttle would primarily service Needham businesses. What’s in it for Newton? The main economic benefit to Newton may in fact be realized by a pedestrian path connecting the two communities (p. 25)
Although the New England Business Center is located in Needham, any significant development and job creation at this site would also benefit Newton as an influx of new employees in the area would also be shopping, eating lunch, and spending money in the many businesses that are located along Needham Street in Newton.
Plus, the figures suggest that bicycle and pedestrian use may far surpass a proposed shuttle in taking traffic off Needham Street. It’s hard to imagine boarding the shuttle anywhere along the Newton portion would save much on travel time over the existing roadway. Perhaps there are other ways to make the shuttle more effective, such as routing it up Nahanton/Winchester Streets, or perhaps giving priority to buses using Transit Signal Priority in the Needham Street redesign?