Thursday, April 18, 2024

The MBTA plans a revamp of its regional bus network, including in Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A revamp of the region’s bus network proposed by the MBTA this month would dramatically alter Cambridge’s transportation routes, and city leaders are unsure of the consequences.

The proposed map of new routes aims to provide more extensive and faster service throughout Greater Boston, and in particular to communities with insufficient coverage.

In Cambridge, the map would provide 10 routes with service every 15 minutes or less, up from five such routes in the current system. Proposed “high-frequency” routes would connect Central Square to the Longwood Medical Area; Kendall Square to Somerville and the Lechmere green line T stop; Kendall to Medford and Malden; Harvard Square to Somerville’s Union Square and Everett; and Porter Square to Medford and Malden, according to a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority presentation.

In total, the plan would provide a 35 percent increase in the total distance traveled by buses in Cambridge. Implementation won’t be complete until 2028, and won’t begin until spring or summer 2023 at the earliest. Before what’s considered the first major redesign of the network in 100 years comes six months of public feedback.

“It’s a very exciting process,” city councillor Burhan Azeem said.

On Monday, the City Council approved a measure asking that the city manager report back on the impacts the new MBTA bus network would have on the city.

According to Azeem, the proposal would sustain a high frequency of bus travel in part by adding a bus terminal in Central Square to add to the current one in Harvard Square. There are also areas that could be harmed; Azeem pointed to the removal of routes in Somerville as a potential weakness.

Councillor Quinton Zondervan agreed, identifying also the reduction in frequency of the 68 line that runs between Kendall and Harvard squares. The line runs buses every 60 minutes or less; the new plan would reduce the route to peak hours only.

“It’s not all beneficial,” Zondervan said after the meeting.

The new map and some of its drawbacks also reflect the way the goals of the city and the MBTA diverge, Zondervan said.

“The MBTA is a regional transit network. They plan on moving people through our city,” he said. “One of our goals is to reduce car dependence and have more people use public transit. But in order to do that, we have to make it easier for people to move around within our city … The MBTA is not going to do that.”

“At some point, we really need to grapple with that reality,” he said. “We cannot get to where we want to go if we keep relying on the MBTA, unfortunately.”

Zondervan said he has been exploring possibilities of “hyper-local transit” along the lines of Uber and Lyft but government-sponsored, and pointed to similar pilot programs in Salem and Newton.