Friday, July 19, 2024

The state will make commuter rail service between Porter and North Station free during a July shutdown of the MBTA. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will close the red line between Alewife and Kendall/MIT between July 13-28 as part of its Track Improvement Program, an initiative that ambitiously promises to eliminate all slow zones by the end of the year. On weekends, and on weekday evenings after 8:30 p.m., the shutdown will extend to Park Street.

The size and length of disruption is bringing some changes to the make-good shuttle buses that riders have become used to over the years.

But before the two-week shutdown, service on the red line is also interrupted this weekend and next. From Friday evening through the end of the day Sunday, the outbound section of the Kendall/MIT station will close. That means northbound riders aiming to disembark at Kendall will instead need to travel to Central and board a southbound train back to Kendall, while northbound riders who would get on at Kendall should board a southbound train to Charles/MGH and board a northbound train to continue service. Fare gates will be open at the southbound Central platform and at Charles/MGH to accommodate the change.

The red line will also be closed between Alewife and Harvard Saturday and Sunday, with service replaced by shuttle buses and a fare-free 77 bus.

Next weekend, the Kendall/MIT station will again be closed. From July 5 at 8:45 p.m. through July 7, northbound red line service will bypass Kendall, requiring riders to use the open fare gates at Central and Charles/MGH. (Update on July 5, 2024: The MBTA canceled this shutdown.)

During shutdowns, the MBTA will run shuttle buses as usual between stations for the estimated 43,000 riders who use the Alewife-to-Kendall section of the red line each day. During a shutdown in February between Alewife and Harvard, a section that affected a comparatively low 22,000 riders daily, the shuttle buses doubled the time it took to get from Alewife to Harvard during rush hour.

Mitigation from July 13-28

For the coming two-week shutdown, which will affect almost double the ridership and could lengthen commute times significantly, the MBTA will use use a different shuttle method. Instead of all shuttles starting at Alewife and stopping at Davis, Porter and Central before getting to Kendall and turning around, there will be three shuttle types. One will maintain that traditional route, stopping at every station, but another starting at Alewife will stop only at Porter and Kendall before turning around. A third shuttle will run between Harvard and Kendall, the section that sees the most ridership, stopping at Harvard, Central and Kendall.

“They’ve been able to analyze the usage and create a service plan that better matches how people actually travel in Cambridge,” said Andy Reker, a transit planner for Cambridge who is serving as the city’s lead liaison with the MBTA.

According to Reker, riders should also expect to see a temporary bus lane on Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter, which he said should help buses stay on time and be more reliable. In addition to the shuttle buses – which MBTA deputy press secretary Lisa Battiston said will arrive every two to five minutes – the state will make commuter rail service between Porter and North Station and the 77 bus within Cambridge free. Commuters can also take advantage of five free Bluebikes rides, so long as they are under 30 minutes and on a regular bike, not one of the e-bikes that have popped up recently around Cambridge.

“The more that people can be flexible, the better it’s going to be for everyone,” said Jeremy Warnick, director of media relations for Cambridge. “If you can walk, bike or otherwise be flexible, that’s going to be helpful in freeing up space on the shuttle buses and keeping things efficient on the road.”

Ending the speed restrictions

In November, when the MBTA announced its Track Improvement Program, there were 191 speed restrictions across the red, green, orange and blue lines. These speed restrictions are limitations on the speed at which trains can safely travel, resulting in the slow zones T riders have become all too familiar with. If all goes to plan with this shutdown and others, those slow zones should be gone by the end of this year.

“After the February shutdown, the section north of Harvard Square is more or less back to the condition of track and speed they had before, and I’ve seen that with other closures too across the lines, so I’m hopeful that riders will notice a difference after this shutdown as well,” Reker said.

The MBTA will also use the shutdown for deeper station cleaning and repair work.

Though it’s unclear exactly how the two service-free weeks will play out for Cantabrigians and Somervillians, the expectation is that when they’re over, red line service will be better than it is now.

“The work accomplished during this service suspension will result in a safer, more reliable trip for red line riders with fewer unplanned service disruptions related to old infrastructure,” Battiston said.