With 4 Days ‘Til Orange Line Shutdown, Plans Emerge For Shuttles, New Bus and Bike Lanes, and More Commuter Rail Service

With four days to go before the entire Orange Line and a downtown segment of the Green Line shut down for a month, the MBTA and coordinating agencies in state and local governments are beginning to release the details for alternative transit services.

The Orange Line is the T’s second-busiest rapid transit line. Post-pandemic ridership has remained at about 50 percent of what it was in 2019, but the subway line has still been carrying over 100,000 riders every weekday this spring and summer.

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Rider’s Guide

Over the weekend, the T published A Rider’s Guide to Planning Ahead, with details on the upcoming closures, the work the T plans to do during the shutdown, alternative travel options, and accessibility.

The guide is in the process of being translated into eight different languages.

As a complement to the Rider’s Guide, the City of Boston has published a 2-page flyer with a high level overview of the travel options available during the shutdown. The flyer is available in ten different languages including Vietnamese, Haitian Creole and Spanish.

Shuttle buses and new bus-only lanes

On August 2, the day the shutdown was publicly announced, the MBTA board of directors approved a contract worth up to $37 million with A Yankee Line, Inc., a charter bus company, to provide bus shuttle service during the closure. 

The shuttles won’t run a continuous route along the entire Orange Line. Instead, they’ll ply two routes: one to the southwest, between Forest Hills and the Copley Green Line station in Back Bay, and one to the north, between Oak Grove and Government Center.

That means a rider traveling from Malden to Northeastern University will need to catch a shuttle bus to Government Center, transfer to the Green Line for four stops, then transfer to a different Orange Line shuttle bus from Copley to Ruggles (see map above).

A wheelchair user boards a Yankee Line shuttle bus near Back Bay station. Courtesy of the MBTA.

Many riders and transit advocates have been skeptical about whether shuttle buses, which have long boarding times and must run on Boston’s congested streets, can realistically carry tens of thousands of passengers.

On Monday morning, the City of Boston posted notices that suggested “shuttles should arrive every 45 seconds during peak hours” but also warned that bus trips would “take longer than traditional Orange Line travel times.”

Late on Sunday night, Boston’s Chief of Streets, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, posted photos of new bus-only lanes being painted on Boylston Street west of Copley Square, and promised that additional bus-only lanes would be installed around the Government Center station later this week.

At a press conference held this morning at the T’s headquarters at 10 Park Plaza in downtown Boston, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak underscored the incredible size of the shuttle bus fleet that is being deployed.

“We’ve been told by some of the supporting teams we have that we literally have every accessible bus east of Mississippi in service here running these alternative shuttles, so this is not a question of, you know, if we only got a couple more shuttles we could do some things differently. We have every accessible shuttle bus we could possibly get our hands on,” he said.

The City of Boston is also rushing to install new bus-only lanes. On Sunday night, the city’s Chief of Streets, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, tweeted a photo of bus lane installation on Boylston Street west of Copley Square, and suggested that more bus-only lanes would be painted between Government Center and North Station later this week:

Tonight the @CityofBoston is installing the first temporary bus lanes to support Orange Line shuttle riders, just 11 days after the @MBTA announced the shutdown. We’re marking around Copley Square now, and moving on to Government Center over the next few nights. pic.twitter.com/57iaVRINcn

— Jascha Franklin-Hodge (@jfh) August 15, 2022


Free Bluebikes memberships, pop-up protected bike lanes

On Friday, the City of Boston announced that the region’s public bike share, Bluebikes, would offer free 30-day passes during the subway closure. Passes will be available at bluebikes.com/join or in the Bluebikes mobile app.

Dominick Tribone, the general manager of Bluebikes, told StreetsblogMASS that the system is “adding rebalancing staff to focus on the stations near the Orange Line and the northern section of the Green Line, as well as bike ‘valets’ in key locations in Copley Square and Downtown Boston” (Bluebikes is currently hiring for those new positions).

The City of Boston also plans to use cones and barrels to delineate new protected bike lanes on streets in the Back Bay neighborhood to better connect the Back Bay and Copley stations (the end of the line for many Orange Line shuttles) to the downtown network of protected bike lanes around the Public Garden and Boston Common.

“To ensure rider safety, the City of Boston will implement ‘pop-up’ bike lanes separated from vehicle traffic by barrels. Riders will find these lanes on Columbus Avenue and Stuart Street between Clarendon Street and Church Street and on Boylston Street in the Back Bay from Dartmouth Street to Arlington Street,” according to a City of Boston press release.

At this morning’s press conference, Jonathan Gulliver, MassDOT’s Highway Administrator underscored the fact that the shuttle buses are different from the MBTA’s regular buses and thus “they have a different turning radius and they have different blind spots for drivers.” He cautioned, “if you are walking or biking near these shuttle buses near this route you need to be extra vigilant, especially around these bus stops, and around turns and intersections.”

A map of proposed pop-up protected bike lanes that the City of Boston plans to implement with cones and barrels during the month-long closure of the Orange Line. Thin lines indicate existing bike lanes; thicker lines indicate quick-build bike routes that are being planned on Boylston, Stuart, and Columbus Ave.

The city had previously used similar measures to install “pop-up” bike lanes on Columbus Avenue during the pandemic, but those cones and barrels had been removed by the end of 2021.

At this morning’s press conference, StreetsblogMASS asked Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge whether there was a chance some of the temporary bike lanes could become permanent.

“I think whether it’s potentially making some bus lanes permanent or whether it’s using some additional road capacity for bikes, all these are potential strategies. Right now we’re really focused on how do we get the shuttle buses running safely and efficiently, but we will have a period of time during the shutdown where we can learn and we look at that,” said Franklin-Hodge.

Commuter Rail

During the shutdown, riders can get free access to the commuter rail system – on all lines within zones 1, 1A, and 2 – by showing their Charliecard to a conductor.

The T will also expand its morning rush hour Commuter Rail schedule during the shutdown, with seven trains from Forest Hills to South Station, and four trains from Oak Grove to North Station, between 6 and 9 am.

It’s worth noting that many of the inbound trains from Ruggles, Back Bay, and Malden Center are marked with an “L” on the Rider’s Guide schedule, indicating that they may leave the platform ahead of schedule. And riders coming in from Malden or Oak Grove will still need to transfer to a shuttle bus at North Station, which won’t have any subway connections.


According to the Rider’s Guide, “While some low-floor buses, with ramps at the front of the bus will be in use, the majority will be high-floor coach buses with wheelchair lifts near the rear of the bus.” 

Twenty accessible vans located at each of the Orange Line stops will be available upon request and The RIDE will be free for anyone starting and ending their trip within ¾ mile of the Orange Line.

Franklin-Hodge told StreetsblogMASS that “the City’s Equity and Inclusion cabinet, the Age Strong Commission, and the Disabilities Commission are working together to ensure accessibility along the shuttle route and to connect seniors and people with disabilities to resources.”

He also added that “the City is working to ensure accessible routes to all shuttle vehicles and shuttle stops as well as dedicated curb space for wheelchair accessible vans which can be requested by any person with a disability.”   

To help riders navigate the upcoming changes and options, transit ambassadors and members of the transit navigation crew will be available throughout the system, especially in high ridership areas.

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