The City Council approved making the One-Way Broadway shared bike and bus lane pilot program permanent at its Monday night meeting.
The pilot program was approved in 2020, and includes one lane of vehicular traffic with a shared bike/bus lane on Broadway between Fifth Street and Everett Avenue.
Council President Roy Avellaneda cast the lone vote against making the bus lane permanent, after an amendment he proposed to limit the hours of the bus lane to 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. from Monday through Saturday was narrowly defeated. Councilors Giovanni Recupero and Judith Garcia were not present at Monday night’s meeting.
“I have several issues with the bus lane itself, but that being said, there are some ways to make some adjustments and some concessions on this topic,” said Avellaneda speaking on his proposed amendment. “I think most other communities have implemented bus lanes to encourage bus lane use in the downtown area when it is in fact needed the most and when it would make the most impact for those using it and want to have a faster ride into town. For that reason, I am copying what other communities have done.”
Councilor-At-Large Damali Vidot noted that there have been two subcommittee meetings on the bus lane program, and that she didn’t understand why making it permanent was running into opposition.
“The data continues to show that this is safer,” said Vidot. “The data that was provided to us tells us that we have 64 percent less accidents as a result of having this bus lane and travel lane.”
Vidot said she understood that there could be ways to tweak the bus lane and make it better, but overall, she said she supported it because it increased public safety and promoted more forms of transportation in the city.
District 1 Councilor Todd Taylor said he agreed that the data showed fewer crashes along the Broadway corridor, and also noted that a survey found a majority of both Spanish- and English-speaking residents of Chelsea in favor of keeping the bus lane program as is.
“I think it is clear that most of the people in this city want to keep the bus lane as it is,” said Taylor. “It is a safer option, and I also agree with the City Manager that there is no real public policy reason to change the existing pilot program and not make it permanent. I think the statistics bear that out.”
District 8 Councilor Calvin Brown agreed that the city should be promoting safer alternatives as well as providing better options for commuters with the bus lane.
Avellaneda’s amendment failed by a 5-4 vote, with councilors Melinda Vega-Maldonado, Norieliz De Jesus, and Tanairi Garcia voting alongside the council president.
After the defeat of the amendment, Avellaneda said he would not vote for the motion as presented, and cited issues with City Manager Thomas Ambrosino’s push for increased safety when he said the administration has failed in the past to take steps to make Broadway safer.
“For as long as I remember, all I asked for was for downtown to have lights at the intersections of 4th and Broadway and 3rd and Broadway, and that would have made Broadway safer,” said Avellaneda. “But I would almost, daresay, that it was purposely not implemented because of cost or because they so much needed to have a one-lane downtown Broadway.”
Avellaneda also noted that the bus lane hurts businesses on Broadway, and that the data shows there continues to be increases in rideshares and registered cars in the city.
“The dependency on vehicles has not decreased,” he said. “Parents say it is harder to drop off kids and go to work, and while we are making all the cars not go downtown, it’s hurting the businesses. There seems to be a real disconnect between this administration and the businesses downtown.”
Avellaneda added that the MBTA’s service to the city has been subpar and that they have not picked up the slack to help those most in need in the community.
Vidot said she could not understand Avellaneda’s aggressive stance against Ambrosino and his administration on the bus issue.
“We can disagree as councilors, I get that, but I want to bring to the table that the City Manager recently forwarded an email to the City Council sent to him by the president where he was berating him; it was a nasty email,” said Vidot. “It was not a way we should be talking to each other if we want to come to a consensus and really represent the community.”
Taylor conceded that while Avellaneda made some good points about safety, he added that the data shows the Broadway corridor is safer now, and that the council was not voting on past recommendations.
“I don’t see a clamoring for this to change,” said Taylor. “The survey speaks for itself. Of course, you are going to get complaints, but you are going to get complaints about everything.”