Sunday, December 09, 2007

Using Photoshop to Improve Bus Service to Brighton

When scanning through Boston College's Institutional Master Plan (IMP) over the weekend to get a feel for the overall thing, I started out reading in my usual way -- looking at the pictures first. (Funny, my daughter seems to do the same thing, indicating how little I have improved my reading ability since childhood.)

I came across Figure 6-1, a map of transit routes near to BC. This figure must've been somebody's idea of a joke -- except that I couldn't find the $20 bill they had taped to the back of the page in case anybody actually read the whole thing. Here it is:

How is this map wrong? Let me count the ways...
  1. Mystery Bus: Bus #193 doesn't exist, at least according to the MBTA's website. (Oddly enough, googling on "bus 193 mbta" points to MBTA trip planner website, which lists a Bus #193 -- but turns into Bus #57 as you follow the various links. Might there be an historical Bus #193 that MBTA hasn't fully disgorged from their website?)
  2. Misleading Bus Route: Bus #52 route generally passes north-south through Watertown Square, not east-west east of Oak Square. Well, that is, except for once daily -- on school days only -- when it makes that funny little run into Brighton Center. The approximately 2:30 pm school-day run won't help campus commuters; it's really quite misleading for a map like this. (Compare to the MBTA's own map below.)
  3. Bus Route That Just Won't Stop: Bus #65 starts in Kenmore Square, travels through Longwood and Brookline Village, and has its terminus in Brighton Center... so I am surprised to see BC's map having it continue west beyond Brighton Center towards Oak Square.
  4. Magically Re-Routed Bus: Bus #66 starts from Harvard Square and travels roughly south through North Allston and Allston -- not southwest into Brighton, through Brighton Center, and towards Oak Square. They have magically moved the Bus #66 route a mile-and-a-half to the west.
  5. Another Re-Routed Bus: Bus #57 goes east-west through Brighton, but does not branch south along Chestnut Hill Avenue.
Here's what the MBTA's own system map looks like:

which, obviously, has no Bus #193, does not bother labelling Bus #52's once-on-a-school-day-route going through Oak Square, correctly turns Bus #65 (thin brown line) around at Brighton Center, and, of course, leaves Bus #66 in its rightful place off-map. (I know, I know, I shouldn't trust the MBTA website for accurate information... but once-in-a-while the MBTA might actually get it right.)

How could BC and their planning consultants, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., have gotten the local transit map so mixed up? It's actually not very surprising considering that only 6% of Boston College faculty and staff commute on public transportation (Table 6-4). You would have to, on average, have 17 BC staff employees carefully review this one figure in order to find one who actually commutes on the MBTA -- who would quickly see the mistakes inserted into the figure by the consultant. (Who knows what VHB's own transit mode share is? Anyone want to bet it's less than 6%?)

Having so many buses appear to pass near to BC's campus sure does make it look like the university's neighborhood is exceptionally well-served by public transit.

The funny thing is that Harvard's North Allston neighbors have been clamoring for improvements to Bus #66 service. Boston College has offered up such improvement by extending its route out to Oak Square! If only photoshop = reality.

UPDATE (12/28/07): BC's IMP website has updated this figure, correcting the mistakes noted above (while classifying route #52 with an asterisk for "limited service"). One reader noted that route #193 may refer to a once-a-day afternoon run of bus #57 along a slightly different route.


Robskillz said...

Hopefully you and your readers saw Derrick Jackson's piece from the Saturday Globe about college football graduation rates. Boston College ranked #2 overall in his rankings of bowl teams, with a 93% graduation rate for players. As an alumnus that reads your blog fairly often and rarely finds BC mentioned in a positive light, I think you should at least make note of this great statistic that we all can agree is a wonderful thing.

Robskillz said...

And here is the link in case you missed it.

Michael Pahre said...

Off-topic, but posted nonetheless...

Yes, of course I saw it, and planned something. I'm not always an instant poster.

TareB said...

Yeah -- as BC faculty and a T rider, I laugh. Excellent work as usual. That 6% (if it's accurate) is not only due to the horrors of the B line and people living outside the city, but because the university does precious little to encourage faculty and staff to use public transport, despite continually claiming parking woes. The T pass program is bare bones and geared almost exclusively toward students, for example (contrast Harvard's extensive and accessible program.) It's symptomatic of a bigger problem regarding supporting faculty and staff to live decently in the Boston area; it's not just BC facing this, but every school that hasn't had deep pockets to shell out on housing and benefits, and a few houses here and there (and outside consultants clueless to MBTA maps!) aren't going to solve the problem. You can't run a competitive university that way any longer, though, so I hope more comes out of the plan that's constructive along these lines.

Kirsten Ryan said...

Gee- I wish that map was right! I'm a daily commuter from Oak Sq to Kendall. 1 hour minimum each way no matter what combo of buses and or trains i try. How nice it would be to have the 66 run all the way from Hvd Sq down to Oak Square. Instead i have to wait for the pokey 86 and then walk partway to Oak or else jump on the 66 in Hvd, get off at Allston and wait for the 57. Good job VHB! (full disclosure, i work for one of their competitors heh heh)