In 1987, Orange Line rapid transit service between Boston’s Chinatown and Dudley Square in Roxbury was relocated from above Washington Street to a new underground alignment approximately ½ mile to the northwest. With the relocation, it became necessary to develop new replacement service for Washington Street, which was and continues to be one of Boston’s highest ridership transit corridors. From the beginning, many in the community pushed for light rail, and the MBTA applied to the Federal Transit Administration for funding to develop light rail. That request was denied.
The FTA’s funding denial led to a search for a lower cost way to provide premium service. Nelson\Nygaard Principal Geoff Slater, then MBTA’s Director of Planning, helped develop a concept for light-rail like service with buses, and to brand the new service with a color (Silver) to associate it with the MBTA rapid transit and light rail system rather than with the bus system.
This pioneering idea, before the term bus rapid transit was coined, led to the implementation of the first full arterial BRT service in the United States. The Silver Line featured:
- Articulated buses, the first to be used by the MBTA
- Bus lanes along most of the length of the corridor
- Unique stations with real-time passenger information
- Fewer stops and free transfers with rapid transit and light rail services
- The complete reconstruction of Washington Street from back of curb to back of curb to upgrade the street and improve pedestrian conditions
The Washington Street Silver Line has proven to be very popular with customers, and compared to the interim local bus service that it replaced, ridership more than doubled. The Silver Line concept has since been expanded to other areas, and there are now four Silver Line routes.