Monday, April 25, 2016

RIPTA: 22 (Pontiac Ave)

The area around the Warwick Mall is not a suitable place for pedestrians - especially not at night. Cars speeding along big wide roads with intermittent sidewalks, huge parking lots everywhere, and an absence of crosswalks all contribute to a nerve racking experience. It didn't help that I had no idea where the Warwick Mall stop actually was - turns out it's way on the other side of the complex! It's also really sketchy at night...

This is a hub?
Seeing as the Warwick Mall is considered a "transit hub" served by five routes, you'd think it would have some proper facilities. Admittedly, a shelter is better than what malls usually get, but first of all, this place needs some signage! There's none from outside the mall building, and maps inside don't give any information either. Secondly...gosh, I mean, you can see from the picture, the stop is a bit of a mess. This isn't necessarily RIPTA's fault, but geez, it's a pretty uncomfortable place to wait at night.

It took so many tries to get a decent picture of the bus laying over in the parking lot.
Okay, so the 22! This is one of three RIPTA routes from the Warwick Mall to Providence, and it's the only one without an express portion. The whole route runs local, and the areas it serves are mostly pretty dense. Unfortunately, since it was nighttime, I didn't get to see much, so I'm gonna be relying a lot on good ol' Google Maps for this one. Figured I'd give the full disclosure there...

The bus boarding.
We navigated out of the mall, which took a while since it's so huge. Once out of the parking lot, we made our way onto Oaklawn Street, which had even more lots in front of businesses and offices. Luckily, we soon turned onto the narrower Mayfield Ave, which was residential, mostly in the form of developments.

The road became East Street for a bit as we passed a prison, and then it turned into the route's namesake, Pontiac Ave. The surroundings got industrial from there, with big warehouses set off from the road, including a Pepsi bottling plant! We went under the Lincoln Ave Freeway, and then, once more, there were lots of businesses with parking lots out front. Gosh, maybe it's a good thing it was dark...

Eventually, it became a mix of houses and businesses. We went by an apartment complex and a school, then the street was mostly lined with sizeable houses. However, we eventually reached Rolfe Square, where there was retail on both sides of the street. It would've felt like a nice downtown, except that a lot of the buildings were unoccupied.

We came close to Cranston city hall and Cranston High School East, but they were on a side street. Pontiac Ave, meanwhile, became all houses again, with a brief break as the road went over the Huntington Expressway. Soon after that, we entered Providence and merged onto Reservoir Ave, which was lined with businesses and parking lots for just a little bit. It soon became dense houses, though.

There was a short industrial section near the Commuter Rail tracks, then we merged onto Elmwood Ave, joining the 20. After a cemetery, the street became lined with a mix of businesses and houses. We went by a second cemetery, then it became Broad Street, with the surroundings becoming entirely retail. Going by the Providence Central High School, we crossed over I-95 and entered downtown Providence.

This is the ONE time I tried to take a picture out of the bus. As you can see, it didn't go so well.
The buildings were much taller now, ranging from apartments to offices. The street became Weybosset Street, lined with businesses with apartments on top. We also passed a theater, which was very nicely lit-up in the dark. The street eventually curved around, and we were now surrounded by office buildings. We soon turned onto Kennedy Plaza, and the bus got ready to make its final trip back to Warwick.

Okay, this one isn't bad, actually.
RIPTA Route: 22 (Pontiac Ave)

Ridership: Back when RIPTA did its reports in 2012, this bus had great ridership, with 1,923 passengers per weekday, 944 per Saturday, and 923 per Sunday. It was the 11th highest weekday route, while weekend service was strong (Saturday and Sunday ridership was about the same, interestingly). Since the report was conducted, I'd imagine ridership is still strong, since the route's headways are about the same as they were then (with more frequent service on Saturdays now).

Pros: Of the three main Cranston routes (the 21 and the 30 being the others), this one is the furthest east, and it serves quite a lot of the city (not to mention Providence). It also runs...kind of frequently? Well, it does on weekdays, at least, with consistent half-hour service.

Cons: Okay, every 45 minutes at night makes sense, since my night ride only had about 15 people on it. However, the 22 has those exact same headways on weekends, which could definitely be improved - I think every half hour service on both Saturdays and Sundays would be great. This is further proven by a little tidbit at the end of RIPTA's detailed analysis of the route: "This route had a 20 minute frequency and was a top five route, we think it could be again." Ignoring the comma splice, I completely agree with that statement! I assume it's talking about weekdays, but increasing weekend service is also very important.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Well, certainly not the Warwick Mall! Actually, there didn't seem to be many noteworthy places along the 22, but I guess Rolfe Square in Cranston is the closest you'll get to one.

Final Verdict: 6/10
I mean, it has to be said that this route has pretty standard headways for the RIPTA. Plus, the route itself is great, making a direct path through Cranston and Providence. However, I really think that it has the ridership to run more frequently. The note in RIPTA's analysis about every 20 minute service on weekdays is a start, but based on the urban nature of this corridor, every half hour on weekends would be great! As it is currently, it's just an average route that gets the job done fine.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, April 18, 2016

RIPTA: 12x (Arctic/Route 117 Express Park and Ride)

There's a place called "Arctic" in Rhode Island? "That sounds like the most amazing place ever!" was my initial thought when I discovered the 12x while poking around the RIPTA website. Always looking for an excuse to visit Rhode Island, I rushed to the 3:30 Commuter Rail after school and jumped on the 12x at Kennedy Plaza. Turns out Arctic was not the most amazing place ever, although here's a review of the 12x, anyway.

The bus with the Providence skyline in the background.
Considering the amount of people waiting at Kennedy Plaza's express stop, it was kinda sad to see only a few of them get on the 12x. At 5:05 on the nose, we headed down Exchange Terrace, paralleling a park on one side and Providence's old Union Station on the other. We then merged onto Sabin Street, passing the modern Rhode Island Convention Center.

"I don't know what this is a picture of, but I'm going to take it" was my mindset here.
We turned onto Empire Street, which had an office-y feel to it, and then Weybosset Street, passing a big, fancy theater. After going by a park, the street got narrower and lined with multistory brick buildings. We went by some more office buildings as it curved around and became Exchange Street, running perpendicular to Kennedy Plaza.

A park along Exchange Street.
We then turned onto Memorial Boulevard, which paralleled the Providence River. Alongside the Providence Place Mall, the street became a highway ramp, and we navigated a huge interchange to get onto I-95. The highway was slightly below ground level, but many apartments and buildings were in view on either side.

You gotta admire intricate interchanges like this.
The surroundings soon got more industrial, with big vats to the east. There was a view of the Rhode Island Hospital, then the highway curved southwest with dense houses in view. However, we also passed a big industrial yard at one point, so it wasn't fully residential. It eventually became a mix of both, with houses on one side and factories on the other.

I'm obliged to include this bug, because it's fantastic.
There was a short woodsey section where we crossed over the Pawtuxet River, and then it was pure industry. The scenery was swapping between forest and industry for a while after that, right up until our exit - 10A. We navigated around the highway ramp onto Centerville Road, and at the Route 117 Park and Ride, many passengers got off to go to their cars.

The parking lot.
We soon turned onto Toll Gate Road, which was a strange mix of houses and offices. We went under I-95, then passed the huge Kent County Hospital. There was a short forested section, but as we crossed the incredibly wide Bald Hill Road, auto shops populated the intersection. From there, the street became a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial, continuing as we merged onto Providence Street, going by an apartment building.

Crossing Bald Hill Road.
We went over the Pawtuxet River again, with an old mill converted to apartments spanning the water. There was a small rotary where we merged onto East Main Street, lined mostly with houses. We then turned onto Main Street, ascending a hill. Going by an apartment tower, the street was lined with residences but also a few industrial buildings. These became businesses as Main Street entered Arctic Center - the unassuming last stop was just a sign.

Goodbye, bus!
RIPTA Route: 12x (Arctic/Route 117 Express Park and Ride)

Ridership: The RIPTA's ridership data is a few years old, and for the 12x, it dates back to when the route was called the 90A. It didn't have very much ridership then, with only 62 passengers per weekday, and if my ride is to judge, the ridership still isn't high. My trip got a total of around 10 people, which is pretty darn shabby, even for an express bus. Around half of those people got off at the Route 117 Park and Ride lot, while the other half disembarked at Arctic Center.

Pros: This is a niche express route, giving West Warwick peak hour service up to Providence. Its schedule is the standard for RIPTA expresses, with three trips in the morning and three trips in the evening.

Cons: But it's really niche. I mean, the 12x serves a small park-and-ride lot and a small town center already covered by two local routes. I suppose there's a market for express service from West Warwick during rush hour, but it's certainly not a very big one. It's also worth noting that the local section of this route operates in a strange loop, with AM service running via Centerville Road and PM service running via Toll Gate Road. This is because the Route 117 Park and Ride is on one side of a divided highway, so it's effectively on a one-way. However, the loop formation means that anyone commuting along a one-way section only gets service in the morning or evening.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I gotta say, Arctic Center is a pretty boring place, despite its cool name. However, there is one restaurant there that is a fantastic experience: Boneheads Wing Bar. Right in the center of town, the food is pretty good, but the whole place is themed around rock music, which is awesome. For a music geek like myself, it was incredibly fun reading the menu items, most of which are named after bands or songs. I'm not sure if it's worth a trip all the way down to Arctic, but this place is pretty cool.

Final Verdict: 6/10
I guess the 12x does its job fine as an express, and provides peak service from West Warwick to Providence. Its ridership group is a small one, but it would be bad to cut them off and force them into cars. However, I wonder if that group could be made larger if there was a solution to that one-way service issue. What if the route ran the whole loop in both the morning and the evening, with the Park and Ride acting as the official start/end point instead of Arctic Center? In the morning, it could start at the lot, go around the loop via Arctic Center, serve the lot again, and then go up to Providence - vice versa in the evening. I'm not sure how much ridership that would draw from residents living along the loop, but it could be an interesting experiment.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
I'm going to Bermuda over April Break, so I won't be posting until after I get back on Saturday. Goodbye until then!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

62 (Bedford VA Hospital - Alewife Station via Lexington Center and Arlington Heights)

Alright! The final Alewife review! You know, most of Alewife's buses fall into the same mold: weekday-only routes serving northwestern towns that only get riders during rush hour. Although the 62 doesn't satisfy the weekday-only requirement, the rest basically holds true. This is a long route, so let's get started.

It's hard to get good pictures in the Alewife busway...
Being around 5:00 PM, my trip was a rush hour one, so there was a throng of people who all tried to get onto the bus first. Once everyone was in, we navigated through the dark Alewife busway before reaching daylight, turning onto Alewife Brook Parkway. The road went up onto a bridge over the Alewife facilities, and then we made our way through a dreadfully slow intersection onto Route 2.

Huh...never noticed that marsh before.
Speeding down the highway, we went past a marsh and a soccer field, while the "Route 2 Westbound Pedestrian Bridge" stop that no one ever uses served the office parks and apartments on the other side of the road. However, as all local buses do, we took the first exit, but no one got off at Lake Street. Thus, we returned to the highway, and no one left at the second exit, either.

Spy Pond, seen from Route 2!
From there, we merged onto the "Route 2 Service Road", which ran parallel to the highway. Rising up on a hill over it, the bus made frequent stops for commuters returning to their houses in the quiet residential areas beyond the highway. Eventually, we turned onto Park Ave, which was entirely residential. Ascending a hill, we passed the Park Circle Water Tower, and then lots of houses as we descended it.

I love that tower!
We soon reached a steep downward slope, and past the traffic waiting for the light to change was Mass Ave. Finally reaching the intersection, we turned onto it and it was lined with businesses. However, the Arlington Heights Busway was very close. We looped around it, picking up a few passengers, and then we returned to Mass Ave, continuing past the 77 and 79's terminus.

More front view experimentation! You can see how crazy the hills are around here.
There was still a lot of retail along the street, but it was predominantly lined with houses. We entered Lexington along this section, getting joined by the 76 at a small rotary. From there, it was basically all residential, up until the National Heritage Museum. We passed through a park, and after some more houses, we entered Lexington Center.

I got off the bus at Lexington Center coming back, but I figured I'd put the picture here.
Ah, how I love Lexington Center. It has such big sidewalks with lots of benches along them, it's leafy, it has a bunch of great small businesses, and its buildings are historic. Not only that, but we passed the wonderful facades of places such as Lexington Town Hall and the Post Office. As we were leaving the downtown, we went by the incredibly important Lexington Battle Green as a final send-off from this great little town.

Yes! Good ol' Lexington Center.
Of course, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Soon after leaving Lexington Center on Bedford Street (leaving the 76 to stay on Mass Ave), there was an intersection with malls and businesses, all with big parking lots out front. It didn't last long, luckily, and the surroundings soon returned to houses.

A side street.
The neighborhoods were mostly residential, but we also passed the occasional office or industrial building. We also crossed the Minuteman Bikeway at one point. The road widened soon after that in order to get over I-95, then we went by some typical highway development: an ugly office park and a really gross-looking inn.

The bridge over the interstate.
The development continued for just a bit longer with pylons, a Boston Sports Club, and a hospital, before returning to houses. The street became Great Road as we entered Bedford, but soon after we passed through another pitty area (fast food restaurants, auto shops, and a huge mall, all with enormous parking lots). We also went over the tiny Shawsheen River along this section.

No parking lot pictures, but how about these McMansions?
There were more houses from there, and just before another shopping plaza, we turned onto the narrower Loomis Street. This was in order to serve Depot Square, the terminus of the Minuteman Bikeway. To be honest, it was a mostly industrial area, but it did have an old train next to the historic Bedford Depot.

Hey, I tried my best...
It was at Depot Square that we turned onto South Road, a narrow street lined with houses. However, we soon came across some history. The tiny Bedford Center featured a few little businesses, a common, the "Old Town Hall", and the magnificent First Parish In Bedford - a really great-looking old church.

Going past the common in Bedford Center.
We were now on Springs Road, another narrow residential street. The houses went on for a while until the stop names started getting weird - they became "building numbers". Yes, we had entered into the larger-than-expected VA Hospital complex! And...also a golf course. Anyway, we made a loop around Avenue D to get to a simple shelter on Spring Road, with brick buildings in view. It was an interesting place for a terminus, but this was it.

The bus at the hospital.
Route: 62 (Bedford VA Hospital - Alewife Station via Lexington Center and Arlington Heights)

Ridership: This is the second-busiest Alewife route, just below the 350 on weekdays, with 1,644 riders. Of course, as this is an Alewife commuter route, it gets packed during rush hour and is pretty quiet all other times. My ride got 40 people, and it wasn't even the true peak period yet! Also, the Saturday 62/76 combined route gets surprisingly decent ridership for its frequency, with 662 riders.

Pros: The 62 serves so much. This is mainly because of its insane length, cutting right through Bedford, Lexington, and Arlington, and linking them all up to Alewife just on the edge of Cambridge. A bunch of commuters use this route to get to the Red Line, which is why it runs so often during rush hour. Although the headways aren't consistent during that time, there are three trips 10 minutes apart in the morning (among others), and a similarly close schedule in the evening. It's more regular during the day, with constant every hour service - same on the weekends, running every 60-70 minutes.

Cons: The 62 doesn't have much of a night schedule, with only two or three trips after the evening rush - the last one leaves for Alewife a little before 9. Still, it probably doesn't get much ridership past there, so I guess it's okay. I understand the lack of Sunday service, although maybe a cut-back route on those days that runs as far as Lexington could be an interesting experiment.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Basically the town centers are the places worth checking out here: Lexington Center and Bedford Center. The former is definitely worth taking a visit to, especially if you haven't been before.

Final Verdict: 8/10
This is certainly one of the best Alewife routes, both due to its length and the fact that it has Saturday service. The 350 is in a league of its own (honestly, it probably deserves an 8 or even a 9, rather than the 7 I gave it in that review), but I would say the 62 is slightly better than Alewife's other premiere route, the 76. The 62 serves more since it's straighter, and it has a better schedule during rush hour. Overall, this is a pretty darn good route.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, April 10, 2016

73 (Waverley Square - Harvard Station via Trapelo Road)

Yes! Finally! My actual last Key Bus Route to review! It's a good one, too. I was originally holding off on the 73 because I wanted to wait until it switched back to trackless trolleys, but honestly, that's not gonna happen anytime soon. Thus, I shan't dilly-dally any more! Let's take a ride on the quick and serene 73!

A non-blurry picture in the Harvard busway? This is a miracle! Too bad this wasn't actually the bus I rode...
The 73 boards in the Harvard Lower Busway, which could be confusing to newcomers, but signage points this out pretty well. Something that is confusing to newcomers, however, is the fare system. Despite the fact that it doesn't use trackless trolleys with left-hand doors anymore, the 73 still has passengers pay when they leave. It's a bit odd, but it does speed up boarding at Harvard.

The bus I took. This picture looks surprisingly okay...
We popped out of the tunnel onto Mount Auburn Street on the edge of Harvard Square, and for the moment the road was lined with multi-story buildings. After the first stop outside a post office, though, it got much more leafy and quiet. We passed by a cute business block, but the street was mostly lined with dense houses.

A shot of the Charles River from my ride back.
Once we reached Memorial Drive, we ran parallel to it for a bit, with a nice park between us and the river. I was focusing on that side since it was quite scenic, but on the other side of the street, there was a big condominium. As Memorial Drive curved away from us, we went by another apartment building, then the huge Mount Auburn Hospital.

A residential side street.
Mount Auburn Street curved a bit as it had an intersection with the massive Fresh Pond Parkway. After crossing that, the Mount Auburn Cemetery was on one side while houses, apartments, and a small pediatrics office were on the other. There were businesses at the intersection with Aberdeen Ave, including a big Star Market that got its own stop announcement.

Ahh...I love that median on Aberdeen Ave.
We split off of the 71 after the miniscule Mount Auburn Bridge, where we merged onto Belmont Street. There were small businesses for a bit, then it became lined with dense houses. However, the street soon became this lovely mix of houses interspersed with really cute business blocks. It was so nice!

Another street lined with houses.
Eventually, one side of the street became occupied by a golf course while the other side featured bigger houses. There was a small bus loop at Benton Square, where certain 73 trips begin. It's also worth noting that this part of Belmont Street is up on a hill, and going inbound, there's a great view of Boston for a few seconds.

I was experimenting with shots out the front of the bus on this ride.
The street was now called Trapelo Road, and it went by lots of businesses at Cushing Square soon after the bus loop. We also passed an apartment building, then the street became lined with houses and started heading back down the hill. Eventually, though, it once more became that great mix of houses and small businesses.

Another frontwards shot.
Soon the surroundings became entirely retail, and here we turned onto Church Street, entering Waverley Square. I got off, paying as I did so, and then the bus did a short loop via Lexington Street and returned to Trapelo Road. After picking up a few more people at a stop on the loop, the bus started back towards Harvard.

The bus at Waverley Square.
Route: 73 (Waverley Square - Harvard Station via Trapelo Road)

Ridership: The 73 is a Key Bus Route, so of course it gets high ridership, However, it's generally on the lower end of the Key Bus Route spectrum, with 6,424 riders per weekday, 3,207 riders per Saturday, and 1,974 riders per Sunday (it does get more ridership than its 71 companion, though). Despite its more serene nature on weekends, the 73 can get packed during rush hour - even my trip around 3:30 got a good 30 passengers heading out of Harvard, though it can get to be much more as the evening progresses.

Pros: Ah, there's so much to love about this route. For one thing, its schedule is great. To accommodate its rush hour crowds, the 73 runs as often as every 5 minutes during those times. Otherwise, it goes every 15 minutes during the day and on Saturdays, every 20 minutes on Sundays, and every 25 minutes at night. These are all perfectly timed based on the route's ridership. Additionally, it's a lovely ride through some great neighborhoods, and the route itself is quick, straight, and serves a large chunk of West Cambridge, Watertown, and Belmont. Finally, the strange exit fare system is neither a pro nor a con, so I'm just gonna mention it here to make the "pros" section longer because this is such a great route.

Cons: No trackless trolleys, unfortunately, but that has advantages and drawbacks all on its own. However, the 73 does have a bit of a bunching problem, although I will say that that's very hard to avoid with every 5 minute service. Besides, it's nothing compared to the 1 or the 77, neither of which run as frequently as the 73! Finally, I know that Aria A. suggested that the 73 gets merged with the 72 because of its redundancy with the 71, although I personally disagree there. Honestly, the Mount Auburn Street corridor in Cambridge is a very busy one with the hospital being a major ridership draw - it would lose a lot of service with the merger, plus it would lengthen the ride for 73 passengers. Merging the 72 and the 75, on the other hand? Yeah, that should happen.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I don't know any specific places the route goes by, but they all look so interesting! The 73 passes so many small businesses along its route, running the gamut from restaurants and little stores to even a tiny movie theater!

Final Verdict: 10/10
Okay, as you may know, 10s are rare occurrences on this blog. Let me explain my reasoning: the 73 is the best run Key Bus Route on the system. It operates very frequently during rush hours to accommodate the unavoidable crowding, and still has a great schedule other times, contributing to its higher ridership. And yet this is also one of the most serene bus routes on the MBTA, both because of the lovely neighborhoods it runs through and the fact that you're pretty much guaranteed to get a seat outside of rush hour. Frequent service, good ridership, and tranquility? It's like the 71, except it runs more often (though I do love the 71, too)! And sure, it may experience a bit of bunching here and there, but only on weekdays during its times with really close headways. Seriously, this is hands down the best Key Bus Route, and one of the best regular bus routes, on the MBTA. If it ever switches back to trackless trolleys, it might as well be an 11!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Saturday, April 9, 2016

GUEST POST: 73 (Waverley Square - Harvard Station via Trapelo Road)

I got this great review from Aria A. reviewing the 73! It's incredibly well-timed, since I have finally ridden in myself, and have my own post in the works. That'll probably come out tomorrow, but for now, here's an alternate review of the route. Thanks, Aria!

I had never ridden the 73 before today. Strangely enough, I took the 71 into Watertown (which is where I live) instead of the 73 on the way back from Harvard. I live in the West End, so I'm not that far from Waverley Square's terminal. I also like walking, but I originally thought that it would've been a bit unnecessarily time consuming (according to Google Maps, it would've taken me between 25-30 minutes to get home by walking). I didn't feel like walking home today, though, since it was kinda cold, so I just took a 70A home. But anyway, here's the ride.

At Waverley Square, the only people that got off were a married couple and their two kids. The driver also stalled the bus and went to go get a coffee from a Dunkin' Donuts across the street. He was a nice guy as well, side note; he greeted each passenger and was quite polite. Once he got back, only three others got onto the bus alongside myself. This might've been normal since it was a Saturday, but I hope the weekdays have more people at the terminal. Departing the terminal, the bus commenced on a loop onto Trapelo Road. Afterward, it simply continued along the road. Trapelo Road is mainly a mixture of residential and small business. A few people got on and one or two got off on the way to Benton Square, the junction between Trapelo Road and Belmont Street. Once the road turned into Belmont Street, it became a lot more residential. It stayed like this until the road ends into Mount Auburn Street. Wait, this seems familiar....

Of course! It's where the 71 goes! Now why do both routes continue on Mount Auburn Street into Cambridge? Whoever made these routes may not have known what they were doing. There's a simple alternative for the 73, which is to merge both the 73 and 72 together. The 72, as you know, is practically useless as a standalone route. Everything is within walking distance of either the West Cambridge or Harvard Square areas. But if they merged, it'd get rid of the useless 72 route and the 73 would make a bit more sense. Anyway, the rest of the route is the exact same as the 71, so there really isn't much need to talk about what's to see on Mount Auburn Street. A kinda funny part of the trip I want to mention is when I stayed on the bus when everybody else got off at the Harvard busway. This is because I wanted to get off at Cambridge Common instead, so I had to ask the driver if I could stay on until the bus got there since he asked for where I was going. Being the nice guy that he was, he allowed it. I wouldn't see why he wouldn't, but whatever.


(A link to Aria's picture of the 73 on Flickr)

Route: 
73 (Waverley Square - Harvard Station via Trapelo Road)

Ridership: Like I said, I took this on a Saturday. Regardless, a total of about 15 people got on the bus on the way to Harvard. Not sure how many usually get on for the Waverley-bound trip on weekends, but I'd assume it'd be either the same or slightly less.

Pros: The Belmont portion of the 73's route is great, as it goes all throughout the town via Trapelo Road and Belmont Street, serving a lot of people. It's a Key Bus Route, so it runs VERY often on weekdays. On Saturdays, one bus comes every 15 minutes, which is actually quite good, and one comes every 20 minutes on Sundays. I've been on both Trapelo and Belmont during weekdays and I rarely see any buses bunching, although there have been a few instances of it. Nothing too bad, though.

Cons: The Cambridge portion of the route. It's the exact same as the 71's portion! Who thought that was a good idea? Why does the 72, a route which is completely within walking range for anybody in West Cambridge, get its own standalone route when it can be merged with the 73? "But why merge the two if the 72's route is all within walking distance?" Because the 73 would just make more sense. As narrow as Mount Auburn Street is in Cambridge, a second bus route running on it wouldn't be such a good idea.

Final verdict: 8/10
To recap, it serves a lot of people in Belmont, it's a Key Bus Route, it rarely bunches, and it's also just a nice ride. But again, I can't let go of the fact that the 73 has the same Cambridge portion as the 71. It doesn't make any sense, and that's why I had to lower the score. Aside from that, there isn't really anything else wrong with the route.

Friday, April 8, 2016

434 (Peabody - Haymarket EXPRESS via Goodwins Circle)

Well, this is officially the least frequent route on the MBTA - every 24 hours! In other words, the 434 only runs once a day in each direction, with one trip inbound in the morning and one outbound in the evening. I took the latter one, although things didn't exactly go as expected on the trip...

The bus coming into Haymarket.
After about 50 million 111s, the 434 finally arrived at Haymarket Station. I was expecting it to have more people, but with few on board, we headed up onto North Washington Street. And then...continued down North Washington Street? And...uh...over the Charlestown Bridge? And then...onto the on-ramp for the Tobin Bridge? What madness was this? The 434 is supposed to use the Callahan Tunnel!

Still, though, can't get enough of that view!
We continued on Route 1 through Chelsea, curving through the city on the elevated highway. Eventually it returned to ground level, and after that, we took the exit for Revere Beach Parkway. I have to be honest, I had never been on this exit before, and had no idea it existed. You learn something new every day, I guess!

What is this mysterious land???
Revere Beach Parkway was sort of a pseudo-highway, with a few proper interchanges but also some level intersections. Oh yeah, and it was wall-to-wall traffic. After a miserably long amount of time stuck behind other cars, we finally got to Bell Circle, rejoining the ACTUAL route.

A pond and a wind turbine seen from Revere Beach Parkway.
Now on American Legion Highway, we passed various motels, businesses, houses, parks, churches, industrial buildings - it was pretty varied. However, things got primarily industrial at another rotary, and once we merged onto the Salem Turnpike, it was just marshland. We started going fast at this point, with pretty much nothing on either side of us.

Well, there are those buildings wayyyyyy in the distance.
Eventually, the street curved onto a bridge and became Western Ave - we were in Lynn now. The surroundings were still industrial, but we did manage to go by West Lynn Garage without a driver switch, which was a relief. It was urban after that, the street becoming lined with houses and businesses.

An abandoned piece of land.
Market Square branched off the road heading toward downtown Lynn, but we were having none of that. Remaining on Western Ave, it got more residential, with dense houses and apartments lining the street. There were still plenty of businesses, though, including a huge Stop and Shop at the intersection with Washington Street.

A hilly dead end street.
We soon reached Chestnut Street, onto which we turned, joining the 436. After going by a corner of Flax Pond, the street became Broadway, and was lined with houses. However, the retail came back in the form of Wyoma Square, which featured a block of small businesses.

The lovely Flax Pond.
The street was now called Lynnfield Street, and it was once again residential, coming close to Sluice Pond. After that, there was a cemetery on one side, then the street made a few curves in an "s" formation. By this point the houses weren't as tall or close together, and it generally felt more suburban.

A hilly residential road.
We passed a hospital, then the street went under some pylons. We then arrived at Goodwins Circle, straddling the border between Lynn and Lynnfield. The bus would normally go all the way around the massive rotary in order to serve the Goodwins Circle stop, but no one was going there when the driver asked, so we merged right onto Salem Street instead. This became a different Lynnfield Street as we entered Peabody.

Oh gosh...worst pylon picture ever.
It was residential for a while, though there was a YMCA at one point. We also passed some office parks at the intersection with 1st Ave, where the 436 goes - I believe that route goes by many more of those on its way to the Liberty Tree Mall. However, we stayed on Lynnfield Street, now on the 434's only independent section.

That's a big field.
Not that it was a very interesting section. It was just a bunch of houses, and there weren't any stops along there, not even at the occasional shopping plaza or school! We soon merged onto Washington Street, though, joining the 435 and making stops once more. After passing a factory, the houses got denser and eventually gave way to the businesses of Peabody Square. However, the 434 didn't go into the square itself, with the last stop at the intersection of Washington Street and Main Street. The bus went "out of service" after letting me out and headed back towards Lynn.

Goodbye, 434!
Route: 434 (Peabody - Haymarket EXPRESS via Goodwins Circle)

Ridership: Considering it only runs once a day, one can expect the 434's ridership to be quite low. It is the third least-used MBTA bus route behind the 431 and 171, with only 60 riders per weekday. Still, though, that averages out to 30 per trip, which is pretty much optimal for an express. My ride had fewer people, though, with only about 20 passengers. Perhaps it's because it was on a Friday, or maybe the inbound trips just get more ridership.

Pros: Well, the main pro is that it serves a lot. The 434 is the only express service that runs to Peabody, and it serves a good amount in the process. In fact, only three or four people went as far as Peabody, with the others getting off before that. Also, I know once a day seems like an awful schedule, but considering its ridership and the fact that it's a niche route, I think it's suitable for the 434.

Cons: HOWEVER, what was the deal with that Tobin Bridge fiasco? I would imagine going over the bridge and cutting across Revere takes longer than just heading through the Callahan Tunnel like the route is supposed to do. Perhaps there was traffic in the tunnel and the driver was aware of that? I mean, we still hit traffic on Revere Beach Parkway. Also, why are there no outbound stops on the 434's independent section? Sure, it's a short part of the route, but it has stops on the inbound side (though not too many)! Why give people a way of getting into Boston with no means of getting out?

Nearby and Noteworthy: Peabody Square is definitely the most interesting locale the 434 serves. With a surprisingly eclectic selection of small businesses, (including a model train place!) I can easily see myself spending a few hours here. When you're hungry, Downtown Pizza offers cheap slices and very friendly service, especially for a pizza joint.

Final Verdict: 5/10
This is not one of the better North Shore express routes. Sure, it does serve a large area that no other expresses serve, but why doesn't it make any outbound stops on its independent section? Plus, I don't know what the deal was with the Tobin Bridge routing. It may have been a nice view, but it was A) a complete deviation from the regular route, which isn't good, and B) a longer trip! I guess the 434 does its job fine, but it could really use some improvements with stops and consistency (i.e. not making random deviations for seemingly no reason).

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Auburndale

Once upon a time, Auburndale was a commuter station on the Boston and Worcester Railroad. A building was built for it by the acclaimed architect H.H. Richardson, and it was considered by some to be the best he ever built. But then came I-90, which forced the beautiful depot to be demolished. Is the station as good as it was before? Ha! Nope.

Truly a grand entrance right here.
Auburndale is one of the Worcester Line's Newton stations, where the train tracks run right alongside I-90. These stations are rather infamous for being terrible, and Auburndale is no exception. One of its entrances is on Woodland Road, over the highway. It's a staircase and a schedule card. Moving on...

Wow!
Oh man, but the other entrance is decked out. It's on Auburn Street, and not only does it feature a staircase and a schedule card, but also a station sign and a newspaper box! The fun never stops at Auburndale!

Back on the Woodland Road side. Hoooo, boy.
The stairs to get down to the station are...something. For one thing, take a look at the staircase in the picture above. Does that look safe to you? Oh, and don't look down when you're traversing it, because then you can see right down to the gravelly ground below! Hope you're not afraid of heights!

The station...viewed from above.
Okay, so let's talk about this platform. It's right next to the highway. As in right next to the highway. As in when you're waiting for the train, there's a never-ending barrage of noise from cars speeding down the road. Plus, random highway trash gets tossed down around the station, making it feel incredibly dingy.

Ohhh, this is a good one.
Hey, wouldn't it be funny if they built a two track Commuter Rail station with only one platform? That would be hilarious! Oh wait...Auburndale has this setup and it's not at all funny! Although haphazard boardwalks are set up to the other track, I don't believe any trains are scheduled to board from there. Still, the lack of a second platform just creates problems with scheduling on the Worcester Line.

The simply beautiful shelter.
Okay, so the shelter. The rotting, bland shelter. It has benches, ads, and wastebaskets that desperately need to be emptied. The ceiling has chipping paint, the windows are made out of the dirtiest glass ever, and the lights are surely incandescent. Lovely place to wait!

At least there's parking...
Well, at least Auburndale has a parking lot. A whole 35 spaces, in fact! Okay, Auburndale has the smallest parking lot out of the Newton stations, and there aren't even any signs leading to it! I have no idea if it gets filled up on weekdays or not, since the MBTA website doesn't give information, but...some parking is better than no parking, I guess?

A train leaning around the curve.
Station: Auburndale

Ridership: Well...in terms of inbound ridership, it's the busiest of the three Newton stations. 325 passengers per weekday really isn't that much, though. On the Saturday I was here, though, a whole one other person was going inbound! Crazy.

Pros: Well...it exists...that's good...

Cons: Hmm...the horrible staircases? The bare asphalt platform? The fact that there's only one? The bland, dirty shelter? The overflowing wastebaskets? The proximity to the highway? The noise? The trash everywhere? The meager parking lot? ALL OF IT.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Okay, there is a business block nearby. But it only fits half the equation, since it doesn't seem particularly noteworthy.

Final Verdict: 1/10
This station is sooooooooo bad. It doesn't have any redeeming values except for the fact that it's there. It has the lowest amount of parking of the Newton stations, especially considering that Riverside is right down the road with its huge lot. Oh, and also, the station itself is dingy, bland, and overall horrible! Yup, Auburndale clearly deserves to be this blog's first recipient of a 1/10. Congratulations?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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