Wednesday, December 17, 2014

22 (Ashmont Station - Ruggles Station via Talbot Ave and Jackson Square)

Okay, this driver was crazy. This was by far the most nerve-wracking bus ride I've ever taken. Now, maybe he was a really good driver and had an excuse to do all the reckless things he did, but it was still pretty scary. Of course, there's also a route to talk about, and that's the 22. It could be considered a companion to the 23, but they take completely different routes and only connect at their termini.

This isn't the bus I took, but it was also at Ashmont.
We left the Ashmont busway, and pretty quickly turned onto Talbot Ave, a residential street. Soon we reached Codman Square, where there were some small businesses. This is also where the 23 turns up Washington Street - the two routes don't intersect again until Roxbury Crossing. Meanwhile, we continued up Talbot Ave, which was once again residential.

We had a stop at the Talbot Ave Fairmount Line station, but it doesn't look like much transit-related development has happened around there yet. There was a school, then we turned onto the very wide Blue Hill Ave, which was lined with mostly apartments. The northbound side of the road has two lanes to choose from, but the driver couldn't seem to pick. So, we just stayed in between the two, Yeah, real safe.

Passing the Franklin Park Zoo, we ran through a red light and then turned onto Seaver Street. We picked someone up at the first stop along there, but there was someone else running to the bus. The driver started to leave, and took no notice when the guy on the outside banged on the back doors. "Someone wants to get on!" I shouted up to the front, which finally got the driver to stop and let the person in,

Travelling in between lanes again, the street had apartments on one side and Franklin Park on the other. Soon we reached Egleston Square, which had some businesses as well as a strangely tall, round apartment building. It went back to smaller apartments after that.

At Jackson Square, there were two buses waiting in the "left turn only" lane to head into the station's busway. We were coming along in the "straight only" lane, though we had to go into the busway, too. The light turned green just as we arrived at the intersection, and we swerved over, cutting off the two buses in the left turn lane, which had already started to move. I think my life flashed before my eyes.

After that terrifying experience, we headed up Columbus Ave, paralleling the Southwest Corridor. We passed Roxbury Community College, then joined a bunch of other buses coming from Malcolm X Boulevard (including the 23) at Roxbury Crossing. From there, it was a short run to Ruggles Station, where I believe we exceeded the busway speed limit by quite a degree. I couldn't help feeling relieved that we made it in one piece.

The actual bus I took, at Ruggles.
Route: 22 (Ashmont Station - Ruggles Station via Talbot Ave and Jackson Square)

Ridership: This is a Key Bus Route, and so ridership would normally be heavy. But for some reason or another, my bus only had about 10 people that rode. I believe that a few of them actually went from beginning to end, interestingly.

Pros: This is another good link from the Red Line to the Orange Line. The part on Talbot Ave is exclusively served by the 22, and this is the only route to serve the street's Fairmount Line station. Since it's key, it has an excellent schedule - every 8 minutes rush hour, every 15 minutes during the day, every 20 minutes at night, every 15 minutes late nights (on Fridays and Saturdays, until about 2:30), every 12 minutes Saturdays, and every 20 minutes Sundays.

Cons: Bunching, alas, and on a Sunday. At Ashmont, there were two 22s that came in together. And also, I wasn't a fan of the driver's driving techniques, but that's not the route's fault.

Nearby and Noteworthy: This route is mostly residential, actually. Still, Codman Square and Egleston Square have some businesses.

Final Verdict: 8/10
So I guess this ends up being the same as the 23. And actually, both routes had bunching problems. On average, the 22 is slightly faster, but if you're going from Ashmont to Ruggles or vice versa, it ultimately comes down to whatever comes first.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
This is the last post before I head off to Florida. I'll be back soon, though, with a guest post offering a second opinion on the 66. I don't plan to take any transit in Florida, so I doubt there'll be any Service Changes and I can get right back to MBTA reviews when I come home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

66 (Harvard Square - Dudley Station via Allston and Brookline Village)

As if Holyoke Gate wasn't confusing enough, the 66 had to go ahead and stick "Dawes Island" in there. I mean, come on! Let's just put the terminal at Johnston Gate where all four above-ground Harvard buses go and be done with it! ...Although southbound 86 buses still stop at Dawes Island... oh, never mind. The stop is right next to the bus tunnel portal, immediately south of the Cambridge Common. The bus was about 10 minutes later, but it eventually rounded the corner of Mass Ave and picked up the 10 or so people waiting.

The bus arriving at Harvard. Those trolley wires look pretty crazy in the background.
The 66 is sort of like a crazier, more suburban, and much more circuitous version of the 1. Aside from the fact that they both go from Harvard to Dudley, these are two very different routes. Indeed, outbound buses don't even have a direct transfer with the 1, and so we headed away from it through downtown Harvard Square.

There were lots of brick, 2-4 story buildings on this section. We made our way to JFK Street, going by some Harvard University buildings, and then headed over the North Harvard Street bridge along with the 86. I prefer the eastern view from here, though the western view is good, too. Traffic flowed uncharacteristically quickly, and we were over the bridge in no time.

Looking down the Charles.
Now in Allston, we sped past some more Harvard buildings, including the Stadium. At Western Ave, the 86 left and we became the sole route on North Harvard Street. The neighborhood became residential, with a nice-looking library in between the houses. Soon we turned onto the very wide Cambridge Street, joining the 64.

We went on a long bridge over the Mass Turnpike, then passed through a weird, somewhat industrial area. There were businesses again at Union Square, where we made the sharp left turn onto Brighton Ave, joining the 57. It had a leafy median, which used to host the old A Branch tracks to Watertown. We soon turned onto Harvard Ave, going by some very unique small businesses.

We crossed over Commonwealth Ave, then it actually got residential for a bit. Eventually, though, we entered the main drag of Coolidge Corner, which was mostly one-story buildings (an exception being that awesome movie theater). After crossing over Beacon Street, the businesses stuck around.

The next major area was Brookline Village. Here, we crossed over the Green Line tracks and swerved onto Route 9, not actually serving the station. There were some nice apartments when the street became Huntington Ave and we were joined by the E Line tracks. Luckily there were no streetcars clogging up traffic when we came through.

It got more residential once we turned onto Tremont Street, but there was still retail on the first floors of some apartments. We went over the Southwest Corridor, stopping at Roxbury Crossing Station, then joined the seven other buses on Malcolm X Boulevard. We sped down here, going by a few schools, and then pulled into Dudley Station.

Neoplan diesels look so weird when you can't see the bump on top...
Route: 66 (Harvard Square - Dudley Station via Allston and Brookline Village)

Ridership: Very heavy. On a Sunday, there were over 45 people that rode, many using the route for crosstown service. This is actually the third busiest MBTA bus route on weekdays and Saturdays, and the second busiest on Sundays. Indeed, every time I see one of these buses, it's packed to the gills, so there you go,

Pros: It's a fantastic crosstown route, but it also covers some neighborhoods that don't get any other transit options. It's a Key Bus Route, so the schedule is obviously great - every ten minutes rush hour, every 16 minutes during the day, every 20 minutes at night, every 15 minutes late nights on Friday and Saturday, and every 17 minutes on weekends. I don't know why the bus runs more often late nights, but it goes until almost 3, so that's fantastic. I think the weekday headways are slightly longer than the Key Bus Route average, but we'll let that slide.

Cons: The 66's length and frequent stops mean that it is often late, as I found out myself. This also means bunching - throughout our trip there was this other bus that always seemed to be on our tail. Keep in mind that it was a Sunday. Finally, I wish this bus's terminal was somewhere other than Dawes Island, like maybe Johnston Gate - the former is really hard to find, especially with horrible signage at Harvard.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Coolidge Corner has both an amazing movie theater and an awesome independent book store. As you can tell, I'm quite the Coolidge Corner fan.

Final Verdict: 6/10
Overall, this is a decent Key Bus Route. It's a time-saver if you're going between lines on the west side of the system, and it runs pretty darn often. Of course, it could be late, bunched up, or most likely completely packed. Oh, and good luck finding Dawes Island. You have to get over these annoyances to fully appreciate the 66. Next week, there'll be a guest post of this route offering a second opinion. Stay tuned...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, December 15, 2014

Random Photos: Typo at Central

When I saw this, I actually giggled with delight. The MBTA has a typo on the 83 route sign in Central Square!

It's spelled Rindge, not Ringe!

Random Photos: New Orange Line Maps!

Looks like they've finally updated the Orange Line strip maps inside the trains to include Assembly.

It really doesn't look that different...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fenway

No, this is not the closest station to Fenway Park. Why does everyone think that? Oh, is it the really misleading name? Yeah, that's probably it. The station is actually named after a road called the Fenway. But even the station tries to tell you it's the closest one to the famous ballpark by featuring a mural that says "RED SOX - TAKE THE T TO FENWAY." You're only kidding yourself, Fenway Station.

Yeah, right.
This station has two entrances. The first one feeds into the parking lot of the Landmark Center, a big shopping, entertainment, and office complex. The other is a staircase that leads up to Park Drive. Up here there are also a few bus connections, namely with the 47 and CT2. There's no proper busway (not that you need one with only two bus routes), but there are shelters on both sides. Not bad...

We've got the T logo, but no station sign. As you can probably tell by the foliage, I came here a while back.
The platform is pretty unique. Since most of the station is underneath Park Drive, a lot of the platform is sheltered. The walls are made of bare concrete, too, adding to the uniqueness. Now, "unique" doesn't necessarily mean "not dingy." It's pretty dark under there, and there are even some random pipes running around. My worst enemy.

Under the bridge.
This station, like most Green Line stations, is front-door only boarding. Fenway does have the D Branch perk of at least getting CharlieCard machines. They're in their own little shelter, even though it's already sheltered by the bridge. Alas, there's no way to cross between tracks except for two level crossings, which I always feel compelled to run across. I'd rather not take any chances...

A train arrives at the station.
Station: Fenway

Ridership: Surprisingly, this is the busiest station on the D Branch, and one of the busiest on the above ground portions of the Green Line. It gets almost 3,500 passengers per weekday, some of which probably come from the apartments nearby, and others work at the Landmark Center. And I'm sure quite a few people use this station to get to Fenway Park, too.

Pros: It's a pretty unique station for the D Branch. Much of it is sheltered, and there are some nice amenities here. There's no busway, but shelters in both directions is more than enough for only two bus routes.

Cons: The station's kinda dingy under the bridge. Also, there's no way to cross the tracks aside from two level crossings, which is annoying. Finally, it would be nice if they had a Fenway sign at the Park Drive entrance. I feel like that would make it more obvious that there's a train station there.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Let me get this out of the way: this is not the closest station to Fenway Park. That honor goes to Kenmore, which is served by the B and C Branches as well. Landmark Center, however, seems like a good complex, and that's exclusive to Fenway. Plus, the reviews all say that the parking lot is a mess - so just take the train!

Final Verdict: 6/10
Not that great, but certainly not terrible. It's kinda cool how much of the station is under a bridge, which provides shelter, but also makes it more dingy. The bus situation is pretty good, but the track-crossing situation is not - a footbridge would be fantastic. And for goodness' sake MBTA, change this station's name to something less misleading!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Service Change: Lexington's Lexpress - 3 (Depot Square - South Lexington via Marrett Road, Spring Street, & Hayden Ave)

When I found out I wouldn't be able to get driven to piano lessons, I had to find a way to get there via public transit. I ended up with the following three options:

  • This weird Alewife shuttle thing to a housing development called Windsor Village, meant for commuters.
  • The Red Line to Central, then the 70A up to the Waltham-Lexington border.
  • The 62 to Lexington Center, then the Lexpress 3 route to a housing development called Lexington Ridge.
I was originally planning to take the first one, but hit some complications. For one thing, the schedule for the bus ominously says "For use by Windsor Village residents only." Also, I couldn't find any fare information. The website just gave a phone number to call for daily or monthly passes. This seemed much too complicated, But the second option would take almost an hour and a half, which is much too long. So, I picked door number three.

The Lexpress is the local bus system in Lexington. And can I just say, that name is the best thing ever. It's a standard hub-and-spoke system, with all the bus routes radiating out of Depot Square in Lexington Center. There are six lines, all of which are very...loopy. The scheduling is interesting, as well, in that routes 1, 3, and 5 leave Depot Square on the half hour while 2, 4, and 6 leave on the hour. It's weekdays only, but based on the ridership I saw (spoilers: not good), that makes sense.

It was dark and rainy when I set out for Alewife. This was quite a monster storm, as I found out later looking at the news. Another problem was that the 62 ended up being five minutes late, since the bus was coming to Alewife after a run on the 83. And the massive traffic jam heading up to Route 2 lost us another five minutes. I got fairly nervous by this point - the 62 was scheduled to arrive at Lexington Center at 5:15, with the Lexpress leaving 15 minutes later. And we were already 10 minutes late!

Accidentally getting off one stop early at the Lexington Post Office, I had to run to Depot Square. When I got there, I found that Lexpress actually had its own private busway! There wasn't anything too special, but they had some schedules and benches set up. No shelters, though, which wasn't the best in the torrential rain. There was a single bus waiting there, as well as one other person. She told me the waiting bus was a 5.

The busway. Note that as it was dark and raining, most of these pictures will be terrible...
Most of the Lexpress system is "flag-down" style, where there are no official stops. But they do have a sign put up in Depot Square.
Some schedules on the sign.
The 3 came a few minutes later. I took a (pretty bad) picture of the bus, which caused the driver to angrily open the doors. "Why are you taking pictures of the bus?" He yelled. I decided to tell the truth, and told him I was reviewing the system. "Do you have any authorization from Lexpress to take pictures?" He asked. "Well, I have the MBTA photo policy," I replied (good thing I had printed it out). The driver calmed down and let me on. The fare is an even two bucks for adults, $1.75 for students, $0.75 for seniors, and free for children under five. If you're transferring to another Lexpress bus, the second ride will only cost a quarter, but I don't know why you'd need to make a transfer on a system like this.

You can't really tell, but the bus said Lexpress 3 & 4. I guess that means there are only three buses in the whole fleet, running two routes each.
The minibus was pretty reminiscent of the ones in Montpelier. However, the seats on the Lexpress were different and though they were still comfortable, they lacked the seatbelts from the Montpelier buses. Not that that really matters. When the driver closed the doors, all the regular lights inside the bus went off, leaving only the ghostly red glows from the emergency exit lights.

Creepy...
For some reason. this one came out really bright.
The best picture I could get of the stop request sign up front. Sad, I know.
You probably noticed that the bus was completely empty in the above pictures. That's because I was the only one on the bus for the whole trip. Not a single soul got on at any of the other stops, and I took the route all the way to the end, Maybe it was the rain or maybe it was the fact that I was going outbound, but that's really bad ridership.

We made our way to Mass Ave, going by the businesses of Lexington Center. But soon after, we turned onto Waltham Street, which was a much more suburban residential area. The Lexington High School came and went, then it was houses again. There were a few businesses at the intersection of Waltham Street and Marrett Road, which we turned onto.

There were some more businesses at the intersection where we turned onto Spring Street, then it was residential once again. All of a sudden, though, we were in office park central. Turning onto Hayden Avenue with Route 2 in view, there were massive offices just lining the road. As you can probably imagine, it wasn't the nicest neighborhood.

Eventually we rejoined Waltham Street, crossing under Route 2. There were a few businesses, then the bus turned into a residential complex where all the houses were the same. This was Lexington Ridge, and I had assumed we would just loop around the complex. That's what it seemed like we would do, but then the driver reversed the bus to turn around. I feel like it would be easier to utilize the road loop then to turn a minibus around in the middle of a housing complex, but that's just me.

I pulled the stop request cord (woo!) and the sign up front glowed red. It also made an interesting sound as if air was being released from somewhere. The driver opened the doors and all the lights came back on as I left. My eyes!

The driver kindly stopped so I could take this picture. Unfortunately, it probably wasn't worth it.
And the bus leaves the complex at warp speed! This is probably my favorite picture of the bunch.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Charles/MGH

I get that the Longfellow Bridge needs to be fixed, but did they have to put that stupid fence up? It's ruining arguably the best view on the entire MBTA system! I'm talking, of course, about the above-ground section of the Red Line leading to Charles/MGH. This section of the line offers truly amazing views, even the side that the fence isn't covering (though the fence is blocking an awesome skyline view). But there's also a station to talk about...

I have this one picture from an earlier post. Too bad I don't have any sunny ones...
Charles/MGH is one of the few remaining elevated stations on the MBTA, which makes it even more fantastic. It's also very modern, having gotten a renovation in 2007. The actual platforms, admittedly, aren't especially updated, but they're still pretty nice. The eastern end is sheltered, but with windows if you still want to see out. The western end is out in the open, and it offers its own awesome views. The only problem I have with the platform is that the whole thing shakes when a train arrives. I trust the station's structural integrety, though.

The platform, looking toward the downtown skyline.
Both staircases lead to the same mezzanine. There are also elevators, which were added in the 2007 renovation. The escalators only go up, but I can live with that. The mezzanine is really quite beautiful, thanks to the station's glass facade. The escalators circle around back to the fare-paying area, which is nice and large.

Okay, so this is more of the station's entrance, but whatever.
The entrance is the only major problem I have with this station. It's right smack in the middle of a not-very-pedestrian-friendly system of intersections. You're gonna have to face some fairly fast cars if you want to get into Charles. Still, I suppose there's nowhere else you can put it, so in the middle of the intersection it is.

The beautiful glass facade.
From the outside, this station looks really nice. Elevated stations can sometimes have a really dingy feel to them, but this one is beautiful. I mentioned the glass already, but they even have some art hanging up for passerby to see. And I particularly like the stylish MBTA logo they have on either side of the bridge. Branding is always important!

As you can probably tell, this was taken on a completely different day. But I love this picture!
Station: Charles/MGH

Ridership: Pretty high: about 12,000 people per weekday. Many of these, I'd imagine, are people working in the medical field, due to the fact that Mass General Hospital is right nearby. Beacon Hill residents, too.

Pros: It's elevated! And it's beautiful! Yes, I really like the awesome glass design of this station, and the platform is pretty hospitable, too. Plus, there's the view. Currently it's just of a fence, though the one out the other side of the train is all right. I prefer the skyline one, ultimately.

Cons: It can be a bit harrowing when the whole thing shakes when a train comes in. Also, I don't like how the entrance is in the middle of a massive intersection, since that makes the station kind of annoying to get to. This is one of the few Red Line stations with no bus connections, but there's nowhere for a bus route to go from here...

Nearby and Noteworthy: To the north are the tall buildings of MGH. There isn't much of note up there, except for the Liberty Hotel - it's interesting that they turned an old prison into lodging for tourists. To the south is the more interesting neighborhood of Beacon Hill. When you walk around there, you feel like you've been transported back in time.

Final Verdict: 9/10
Okay, so it may have a few minor flaws - the shaking and the entrance - but it's totally worth taking the train over the Longfellow Bridge. The stupid fence is there right now, though the view from the other side is, as I said, not bad. It's still one of the better ones on the system.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The MBTA plans to offer youth and university passes in a year-long pilot program! Hopefully it works out...
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