Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Random Photos: Low-Flying Plane at Beachmont

Logan Airport's influence spreads quite far. All the way up in Revere and one can still see the planes flying low overhead.

The plane.
Looking out over the station.

Random Photos: View From Lynn Parking Garage

I found a batch of random photos that were never published, so I'll be putting them out. The first one is the decent view from Lynn Station's parking garage.

Looking over downtown.
And towards Nahant.
The birds circle above an interesting-looking tower on a hill.

8 (Harbor Point/UMASS - Kenmore Station via BU Medical Center and Dudley Station)

It's not often you miss the last stop on a bus. But once we reached the last stop of the 8, the driver decided to drive away before yelling at us. Thus, for all intents and purposes, my friend Jason and I missed the final stop of a bus route. What an accomplishment...?

But of course, there's a whole ride to talk about. We started out at Kenmore Station, from which we headed down Brookline Ave. We went over the Mass Turnpike, right past Fenway Park, and then went by lots of businesses and apartments. Passing the Landmark Center mall, right near Fenway Station, we then entered the Longwood Medical Center.

We turned onto Longwood Ave, going by tall hospital buildings, and then made a sharp turn onto Avenue Louis Pasteur. There was a short run on the Fenway, going by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, then the MFA and the E Line. The street became Ruggles Street, and we passed some Northeastern University buildings (one of many schools on this route), then headed into Ruggles Station.

From there, we went down Ruggles Street again, going by some housing developments and a park. We then turned onto Shawmut Ave, and entered Dudley Station. After that, we headed up Washington Street along with the Silver Line, making all of its stops until East Newton Street. There, we turned onto East Brookline Street, then Harrison Ave, then East Concord Street, then Albany Street (lots of twisting and turning).

This was the BU Medical Center, and so there were lots of tall hospital buildings again. On Albany Street, there was this yellow tube that went over the road - I have no idea what it's for, but I know that it would be really cool to walk through. We then turned onto Mass Ave, and entered an industrial wasteland.

This went on for a while until Newmarket Station, where we turned onto Newmarket Square. We then turned onto Southampton Street, and after that we entered the South Bay Center Mall. This was a major stop, and almost everyone on the bus got off here. Leaving the mall, there was a nice skyline view, and this time I didn't get accused of taking pictures of peoples' daughters.

This came out surprisingly well, considering the amount of salt on the bus window.
We headed back to Mass Ave, going into the industrial wasteland again. But once we merged into Columbia Road, it turned residential. We followed Columbia all the way to JFK/UMASS Station, where a few people got on for the next part of the route out to UMASS.

From there, we headed onto Mount Vernon Street, going by a bank and a hotel. We also passed the Bayside Expo Center, where they're planning to build the main stadium if we end up hosting the Olympics. Passing a school, we reached what is apparently the last stop of the route, next to an apartment building and a housing complex. Everyone on the bus got off except for Jason and I, and the bus left the stop.

"Hey!" the driver suddenly shouted. "Where are you going?"
"UMASS," I replied. 
"That was UMASS!" he yelled back. 
"Fine, then drop us off at the last stop," I said. 
"That was the last stop! So, where are you going? I'm not writing a book here!"

I still have no idea what that book analogy was supposed to mean, but I said we were going to the busway. I meant the UMASS busway, but he ended up taking us back to JFK/UMASS, which was actually better for us. I decided against taking a picture of the bus once we got there, though - I don't think the driver would've been very happy about that.

This one at Kenmore will have to suffice.
Route: 8 (Harbor Point/UMASS - Kenmore Station via BU Medical Center and Dudley Station)

Ridership: There were exactly 30 people in total on our ride, which is great for a Sunday. Most of them got on at local stops and got off at the South Bay Center. The route performs well overall, as well, with almost 4,000 riders per weekday, 1,500 per Saturday, and 1,000 per Sunday.

Pros: This is a great crosstown route for southern Boston. It serves every line except for Blue, as well as Fenway Park, a few museums, a bunch of schools, two medical centers, and an evidently popular mall. It also provides a direct link from UMASS to those locations, though the free shuttle is much more efficient for getting to JFK/UMASS (and it's free). The 8's schedule is decent on weekdays, with headways of about 20 minutes during rush hour and 30 minutes during the day.

Cons: On weekends, though, it drops to every 40 minutes on Saturdays and every 45 minutes Sundays. Based on the ridership this route seems to get, that's certainly not enough. Also, this route is long and twisty. And since it's long and twisty, it's prone to being late. I don't use the 8 regularly, so I can't say how reliable it is, but my guess is not very. After all, our trip was about 15 minutes late, and it was a Sunday!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Lots of stuff! They were basically all listed in "Pros", though. Whoops.

Final Verdict: 6/10
This is a useful route, for sure, and lots of people use it. But that actually drops the score a bit, since it makes this bus's bad schedule seem even worse. Also, the 8 seems like the sort of route that's just asking to be late all the time. I'm not sure what could be done about it, but as it stands, this doesn't seem like the most reliable route.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

64 (Oak Square - University Park, Cambridge or Kendall/MIT via North Beacon Street)

I never really gave the 64 much thought until I read Jordan King's guest post about it. The route sounded interesting, and I figured I'd have to give it a try at some point in time. Then a few of my friends, with no interest in buses at all, told me I should ride the route. Well, now I had to do it!

The bus on Green Street in Central Square.
The 64 starts at University Park, a little east of Central Square. We (my friend Jason came along "for moral support" - his quote) didn't get on all the way over there, and like everyone else boarded at the Magazine Street @ Green Street stop. After everyone got on, we headed down Western Ave, going by lots of houses. There were a few apartments and industrial-looking buildings at the intersection with Memorial Drive, then we crossed over the Charles.

Nice view.
After the bridge, we turned onto a road paralleling Storrow Drive, We then turned onto Cambridge Street, heading over an exit of the Mass Turnpike. There was a view of...really just industrial wasteland. There wasn't even a skyline view on the other side!

Still, industrial wasteland looks kind of pretty in the snow. Kind of.
There were some apartments on the other side of the bridge, but also a few auto shops and gas stations. We were joined by the 66 as we went over the Mass Pike again, and then after an industrial area, we stopped at Union Square, Allston. Here we went solo again, turning onto North Beacon Street.

The route would normally take a short detour from North Beacon Street via Arthur Street, Guest Street, and Life Street, but there was construction. So, we stayed on North Beacon, which was pretty darn industrial. We went by Market Street, as well as that really cool TV station, and soon after it got more residential.

Crossing under the Turnpike again, we were greeted by some fast food restaurants with huge parking lots. It got more parky, luckily, and there was a nice view of the Charles from North Beacon Street. We soon turned onto Brooks Street, crossing the Pike for the last time, and then the fun part of the route started.

I guess the river wasn't frozen out here.
Unexpectedly, we turned onto Hobart Street, going through a nice-looking residential neighborhood. But this street was tiny, and we could barely fit between the parked cars. I would've loved to have seen a car try to go the other way, but unfortunately the road was quiet. We turned onto Falkland Street, and then the much wider Faneuil Street.

There were a few businesses at Faneuil Square (where the last 64 terminates on weekdays and Saturdays), then more houses. These eventually turned into apartments, and after passing a park, we arrived at Oak Square. The driver kicked us off and the bus looped around to head back to Central Square.

Huh. It says "no Beacon Street," yet I'd swear the route went on Beacon Street!
Route: 64 (Oak Square - University Park, Cambridge or Kendall/MIT via North Beacon Street)

Ridership: On our ride, there were about 25 passengers in total. For a Sunday, that's not bad. There were about 10 people who got on at Central, and the others fed on at various stops. In terms of rankings, it's about halfway down the ridership list at places 70, 77, and 83 for weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, respectively.

Pros: This route has a good chunk of northern Brighton all to itself. Also, a person sitting in front of us vouched for the fact that the route provides a speedy link from Central to Union Square, which it does indeed. During rush hour, the 64 is extended to Kendall, presumably for commuters to the area, which is great. The route runs pretty often during that time, too, every 15-20 minutes.

Cons: That's raised to every 35 minutes during the day, and every hour at night and on weekends. The Sunday schedule is particularly brutal as the last trip that day is at 6:35 from Oak Square. Those are horrible service hours! A nitpick is that the University Park routing is annoying, but it's not that bad.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Aside from Oak Square, which seemed nice, the 64 goes by the very first Staples store, in Brighton! I'm gonna be honest, it looked like just a regular Staples, but it's still kinda cool.

Final Verdict: 7/10
This is overall a pretty good route, in that it serves a lot. It also provides a speedy link from northern Brighton and Union Square to Central Square. The schedule is the only real con for this route - every hour on weekends is bad enough, but the service span on Sunday is terrible. Still, for folks in Brighton, it's better than nothing.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The MBTA isn't running today because of the blizzard. Yes, I know I'm really late.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

75 (Belmont Center - Harvard Station via Concord Ave)

I think buses look amazing in the snow. It's a shame, then, that on a snowy day I had to wait for the 75 in the underground Harvard busway. That said, I'd much rather wait for the bus in a tunnel rather than a sign out in the middle of nowhere, especially if it's snowing. So it's a mixed bag, I suppose.

The dark, wet busway.
Leaving the tunnel, we headed up Garden Street, going by the Cambridge Common. We then turned onto Concord Ave, passing houses and apartments, then a big laboratory. There were some businesses after that, and then closely spaced houses. We passed the Tobin School, and after that we left the 74 and 78 by turning onto Fresh Pond Parkway.

Fresh Pond can barely be seen between the trees.
The bus runs express along this section. Fresh Pond Parkway has Fresh Pond and parkland on one side (looks like they gave the road a fitting name), while car dealerships and gas stations linger on the other. We went by the Cambridge water works, and turned onto Huron Ave soon after. Running with the 72 for a few blocks before it turned onto Aberdeen Ave, we were solo once again.

Another snowy view.
Huron Ave had houses on one side and more parkland on the other. We went by a big apartment tower ("700 Huron Ave", which appears on the route's destination boards, too), and then a cemetery. On the other side was a scenic view of the Fresh Pond Golf Course, of which I failed to get a picture. It got fully residential when we turned onto Grove Street, eventually rejoining the 74.

And yet another snowy view.
We headed up Bright Road, then turned onto Concord Ave. Once again, there were houses on one side and parkland on the other. We then passed the massive Belmont High School complex, and I got off the bus at the Commuter Rail station. From there, the route makes the same loop that the 74 does through Belmont Center.

Ugh, what an awful angle!
Route: 75 (Belmont Center - Harvard Station via Concord Ave)

Ridership: Although it was a snowy Saturday afternoon, 11 people still isn't very much. They all got on at Harvard and fed out at various points along the route. There were two other people who went all the way to Belmont Center. Looking at the charts, the 75 performs consistently badly ridership-wise no matter what day of the week it is.

Pros: This route is a fine alternative to the 74 if you're going to Belmont Center. They're coordinated most of the time, though most people got off along the 75's independent portion. It's also a surprisingly scenic ride, especially in the snow.

Cons: On its own, the 75 is every hour all through weekdays and Saturdays. Saturday evenings and Sundays it gets replaced by the 72/75, which runs every 40 minutes. I still believe that all service should be taken over by the latter, since neither the 72 nor the 75 get very high ridership alone.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Belmont Center again. See the 74 post for more information on that.

Final Verdict: 4/10
I will say that the 75 is slightly more useful than the 72, since it covers a much larger distance. Still, though, I feel that they should be merged full-time, which would be more efficient. Neither of the routes get especially high amounts of ridership, even on weekdays, so the MBTA could perhaps save some money by merging the routes.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Davis

There are four folders on my computer that have pictures of Davis in them. The problem is, there aren't too many non-blurry ones. Why? Because this station is too darn dark! I don't know what it is - there are lots of lights at Davis, but they don't seem to have much of an effect on the brightness. When I'm on the train and we arrive at Davis, it often feels like we're still in the tunnel. Still, this station is clearly important, based on what it's done for Somerville since it opened in the 80's. Let's take a look.

The station, looking bright for some reason.
Aside from its darkness, the platform is passable. The diagonal benches with art on them are pretty cool and unique. Unfortunately, ceilings get pretty low in parts of the platform, and it can feel a bit dingy. The coolest part of the platform, though, is the massive abstract art piece beside one of the staircases. It adds some much-needed color to the station (a lot of the station is gray), and really catches your attention.

Wow!
The mezzanine is, like the platform, passable. There's a fair amount of fare gates (if you'll pardon the pun) and fare machines, though the machines are a bit scattered. When you enter the station past the gates, there's a massive picture of a CharlieCard to greet you. Interesting, since you can't actually get CharlieCards at Davis.

Who doesn't love these statues?
From the mezzanine, there are staircases to two entrances. The first is on Holland Street, and is pretty nice. This is where you catch the 87 and 88 buses towards Lechmere, which is pointed out back in the mezzanine. Heading out behind Holland Street, there are a whole bunch of bike spaces (which are always packed), and the Somerville Community Path towards Alewife.

Inside the other entryway.
The other entrance is accessed by a long-ish hallway that overlooks the platform. Along it are a bunch of tiles painted by kids (at the time) that are really interesting to look at as you walk by. Heading out, there's a nice entryway with a little convenience store and even some payphones. What are those again?

The busway, looking slightly askew. By the way, see how it's winter in the picture? This was taken last winter.
This entrance leads out to the station's main busway. Davis isn't a huge hub, but it's served by six routes serving Somerville, Medford, Arlington, and Cambridge. The busway has the same dated architecture as the rest of the station, but it does have one redeeming quality: a countdown clock. I love how there's one right at the busway, so when you get off you can instantly see if you should be running for your train or not. I've only seen this setup here and at North Quincy, but it really needs to be at more stations.

Even with a stationary train, it was still too dark for the camera to take a non-blurry picture.
Station: Davis

Ridership: This is actually the 12th busiest station on the system, with nearly 13,000 boardings per day! The fact that it was the only station in Somerville for 30 years (until Assembly opened recently) is probably some explanation. Also, this station gets student traffic as Tufts University is about a 15 minute walk away (they even announce it on the 01800 trains).

Pros: For now, it's the closest station to a very large part of Somerville (but we'll see how the Green Line extension changes that). And this station completely changed the area - Davis Square was a pit before the Red Line came along, and now it's one of the most happening places in Greater Boston. As for the station itself, there's lots of art scattered through, and I particularly like the huge piece next to the stairs. The numerous bike spaces are a plus, too.

Cons: The architecture is so very dated all around the station. Plus, the platform is really quite dark.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I love Davis Square! The Somerville Theatre is a great movie theater, and really cheap, too. There are also countless restaurants in the area.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Okay, Davis as a station is pretty bad. The architecture is very dated and boring, and the platform is very dimly lit. But I do like the many art projects scattered around, and more importantly, how much this station changed the area. Davis is a perfect example of how public transportation revitalizes neighborhoods. For that alone, I had to raise its score up to a seven (though the station itself is more like a five).

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The MBTA's late-night service could be coming to an end, as they haven't gotten enough sponsors to keep it open. Jetblue was willing to buy out the entire Blue Line, why is nobody offering money now?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lynn

I said in my post about Lowell that the station was pretty depressing. It was very functional and all, but just didn't feel...right. Honestly, though, Lowell doesn't even come close to how foreboding Lynn is. Really, this place is a dump.

The tall, tall entrance.
The main entrance is very tall and imposing. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, because it definitely lets people know that there's a train station here. It leads out to the North Shore Community College campus on Broad Street, as well as the waterfront.

And the other entrance.
The second entrance is closer to Central Square. It gets its own pseudo-plaza that goes to both sides of the station. When I say pseudo-plaza, I mean a bit of pavement that has nothing of note on it. Inside, there's a mosaic mezzanine that tried to look nice but sort of failed. A staircase leads up to the platform.

The main busway.
The bus situation at Lynn is pretty confusing. The station is a huge hub for sure, with many 400-series buses going all over the place. But they also go all over the place in downtown Lynn, and maps always make it seem more confusing than it is. Case in point...

Makes perfect sense!
As you can see in the "Downtown Lynn Area Bus Finder" above, finding a bus in Lynn is extremely easy! Just find one of the stops on the map - ignoring the two that are off it - and look at the lengthy list of bus routes that corresponds to each one. Also, make sure you do it in September 2003, since that's when the map is valid. Seriously, just go to the main busway and grab the bus from there!

The dinginess of this area isn't captured at all.
The busway leads to the main entrance. Your first sight upon entering is a whole bunch of rusty green staircases. It's sort of reminiscent of what the Central Artery used to look like before the Big Dig. The staircases here lead to different floors of the parking garage. If five floors is too much of a climb, you can just take the smelly elevators up. The garage actually has more spaces than the station does ridership, so it's literally more than enough.

The entrance to the platform.
Further past the green stairs is the entrance to the platform. Again, the mosaic tiles try to make the area look nice, but ultimately fail. Mosaics cannot compete with the rusting ceiling, water damage, and dark, grim atmosphere of the entrance.

The platform, taken from my personal helicopter. Or the top of the parking garage. 
The platform gets some respect from me because it's elevated, which is fantastic. But other than that, it's not the best. There's a thin shelter that runs along it that doesn't seem like it would be much use against the elements. Indeed, it's only there for about half the platform. The view is nice, at least.

A train from down below.
Station: Lynn

Ridership: Surprisingly low - this station only gets 662 inbound riders per weekday (keep in mind that the parking garage has three hundred more spaces than that). I daresay the busway gets more ridership! Indeed, some of those Lynn buses can be pretty popular on weekdays.

Pros: It's right smack in the center of Lynn, and a huge bus hub. The parking garage is huge, and the station's elevated. It makes an attempt to look nice, but...

Cons: It doesn't. This is a dingy, dumpy station. I suppose that can be said for its surroundings, too (sorry, Lynn), though Fields Corner isn't the best neighborhood either, but I felt safe there. Is it because of its modern, well-kept station? Could be.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I'm gonna be honest, I've never been a fan of Lynn. Perhaps there's a hidden gem somewhere, but the downtown area has never been appealing to me.

Final Verdict: 5/10
As a Commuter Rail station, it's functional. It's nice that it's fully accessible, with a high-level platform. The garage is massive, there are lots of bus connections, and the station is elevated right in downtown Lynn. In fact, there are probably more good things about Lynn Station than bad. But it has such a foreboding feel - I didn't really feel safe exploring the station. Imagine what the coveted Blue Line extension out here would do for the city - if they ever built it.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The MBTA is fining Keolis (operator of the Commuter Rail) $1.6 million because of late and dirty trains.
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