Saturday, August 22, 2015

503 (EXPRESS BUS Brighton Center - Copley Square via Oak Square and Mass Turnpike)

I think I was WAY too harsh when I reviewed the 501. This was before I started using the Blue Book for bus ridership, so just because MY bus didn't have a lot of people on it, I didn't realize that the 501 is the busiest I-90 express! My rant about the Cambridge Street routing was stupid, too - that's just so buses going in the non-peak direction can get back to Boston quicker to do a peak run! And I can assure my past self, the 57 would NOT be faster than the 501. So, yeah, consider that a redemption of a bad review. Now let's look at the 503!

The bus coming into its terminus.
This route is the exact same as the 501, except it goes to Copley instead of downtown, and it doesn't run as often. Since I was coming from Brighton Center in the afternoon, it meant that my bus would be taking the Cambridge Street routing. When the bus arrived at its terminus, a residential area south of Brighton Center, the driver said "503?" "Yup," I replied, and we were off.

Another shot in Brighton Center. Well, south of it.
We headed up Winship Street, going by dense houses on either side. When we reached Washington Street, we turned right, avoiding Brighton's main drag. After passing a huge hospital, there was a short stretch of houses. These became businesses at Union Square, Allston, which continued all the way to I-90. Here, we entered an odd interchange, going through a toll and twisting our way onto the highway.

Hello, huge toll!
We entered the highway when it was on its elevated section, going by B.U. buildings. We returned to ground level, passing Fenway Park and entering the Copley Square tunnel. Taking the exit for Copley, the tunnel made a huge loop and we popped out onto Stuart Street.

My, that John Hancock Building certainly is reflective, isn't it?
Everyone but me got off at a stop for Back Bay Station, then we continued toward Copley. We turned onto Trinity Place, going right by the John Hancock Building, then we turned onto St. James Ave. I got off here, as a group of riders got on the bus for the trip back to Brighton.

The bus at Copley Square.
Route: 503 (EXPRESS BUS Brighton Center - Copley Square via Oak Square and Mass Turnpike)

Ridership: My ride only had five passengers, but we were going in the non-peak direction early in the rush hour. Overall, the route's ridership isn't too high, either, with an average of 564 riders per weekday. That said, it doesn't make too many trips in a day, so that means more passengers per bus.

Pros: It's like the 501, except it goes to Copley instead! Assuming the highway is running quickly, it's a very fast way of getting to Brighton Center (and Oak Square) from Boston. I also like how this route and the 501 bypass the annoying Newton Corner loop, speeding up the ride just a little bit. There are already 50 million express buses that serve Newton Corner, anyway.

Cons: Another difference between the 503 and the 501 is that this one doesn't run as often. During the morning rush, it's pretty good, with every 15 minute service, but in the evening, that becomes every 25-30 minutes.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I gushed over Brighton Center in my 501 review, and though I still like it, I'm not sure if I would recommend it as...wholeheartedly as I did in that post. Don't get me wrong, it's still a nice place.

Final Verdict: 8/10
It may not run often, but for a simple commuter bus, the 503 does its job well. Consider this 8/10 to also apply to the 501, too. I don't know why I gave it such a low score in my review of that route, but here's my chance to redeem myself. Consider it...uh, redempted.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Just to let you guys know, I'm taking a break next week, but I'll be back September 1st.

502 (EXPRESS BUS Watertown Yard - Copley Square via Newton Corner and Mass Turnpike)

When I reviewed the 504, I talked about how it serves Copley Square most of the time. During rush hours, however, it runs completely express from downtown to Watertown. What bridges that Copley Square gap? Why, the 502, of course!

The bus at Copley Square.
The 502 takes the exact same route as the 504, except from Copley. I made it to the bus in the nick of time, and we were off. Right after leaving the stop, we merged onto a highway ramp that led to the Mass Pike's Copley Square tunnel. Coming back into the open, we went by Fenway Park on the left.

The highway went elevated after that, giving a view of the Charles River. We passed through the Allston Tolls, and it got more suburban from there. At Newton Corner, we took the exit, looping around the highway and making both Newton Corner stops. From there, we headed up Center Street, which became Galen Street as we entered Watertown. Soon after that, we pulled into Watertown Yard.

The bus in Watertown.
Route: 502 (EXPRESS BUS Watertown Yard - Copley Square via Newton Corner and Mass Turnpike)

Ridership: There must be quite a lot of commuters that need to get to Watertown, since the Watertown expresses are the second and third busiest I-90 routes. The 502 is in the latter position, with 1,206 riders per weekday. My ride only had about 20 people on it, but it was at 3:45 PM - not exactly rush hour yet.

Pros: As you can tell from the length of the review, this route is fast (as long as the Mass Pike is traffic-free). My bus was even five minutes early! Though it's confined to rush hour, the 502's schedule is also very good within those constraints - every 8 minutes in the morning and every 12 in the evening. And even when the 502 isn't running, Copley Square is still covered by the 504.

Cons: I know Newton Corner is a major destination, but looping around it takes forever. Yeah, yeah, there's nothing you can do about it, but this is a problem that plagues a lot of routes.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Well, there's Copley Square. And Watertown Square, if you're looking for someplace a bit more...well, boring.

Final Verdict: 8/10
As a supplement to the 504, the 502 is great. These routes can get busy during rush hour, so I like how the Copley Square portion gets its own during those times. It also runs often, and assuming the highway is okay, it's fast, too.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Friday, August 21, 2015

Copley

Man, you've gotta love Copley Square. Trinity Church, the Boston Public Library, the John Hancock Building...there are a lot of great sites to see here. But does its subway station compare? Well, let's find out.

The outbound entrances on two sides of the street.
Firstly, Copley has no free crossovers. Ugh...anyway, this means there are entrances for either platform, and they couldn't be more different. The outbound side gets these modern glass entrances on either side of Dartmouth Street. I'm a fan of modernity, so these entrances are great in my book.

Ah, but how can you not love this entrance?
Of course, old-fashioned entrances are fantastic, too, and the one for inbound trains has to be one of the best on the system. I mean, look at it! What more do I have to say? The fine detail is just perfect. Both entrances at Copley have elevators, too, so it's accessible.

The inbound mezzanine.
Copley's platforms are diagonal from each other, which is quite annoying, but aesthetically, they're similar. This carries over to the mezzanines, which have a lot of fare gates and machines. Of course, they don't look too good, but they are functional.

The outbound platform.
So...the platforms. Well, they're standard for the Green Line. Hey, at least the random pipes are kept to a minimum. And there are benches and wastebaskets, that's a good thing! But...they're just so bland! And they have cracking paint along the walls, ugh...Green Line, I'll never be able appreciate your aesthetics.

Boy, the renovations for these trains made them awfully shiny.
Station: Copley

Ridership: Copley makes it into the top 10 busiest MBTA stations at 10th place - 14,021 riders per weekday. This makes sense, as Copley is a major commuting center, as well as a huge tourist destination.

Pros: All of Copley's entrances are great, particularly the really ornate inbound one. Also, the mezzanines flow well and have capacity for a lot of riders. Finally, this station has a good amount of bus connections, from local buses to I-90 expresses.

Cons: On the topic of buses, the signage for those can be a bit spotty. That is, when you exit the subway, it's hard to know where you go to actually pick up the bus. In addition, the aesthetics down in the station are bland, which is typical for the Green Line, I suppose.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Oh, geez, there's so much. You've got the Trinity Church, BPL, and John Hancock Building as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, plus Newbury Street is a couple blocks away. On an unrelated note, this station is very close to Back Bay, so if you're coming from the Green Line, you can get off here and walk to the Commuter Rail instead of taking the Orange Line.

Final Verdict: 6/10
Copley is certainly a good station overall, but it has flaws. Namely, bus signage could be much better, and the station is bland underground. Above ground, though, it looks great - especially the inbound entrance. Just make sure you choose the right one, because again...no free crossovers.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Arlington

Okay, serious question: which do you prefer, the Boston Common or the Public Gardens? I'm of two minds - the Common has much more historical significance, but the Gardens are a lot nicer to walk through. Well, I'll say this...Arlington is a much better subway station than Boylston.

The outbound platform.
It wasn't always that way. Arlington used to be horrible until it was renovated in 2009. The platforms are still kinda meh, as you can see above, but it's such an improvement. And anyway, they're standard platforms for the Green Line, possibly even above average.

The mezzanine.
Guess what Arlington has. That's right...free crossovers! This is one of the few Green Line subway stations with those, and it's magnificent. They're connected in a decent mezzanine that's well-lit. Its ceiling is kinda low, but other than that, it's pretty good.

One of Arlington's many entrances.
From the mezzanine, there's a web of entrances all around the intersection of Boylston and Arlington Streets. They vary in architecture, but I like them all. Some of them are concrete and brick, like the one in the picture above, while others are glass and modern. It's great that there are so many entrances here.

A train at the station.
Station: Arlington

Ridership: Arlington gets an average of 8,519 riders per weekday, which is pretty high. I'd imagine a lot of tourists come here, what with the Public Gardens being right nearby.

Pros: There's a lot to like about this station, FREE CROSSOVERS being one of the major points. Other than that, the mezzanine is good overall, and this station has a plethora of entrances.

Cons: Although the platform isn't bad aesthetically, it's still a typical Green Line platform, which means it could be better. In addition, Arlington is lacking in bus connections, but Copley is one stop away and that's a major bus hub.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The Public Gardens, of course! What else is there to say?

Final Verdict: 8/10
I would probably call this my favorite Green Line station along the cluster from Boylston to Kenmore. I mean, what's not to like (aside from the bland platform)? The fact that it has so many entrances is great, and though the mezzanine's ceiling is low, I like how there is one. A lot of Green Line stations lack proper mezzanines. Oh, and also, free crossovers!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Boylston

Boylston was one of the original two stations on America's first subway, which may be why it's lacking in necessities. Free crossovers? Not here. Accessibility? Nuh-uh. Vintage trolley cars? Oh...yes, actually.

The inbound entrance.
Boylston's entrances are pretty far from one another, lined up along Tremont Street right next to the Boston Common. They do look the same, though, and that's a good thing. The station has nice, old-fashioned headhouses that lead underground. Just make sure you know what direction the entrance is going, because remember...no free crossovers.

The inbound mezzanine.
I'm not really sure if you can call them mezzanines, though. They're more like "entrance areas". All you'll find at either entrance is a few fare machines and gates, and that's about it. It looks like the inbound one even has one of those random rolling chairs you come across sometimes - it's like a scavenger hunt!

The outbound platform.
I'll say this for Boylston's platforms: their ceilings are high. It's downhill from there. This station certainly shows its age, with cracked paint and a barebones platform. The inbound side has the old trolleys, of course, but other than that, there's nothing of note here.

One of the two vintage trolleys, seen from behind a fence.
So what about bus connections? Boylston technically has two bus stops that are right next to each other. The first one is for the 43 to Ruggles and the 55 to the West Fens neighborhood. It's just a sign, but admittedly those routes don't get too much ridership from Boylston.

The Silver Line stop, in all its glory.
But we can't forget that the super, ultra, high-powered BRT Silver Line stops here! Oh, boy, what kind of fancy shelter does it get? Oh...it doesn't have a shelter. Well, I'm sure it has some comfy benches to sit on...hang on, no it doesn't. COME ON, IT'S JUST A SIGN! REALLY?

People complain about the Green Line, but at least it's not a bus. Sorry for the Silver Line rant, but it just came up.
Station: Boylston

Ridership: Considering how close it is to Park Street, Boylston gets a good amount of ridership. On average, 6,826 people board here every weekday. Emerson College is close by, so there could be student traffic in that number. Theatergoers, too.

Pros: The vintage trolleys! And the entrances aren't bad, either.

Cons: No accessibility, of course! Or free crossovers. Or nice-looking platforms. Or a proper bus stop. Oh, and did I mention the curve to the south of this station? It gets pretty screechy, let me tell you.

Nearby and Noteworthy: As I mentioned, Emerson College is close by, as well as the theatre district. 

Final Verdict: 5/10
The only reason Boylston isn't getting a lower score is because of those old trolleys, which are admittedly quite cool. But as for the rest? No accessibility, no free crossovers, and no sense of aesthetics. And as for that curve? You can hear the trains screeching around it from above ground. Yes, I know the MBTA can't smooth it out, but it's so annoying. So...how 'bout those old trolleys, huh?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The MBTA is exploring the possibility to privatize some bus routes to save money.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Brandeis/Roberts

Wow, Brandeis University gets its own Commuter Rail station! That's great! Well, wait, both Harvard and MIT get subway stops. And actually, there are many universities in the Boston area with frequent subway access. Huh...well, here's Brandeis/Roberts, anyway.

I love these shelters!
This station has accessible boarding areas on both sides, and they're great. They're wooden, so they have kind of a rustic feel to them, and I like that. Of course, they have benches and wastebaskets as well.

Looking down the platform.
Along the rest of the platform, there are a few more benches and wastebaskets, but nothing too interesting...except for one shelter. Yes, the inbound side has a shelter way down the platform where no one would ever bother to wait. It was cute and all, but I'm really not sure if I would call it "rustic" or "disgusting". You be the judge...

Um...hmm...
This station offers parking, but I'm not exactly sure how much. The Wikipedia page says there are 70 spaces here, while the MBTA station page says there are only 24. Either way, the official page says there's an 86% availability rate, so clearly the parking that's there is enough. This station is also served by a bus route, the previously reviewed 553 to Boston.

Oh my gosh, it's two trains!
I feel like I do this kind of shot a lot...
Station: Brandeis/Roberts

Ridership: This is one of the busier stations on the Fitchburg Line, with an average of 437 riders per weekday. I assume most to all of this ridership is student traffic to and from Brandeis.

Pros: Again, I really like the rustic feel of the boarding platforms. The station also has ample parking, which is great.

Cons: The major issue with this station concerns its level crossing. Brandeis/Roberts' platform is long. Yet in order to stop at the boarding platform, trains have to stick out into the level crossing, causing huge traffic jams. It's not like you can just move the platform, but it's probably very annoying for drivers on South Street. In addition, that shelter on the inbound side is borderline useless, plus it's kinda gross in there.

Nearby and Noteworthy: As I mentioned in the 553 post, there are some businesses close to this station. Also, Brandeis University, of course.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Eh, I like a station with charm. The boarding platforms are excellent, and I can't help kind of liking the gross shelter on the inbound side. The level crossing thing is a bit of an issue, but it's a hard one to fix. It's probably more efficient to just let it be...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

553 (Roberts - Downtown Boston via Newton Corner and Central Square, Waltham)

Although this is an express bus, it gets a surprising amount of local traffic, too. Like its companion, the 554, the 553 serves a college on its independent section (Brandeis University), as well as a Commuter Rail station. So let's take a look at yet another I-90 express bus, this being the first time I've taken one to Boston.

The bus crossing the Commuter Rail tracks.
Heading up South Street, we went by Brandeis/Roberts Station (review coming soon), then passed lots of Brandeis buildings. After going by a school, we turned onto Hope Ave, otherwise known as the leafiest street ever. The street curved around and passed some apartment buildings. We served the Children's Hospital at Waltham, then came back to South Street.

The street mostly consisted of dense houses, with one or two businesses. We then turned onto Main Street, joining the 70. This street was lined with businesses all the way to Central Square, Waltham, where we looped around the common. From there, we turned onto Moody Street, crossing over the Charles River.

Ooh, I haven't gotten a picture of this side of the river yet!
The street was lined with businesses for a while until it became a mix with houses. Eventually, we turned onto River Street, which was entirely residential. We then turned onto Elm Street, passing a field. Coming up to the Mass Pike and West Newton Station, we turned onto Washington Street. The street was lined with businesses, but it became more industrial later on.

Man, this street is awfully close to the highway, isn't it?
There was a section with houses, then it went back to retail near Newtonville Station. Soon after, we reached Newton Corner, looping around twice - it took awhile. But from there, we merged onto the traffic-free highway, zooming toward Boston.

Hey, I can see South Station between the highway pillars!
The surroundings were suburban for awhile before the highway went elevated. From the side of the bus I was on, there was a view of the closed, empty CSX freight yard, as well as B.U. From there, we went by Fenway Park and through the Copley Square tunnel. Just before I-90 went into another tunnel under the Fort Point Channel, the bus left the highway and turned onto Kneeland Street. We then turned onto Lincoln Street, and I got off at the first stop in order to catch the 505.

Another one at Roberts. I was too busy running for the 505 to get a picture in Boston.
Route: 553 (Roberts - Downtown Boston via Newton Corner and Central Square, Waltham)

Ridership: There were about 30 people on my ride, 15 of which took it locally. I was very surprised that number would be so high, but I guess local ridership exists here. As for overall ridership, this is the busiest route in the 550 series, with almost 1,000 riders per weekday and 423 per Saturday (yes, it runs on Saturdays).

Pros: It's the one bus that goes to Brandeis, which means it gets student ridership. It also runs express to Boston all day, running every hour. It has night service as an express from downtown and Copley Square to Central Square, Waltham - every half hour. And yes, the 553 even runs on Saturdays. Even though it's just an every 45 minute local route from Roberts to Newton Corner, it's still nice that it exists.

Cons: The night schedule is weird. I don't think an every half hour express just to Central Square at night is really necessary unless it's Friday or Saturday. I think they should just run the whole route, especially since students might be returning to school at night.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Brandeis has a few businesses near it, including a small pizza place. Also, there's Central Square, Waltham and downtown, of course.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Overall, this seems like a good bus that serves a lot. The fact that it has Saturday service is great, even if it's not used too much and is just local. My main problem with the 553 is the night schedule, just because an express to just Central Square doesn't seem called for. Other than that, though, the 553 is a pretty good route.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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