Thursday, April 17, 2014

39 (Forest Hills Station - Back Bay Station via Huntington Ave)

I had taken the 39 once before, but I never reviewed it for some reason. I don't know why - it's the busiest bus route on the MBTA, it replaces a former trolley, and best of all, it uses articulated buses. Whatever the reason is that I didn't review it, I'm doing it now after riding it again.

The 39 doesn't actually start at the Forest Hills busway, but rather at a station that used to be served by E Line trains. See, the E branch of the Green Line used to run all the way down to Forest Hills, but they cut it back to Heath Street in the 1980s (the line was actually eliminated entirely for a few years, too). Some track still remains here, but obviously the trains don't come anymore. I'm not sure why the 39 doesn't serve the busway, because I feel like a reference to what used to be isn't reason to change an entire bus route.

The former E Line station where the 39 boards and drops people off.
Anyway, everyone was just scattered around the area, on their phones and whatnot. Once the bus came, though, they all went to a spot to board. I was happy to see it was articulated, as sometimes they run just regular buses on Sundays. These particular buses are apparently unique to the 39, as there was a convenient map of the route inside.

The destination board seems to be a bit garbled up.
Leaving the station, we went up South Street, which was about half apartments, half businesses. We soon reached "Monument," which is just a big statue from what I could tell. Nonetheless, the 38 route turns off here to head back south, but the 41 route begins here and follows the 39 up Centre Street. After some businesses at Monument, it turned to mostly apartment buildings. Well, "projects," really.

Ooh, swanky!
Soon we broke off from the 41 and went up South Huntington Ave. This street was more residential, with actual houses (but still some projects). We went by V.A. Hospital, a very massive structure, and then were joined by the E Line at Heath Street. I really liked the neighborhood heading up South Huntington Ave, although I'm not sure if it's actually as nice as it looks.

The rather sharp turn onto Huntington Ave is always fun on the train, when it screeches and squeaks trying to make it around the curve. On the bus it was somewhat less exciting, but we headed up Huntington Ave nonetheless. It started getting much more urban around here, with a tall tenement building at Mission Park Station.

After Fenwood Road the E Line went into the median of the street and the buildings got ever taller. On weekends the E doesn't usually go all the way to Heath, terminating at Brigham Circle, but even after that people were still choosing the bus over the train. We went by the Longwood Medical Area, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Northeastern University before the E Line went into its subterranean lair.

Symphony Station was really fun. I was wondering why the stop was so far from the actual station and Mass Ave. Turned out the 39 goes into a little bypass tunnel under Mass Ave, and the driver floored it. After roaring through the tunnel, there was a stop at good ol' Prudential Station, and then we turned onto Belvidere Street.

I love it when these articulated buses make sharp turns and you can see the front from the back. Bus inception?
We went by the cool "Infinity Pool" (or whatever it's called) before turning onto Dalton Street and going over I-90. Turning once again onto Boylston Street, we went by the Prudential proper and the Hynes Convention Center, then came into Copley Square. Then we turned onto Clarendon Street, going right by the John Hancock Building, and finally came into the Back Bay busway (wow, say that three times fast).

I know this post has a lot of pictures, but you gotta admit that this is a great one.
Route: 39 (Forest Hills Station - Back Bay Station via Huntington Ave)

Ridership: It's the busiest bus route on the MBTA. Even though it was actually pretty empty the first time I rode, this time almost 80 people took it - and this was a Sunday! Most of them got on for short distances, and I don't believe anyone but me went from beginning to end.

Pros: As a replacement for the E, it's pretty darn good. It has about the same capacity as what trains the E Line used to run, which is certainly a good thing as this bus had a lot of people riding. But since it uses articulated buses, nobody had to stand! And though these buses aren't as fantastic as the ones on the 28, they're still pretty great. Oh, and it's a Key Bus Route, so of course we've got a great schedule: every six minutes (!) rush hour, every 13 minutes during the day, every 12 minutes nights (and until 2 AM on Fridays and Saturdays), every 10 minutes Saturdays, and every 12 minutes Sundays. That's amazing.

Cons: The one thing I have to nitpick about is where the bus boards. There's not enough signage for it, and the area doesn't exactly look like a bus station. I had a hard time finding it the first time I rode - I feel there should be more signage around the station.

Nearby and Noteworthy: It goes right by the two tallest buildings in Boston, and I think you'll find a lot of interesting things to do around Copley Square. And of course, you can't talk about Copley Square without mentioning Newbury Street and its European-esque architecture and feel. I once went to a great Italian Restaurant there called Piattini (something specific, hooray!), but there are plenty of stores and restaurants on the street.

Final Verdict: 8/10
This is a fantastic replacement for the former E Line service - even where the bus runs alongside the existing tracks people still choose the bus over the train! And the articulated buses are great, as is the schedule. But would it hurt to put some "The 39 is over here" signs at Forest Hills? I feel like it's pretty hidden right now. And really, it's not exactly a proper busway where it boards. People just sort of stand around or lean against walls since there aren't any benches. I don't think it would cost too much to stick a few benches in there, would it?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The first of forty new Commuter Rail locomotives went into service today, on the Haverhill Line. The new trains will save the MBTA $1 million in fuel costs annually.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hynes Convention Center

I only went to Hynes Convention Center because of the stupid 1 getting stuck in traffic. I didn't know what to expect, but this station ended up being worse than horrible Prudential. The first warning sign was the entrance: there's only one of them, and it has no signage whatsoever, just a big "T" sticking out of the wall and a poster saying "Charlie's Here!" The entryway was pretty nice, though, with a shiny image of an old streetcar over the staircase down.

Shiny...
When I got down, there was a walkway that curved to the left. It was really bland, with a very low ceiling and boring brick walls and a really weird floor. Lighting was achieved with standard (and not very interesting) florescent lights. It was also pretty cramped, with only a few fare gates leading to the platform. There was also, for some reason, a random chair sitting there. Sound familiar?

I can't stand this area.
Keep in mind that there are no elevators here, so people in wheelchairs are simply out of luck. At least Prudential's accessible. There are, however, boring staircases leading down to the boring platform! Ah, the platform. Just like Prudential, this thing is full of random pipes criss-crossing on the ceiling. I mean, there's one part of the platform that's just a big hole in the wall! Why hasn't this been fixed?

It was really crowded at the station.
The brick walls on the platform would be okay if they actually went up the whole wall. But after the station sign it just turns to basic white with random pipes again. And the worst part? I walked to the other end of the platform to see what was there, and there was another exit! One problem, though: it was locked behind a massive gate with an "Exit Closed" sign. There was also a weird electrical box (or something), with a sign warning people not to play on it. I feel like just a sign saying "Danger" would suffice...

This was the most crowded Green Line train ever itself.
Station: Hynes Convention Center

Ridership: People going to conventions, most likely. But there are also a lot of apartments close to the station, so there are probably residential riders here, too.

Pros: Well, the streetcar image is kinda cool...

Cons: Okay, first of all, the one entrance (there's only one, there's another con already) has no signage whatsoever, just a big "T" sticking out of the wall. The fare gate area is bland, the staircase to the platform is bland, and the platform itself is bland (stupid pipes). On the platform, the closed exit, the hole in the wall, and the random box thing all contribute to it feeling really dirty and awful. There's also a lack of bus connections; the station's only served by three of them. And though it's only a five minute walk to the convention center, that's still fairly long and there's no signage whatsoever. That closed exit looks like it may have led closer, but...it's closed.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There's the convention center, but Newbury Street is pretty close to the station (closer, in fact). I'd much rather take a stroll down the amazing Newbury Street with its brick architecture and cute shops than go to some smelly old convention any day.

Final Verdict: 3/10
This station's even worse than Prudential. Aside from the somewhat decent entryway (though it has no signage), there's nothing of note at this station. It's all very bland, and that closed exit looks like it heads toward the convention center. Does anyone know why it's closed? Either way, it's a horrible station.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Nothing of note, sorry. I may start leaving this section blank if there's no news.

Poll of the Week 4/11

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Aquarium

Whenever I ask one of my friends if they've ever taken the Blue Line, 99% of the time they say, "Oh, yeah, I think I took that to the aquarium once." But although I've taken the Blue Line many times, the lack of bus connections at Aquarium means I use the station very rarely. But when we went to the aquarium with friends from out of town, I got the chance to go home via the train (my mother was driving, but who wants to drive?).

I've always thought the station entrance is fairly far from the Aquarium, and it kind of is. That's not to say that a three minute walk is very long, but there's no direct entrance into the aquarium. Consider Prudential Station, which although everything else about it is horrible, does boast a direct connection to the Prudential Center. But Aquarium is so much better than Prudential, and not just because it doesn't have a bunch of random pipes on the ceiling.

The entrance closest to the actual aquarium.
The first entrance, right near the aquarium itself, is a simple staircase heading underground. There's also an elevator here (there's one at every entrance, actually) that's glass so you can see...dirt, mostly. There are two other entrances further inland: one of them is like the first one, but a bit larger, and the other one is hiding in the entrance of a building (it has signage, but it took me a little while to notice it).

It's a bit more decked out than the other one, for sure.
The two inland entrances feed into a nice mezzanine area. It's not full of glass like the entrances, but it's mostly white, with a neat floor pattern. There is a random customer service desk that seems to serve no purpose, but the mezzanine was pretty great. And once you get past the fare gates there's a fantastic symmetry. There's a large window overlooking the platform, then stairs, escalators (one-way, unfortunately), and elevators leading to either side. But they're perfectly symmetrical, and I love that!

The very quiet mezzanine.
The platform itself is also great. The ceiling is designed so that it looks like a wave, and there are interesting designs lining the walls. The entrance towards the actual aquarium is on the other side, but I didn't look at it. Also cool is the fact that the walkway to get in stretches a little further than the platform itself, so you can get a view of trains coming through the tunnel. When I visited, the floor was really wet (as well as the tracks, apparently), but that's just because it was really wet outside. Overall, as the last station before crossing the harbor, it's really nice!

You gotta love that ceiling. Sorry there weren't any train pictures in this one - all of my attempts were really blurry.
Station: Aquarium

Ridership: Although all of my friends seem to have used it at some point or another, the overall ridership for the station isn't too great. Only about 4500 people use the station on a typical weekday, according to the MBTA Blue Book. Perhaps it's because of its proximity to the next station, State? It's only a fifth of a mile away, after all. Nonetheless, I'm sure most of the people who use this station - yes, you guessed it - head for the aquarium.

Pros: Aesthetically, this station is top-notch. Everything from the simple but effective entrances to the perfect symmetry of the platform entrances (and the platform itself) to that amazing ceiling look amazing.

Cons: It's too bad that the station remains somewhat far from the aquarium, at least for tourists who don't know where to go. Also, the one-way escalators are irksome, but it's not too bad. Finally, the only bus connection is the 4, which runs weekdays-only.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Take a guess.

Final Verdict: 8/10
I love the look and feel of this station so much. But think of how much more convenient it would be if there was an underground walkway leading right to the aquarium. It wouldn't be that long of a tunnel, and it could just deposit people outside in front. (although think about how cool it would be if it went right in!) And the escalator thing is a bit annoying, too. And bus connections are slim. But overall, fantastic station!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The MBTA will be closing a few stations and rerouting some bus routes for the Boston Marathon. Click here for more information.

Random Photos: The Most Crowded Green Line Train Ever

I'm not a baseball fan by any means, so I've never taken the train on game day. But our paths coincided, and I ended up having to get squashed on a really crowded Green Line train with a bunch of rowdy, possibly drunk sports fans and a larger-than-average man whose belly was sticking into me the entire ride...fun.

Someone shouted "Photobomb!" when I took this picture.

Random Photos: The Green Line to Forest Hills

I noticed a sign at Forest Hills that, although it probably confuses some people, is a nice reference to the MBTA's past.

The Green Line platform is still there, though, and it's where the 39 bus boards.

Random Photos: Traffic on Route 1

How was I to know there was a ball game? I thought taking the 1 from Mass Ave Station would be faster than taking the train, but I was certainly wrong. I had to wait about 15 minutes for a bus, and it was packed when it got to the stop. Then it was stuck in a massive traffic jam that just wasn't moving at all. I got off at the very next stop, along with a lot of other people. Horrible.

A close-up of the 1.
So many cars! Not to mention one of them was blasting heavy-metal music.
Poor bus...
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