Thursday, November 20, 2014

51 (Cleveland Circle - Forest Hills Station via Hancock Village)

If I were to ask you if Brookline has good public transit access, you would probably say yes. After all, it has three Green Line branches serving it, providing frequent service to some pretty dense apartments. Yes, the northern part of Brookline gets pretty good coverage. But what about the part south of the D? The part with the grand estates, the huge yards, and the many forests and golf courses? This barren part of Brookline has only one single bus to serve its entirety: the 51.

This was back when the trees were green.
It all started at Forest Hills, way back in August (it took me a while to get around to reviewing this). After picking people up there, we headed down Washington Street along with a multitude of other routes. There were some nice apartments along here, with a few businesses. At Roslindale Square, we turned onto South Street, going by the Commuter Rail station, as well as a lot of commercial buildings.

We then left the other buses by going down Robert Street, and then turning onto Walter Street. which was residential. Eventually it became sort of a rural feel, as we were right next to the Arnold Arboretum. We turned onto Weld Street, which also felt rural until the intersection with Center Street, where there were some businesses.

Weld Street was residential again after that, as well as curvy. We were on it for quite a while until finally, we turned onto Corey Street and then the wide, tree lined VFW Parkway. It was a pretty beautiful street, but we soon turned onto Independence Drive at a small mall. We then went through (shudder) Hancock Village, a (groan) development where all the houses are the same. This is also where we entered Brookline.

Independence Drive became Grove Street, and luckily the houses became normal again. There was a line of businesses at Putterham Circle, then Grove Street became Newton Street and it felt rural again. We turned onto Clyde Street, which became Lee Street, and we went by some pretty impressive mansions.

An obstructed view of the Brookline Reservoir.
Lee Street then curved to the left and we went by the Brookline Reservoir. We were on Route 9 for only a block before we turned onto Chestnut Hill Ave. The houses were much smaller and closer along here, a big contrast from the huge mansions from earlier. But we never made it to the apartments of Beacon Street, for we had to pull into the Reservoir busway.

There are a few people going back to Forest Hills.
Route: 51 (Cleveland Circle - Forest Hills Station via Hancock Village)

Ridership: There were a little over 20 people who used this bus on a Saturday. That's not that bad, honestly. Everyone who got on at Forest Hills got off at certain points along the route and everyone who got on at certain points went all the way to Cleveland Circle.

Pros: It serves a massive swath of Brookline that has no other public transit options. That said, I'm sure many of those mansion dwellers have cars, but over 20 people on a Saturday isn't bad.

Cons: The schedule is pretty poor: every 25 minutes rush hour, every hour during the day and night, every hour and five minutes on Saturdays, and no service on Sundays. The route could also stand to be a little less circuitous. It makes a rather inefficient U shape near Forest Hills and Roslindale.

Nearby and Noteworthy: If you like gawking at mansions, then this is your bus! It does go through Roslindale, though, which has a lot of businesses.

Final Verdict: 5/10
This is really the only public transit available for much of Brookline, so I can't lower its score too much. But the schedule is pretty awful, and I don't like the U shape the route makes. Considering that no one got on or off in Roslindale on my ride (and the fact that there are a plethora of other buses that go there), perhaps the route could bypass it entirely by going through the Arnold Arboretum...

You can see how buses would travel faster with this new route. The question is if it's necessary or not. Much of the current route is served by other buses, but there's a short section on Walter Street that's just the 51. So rerouting this bus might not bode well for the folks in that neighborhood. Seems like a mixed bag, I suppose.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The MBTA has given Keolis (the new operator of the Commuter Rail) a fine of $434,000 for late trains alone, and $804,000 in total! Apparently Keolis isn't doing the best job at keeping the Commuter Rail on schedule.88

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sneak-Peek of the 211

When I hopped on the 211, I didn't realize that the bus takes a different route on Sundays. Instead of taking its normal way south of North Quincy, it replaces the 212 on Billings Road. Thus, I decided not to give the 211 a proper review, since A) I haven't been on a part unique to that bus, so the review would be incomplete, and B) Reviewing the 211 now would make riding the 212 obsolete. So, I decided to hold off. But there were still some very nice views on the ride to Squantum, so consider this a "sneak-peek" for when I get around to riding this bus on a weekday.

Fall foliage.
Some marshland.
And some more.
The Boston skyline! You can also see the JFK Library in the foreground.
The sea is visible in the distance.
The skyline, with Back Bay.
A close-up of downtown.

201/202 (Fields Corner or North Quincy Station - Fields Corner via Neponset Ave and Adams Street)

Perhaps the MBTA needs to hire some new map makers, because even after riding the 201 and 202, I still can't make heads or tails of the routes' map. To me at least, it just looks like a mess of arrows pointing in random directions. And there are some really misleading bits, like how it shows the 201 bypassing the Keystone Apartments when it actually serves them, at least sometimes. Certain trips. But the 202 bypasses them sometimes, too. Okay, maybe it's the routes that are insanely confusing, not just the map.

Yup, makes perfect sense.
On weekdays, the 201 and 202 form clockwise and counterclockwise loops (respectively) to and from Fields Corner. But on weekends, they form a direct link from North Quincy to Fields Corner, with the route they take corresponding to the direction the bus would normally go around the's pretty confusing.

There's some nice fall foliage in the background.
Anyway, a 201 arrived at North Quincy, and we made our way to Hancock Street. There was a bridge over the Neponset River, then we went around Neponset Circle and down Gallivan Boulevard. The street had a lot of ugly businesses with massive parking lots, then we turned onto Hallet Street, which felt more industrial. We went into the Keystone Apartments parking lot slowly (stupid speed bumps), but nobody got off or on. Then we headed back towards Neponset Circle and onto Neponset Ave.

Nice view from the Hancock Street bridge.
There were some businesses along here, then it got more residential. Some trips go up Freeport Street to serve the Puritan Mall. but we just continued down Neponset Ave, where there were some closely-spaced houses. Occasionally there would be a few businesses but it was mostly residential. Neponset Ave became Adams Street, but right after that we turned onto Gibson Street, which had some nice apartments (and a not-so-nice public works department).

We then turned onto Dorchester Ave, and then again into the Park Street busway. I'm surprised that they actually put a busway here, considering how close to Fields Corner it is. There were some businesses here, as well as a mall. We went up Geneva Ave, then onto another busway that for some reason went right next to Fields Corner without any stops. The busway made a u-turn around the station, and the actual stop was on the other side.

No Quincy Station? What happened to it?
Now we were a 202, but we headed back the same way as before, via Geneva Ave, the Park Street busway, and Gibson Street. But instead of going down Neponset Ave like before, we used Adams Street, which had some apartments that eventually became houses. It continued like this for a while until near Gallivan Boulevard, when it suddenly became all businesses.

We continued onto Granite Ave, which was residential. I could see the bridge that the 215 uses to get over the Neponset River, but we turned off just before it onto Hill Top Street. There was a nice park on one side of the street with a playground and houses on the other. Soon we went back into the Keystone Apartments parking lot, actually picking someone up this time, then went back up Hallet Street.

Interesting view in the Keystone Apartments parking lot.
We made our way over the bridge again, then turned onto Newport Ave Extension. We went through the massive office park, as mentioned in the North Quincy review, and then past a marsh. Turning onto West Squantum Street, we drove over the Red Line tracks and into the North Quincy busway. Mission accomplished.

Nice view!
Routes: 201/202 (Fields Corner or North Quincy Station - Fields Corner via Neponset Ave and Adams Street)

Ridership: It was pretty quiet, being a Sunday. There were exactly eight people who rode in each direction, many using the route for local service. Fields Corner and North Quincy, the two subway connections, weren't that busy, with only a few people getting on and off at each.

Pros: The two routes serve that awkward area in between the Ashmont and Braintree branches. It's nice that buses go in both directions on the loop, so people don't have to take really circuitous trips like they might if the loop was one way. The 201 provides most morning rush hour service, while the 202 covers the evening rush; both go about every 15 minutes during those periods, which is pretty good. Midday is about every 20 minutes between the routes, and night service is every half hour, provided exclusively by the 201, until 1 in the morning. On Saturdays, the routes run about every 25 minutes together. So overall, not a bad schedule. I also had a really nice driver, whom I was talking to throughout the entire ride, but that doesn't affect the score of these routes.

Cons: Sunday service is every 45 minutes, which isn't great, but there wasn't enough ridership to justify higher frequencies. I also wish the routes were more decisive about whether they want to serve North Quincy or not. It would be nice if it was more consistent, and I think it's a decision that wouldn't affect ridership too much. My main issue is that these routes seem way more confusing than they have to be. I don't know whether it's the routes themselves or just the way they're drawn on the map, but something has to be done about this. Perhaps a map redesign is in order...

Nearby and Noteworthy: There were a few businesses along the route, the most prominent of which being at the intersection of Adams Street and Gallivan Boulevard.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Honestly, I thought I would be giving these a much lower score when I started this review. But it turns out that these buses are pretty good after all. They serve what they need to serve, and get the job done with fairly frequent service. But really, someone has to take a stab at making that map less confusing.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

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

Here's a guest review of the 64 from Jordan King. It seems like a very interesting route:

Ever since I first saw the 64, I've always wanted to ride it. Why? I don't know, but I heard that this bus takes the craziest streets. So I decided to ride down to Kendall/MIT to see how crazy this route is.

The Ride: In order for me to go all the way to Kendall/MIT, I had to wake up at around 7 on a Friday morning. This is because during midday, evenings, and all day on the weekends, the 64 ends at University Park located about a mile away from Central Square in Cambridge, even though the destination display states that it ends at Central Square. (Kind of misleading, don’t you think?)
We departed Oak Square and already there were about 10 people on my bus. We headed down on Faneuil Street, seeing nothing but houses and apartments, until we picked up more people in Faneuil Square where there is a little grocery store and laundromat. Oh, and by the way, for the rest of the trip the amount of people on our bus got even more crowded due to the fact that it was a work week and this bus is always crowded even on weekends. Anyways…. We then made a left down a very narrow side street called Falkland Street on which the bus can barely fit. Then we made a narrow left turn on Brooks Street, again a very narrow side street. When I saw a car coming towards us, I figured the bus or the car would back down the street, but instead it made it around the bus. (Now I see why they call
this the craziest route!)

The route started to get interesting when the bus started picking up speed down Birmingham Parkway which then becomes North Beacon Street. Now we headed down past Market Street where passengers can connect to the 86 and from Market Street the bus is supposed to turn on Life Street according to the map I looked at. But when I asked the driver he said that there was construction and so he couldn't turn down Life Street making angry customers who wanted the stop by Stop & Shop even angrier. We then headed on Cambridge Street in Union Square (Not the one in Somerville!) where we picked up and dropped off several people. After we left Union Square the trip was pretty quiet as we crossed the Mass Pike and the Charles River into Cambridge. We then made a series of turns onto some more crazy side streets. Finally after a very long 20 minutes of sitting in traffic the bus finally pulled up to Central Square.

Now from here the bus would make a right on Mass. Ave to continue to University Park, but like I said earlier the bus continues to Kendall/MIT on weekdays. So we followed a 83 and a 91 bus down Prospect Street then made a right on Broadway following a 68 bus, and after an additional 10 minutes of traffic we finally arrived at our final destination: Kendall/MIT.

Fleet: Well, I know the 64 is dispatched from Charlestown so expect to see some RTS’s, New Flyer D40LF, and on some rare occasions a Neoplan AN440LF, but in the future I hope that I will see some XDE40’s on this route.

Final Verdict: After re-reading this entire review I figure that I give this route a 7.5/10 because I think although the ridership can be crazy and the route itself can be even crazier, I think in my opinion this route is a very fun route and I would recommend it.

Written and Edited by Jordan King (additional editing by Miles)
Brighton, Massachusetts 02135 ©

Thanks, Jordan!

Friday, November 14, 2014

North Quincy

The first thing you notice when going to North Quincy is just how long it takes to get there. From here to JFK/UMASS is seven minutes by train, and it's the longest distance between stations on the system at a little over 3 and a half miles. The station has a very isolated, park-and-ride feel to it in general, and you have to walk a bit to get to civilization. There is a nice view just before the platform, though, where the train crosses over the Neponset River.

As usual, the view is not captured well.
The platform itself is really...meh. The architecture just feels bland. I do like the glass waiting rooms, though. On one side of the platform there are some trees blocking the parking lot, while on the other side, beyond the Commuter Rail tracks, there's a big parking garage that didn't seem to be open (more on that in a sec).

Like I said, meh. The MBTA didn't even bother to change the maps here to the new one.
In between the station and a large expanse of marshland is a pretty big office park. To be perfectly honest, it looks like it has more parking than anyone would ever need, yet there's still the aforementioned garage next to the platform. In fact, a sorry-looking exit to the garage exists on the western side of the station. It's closed on weekends, though, as a guy I saw found out the hard way.

It's such a weird exit!
Since it was a Sunday, I of course had to use the main exit, which was actually kinda nice. I liked how open and modern it felt. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try out the elevator, but there is one. There's only one escalator, though, and that's going up. It's kind of annoying, but I can live with it.

I don't know why there's a random traffic cone, though.
There's not really much mezzanine to speak of here. It's just a narrow hallway with a few fare machines and a few fare gates. It feels kind of bleak, even with a sizeable window at one end. There's also a fan, which is probably nice during the summer, but not so much now.

Pretty dark in here.
The busway is pretty boring, too, but also straightforward. The latter is probably because there are only seven buses that serve the station: two only have one trip here (the 215 and 217), two only come on weekends (the 201 and 202), the 210 and 212 don't have Sunday service, and the 211 is the only one that comes seven days a week. One thing I do love about the busway is the presence of a countdown clock: that way you know if you should rush for your train or if it's not worth it. This is a "screw you" station, being above ground and all (meaning you can see the train stopped at the platform but know you won't make it).

The busway, with some vending machines and bike spaces.
There seemed to be a constant line of cabs waiting to pick people up here. I only saw one person get into one during my half hour or so in the busway, so I'm not sure how much business the taxis actually get. The parking lot here is pretty huge: over 1200 spaces! I'm assuming people must use this station as a park-and-ride.

Not too many people here on a Sunday.
The immediate surroundings of the station are pretty grim and absolutely not pedestrian-friendly. There's a Walgreens across the street that, based on my experiences, doesn't stock camera chargers. So, um, don't go to the North Quincy Walgreens if you desire camera chargers. There are also some gas stations, a high school, and a McDonald's right near the station.

The station, with an ugly-looking drive-through in the foreground.
Other than that, the surroundings of the station are mostly residential. However, there is a little commercial area about a five minute walk away. It doesn't look like anything that nice, but at least it's something. I wouldn't know, though, since I only went to the Walgreens.

It's a 17 minute wait if you missed that train...
Station: North Quincy

Ridership: As I said, this seems like a pretty big station for park-and-riders. Some people might commute here, too, because of the nearby office parks. And students might use it for the nearby high school. As for numbers, this station gets a little over 7,000 people per day, giving it the second-highest ridership on the Braintree branch.

Pros: I like the escalator all right; the presence of a countdown clock in the busway is convenient; the station has a lot of parking and a lot of ridership; and there's some stuff to do nearby if you walk for a few minutes.

Cons: Okay, this whole station feels really dated and bleak. Pretty much everything about it except for the escalator leading up to the mezzanine looks really boring. And there's only one escalator, but that's only an annoyance. The bus connections are pretty grim, and the surrounding area is really not pedestrian friendly. Finally, this station is about a million miles away from JFK/UMASS. Imagine if they stuck a station in between the two, and had Braintree branch trains also stop at Savin Hill.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Probably best to walk to that aforementioned commercial area if you're looking for something to do from here.

Final Verdict: 5/10
There's a very dated feel about this entire station. A modern renovation would be really nice, if the MBTA could muster it. And imagine if they were to put a new station in between North Quincy and JFK/UMASS. Such as this possibility... (Yeah, I figured out how to put maps in!)

As you can see (you may have to zoom ociviliut a bit), this station is in the middle of a rotary. The 201 and 202 bus routes go right by, and the 210 is a few blocks away. The only problem with building this is that there might not be any room on the line for platforms. So I suppose that makes this a bust, then...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, November 9, 2014

23 (Ashmont Station - Ruggles Station via Washington St)

"How long is that bagel gonna take?" I asked my friend, Lucy.
"About 30 seconds," she replied. We were at the Dunkin' Donuts in Ruggles Station, where, having gotten off of the 43, Lucy said she was hungry. So here we were at a Dunkin' Donuts waiting for the woman to cook the bagel, and I was freaking out because a 23 had just rolled up to the busway below. I was running up and down the stairs to make sure the bus was still there while checking up on the bagel's progress. Luckily, there were quite a few people waiting to get on and we made it with time to spare. But the bagel was overcooked.

The 23 from up above the busway.
We headed down Tremont Street with a pretty crowded bus. After a stop at Roxbury Crossing (where no one got on or off), we turned onto Malcolm X Boulevard, going past some schools. At Dudley there was another massive crowd of people waiting to get on! Well, this is a Key Bus Route.

We went by some municipal buildings on our way to Warren Street, a wide avenue with a mixture of houses and businesses. There was a housing development and, surprisingly, some brownstones! We passed the Mall of Roxbury (it's not really that much of a mall) and then a YMCA. There were also quite a few churches along the entire route.

There was a residential area, and then some businesses at Grove Hall. We had been traveling with four other buses on Warren Street, but here we turned onto Washington Street, the unique part of the route. There were some cute apartments on one side, and a high school on the other. The high school looked tiny from where we were, but it turned out to be "vast" (Lucy's words), stretching behind Washington Street all the way to the next street over.

There were a few businesses at the intersection with Columbia Road, then there was a stop at Four Corners/Geneva. ("Fairmount Line Connection," woo!) We went through a residential area, then after a block of businesses there was a nice view of Dorchester from atop a hill.

The picture doesn't capture it very well, but you can see that rainbow gas tank from here (which is, apparently, the largest copyrighted piece of art in the world)..
From here on out it was mostly businesses along Washington Street. At Codman Square, we turned onto Talbot Ave, which was slightly more residential. But at Peabody Square, there were businesses again, with Ashmont's very distinctive station building only a block away. Thus, we pulled into its busway a few seconds later.

The bus turning to pick up people going back to Ruggles.
Route: 23 (Ashmont Station - Ruggles Station via Washington St)

Ridership: It's a Key Bus Route, so of course it's going to have high ridership. Very high ridership. Over 65 people, to be exact. That's not to say that they were all on the bus at once, though. There were a few major stops along the route where lots of people would get off and lots would get on. Many passengers were in it for the long haul; there weren't many that used the route for short trips.

Pros: This bus serves some neighborhoods not served by other buses, which is always good. Also, being a Key Bus Route, there's an awesome schedule here. It's every five minutes rush hour, every 12 minutes during the day, every 20 minutes at night, (with service running until almost 3 AM on Fridays and Saturdays!) every 10 minutes Saturdays, and every 18 minutes Sundays. Fantastic.

Cons: Being a Key Bus Route, bunching is certainly a possibility. Unfortunately, there was bunching in both directions when I took this bus, On a Sunday. Ugh,

Nearby and Noteworthy: There are businesses dotted along the route, for sure. There was a small park where that nice view was, so that might be worth checking out.

Final Verdict: 8/10
Serving some important neighborhoods as well as having an amazing schedule, the only thing that brings this bus down is its bunching. It was only two buses in a row, though; nothing as bad as the 77...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
One of the losing bidders for new Red Line and Orange Line cars, Hyundai Rotem (I put pictures of their proposals for new cars on the Facebook page) is protesting the MBTA's choice of a Chinese company to build the trains.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

43 (Ruggles Station - Park and Tremont Streets via Tremont Street)

The first time I took this bus (about seven months ago), it had been dark and thunderstorming. I remember people would run in and make comments about the awful weather as they paid their fares. I never gave the 43 a review, partly because I couldn't see a thing out the window and partly because the pictures I took were terrible. But now, I'm giving this bus a second chance.

About halfway between Park Street and Boylston, a distance of about three inches.
After getting on at Park Street, we headed down Tremont Street with the Boston Common on one side and tall buildings on the other. After stopping at Boylston, we entered the Theater District, where there are a lot of theaters. And more tall buildings. They got much shorter after a stop at Tufts Medical Center, though.

Tremont Street made a sharp turn to the right, then the left, and then we went over I-90. There was a nice view of the John Hancock and Prudential buildings from here. At this point the driver was making extensive use of the horn to let people know not to mess with us. There were some points when he was driving so recklessly it felt like we were going to crash into someone.

Bad picture, but nice view.
I really love the South End. I don't know if it's the narrow streets or the old-fashioned architecture, but I love it. The architecture, at least, is very prominent along the next section of the 43. And what's interesting is that there's a point when you suddenly notice that the neighborhood isn't all that nice anymore. All of a sudden there's a lot more graffiti and the buildings seem to be newer and less charming. There is an abundance of gardens around here, though, so that's good. Soon we turned onto Melnea Cass Boulevard, and then again into the Ruggles busway, where the bus changed its destination board to become a 15.

I love this one back at Park Street!
Route: 43 (Ruggles Station - Park and Tremont Streets via Tremont Street)

Ridership: A grand total of four people, plus one child. That's really bad, even for a Sunday. And the two other people (plus one child) only went for short distances, so for the most part it was just Lucy and I. (Yes, a friend came along! Hooray!) Even if people did ride, no one would ever have reason to take this from beginning to end, since the Orange Line goes from Ruggles to Downtown Crossing (which is part of a complex with Park Street) nice and quickly.

Pros: For one thing, this bus is fast (not as fast as the train, but still fast). Perhaps it's because practically nobody rode it, but it only took us about 15 minutes to get from Park Street to Ruggles. This bus is also a nice halfway point between the Orange and Silver Lines, serving parts of the South End not covered by those. Finally, the 43 has a pretty awesome schedule: every 20 minutes Weekdays and Saturdays, and every 25 minutes Sundays.

Cons: We admittedly took this bus on a Sunday, so low ridership is to be expected. But four people (plus one child) is really terrible! Maybe it was because of the time of day, or perhaps the weather, but the ridership was very disappointing.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Lots of theaters and some neat architecture are what awaits you on this route.

Final Verdict: 8/10
This is a nice route if you need to get from one end of Tremont Street to the other, or even if you're just too lazy to walk a few blocks. This is a bus that many people use for short distances, and it fits that niche well. A good schedule means there's always a bus somewhat close by, though maybe it could stand to run a little less often based on the ridership we saw.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The first of the new MBTA buses will hit the streets tomorrow (November 5) at Haymarket! I'm excited for when they get around to my neck of the woods; I want to see what they look like!
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