Monday, May 30, 2016

MVRTA: 53 (Newburyport Summer Shuttle)

Beach day! The MVRTA's seasonal services started this weekend, one of them being the 53 from Newburyport Station to Plum Island, via downtown Newburyport. Now in its second year of operation, the route is funded by the City of Newburyport, and (at least when I was on) it got hardly any riders! Maybe the ridership will get better as we get further into summer...

The bus in the station parking lot.
We even hit a bit of a snag before we could even get on the bus. Firstly, my friend Anna and I spent a while running around to actually find the stop for the summer shuttle. There was actually a decently-sized sign showing the stop in Lot A of the station, so that's on us. However, when we tried to get on the first bus that came into the station (simply signed as "Shuttle"), the driver told us he was only going downtown. Yes, it turns out the MVRTA runs a second route from the station to downtown, with its only indication of existence being this awful poster:

"Custom House Shuttle," huh? Well, I looked at the Custom House website, and THAT doesn't even give information on it!
Well, anyway, the Plum Island bus came soon after, and we got on. We headed up Boston Way, going by another lot for the station, then turned onto Parker Street, then Graf Road. The surroundings consisted entirely of random office and industrial parks, placed willy-nilly along the roads.

Welcome to beautiful Newburyport!
We then turned onto Low Street, leaving the industrial area and going through an intersection with Route 1. The road was now called Pond Street, and it had houses on one side and a park on the other. After a small shopping plaza, we turned onto Eppa Way, then High Street, going by a really nice pond on one side (part of the park that had bordered Pond Street).

Those are some big houses!
We then turned onto Green Street, which was lined with historic-looking houses and apartments. As we got closer to the water, businesses started to appear as well. We turned onto Merrimac Street for a block, then State Street, going right through downtown Newburyport.

A big pedestrian plaza.
You can normally flag down the shuttle wherever you want, but State Street is a "no stop zone." However, it does have one official stop right outside of the Newburyport Library with a strange sign saying "Bus Stop Only." A few people were waiting here, but when the driver asked if they were going to Plum Island, they said they weren't and stepped away from the bus. Thus, we continued to the end of State, where we turned onto High Street (again), which was lined with historic houses and trees.

This place is so nice!
After a few blocks, we turned onto Federal Street, going by more houses, as well as a church. Next, we swung onto Water Street, an intersection where there was a house from 1690! The street name was an accurate one, as we soon found ourselves right along the gigantic Merrimac River. On the other side of the road, there were huge houses that must be worth a fortune.

That's a river???
The road became Plum Island Turnpike, and we started to speed past empty fields. Then planes started appearing! Yes, apparently there's a small airport up here, and the road happened to go right by it! After the airport, it got a lot more marshy, with some great views across the grasses.

Those planes are so small...
In the distance, houses built on stilts over the marshes could be seen. The road then went up onto a bridge, and we were now on Plum Island. After a bit more marshland, we all of a sudden entered the developed part of the island, and the street was lined with tiny beach houses and businesses.

Gotta love marsh views!
The driver made a stop alongside the main Plum Island beach, but no one got on or off. Thus, we curved onto Northern Boulevard, which was almost completely lined with beach houses. They were all tiny, and some of them were on stilts,

Looking down one of the small side streets.
The streets had a numbering system by this point, but it was a bit strange, since the odd-numbered ones were on one side and the even numbers on the other. Finally, at 79th Street, Northern Boulevard ended in a small loop - this was Plum Island Point. The driver let us off and looped around to head back to Newburyport.

The bus along Northern Boulevard.
MVRTA Route: 53 (Newburyport Summer Shuttle)

Ridership: There were only three people going toward Plum Island and four going back to Newburyport. I'm not sure if the ridership is usually this bad, but the service just started operating this weekend, so perhaps it gets more people during the summer.

Pros: This is a fantastic shuttle in theory. A bus from Newburyport Station to Plum Island is a great idea, and the route is incredibly scenic. The fare is only a dollar if you have a CharlieCard ($1.25 otherwise) and you can get a $3.00 day pass if you think you'll be taking the route a few times. They're even planning to give it some proper advertising! Take notes, SLOOP.

Cons: Unfortunately, a whole slew of issues drag the shuttle down. Firstly, there's the route downtown. The bus makes a whole bunch of twists and turns and takes a very indirect route through the city. I guess it's to make sure that it can serve the library along the one-way State Street, but it ends up getting the bus stuck in traffic and making it late. Still, the library seemed like a busy stop, and the shuttle might be obligated to serve it for one reason or another - if it didn't have to stop there, it would make more sense for the shuttle to run via Green Street one way and State Street the other, especially since this particular bus really doesn't need to serve the residential areas along Federal Street (and the 54 serves them, anyway).



Then there's the schedule, which is a bit of a mess. See, whenever buses run from downtown to Plum Island, the route gets convenient headways of every half hour. But every time a trip runs all the way to the Commuter Rail (they're timed with trains), it makes an hour-long gap in Plum Island service. Now how can this be fixed? Well, the MVRTA seems to have two shuttle routes in Newburyport, the other being that strange one from the Commuter Rail to downtown. However, that latter route, to my understanding, basically runs empty at all times that don't correspond with trains. So we have two buses to work with. How about splitting the Newburyport shuttles into two separate services? One can shuttle back and forth from Plum Island to downtown every half hour, and the other can do Commuter Rail to Plum Island trips that correspond with trains, with Commuter Rail to downtown short-turns otherwise. A shuttle day pass would allow you access to both routes. This might make more sense if I map and schedule the idea:



Right, so that ended up being confusing. I tried to accommodate for both Friday and weekend trains with Route 2 (something the 53 doesn't necessarily do), but it ended up making a really crazy-looking schedule. Still, I think the concept works better - even though there are still hour-long service gaps, this time those gaps are from the Commuter Rail to downtown, which hardly anyone will be using, anyway. Still...it is quite hard to read. Schedules would probably have to be posted at all major stops, since it's really hard to memorize, unlike Route 1 (or indeed, the 53). If the view there is too small, here's a link to the full spreadsheet.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Newburyport is a really lovely town, with so many different businesses in a very historic setting! Also, Plum Island is a great beach, particularly up where the bus terminates at Plum Island Point - it's a lot quieter up there than at the main area further south.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Overall, this shuttle is pretty solid, with a fine schedule and a fine route. Honestly, my schedule concerns are mostly with the other MVRTA shuttle from the Commuter Rail to downtown, since that just seems to be running empty buses all the time (I didn't get to take it, though, so I could be wrong). Should I get the chance to ride that route this summer, it'll most likely get a low score for the fact that it seems useless, but the 53 does a decent job at doing what it's doing. I mean, the hour-long gaps in Plum Island service can be annoying, but the radical schedule changes are mostly to fix the other shuttle. Overall, the MVRTA could do a much better job coordinating and running its Newburyport shuttles. But the 53 on its own? Yeah...it's not bad!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, May 29, 2016

West Gloucester

For the record, I wanted to take the 7:22 train back to Boston. But nooooo, Michael wanted to walk somewhere. And I suggested West Gloucester, since it's reasonably close to downtown Gloucester, where we were. However, we got lost, and after 2 and a half hours of walking through barren woods and bogs, we finally arrived at the station. It's a strange place at 10 PM...

The station's "entrance," as it were.
The entrance we used was this strange pedestrian path from Essex Ave. It had unpaved sections, and was incredibly narrow. It felt like a forest trail or something! There was no signage, so we were using the light of the station as a guidepost. The main entrance is much better signed, with a driveway for cars, further down Essex Ave.

The empty parking lot.
The station has a pretty small parking lot, with 44 spaces. However, this is a perfectly good amount for West Gloucester's ridership - indeed, the lot only gets about 22% full on weekdays. There are also seven bike spaces here, which again seems like a good amount.

Looking down the platform. There's Michael sitting under the shelter...
Most of the long outbound platform is bare, save for a few wastebaskets, a completely demolished payphone, and a mini-high way far down. The inbound side (which is much smaller) gets a typical 90s Commuter Rail shelter. It's made of metal, with a single bench underneath, as well as some wastebaskets and a newspaper box.

Oh gosh...
West Gloucester features some absolutely horrible mini-high platforms! They're literally just concrete blocks and nothing else. No shelter. No benches. And as a bonus, the inbound side is right across the tracks from an electric substation! Hope you like constant buzzing noises, because you'll be hearing a lot of 'em!

All of my train pictures were terrible, so here's a big spider we found while waiting for the train!
Station: West Gloucester

Ridership: Oh, truly amazing! A whole 94 riders per weekday! That's, like, almost 100! No, this is the third least-used station on the Newburyport/Rockport Line, beaten only by Riverworks and Prides Crossing - the former can only be used by GE employees, and the latter gets three trips per day. Admittedly, if you look at West Gloucester on a map, it is in a very woodsy area with not a lot of stuff around it.

Pros: Well...the presence of parking is nice, and it's certainly enough. And...I guess there's a shelter. That's a good thing. CATA stops here, too...three times a day. Hooray?

Cons: Right, well, for starters, there's the unmarked pedestrian entrance that feels like you have to explore a vast forest just to get into the station! Then there's the fact that the mini-highs are COMPLETELY bare, with not even a solitary bench to cater to the few commuters who use this place. Or how about the electric substation, buzzing away right next to the station for all to hear?

Nearby and Noteworthy: Nope. There's no reason why anyone who doesn't live in or have relations with the surrounding houses should come here.

Final Verdict: 4/10
This station has only the most basic amenities possible, and even that is stretching it (cough, pedestrian entrance, cough). It serves a few very small neighborhoods, and even then, only 94 of its residents use it every day! The spider was a neat find, though...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Friday, May 27, 2016

South Acton

I'll admit, I'm usually against newer Commuter Rail stations. Indeed, South Acton is very new, having finished renovations about six months ago. And yet, it's a surprisingly nice station - certainly better than the horrible old one. Let's see it!

Oh no! Closed parking!
South Acton has a rather unassuming entrance along Main Street. There are no T symbols or anything, and a sign casually announces a "dead end". Yet if you proceed to the end...there you go! South Acton Station! There's a small relief parking lot here, but the main one is accessed from Central Street - 287 spaces.

That is a foreboding footbridge...
As this is a new station, the platform is fully high-level. Most of it is bare, but there are a few benches here and there, as well as robotic announcements that get broadcast from time to time. They sound awful.

Under the fancy footbridge.
There's a lot more "stuff" in the sheltered area under the station's footbridge. Although the ceiling is corrugated (classic modern Commuter Rail), there are more benches here, as well as wastebaskets. The station still had a lot of traffic cones and construction equipment when I was here, but it wasn't too big of a deal.

Gasp...woahhhhh...
Yes, South Acton does have stairs you can use to get up to the footbridge between platforms, but why would you want to use those? This place has an elevator! It's super fancy and glass, and it doesn't smell awful like many MBTA elevators, because...well, the station basically in the middle of nowhere. But still...elevators!

Train pictures are hard at night, okay?
Station: South Acton

Ridership: This is actually the busiest station on the whole Fitchburg Line! 902 inbound riders per weekday may not seem like much, but it's a full 15% of the line's overall ridership. I honestly have no idea why South Acton gets so many people, but I guess I can't complain!

Pros: They did a really good job renovating this station, with a fully high-level platform, a good amount of shelter, lots of seating, and that amazing footbridge with elevators! Modern Commuter Rail stations don't usually have a lot of character, but South Acton feels quite peaceful.

Cons: Some proper signage would be nice at the station's entrance, but I think all the locals know where this place is, so it's not much of a problem. However, and I can't believe I'm saying this, South Acton doesn't have enough parking! Okay, there's no way for me to prove that it needs more parking, but just look at the numbers: 287 spaces in a station with bad pedestrian access that gets over 900 riders per day? Yeah, I think it needs more parking. I can imagine that lot getting filled up on weekdays.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There's a small "downtown" near the station, but it really doesn't have anything worth noting. However, if you walk further up Main Street, you eventually reach The Discovery Museums! The idea of a small science museum in a little town is wonderful, and this place seems quite charming.

Final Verdict: 8/10
I was very pleasantly surprised with South Acton. The renovation greatly improved it from its original state - it used to be a single-track station! Now the station has proper shelters and high-level platforms, both of which make it much better. Plus, it has those elevators!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, May 26, 2016

West Concord

Well! This is most definitely the superior Concord station, especially compared to the other one. But seriously, West Concord is better than its companion in every way possible! I love this place so much...

There's a lot to talk about before we even get to the station!
Outside the station, there's this nice little plaza with so much stuff in it! I mean, you've got your classic benches, grass, and trees for starters, but how about the water fountain...that also has a specific place for filling up water bottles? There are also some plants with a unique drainage system for waste from a nearby parking lot! You've also got remnants of an old railroad junction, plus a solar garbage can! It's amazing!

Another great station building!
Moving on, this is another station with a wonderful old station building. This one is put to great use, too, with an entire café inside! It also has a door that leads out to the platform (the inbound side!) in case you need to run and catch a train. The café even has some outdoor seating, including one with a checkerboard on it!

Looking straight down the platform. There's a train leaving in the distance.
This station is on a straightaway, and the platform feels long as a result. Not much is offered along the majority of it, especially on the outbound side - it's just a straight line with a few benches or wastebaskets here and there. As for the inbound side, it gets the building, so there's a bit more sheltered seating. A fence separates the two platforms, but there are a few level crossings used to cross over.

Hooray! It's accessible!
Yes, unlike its eastern cousin, West Concord actually has wheelchair accessibility in the form of some really charming mini-high platforms! Yes, they may be rusting a bit, but the wooden shelters are just lovely. Each side has only a single bench, but that's better than nothing, and the shelters can still fit a good amount of people underneath.

Bike parking! And regular parking!
Okay, there isn't that much bike parking - only 10 spaces. But still, that's something! And as for car parking, West Concord doesn't disappoint, with 146 spaces. I think it might still be municipal parking, but the MBTA website says it still has a 20% availability rate on weekdays, so that's fine! There is a fee, though, at $4.00 per day - although strangely, an old honor box says it's $5.00. I'm going to trust the website and say it's $4.00, but you never know.

WOAH.
But despite having a fee, West Concord's parking completely makes up for it with an electric vehicle charging station. Yes, it may have a 4 hour maximum, so you can't charge your car all day while working in Boston, but it's just so cool! Does anyone even use this? Who cares? It's amazing!

A train coming...
...and going.
Station: West Concord

Ridership: This station is just behind Concord in terms of ridership, making it the 4th-busiest station on the Fitchburg Line! So if West Concord gets 541 riders per weekday and Concord gets 592...gosh, Fitchburg only gets 518 riders! The town of Concord has over double the ridership, yet only half the population of Fitchburg! This is so strange!

Pros: There's just so much to love about this station! The plaza alone has so much fun, unique stuff, from the solar wastebasket to the old train junction to the plant drainage system. West Concord's building is beautiful, and put to very good use. Plus, it's actually on the inbound platform this time! This is the only accessible station in Concord, and...did I mention the electric car charging station? Gosh, I love that.

Cons: There is a level crossing here, but if a train driver stops well, it won't go down while the train is stopped (at least on the inbound side). Other than that, there really isn't much wrong here. The parking's expensive for the Fitchburg Line, but if you really want to drive in, just use nearby South Acton's cheaper parking (although there'd be a trade-off with fares). Plus, the electric charging station makes up for it!

Nearby and Noteworthy: There's a charming little "downtown" around the station with lots of small businesses. It's no Concord Center, but it's something!

Final Verdict: 10/10
You know what? I knew this station would get a 10 from the moment I stepped foot in that amazing plaza. And yes, I did have doubts when I found out about the parking cost (it's one of the most expensive stations on the Fitchburg Line), but come on! This place just does everything right! It checks all the boxes for a wonderful Commuter Rail station, including lots of character. West Concord manages to combine old elements like the station building and the former track junction with new ones, like the solar garbage can and the electric car charger! This station is as good as it gets.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Concord

Welp, we're headin' out to northwestern suburbia now. Don't let the hillbillies get you! But yes, Concord is actually one of the busiest stations on the Fitchburg Line, and it's right near the center of town. This place has some great character, but also big flaws. Let's take a look!

Gosh, I'm such a sucker for character...
Why do the lovely station buildings always have to be on the outbound side? Yes, Concord's outbound ridership is probably miniscule, but that side of the station does get a really great building. It even has a mural of (presumably) Walden Pond painted all along it! There's a bench underneath the shelter of the building's roof, too. As for inside, the old station is occupied by quite a few different businesses, from a fashion store to an optician!

A different kind of building!
Strangely, though, the outbound side doesn't have a wastebasket, which means litter can accumulate around the bench under the old building. However, this shortcoming is made up for with an ice cream shop further down the platform! I'm not an ice cream fan myself, ("Gasp" from the readers!) but the shop even has a door that leads out to the platform so you can rush out to a train if you have to.

Ohhh...oh nooooooo...
And then there's the inbound side. Where to begin? How about the cracked, decrepit asphalt along the whole thing? Or maybe the ugly green bus shelter that is the extent of the covering along the platform? Poor inbound riders...they deserve better than this.

Some parking.
There are a few parking lots in the immediate vicinity of Concord, and I'm not sure which ones are official and which ones aren't. Indeed, the MBTA website says that it's run by the town of Concord and is free, so it might be generic municipal parking. It's not a lot, either, with 86 spaces, and if the parking's municipal, then it must fill up fast. There are also 10 bike spaces here.

An express train, having already whipped past the station!
Station: Concord

Ridership: Well, this kinda puts a bad mark on the Fitchburg Line's overall ridership - Concord is its third-busiest station after South Acton and Waltham, with 592 riders. The fact that it gets more ridership than Fitchburg is kinda sad, considering the sizes of the two towns (well, Fitchburg is a city, but I digress). Still, I guess lots of people commute from Concord to Boston, and many students use the station to get to and from nearby Concord Academy, so there's that. But...Fitchburg has over double the population of Concord! Okay, I'm sorry, but this greatly confuses me.

Pros: There's no denying that the place has character, especially on the outbound platform - that building is simply spectacular. But other than character (and ice cream) Concord really doesn't offer much. I mean, the parking's free, but I'm not sure if it's explicitly station parking or just general use. Such a small lot would get filled up regardless of price, anyway.

Cons: For starters, the inbound platform is a mess. You know how this is one of the busiest stations on the Fitchburg Line? Well, I can't imagine dozens of commuters trying to cram under that shoddy little bus shelter! Meanwhile, the outbound platform fills up with litter because it doesn't have a wastebasket (the inbound side has multiple, for reference), and the whole station isn't even accessible! Finally, the train has to spill out into two level crossings when stopped here, which is always annoying.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Concord is a really lovely town with lots of history. Concord Center is a short walk from the station, and it offers a great small-town feel. Even the little cluster of businesses near the station is worth checking out!

Final Verdict: 5/10
Sorry, Concord, but your beautiful building isn't gonna save you this time. If the inbound side could get better shelter and some mini-high platforms in general, the rating would shoot up, but at the moment, this station is surprisingly barebones. Yes, it's charming. Yes, it has ice cream. But it also has level crossings, dodgy parking, and no accessibility. No, thanks.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Abandoned Hospital!

For a change of pace from my usual reviews, here are the photos I took at the abandoned Boston Regional Medical Center! All of the pictures are taken from outside - don't worry, I didn't trespass!

The beat-up parking lot.
Looking through a glass door.
A narrow hallway. 
Some overgrowth.
Heading up to the main entrance.
Getting closer...
This road has seen better days.
Someone needs to empty that wastebasket!
Looking into the main entrance.
A zoomed-in shot. Look at the fallen plaster!
Another corner of the building.
A side of the hospital.
Looking back toward the main entrance.
That looks unsafe...
What a lovely shot of a radiator.
The building again.
An old sign.
Even the church was abandoned!
A rusting door.
How do you even bend a metal sign like that?
A side of the building.
I wonder if that staircase is sturdy...
A bus shelter? What for?!
I don't think anyone will be smoking around here anymore...
Some sort of utility closet?
Ahhhh, that's so creepy! I wanna go in so bad!
Another door.
Lots of overgrowth going on here.
More bent metal!
Some loading docks.
Old signs!
These generators were still on...
There was another main entrance down this way.
Are you wondering why that big board is there?
Now you know...
Looking beyond the broken glass.
Some sort of receptionist desk?
That hallway goes on for a while...
Zoomed in on the hallway.
The outside of this particular entrance.
Handicapped only, guys!
This seems isolated.
If this were a horror movie, the creepy ghost child would be sitting in that chair.
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