Sunday, November 29, 2015


Okay, guys, I have another pronunciation problem. So, based on the way Fairmount is spelled, I've always assumed the second syllable is pronounced like "mountain". But according to a local I met on my walk to the station, it's pronounced like "Fairmont". I know I should probably just trust the local, but I have to ask you guys: "Fairmount" or "Fairmont"?  Well, anyway, let's talk about the station.

The inbound entrance.
There are two different ways of getting into Fairmount. The first of these consists of pedestrian ramps from Fairmount Ave that lead down to the station. There are two of them (one for inbound and one for outbound), and both have T symbols outside. The ramps themselves are long, curving around in order to make it down to the platform. Luckily, there are also stairs to speed things up for people who don't need the ramps.

Hmm...that road there...I'm not sure if it's in the best condition...
The other way of getting into Fairmount is by road, and there are two different ones that go there. The first is a short street off of Fairmount Ave called 3rd New Way. It's a steep, treacherous road that comes down to a mostly unpaved drop-off area next to the station - and that's about it, aside from some sheltered bike spaces. Perhaps we should try the other side?

Some of the station parking.
Luckily, the other side is less nerve-racking. 2nd New Way is significantly less steep and is actually paved all the way. Additionally, Maple and Walnut Streets go to this side of the station, coming from residential areas that would normally take a long time to access from Fairmount Ave. This side of the station is also where the parking is, and though there are only 51 spaces, most people get here by other means, so the lot usually has free space.

The outbound boarding platform.
Fairmount is the only station on the Fairmount Line (besides Readville) that isn't fully high-level. Instead, the station has smaller high-level boarding platforms. Personally, I think this setup has more character, but ultimately high-level is more efficient. Nonetheless, the ramps from Fairmount Ave lead directly to the boarding platforms, which have benches and wastebaskets. A weird quirk about the platforms, though, is that there's a gap between the platform itself and the yellow part close to the tracks. I'm not sure why, but it's odd - doesn't seem like it would be dangerous, though.

The low-level part of the platform.
Aside from the inbound shelter extending a bit past the boarding platform, there really isn't much along the low-level section. It is important to note, however, that you can't cross over the tracks here. In order to get to the other side, you have to go up to Fairmount Ave and walk over. I guess the street above acts as a footbridge of sorts for pedestrians, but I can see it being annoying having to go up and down those stairs. Why can't there just be a level crossing like at other stations?

A train was leaving right when I was coming to the Fairmount Ave entrance, so I had to quickly snap this picture from above.
Station: Fairmount

Ridership: In fairness, this is the second-busiest station on the Fairmount Line. That said, it's the Fairmount Line, so that doesn't mean much. This station gets an average of 188 inbound riders per weekday, and I believe many of those people come in by foot. That's based on the fact that the parking lot really doesn't get much usage at all.

Pros: Well, speaking of the parking lot, it's great that there is one, even if it's not utilized by many people - better safe than sorry. In addition, I think this might be the only Fairmount Line station with any form of character. I mean, the red shelters over the platforms look better than any of the bland stuff you'll get further north.

Cons: The only problem I have with this station is the lack of a level crossing for pedestrians. For example, if someone wants to get dropped off on the inbound side, the two options are using the treacherous 3rd New Way, or using 2nd New Way and crossing over via two sets of stairs.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The businesses of Logan and Cleary Squares are only a few blocks from this station - it's a short walk.

Final Verdict: 8/10
The absence of a level crossing isn't enough to deter Fairmount! Honestly, it's probably just for safety that crossing the tracks is prohibited. That said, if safety is an issue, then 3rd New Way has to be improved, because...whoof, that's a scary road. Of course, 2nd New Way is a fine alternative, and that street leads to the parking lot, too. Besides, Fairmount's platform is pretty nice and accessible for people with disabilities. I haven't traversed the whole Fairmount Line yet, but I think this is my favorite station on it so far.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The Boston Globe had a bunch of articles today about train travel in the United States that were quite interesting. Check them out here.

24 (Wakefield Ave and Truman Highway - Mattapan or Ashmont Station via River Street)

A little while back, I reviewed the 33, which runs from Mattapan Station to Dedham Line, via River Street. I wasn't a very big fan of that route. Now we'll be looking at the 33's companion along River Street, the 24, which goes to Fairmount. Does it stack up more favorably than the 33? Let's find out.

Wooooooah, that's a weird angle!
Leaving the busway at Mattapan, we looped around onto River Street. We avoided the main drag of Mattapan Square, however, by simply continuing straight on the same street. Leaving Mattapan's businesses behind, River Street was mostly lined with dense houses.

Crossing over the Fairmount Line.
Eventually, the road went onto a bridge, going over the Fairmount Line. On the other side, we passed a shopping plaza. then it got a bit industrial. There were auto shops and empty plots of land lining the street for a little while. It got residential after that, though, with individual houses, as well as a few apartments.

A clock tower in Logan Square.
Eventually, the street became lined with businesses as we entered Logan Square. This was where we split from the 33, turning onto Fairmount Ave. After passing some more retail, we went up onto a bridge, crossing over Fairmount Station, then the Neponset River.

This wasn't taken from the bus, but here's the Neponset River, seen from Fairmount Ave.
Now we came to the main part of the 24, which is a loop around a neighborhood of Hyde Park. It was very local and very twisty, and it started right when we left the bridge. Turning onto Beacon Street, we rose up a steep hill with houses on either side of the road. At the top, we turned onto Metropolitan Ave, passing the small Boston Baptist College.

Looking down a side street.
We then turned onto Summit Street, going into Milton for the very briefest of moments before returning to Hyde Park. From there, we turned onto Milton Ave, which had no sidewalk and more spread-out houses. Once we were on Highland Street, though, the houses were denser again.

Another side street.
The road made a few sharp twists, becoming Pond Street in the process. Reaching the end of that street, we turned onto Williams Ave, then Summit Street again, passing the Boston Police Academy. This road changed names twice as we went along, becoming Washington Street, then Wakefield Ave.

A nice-looking park.
Around that last name change, we went by a school on one side and a park on the other. We then turned onto Truman Highway, reaching a shelter. Right across the street from a small shopping plaza, this was the last stop of the route.

The bus further down Truman Highway.
But even though that was the last stop, there is a little more to the loop. Continuing down Truman Highway, there are parks on either side of the street, then one side becomes lined with houses. It continues like this until Fairmount Ave, which the bus turns onto in order to get back to Mattapan.

The bus getting ready to turn onto Fairmount Ave.
Route: 24 (Wakefield Ave and Truman Highway - Mattapan or Ashmont Station via River Street)

Ridership: The 24 has significantly higher ridership than the 33, with an average of 1,730 riders per weekday (compared to 1,246 for the latter). On weekends, when combined with the 27 to Ashmont, the 24 gets 1,319 riders on Saturdays and 724 on Sundays. My ride had about 15 people in total, though a bus heading the other way looked fairly crowded. All of the riders on my bus were locals heading home, mostly around the loop.

Pros: I think that based on its ridership, the 24's schedule is good. It runs every 20 minutes during the morning rush hour and every 30 in the evening, while during the day it goes every 40-50 minutes. On nights and weekends, it combines with the 27 to Ashmont (which is another pro in itself, since it's more efficient for ridership), running every hour at night, every 40 minutes on Saturdays, and every 65 minutes on Sundays. On another note, this is a pretty niche route, making a loop around a very local neighborhood - and I like that.

Cons: On the other hand, the infrequent schedule could be annoying for locals, though I think it's not too bad. No, the thing I don't like is the way the 24's loop works. See, when it gets to Wakefield Avenue, the bus has a layover period, which seems like it would be annoying for inbound riders who got on earlier along the loop. That said, it does make it easier to schedule. Another problem I have is that there's zero coordination between the 24 and the 33, meaning bunching - sometimes even scheduled bunching - along River Street.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There are lots of businesses at Cleary and Logan Squares, which are right next to each other. The 24 directly serves Logan, while Cleary is only a few blocks away.

Final Verdict: 7/10
The 33 got a 5 and the 27 got an 8, so I figured I'd slot the 24 in the middle. On the one hand, it's better than the 33 because it actually gets Sunday service, though the two routes do have that bunching issue. On the other hand, the 24 does have that weird quirk with the loop scheduling. And I know the layover period is probably good for keeping buses on time, but I can see it being annoying for locals using the bus.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Whenever I pass through Providence Station on Amtrak, I always look out onto the platform and think "Man, this place looks horrible." And when I was walking toward the station and saw the exterior, I assumed the rest would be just as bad. Boy, was I wrong.

Well, let's start with the bad part...
Okay, I guess I can sort of see the appeal of Providence's brutalist building. The dome looks alright, and the fact that the clock tower isn't a perfect square is interesting. But, I mean, it's quite bland, isn't it? The clock tower is just a big concrete slab rising up from the building - which in itself is another concrete slab with a dome on top.

At least it's well-lit...
My friend and I approached the station from the southwest, which seemed to be the uninviting side, though it did have a few useful amenities. That side has an open concrete area with a few bike spaces, which is a good thing. There's also a café that was closed at the time, though I will say that it looks like it would be pretty good when open. But there were only two single doors into the station, and one of them was locked!

One of the station's main entrances. Also, my friend Michael makes a cameo.
Luckily, the station's main entrances are more inviting. There's one to the north on Gaspee Street and one to the south on Railroad Street. They're pretty similar, and they're both significantly more inviting than the entrance by the bike area. The Gaspee Street side has connections to four RIPTA routes, while the Railroad Street side functions as a drop-off/pick-up area. However, with the latter, you can walk a block to Park Row, where RIPTA's R-Line rapid bus stops.

The underground parking garage.
The station has 330 parking spaces, all housed in a two-level underground garage. Considering that this is an urban station that's pretty close to the hub of most RIPTA routes, it seems like the existing parking is plenty. Although the elevator used to get down to the garage is a bit disgusting, the stairs are fine and the garage itself is...well, a generic parking garage, but that's not a bad thing.

Oh, yeah! Here we go!
Okay, this station's waiting area is amazing. Its main attraction is the dome, of course, which is very high up and has a small window at the top. There are benches that circle it, and old-fashioned lamps everywhere to light the place up.

My camera's not the best at night pictures, so this was the best one I could get of the ticket office.
As this is an Amtrak station, Providence has a few ticket booths for last-minute purchases. There are four in total, but I think only Amtrak tickets can be bought there - with the Commuter Rail, you just buy them on the train. Also, unlike South Station, you can go down to the Amtrak platform without a ticket. There's no "line up to show me your ticket before you even go to the platform" madness like what happens at South Station.

A few side rooms.
The station has a few more amenities, located in rooms leading out of the waiting area. For one thing, there's a telephone room, though most of the payphones are gone. I guess a room like that isn't going to be too useful nowadays, anyway. There are also bathrooms, and they're not as disgusting as you might think. Okay, they're train station bathrooms, so don't expect to be blown away, but they're not as bad as other ones I've been to.

The vending machine room.
Providence even has a room called "Vending"! And that's literally what it is: a room full of vending machines. I mean, it has every machine you can imagine, from drinks and snacks to those fancy ones that give you coffee and ice cream. Truly, this room is a boon to humanity.

A closed shop.
There are also a few shops inside the station. The first one is that café I mentioned earlier, which is apparently French. Right outside of it is a flower kiosk - I feel like these show up in train stations a lot, for some reason. Finally, there's a general-purpose kind of store, with souvenirs, magazines, snacks, and more. Unfortunately, all of these were closed when I was here, but they probably get busy during rush hour.

Man, Providence, you just gotta keep blowing me away, don't you?
I seriously was not expecting a departure board here, and yet...there it was. Yes, this station has a small departure board showing when trains leave the station. And right below it is this big gaudy display about Providence with information about the city. Okay, so I like the board more, but the Providence display is useful to tourists, I'll give it that.

Descending down to the Amtrak platform.
The station itself is split into two platforms - one is for Amtrak trains, while the Commuter Rail stops at the other. We started with the Amtrak platform, and I gotta say, I was scared going down there. Based on the bland staircase, it felt like Providence would be another Back Bay...

Well...okay, so the platform is certainly not as bad as Back Bay, but it could be better. A lot of the pillars have peeling paint, and there's graffiti on the station walls. That said, though, the platform is pretty bright, since it has strong lights and white pillars. It doesn't have any benches, but that's because passengers are expected to wait upstairs.

The Commuter Rail platform.
The Commuter Rail platform is pretty similar, albeit with different signage. However, it's also a bit blander, since the walls and pillars are just pure concrete here. That said, aside from a small open-air section on the north side, the platforms are entirely underground, which means they're entirely sheltered. I would say that overall, they're a mixed bag - and nowhere near as disgusting as Back Bay.

An Amtrak train leaving the station.
A Commuter Rail train laying over.
I'll admit, I only took this one as an excuse to feature the State House in the background.
Station: Providence

Ridership: Well, this is actually the busiest Commuter Rail station outside of the downtown Boston terminals, with 2,325 riders per weekday! Also, this is Amtrak's 14th busiest station in the country, with 660,267 riders annually (over 1800 per day). This place must get awfully crowded during rush hour...

Pros: Everything about the waiting area is absolutely fantastic. I mean, there are ticket offices, shops, amenities, a destination board, and of course, that distinctive dome. There's nothing about that area I don't like. The station also has a fair amount of parking and some decent bus connections (with Kennedy Plaza only a few minutes' walk away), plus the platforms aren't as bad as...certain other stations. *cough* Back Bay.

Cons: That said, the platforms here can be a bit bland and you do see a few Back Bay-esque elements at times (i.e. graffiti). But there's nothing too bad, especially considering you don't actually have to wait on the platforms. I also think the station building is somewhat stark, though I can see how people would like it. It does have a certain charm, and you can't go wrong with a clock tower.

Nearby and Noteworthy: You know, Providence is often overshadowed by Boston, but seriously, it's a great city. I wish I could give some specific businesses or attractions, but I just walked around when I was there. But considering that you can just grab the Commuter Rail from South Station and get here in an hour, I really recommend checking Providence out for the day.

Final Verdict: 9/10
It's weird, I had fully expected that I would hate this place. This was based on short glimpses of the platform and a view of the building, both of which could be better. But the waiting area - it's just amazing! And honestly, I don't even mind the building or the platforms too much, since they're really just a bit bland. Yeah, this station is great, and a fantastic gateway into a fantastic city. Thanks for everything, Providence.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Service Change: RIPTA, Part 3 - Kennedy Plaza (and a few random Providence pictures)

The RIPTA is a big system, but most of its routes come out of three focal points. There's the Pawtucket Transit Center, the Newport Gateway Center, and the biggest one of the bunch, Providence's Kennedy Plaza. Serving most of RIPTA's routes, the Kennedy Plaza can be a little difficult to navigate, but its amenities are top notch.

Part of the plaza.
One of the shelters (Berth G, in this case).
Outside, there's quite a lot of seating space to wait for buses. Each berth has its own modern glass shelter with more benches under those. And speaking of berths, the hub has fifteen of them. Plus, some of them are on side streets, which can make them even harder to find.

Looking toward the main building and Providence City Hall behind it.
Two ticket machines.
On the way to the main building, there's another shelter in the middle of the plaza. Aside from offering a bit more seating, it also has some bright blue ticket machines! I think these are here so people can buy tickets in advance to speed up bus boarding, but I'm not sure how many riders actually do that.

The main building from the City Hall side.
Kennedy Plaza also has a main building that serves a variety of purposes. On the outside, it's quite nice, with concrete pillars and some lovely green windows and a green roof. There are a few architectural garnishes on certain parts of the building, which are a nice touch.

The interior of the building.
Inside, the building has quite a few amenities. Its main atrium has a big domed glass ceiling, sending lots of natural light into the room. In fact, it gets so bright that other lights aren't even necessary in the daytime! There's a ticket/information booth, as well as a bench with an excellent mosaic behind it.

The bench with its mosaic.
The building has a few other features, as well. For one thing, it has paper schedules of every RIPTA route, all in a big rack. There are also screens with countdown clocks for every bus that stops at Kennedy Plaza! The building has bathrooms and water fountains, too, which are certainly good additions to an already fantastic system hub.

A couple of countdown screens.
That's a lot of schedules...
The sun is starting to set over the plaza...
Here's another view of the Providence skyline.
Can I just say that the Providence State House is amazing, even if this is a terrible, blurry picture?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Service Change: RIPTA, Part 2 - 3 (Warwick Ave)

When my friend Michael and I arrived in Providence on the 35, we weren't really sure what to do. But Michael's always liked walking, and since I had just dragged him on a bus, we decided to take a stroll. And take a stroll we did...all the way down to Warwick! Indeed, after walking 7.5 miles from Providence, it was kind of a relief to catch the 3 back to the city.

Not the 3, but the same road.
The bus we rode on the 3 was different from the one on the 35, mainly in that the seats had a great pattern on them. I think the bus might've been more modern, but I can't be sure about that. I believe the bus also ran on clean energy, which is fantastic.

There's a picture of the bus exterior later on, in case any RIPTA riders out there can identify it.
We got on the bus on Warwick Ave, a wide road lined with businesses and auto shops, all with big parking lots. However, we soon turned onto Narragansett Parkway, which was much nicer. The street was narrower and went through a leafy residential neighborhood.

By the way, most of these pictures will be from the walk, since a lot of it followed the 3.
The street continued mostly straight for a while, then curved north near Passeonkquis Cove (good luck pronouncing that). We were running parallel with the Providence River, with a park on the side of the latter. On occasion, there would be some nice views across the water, as well. Eventually, it went back to houses, including a riverside residential development.

Some industrial vats loom on the other side of the river.
Looking across the marshes.
Eventually, we crossed the Pawtuxet River (entering Cranston), and came into the beautiful Pawtuxet Village. The street, now called Broad Street, became lined with small businesses, and there was a nice church further down the road. Aside from a few gas stations, this felt like the quintessential New England downtown, and it was great.

The leafy road from which we came.
Why, thank you!
Oh my gosh, this little river is beautiful!
Looking down Broad Street into the village.
The houses returned once we left Pawtuxet, but there was still the occasional business block. Eventually, though, we reached a major intersection, where there was quite a lot of retail. I'm not sure why this area developed so much, but I do know that it had a really impressive cathedral (which for some reason, I didn't get a picture of). We turned onto Norwood Ave here, which was lined with dense houses.

We then turned onto Narragansett Boulevard, which was mostly residential, with a few businesses. But when we entered Providence, the street became Allens Ave, and it got industrial. No, I mean industrial. As in "giant vats lining the road with freight train crossings" industrial.

Looking across a parking lot...or maybe just asphalt. The pictures were taken from the bus from here on out.
An interesting quirk about this area happened just after an interchange with I-95. A single train track actually merged into the middle of the road, with occasional spurs into industrial complexes. I assume the track isn't used anymore, but imagine a huge freight train just running down the middle of a busy street!

Going by...something.
Eventually, the railroad track ended abruptly and we passed under another highway interchange. We turned onto Blackstone Street, and then Eddy Street, going by the tall buildings of the Rhode Island Hospital complex. The road became Dyer Street, and we passed a lot of parking lots, abandoned buildings, and even some undeveloped plots of land.

Speaking of undeveloped land...
Eventually we reached the Providence River and merged into Memorial Boulevard. Now in downtown Providence, we were surrounded by tall buildings. Turning onto Westminster Street, we made a stop where everyone on the bus got off. The driver was laying over for a bit because we were early, so I asked if I could run out and get a quick picture of the vehicle. After getting back on, we made the final stretch to Kennedy Plaza.

Looking across the river.
Making the turn onto Westminster Street.
The bus on Westminster Street...
...and at Kennedy Plaza.
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