Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hawes Street, Kent Street, and Saint Paul Street (C)

After the pretty great Saint Marys Street, our next cluster of stations...isn't as great. They are in absolutely beautiful neighborhoods, but in terms of the stations themselves, they're definitely lacking. Let's take a look.

The platform at Hawes Street.
One problem with the C is that it often gets confused at what the peak direction is. You see, all three of these stations have shelters on the outbound side rather than the inbound. Hawes Street is no exception, with two simple (but functional) bus shelters on the outbound side.

The "plaza" at Kent Street.
Kent Street and Saint Paul Street are slightly different than Hawes Street in that they have staggered platforms. Their outbound platforms are the same as Hawes, but strangely, the inbound sides still have no shelter. Instead, Kent Street and Saint Paul Street have little plazas across the track from the inbound side with a shelter, bench, and wastebasket. Only problem is that that's not where the stupid train boards!!!

The inbound, um, "platform" at Saint Paul Street.
So yeah, time to talk about the inbound platforms - they're all decrepit. They're tiny, low-level, and in awful condition. The one at Saint Paul Street is particularly bad, with this plank of wood along the whole thing. They're all awful, though.

A train at Saint Paul Street.
Stations: Hawes Street, Kent Street, and Saint Paul Street (C)

Ridership: Hawes Street and Kent Street don't get many riders, with only 339 and 386 per weekday, respectively. Saint Paul Street gets significantly more, for some reason, with 849 riders per weekday.

Pros: These stations definitely have that typical C Line character. And if you're going outbound, then you're all set. Inbound, however, is a different story...

Cons: Okay, here's a little lesson for these stations: when people get on the train, almost all of them are going into the city. And so you're gonna have a lot more people waiting on the inbound platform rather than the outbound. So how about not having your inbound platforms be deteriorating messes, hmmmm?

Nearby and Noteworthy: Nothing much, just a lot of really beautiful apartments, and...wait...there's a Holiday Inn between Kent Street and Saint Paul Street?! Gosh, I always associate those with suburbia, and yet here's one right in the middle of Brookline!

Final Verdict: 5/10
Having a decent outbound platform is certainly a necessary aspect to any station. But you also need to have a good inbound platform. And most importantly, you need an inbound platform that's not tiny, decrepit, and awful. These stations all fail at that. Miserably. Still, they're nice enough in other aspects, but that inbound platform is quite important.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, July 25, 2016

Saint Marys Street

Man, I had forgotten how much I love the C. It's the most reliable of the Green Line street lines, plus it has an absolutely gorgeous right-of-way! My friend Sam and I walked along its entire distance to see every single stop, so we're gonna be taking a look at all of them. Let's do this.

The station, seen from its wheelchair ramp.
Saint Marys Street has a very E Line kind of feeling. It has some great wide platforms, and those generic but useful shelters you would find on the E. The station is on an s-curve, and I'm not entirely sure why, but perhaps it's so that each platform gets a wide section? Also, the station features a wheelchair ramp on the outbound side, while the inbound gets a simple lift.

The southern side of the station.
It's also worth noting that to the south side of the portal, the station features a little...plaza? Okay, it's not really a plaza, but it does have a newspaper box and ten bike spaces, which is definitely useful. The pedestrian crosswalks here are conveniently placed, with easy access to the station.

A train stopped at the station...
...and another train going into the portal.
Station: Saint Marys Street

Ridership: The ridership on the C is centered around its four "accessible" stations (although they're all technically accessible with the newer Type 8 trains), and Saint Marys Street happens to be one of them. This is the second-busiest station on the C, with an average of 1,532 riders per weekday (although that's less than half of the busiest, Coolidge Corner).

Pros: This station feels almost identical to the in-median E Line stops, which instantly makes it good. The platforms are wide, the shelters are useful, and Saint Marys Street even throws in that little plaza for bike parking!

Cons: There's definitely a lack of character here compared to stations further down the line. I mean, the right-of-way is quite leafy here, but the C gets downright beautiful as you go further west.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There are lots of restaurants and stores to be found on the north side of Beacon Street, while the south side is mostly apartments.

Final Verdict: 8/10
Don't get me wrong, Saint Marys Street is a great station, and if it were on a different line, it would probably score a 9. That said, we're on the C, and I can't help but give it a lower score when compared to some of the other gems further west.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Route 128

I was not expecting much from Route 128. Every time I went past it, it always just seemed like a middle-of-nowhere park-and-ride station. Well...okay, it kinda still is, but it has a lot more to offer than just parking.

This happened to be the first thing I saw when I got off here.
Okay, the end of the platform isn't the best, but it's not like anyone waits out here anyway. It's basically just open concrete, with a few admittedly unique shelters that are apparently popular with railfans. Still, nothing much to see out here, so let's go back to the main part of the platform.

Ah! Now we're talking!
The main part of the platform is all sheltered and chock full of amenities. Aside from the typical wastebaskets and some typical Orange Line-esque bench shelters, the station also features help buttons to call for assistance, as well as old Commuter Rail maps that really should be updated. Best of all, though, are the screens at the platforms that tell you the time, as well as the status of the next train. They're unique to this station (they also show Amtrak trains), and they're great.

The ticket concourse.
From the outbound platform, there's an entrance directly into the station building. It leads into a really nice circular concourse with both ticket offices and ticket machines. There's also a small destination board in here for Amtrak arrivals.

Wow!
Route 128 offers a lot in terms of waiting space. From the concourse, the room seen above is actually the smaller of the two waiting rooms. Even then, this one still offers lots of seating and feels like an airport. There's also a hand sanitizer dispenser close by, which is a really nice touch, and the whole station has Wi-Fi.

GOOD THING THIS PICTURE IS OUT OF FOCUS TO TRULY SHOWCASE THE BEAUTIFUL WAITING ROOM.
The other waiting room is even bigger, with a high ceiling and lots of natural light coming from huge windows. Again, it has lots of seating, but this one features a huge destination board! Okay, it's only a screen and it only shows Amtrak arrivals and it's really ugly, but it's a destination board regardless.

Gross...
There are a bunch more amenities in this waiting room, including wastebaskets and recycling bins! There's also a payphone (for what it's worth), and a smaller destination board further into the room. Finally, it has what appears to be a phone charger, although I can't entirely tell if that's what it is.

The first of two cafés.
Yes, Route 128 has two cafés! And the first one, the On Track Café, is open seven days a week! Now, barring the fact that its logo is in comic sans, the On Track Café has so much stuff that it might as well be considered a convenience store. They even sell magazines! The room in which the café is housed also features some tables, wastebaskets, vending machines, and more generic seating.

The other café.
The other café, Java Junction, is only open during the morning rush, but whaddayaknow - I was here during the morning rush! This place seemed to be a lot more crowded than the On Track Café downstairs, but maybe it's because Java Junction serves hotter and fresher stuff. Also, it just happens to be closer to the platform, so perhaps people were just waiting here for their trains.

Ah, the main attraction.
Okay, time for the parking garage. The huge, huge parking garage. Are you ready for the number of spaces it has? Get ready: 2,589. All that, and yet it gets over 75% filled on weekdays! I guess they really do need all that space. Route 128 has no bike parking, unfortunately, although...who the heck would want to bike here, anyway?

The parking lot elevator.
The parking lot elevator isn't particularly noteworthy. It moves at a fine rate, it doesn't smell, and it generally gets the job done pretty well. The only reason I bring it up is because the floor has air bubbles in it! It doesn't matter too much, but it was fun to step on the bubbles. Okay, this was a pointless paragraph, wasn't it?

The view of the highway.
Unfortunately, the view from the roof of the parking lot is rather underwhelming. You can't see Boston, so the only things in view are the station's namesake, and a bunch of development going on down University Ave. It's probably not worth coming up here if you're looking for a view.

The station's footbridge.
There's a huge footbridge that connects to the main station building and also serves as a bridge between the two platforms. It seems like it's also a popular place for people to wait, despite not having any benches (it does have a wastebasket and a recycling bin, though). They could possibly stick a few seats in here to make the conditions more comfortable, but it would probably be better for people just to wait in the more comfortable waiting room in the building...

A Commuter Rail train!
A Northeast Regional train!
An Acela train!
Station: Route 128

Ridership: This station doesn't actually get too much ridership on the Commuter Rail side of things, relative to the rest of the Providence Line: 853 inbound riders per day. Still, that's pretty good for the Commuter Rail. For Amtrak, however, the station gets 444,670 riders per year, or about 1,218 riders per day. Yes, Amtrak actually gets more ridership than Commuter Rail here!

Pros: Parts of this station really feel like an airport - I wasn't expecting it to have so many amenities! Both waiting rooms are great, as are both cafés. Finally, this station has a huge amount of parking, and as its name suggests, is right off of Route 128 for easy access.

Cons: I have a few very small cons with this station. Firstly, there's that destination board, which is just annoying - if only it could show Commuter Rail trains, too. Also, the maps on the platform are out of date. These are pretty small issues, but issues regardless.

Nearby and Noteworthy: If you like huge expanses of development, then University Ave is for you! You'll find lots of malls along there.

Final Verdict: 10/10
Route 128 is about as near-perfect as a Commuter Rail station can be, though there's no denying that it has a few problems. But still...what other Commuter Rail station has airport-style seating? Or free Wi-Fi? Or two cafés, one of which is open seven days a week? Yes, Route 128 may not be a perfect station, but it's definitely one of the best on the Commuter Rail.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mansfield

Mansfield is quite possibly the most exhilarating station on the Commuter Rail. You see, this is one of two places in the entire country (the other being Kingston, RI) where the Acela is allowed to go its top speed of 150 MPH. Let me tell you, it's an amazing experience when one goes by. So, does that make Mansfield a great station? Well...no, not really.

WELL...NO, NOT REALLY.
This station has the absolute worst mini-high platforms I've ever seen. First of all, they're completely bare, without shelter or benches or anything. This would be an annoyance already, but then there's the fact that the platforms are completely deteriorating! Parts of them are chipped off, and they're covered in loose wooden planks to try to hide the even worse-looking concrete underneath.

Looking down the platform.
The outbound platform is mostly bare, but it does have some quirks. For example, there's a pay phone that's more or less destroyed, with this big metal thing leaning out from the top. Also, there's a station sign that's balanced on two posts and wiggles at the slightest touch. Oh, and there are some benches, ads, and wastebaskets as well.

It's from the town common, but here's the building.
The station's building was opened in 2004, and it definitely has a modern feel. It has benches on both the platform side and the drop-off/pick-up side, although for the former, you would have to walk to the mini-high when the train comes. I will say that the benches are unique, with "Mansfield" formed into the metal they're made out of.

The inside of the building.
The station building was closed since it was a Saturday (it's only open during the morning rush), but looking through the doors, it seemed like a nice place. It has a café with beverages and snacks, as well as indoor seating. I would imagine both are popular with commuters when waiting for trains into the city.

This is station parking, huh?
Mansfield's main parking lot is in...interesting condition. I mean, look at it! Yes, a good portion of the lot not seen in the picture is decent, but as you get to portions further out, it's not even paved! The lot can get busy on weekdays, and the cars do actually stretch out that far, so a repaving is definitely in order. There is also a small lot next to the building, but it's for Mansfield residents only.

One of the station's footbridges.
Chauncy Street next to the station is basically a highway, but there are convenient footbridges from both platforms over it. On the outbound side it leads to another station lot, but stairs leading down are also the way of crossing between platforms. Not everyone seems to be aware of that, though; I had to help a few people who were heading into the city that were lost about which platform to board on.

A little plaza.
Meanwhile, the footbridge on the inbound side leads to a surprisingly charming plaza. It doesn't really serve much of a point aside from some bike racks, and even then, there are more racks that are closer to the station in one of the parking lots. The plaza has a bench and a wastebasket, too, but I don't know why anyone would need to sit out here.

Here's a Commuter Rail train, but no one cares about that. Here's the main attraction (with my friend Harry also filming the train):

Station: Mansfield

Ridership: So. Much. Ridership. Mansfield is the second-busiest station on the Providence Line, and the fifth-busiest on the whole Commuter Rail, with 1,707 inbound riders per weekday. Considering that Mansfield is a pretty small-ish town, I think many of those people drive in from elsewhere and park in the huge lot(s).

Pros: I would say that everything in the general vicinity of the building can be considered "good." The building, of course, is great and convenient, and it provides sheltered seating outside as well as inside. Also, I like how the small lot next to it is for residents only, since a lot of people probably drive in from other towns. The parking amounts to 806 spaces in total, which is huge, while the GATRA runs a fine route here (although it lacks signage). Oh, and you haven't experienced Mansfield until you've witness an Acela go by. It's incredible.

Cons: Basically, everything at this station that's not around the building. The platforms are decrepit for the most part, and don't even get me started on the mini-highs - that's a safety hazard right there. Also, the main parking lot is a huge mess, and really should be repaved.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Mansfield isn't the biggest town in Massachusetts, but there are definitely a good amount of businesses and restaurants close to the station.

Final Verdict: 6/10
Oof, this is tough. There's a lot to like about Mansfield, but the mini-high truly threatens the safety of this station's passengers with its loose wood planks, especially considering that Acelas speed through here several times per day. That said, the Acelas are really awesome... Honestly, this station really deserves a 5, but I'll throw in an extra point for that high-speed action.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, July 21, 2016

431 (Neptune Towers - Central Square, Lynn via Summer Street)

Well, I've had it with this stupid bus. I've tried to take the 431 four times, and every time the driver has either decided not to do the route, or just not let me on for whatever reason. When my friend Sam and I tried to do the route recently, it was the former, and we decided enough is enough: we were going to walk the 431.

Well...that would've been the 431...
Sam was the driver on the 12:08 PM walking 431 trip. We went through the Commuter Rail busway but no one seemed to want to get on, so we headed onto Union Street, with buildings, businesses, and parking lots as the surroundings.

Going down Union Street.
We went under the Commuter Rail tracks, turning onto Central Square in the process. The sidewalk was rather nice and treelined here, with more businesses lining the street. We also went by a cool building reminiscent of the Flatiron in New York!

Slightly less impressive than the Flatiron, but still quite nice.
Alongside the Flatiron-esque building, we found a mannequin outside of a store that seemed to want to get on the bus, but it couldn't move to pay its fare so we had to leave it behind. Next, we turned onto Oxford Street, which had a lot of parking lots alongside it. There were still a few businesses, but they didn't seem to be as interesting as the ones back on the main drag.

Sorry, sir...
It felt much less urban when we reached the intersection with the wider Market Street. Here, there was a big shopping plaza with a bigger parking lot out front. We turned onto Market (deviating from the actual route slightly, I think), which became lined with more businesses. We then turned onto Tremont Street, which had a school on one side and the back of that shopping plaza on the other.

This is starting to feel less urban.
Next, we went by an apartment building on one side, and an office on the other. We then merged with Neptune Boulevard, which featured a tree-lined median. There were a few businesses, then we passed a housing project and merged onto Summer Street.

Some retail on Neptune Boulevard.
This street was lined with more typical housing, while the back of a school occupied one side. There were a few businesses at the intersection with Commercial Street, including a convenience store and an auto shop. We turned onto Commercial for a block, then turned again onto Neptune Boulevard.

Some more businesses on Summer Street.
At this point, we had arrived at the route's terminus, Neptune Towers. Now, it wasn't exactly the grandest terminus, for one particular main reason: THERE WASN'T A STOP. No bench, no sign, nothing. Just a bunch of parked cars. Great signage, MBTA! Wonderful!

The bus laying over at Neptune Towers.
Leaving Neptune Towers, we passed a playground that seemed to have some really cool sprinklers for kids. We went by a school from there, then merged onto Wheeler Street, going by an apartment and some offices. We reached that shopping mall again, where we turned onto Pleasant Street, and Tremont once more after that.

Hey, it's a The Ride vehicle! Does that not belong at Neptune Towers more than a fixed MBTA route that never runs?
Tremont Street was familiar territory from before, but this time we made a slight route deviation to serve Dunkin' Donuts. Hey, we had been walking for half an hour and we needed sustenance! We returned to Market Street after that deviation, which took us under the Commuter Rail tracks and back into the Lynn busway.

A different 431 on a different day.
Route: 431 (Neptune Towers - Central Square, Lynn via Summer Street)

Ridership: The 431 gets truly high ridership that blasts all other MBTA routes out of the water. Get this: 45 people per weekday, 41 per Saturday, and all of 7 riders every Sunday. Perfect!

Pros: You know, on a route like this, I might say "it exists" as sort of a joke pro. But the thing is, the 431 isn't even consistent with that! I've tried to take it so many times and it's decided not to run every single one!

Cons: Um, so, like, everything? Yeah, basically. It's one thing to operate a completely useless bus loop that gets hardly any riders and only serves to make late 435's even later, but it's another thing to advertise a service that only sometimes exists. And the fact that there never seems to be any people that complain when a bus forgoes its 431 trip just means that no one's using it in the first place. Neptune Towers doesn't even have a stop, for heaven's sake!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Get this: on our walk, we saw an ice cream truck. NOTEWORTHY ALERT!

Final Verdict: 1/10
GET. RID. OF. THE. 431. It's that simple. There is no point in keeping this route around in order to run a full-sized bus to some apartment complex that's only a few blocks away from other routes, anyway. You know what they should do? Just utilize The Ride! It doesn't have to be a fixed service, per se, although they could even just run The Ride vehicles on the tiny loop to Central Square, following the current 431 schedule. No service would be lost and it would be a much better use of resources, plus the 435 could get a proper layover (which it desperately needs).

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

GATRA: Wheaton T Shuttle/Route 140

As the name suggests, GATRA's 140 route is a bus meant for students at Wheaton College. I checked Wheaton's website for more information: "The GATRA route 140 schedule is a campus favorite." Barring the strange inclusion of "schedule" in that sentence, the website definitely makes the route seem appealing. Why, I'll bet it's gonna have lots of people! Oh wait...it's summer. Why do they still run this thing??

What a strange-looking bus. There was no signage at Mansfield, incidentally.
The 140 uses a pretty interesting minibus, although personally I'm not the biggest fan of how it looks on the outside. Still, it seats a lot of people on the inside, and there was even a screen in front! There weren't announcements, unfortunately (aside from "stop requested"), so the screen just repeated the date and time over and over again. Finally, the bus was pretty quiet, owing to the fact that its wheelchair lift wasn't too jiggly.

The inside of the bus.
From the station, we headed onto Crocker Street, running alongside a common. We turned onto North Main Street from there, then Old Colony Road. The scenery was mostly apartments, but once we merged back onto North Main, there were businesses everywhere.

Prepare for lots of back views - rear windows are fun!
The street turned into South Main Street at another common, and it got residential south of there. We turned onto Spring Street, and after some more houses and an apartment, there was a short woodsey section where we went over a river. The houses came back after that, and we also passed a cemetery.

Spring Street.
We merged onto School Street, which became quite wide as we passed through a huge intersection. On the other side, we entered the Mansfield Crossing shopping complex. Lots of businesses and parking lots lined the road, culminating in a big parking lot for a mall, through which we looped and picked up no one.

Was there signage? Ha!
We went back the way we came, except this time we turned onto the wide Commercial Street (Route 140). It was basically a highway running through the woods, which became even more so when we merged onto I-495. It was only the distance of a single exit, and a close one at that, but it was still cool to have a bit of an "express" section.

The section on I-495.
We turned onto South Main Street once more at the next exit, intermittently passing random businesses with parking lots. When we entered Norton, the street became Mansfield Ave, and soon after we went by an apartment development on one side of the road. We then reached another mall (Great Woods Plaza), and of course we had to go in and serve it! Hey, wanna guess if there was signage or not? Answer: NO!

Sigh...
We went by a trailer park upon returning to Mansfield Ave, but then the scenery got really nice - for a decently long stretch, the street ran alongside or even over the Norton Reservoir! On the land portions, it was a solid mix between houses, businesses, and industrial buildings.

Beautiful!
After the reservoir, it became mostly houses again. Eventually, we turned onto West Main Street in downtown Norton...if it can be called that. It was basically just a common and a church, with a few businesses down Taunton Ave. We turned onto Howard Street, which was lined with Wheaton College buildings, and reached the last stop (with a sign!). Here, we laid over for a bit before leaving again to return to Mansfield.

Oh boy...this is not a photogenic bus.
GATRA Route: Wheaton T Shuttle/Route 140

Ridership: Look, I'm sure this route gets great ridership when school is in session. Sure, it only gets about 80 people per weekday, but that jumps up to around 130 per Saturday - GATRA's fifth-busiest route. The 140 even has Sunday service when school is in session, and the Wheaton College website goes as far as to call it a "campus favorite." But on my summer ride? No one. Not a soul.

Pros: The 140 is a quick link (25 minutes) from Wheaton College to the Commuter Rail, and it serves a number of malls and shopping centers along the way. The schedule can be roughly simplified to every 30 minutes rush hour, every 90 minutes during the day, and every hour on weekends, although it's really not that consistent.

Cons: Well, firstly, a 25 minute trip means you can easily have a clockface schedule, but the 140 refuses to do this most of the time. I also question the 70 minute layover at Mansfield on Saturdays - it's clearly for the driver's break, but having a driver switch would allow for one extra trip. Of course, I consider all of this to apply only to school days, because...WHY DOES THIS ROUTE RUN DURING THE SUMMER?! It's clearly meant for students, and if my Saturday afternoon round trip was any indication, no one uses this thing during school vacation.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Students seem to use this route mostly for shopping, and you can, too! It serves a few malls, with Mansfield Crossing seeming to be the most interesting one.

Final Verdict: 6/10
There's certainly no denying that the 140 gets ridership during the school year. But based on my experience (maybe it was a quiet day for one reason or another), no one uses this thing during the summer. The schedule could definitely be toned down when school isn't in session, and could generally be tinkered with to give the route clockface headways. The 140 is definitely a solid route, but it has a lot of problems that need to be fixed.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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