Friday, July 1, 2016

Dedham Corporate Center

I feel like being stuck at any Commuter Rail station for an hour will make you dislike it. This was unfortunately the case with Dedham Corporate Center, and I was in a pretty bad mood during my long wait here. Um...I'll try to be objective here, okay?

Or maybe this station is actually awful and I was right all along!
I came into the station from Rustcraft Road, which is where the Dedham Local Bus runs (no signage, for the record). There's a small kiss-and-ride drop-off area here, and it was built in 2014. It's just a stretch of road with a sidewalk - no benches, no wastebaskets, nothing. Also strange is the fact that you have to walk a ways back to get to this odd chain link fence entrance to actually get into the station.

The station's grand main entrance.
Meanwhile, the main entrance of the station is on the other side, and it leads into the parking lot. Dedham Corporate Center is primarily meant for park-and-ride trips, and thus it has a big lot with 497 spaces. The station is in very close proximity to Exit 14 off of I-95, so that helps it a lot in terms of convenience for drivers.

Looking down the platform.
As expected, much of the platforms are bare, with only a few wastebaskets and benches on either side. I'll talk about the shelter on the inbound side in a minute, but can I just say how ugly this station is? I mean, the chain link fences make you feel, um, fenced-in, while telephone wires string every which way! It certainly doesn't have the tranquility that its next store neighbor stations have.

The shelter and other attractions.
The inbound platform has a surprising amount of amenities near the parking lot. Aside from the generic boring shelter riddled with bird poop, there's another bench, a bike rack, a wastebasket, and even some newspaper boxes. In fact, why didn't I think to take something from one of them to have reading material during my wait? Shoot...

The station mini-highs.
Okay, I will say that the station's mini-high platforms are pretty nice. They're both wooden, and they each have a single bench on them. The bench on the inbound side is different from the one on the outbound side, which is a bit weird, but as long as I have a place to sit, I'm happy. Even if I have to sit there for an hour...

The train was going the wrong way!
Station: Dedham Corporate Center

Ridership: Surprisingly, this is the 5th busiest station on the Franklin Line. It certainly didn't seem that busy when I was here, with most people just using it to get from one side of the tracks to the other. I'm not sure where the station's 806 average weekday riders come from, but, uh, that's how many people use this place. Aside from people driving into the station's parking lot to go into the city, I'll bet this station gets its fair share of reverse commuters due to a few nearby office parks.

Pros: This station is accessible, which gives it the edge over both of its neighbors, Endicott and Islington. Also, this station offers lots of parking for both cars and bikes, although only 25% of the automobile lot gets occupied on weekdays.

Cons: Oh man, it's just such an ugly station! I really hate the chain link fences everywhere, and they're not even necessary! All they do is inconvenience people trying to get from one side of the tracks to the other (which apparently a lot of people do). Also, the shelter on the inbound side really needs to be cleaned up; there is way too much bird feces on that bench.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Aside from Legacy Place, to which this station is surprisingly close, a Cummins plant is right next to the station. What is the Cummins plant, you ask? Take a look:

A RIPTA bus, a Longwood shuttle, and a Peter Pan bus walked into a bar...
You'll always find a few interesting buses here, so it's definitely worth a look if you're into transit. I mean, a RIPTA bus in Dedham? What the heck?

Final Verdict: 6/10
If only Dedham Corporate Center wasn't accessible so I could give it a proper low score. However, it is accessible, so I have to raise its verdict a bit. Yeah, I'm really not a fan of this one. Maybe it's because I was stuck here for an hour, but I'm not the only one who thinks the place is ugly, am I?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dedham Local Bus

This bus is a mess. You may have seen these MBTA paper schedules of the Dedham Local Bus. Looks simple enough, right? Well, they've changed the route since then. Now, it's this:

What is this madness???
Now do you see what I mean by "mess"? Okay, let's take a closer look at this insane route. My friend Zach and I got on the bus at the "32 Sprague Street" stop, which is literally the address of someone's house. Oh well, at least it was an actual stop.

Not bad.
The Dedham Local Bus is also advanced enough to have a tracker, which was useful for seeing where the bus was on Zach's smartphone. It was slightly late, and boy, that minibus was a beauty. Gotta love that boring serifed font...mmm-hmm.

Ah! Gorgeous!
And on the inside? Well, it was the quintessential minibus experience. Let's see, the driver was blasting inane pop music over the radio, there was a jiggly wheelchair lift in the back. and the lack of stop request buttons meant one had to yell out when they wanted to get off. The fares for the route, incidentally, are $1.50 for adults and $1.00 for students and seniors.

What a lovely interior.
From the 32 Sprague Street stop, we went around a rotary and headed up East Street, going under the Commuter Rail tracks. This was a residential neighborhood, and the houses continued as we turned onto Rustcraft Road. We passed through a short forest section, went by a field, and then the street curved around next to the Commuter Rail tracks.

An intersection near Endicott.
We passed Dedham Corporate Center Station, as well as some apartment developments across the street. The street then became Elm Street and curved north, where we made the first of many deviations of the route, pulling into a backlot at the Legacy Place Mall. And yeah, it's great that the route directly serves Legacy Place, but how about putting up some signage there? Geez!

My camera was acting up inside the mall, so, uh, here's the sign!
Now back on Elm Street, we travelled along the back side of Legacy Place, then crossed over the wide Providence Highway. Next, we turned onto Washington Street, joining the 34E. After some houses, we unexpectedly pulled into the Dedham Plaza, but then went around the side of the building to do a loop around the main lot along the Providence Highway. And guess what? No signage.

Crossing the Providence Highway.
We now returned to Washington Street (diverting from the mapped route, I might add) and continued through a residential neighborhood. Eventually, though, we turned onto Bryant Street, passing by a few offices. This led to the Dedham Square Municipal Parking Lot, which is considered the start point of the route. We pulled in and laid over for a bit before setting off again.

Hmm...seems like a logical place for a bus stop. I hope none of those cars want to leave their parking spaces!
We pulled out and headed down High Street, going by the many businesses of Dedham Square. After some fancy municipal buildings, we turned onto Ames Street, which crossed over the Charles River. There were lots of houses along the road now, continuing as we merged onto Bridge Street. There was a bit of an industrial stretch, then we deviated through a housing development on the narrow and slow Doggett Circle.

A side street.
We passed a mini golf course back on Bridge Street, as well as a small regular golf course. After some offices and industry, we crossed over the Charles again, entering Boston. Here, we pulled into the Charles River Loop, where the 36 terminates. There was some traffic getting back onto Spring Street, and then we had to make a left turn onto VFW Parkway, but we made it eventually.

Going over the Charles.
VFW Parkway was wide, fast, and very ugly. We passed lots of auto dealerships and industrial buildings and the like before finally arriving at the Dedham Mall, where we served the Stop and Shop side. What, too lazy to make a deviation to serve the rest of the mall? The route makes so many unnecessary deviations already, why not have one more?

Oh, and did I mention that there's no Dedham Bus sign?
Zach got off here to get a 34E, and now it was just me as we headed back onto VFW Parkway. This took us back to Dedham Square, where we pulled into the lot again and laid over for for a bit more. When we were ready to leave, we went down High Street (the other way this time), which soon became residential.

A parking lot.
We made yet another deviation into a housing development, this time on O'Neil Drive. It took forever to slowly loop through the complex, but eventually we made it back onto High Street, passing a school. We went by a few more developments (not directly serving them, luckily), then crossed over a small pond.

More housing developments! WOOOOOOO!
However, it turned out this pond crossing was only to serve yet another housing development. And thus, after making a quick loop, we went right back the way we came. I'd like to point out that the route is supposed to make a second deviation in this area to serve the Motherbrook Community Center, but we didn't do that on our trip, for some reason.

Nice view!
We turned onto Walnut Street, which was mostly residential. We then merged onto Oakdale Ave, which led to a square of the same name; there were a few cute business blocks there. Now on Cedar Street, the surroundings were all houses once again.

A few businesses in Oakdale Square.
After a while on Cedar Street, we crossed over the Franklin Line tracks, then turned onto Turner Court. There were more houses, which continued as we turned onto Sprague Street. But was it Sprague Street in the direction of Endicott Station? Nope! We were making another stupid deviation!

Some houses.
Luckily, this deviation actually served a purpose. I mean, it was a pretty annoying one, since it involved a full u-turn on the smallish Louise Road, but in the end...we got a rider! HOORAY! So now, with another person on board, we headed back down Sprague Street, and this time we stayed on it all the way back to Endicott. WOW, that was a long loop.

I took the bus a bit further to Dedham Corporate Center, so here it is there.
Route: Dedham Local Bus

Ridership: Oooh, this one's a hoot. The route got 9,784 riders in 2014, which equates to an entire 39 riders per day it ran. Wow! Such high ridership! But that was back when the route was more linear. Has ridership increased since they made it a confusing loop with too many deviations? Welp, if the one other passenger on my ride is to judge...no!

Pros: Look, the idea of a shuttle in Dedham is a great idea. It really is. There are big chunks of the town not served by the MBTA, so a bus to cover those service gaps is fantastic. In theory.

Cons: Here, I'll be nice and start with a complaint not regarding the route itself: the schedule. The clockface every hour service is sensible, but there are two major problems with the scheduling. Number one is the service gap from 12 to 1. I think it's meant for the driver's lunch break or something, but why not just do a driver switch? Can they really only afford one driver? Number two is the fact that the route has no rush hour trips - service runs from 8 AM to 5 PM. Wouldn't it be great to extend it by one trip on either end in order to bring people from local neighborhoods to the Commuter Rail or MBTA buses for their commute? That seems like it could be useful. Wow...look how much I've written without talking about the crazy route. So anyway, about the route: why is it so insane? It's like the planners were playing a game of trying to put in as many unnecessary deviations as possible! And sure, some of them make sense, like Legacy Place or the Dedham Mall, but they get no ridership because they don't have signage! Either add signage to every single one of your stupid deviations, or simplify the dang route. This is ridiculous.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I mean...you can basically get anywhere in Dedham with this crazy route. Will you get there quickly? Nope. But you'll get there eventually!

Final Verdict: 3/10
Is Dedham really suburban enough to justify an insane loop that makes detours to serve every housing development and mall in its path? I mean, sure, it does serve a lot, but most of those detours get no riders, anyway! This route needs signage at all of its stops, and its route needs to be simplified. Do ridership counts! Iron out the detours that don't typically get people! Oh, and add some commuter trips to the schedule! The basis for a good route is here, but it has way too many problems to be considered adequate right now.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Endicott

One of the things I don't like about the Franklin Line is that it just has too many dang stops. Endicott is three minutes away from both of its neighboring stations (Dedham Corporate Center and Readville), and has a very local kind of feel. It's also not very interesting...

What a generic shelter.
Endicott is a pretty tiny station to begin with, so there isn't much platform room for amenities. The inbound side gets a shelter, at least, and it's of the "boring wooden" variety. This side also features such amazing attractions as...a bench! A wastebasket! Okay, that's the end of the attractions.

The outbound side.
Well, hey, it's better than the outbound platform! All that side has is a bench and a wastebasket locked up to a station sign. The small parking lot is also accessible from here, with 45 spaces. That doesn't seem like much, but this station is right in a suburban residential neighborhood, so I don't think too many people would drive here. This side also has a decently-sized bike rack.

The other exit.
Meanwhile, the station's other exit used to be a cute pedestrian path, according to Google Maps Street View. However, it appears that they built a new road just to build a single house, and now the character of the entrance is gone. Oh well, at least there's more bike parking here. I appreciate a station with lots of bike spaces.

A train leaving the station.
Station: Endicott

Ridership: Barring Plymptonville, which only gets one train per day, this is the least-used station on the Franklin Line - Endicott only gets an average of 350 riders per weekday. I'm not entirely sure why so few people use this station, but maybe it's because it's so close to Boston that riders don't want to pay $6.25 (soon to be $6.75) to get into the city. I'm only guessing - I really have no idea.

Pros: The station has basic amenities like shelter and benches, and it feels pretty quiet and tranquil. The presence of a parking lot, no matter how small, is a good thing, and there's a good amount of bike space here.

Cons: It's not accessible for one thing, and for another...do trains really need to stop here? I mean, don't get me wrong, some people use this place. But I almost wonder if more trains should skip through. It's incredibly close to Dedham Corporate Center and Readville (both of which have excess space in their parking lots), and having some trains skip Endicott would speed up the line slightly.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Aside from a tiny business block at the end of Greenwood Ave, the surroundings of this station are entirely residential.

Final Verdict: 4/10
What if they made it a flag stop? At least make it a flag stop! Come on, it just seems pointless to have every train stop here. Is there really someone waiting here every time a train comes through? Making a station a flag stop really doesn't impact anyone, and would speed up the Franklin Line just a little bit to be able to skip by if no one's waiting. Oh, and the station itself? It's...it's a station. A boring station.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Hey, it's been a while since I've updated this! As I alluded to earlier, the dreaded fare increase begins on July 1st, so check to see what the increased rates are.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Franklin/Dean College

It's the namesake of the Franklin Line! And having been stuck in the downtown for over an hour, I'm quite familiar with it and all of its attractions (or lack thereof). Still, despite how boring the town may be, I'm reviewing the station, not its surroundings. Thus, let's take a look at Franklin/Dean College (or the other way around, as the station signs put it).

The station...from above.
The main pedestrian entrance is from Main Street, which has a bridge over the single track lined with flowers (and bees). It's well-marked with a T symbol, and is a simple flight of stairs leading down to the station. Also, Main Street is apparently where the GATRA Franklin Area Bus boards, despite the fact that there's no signage (as usual).

Gotta love that parking.
The other way of getting into the station is much more car-friendly, as it's via the parking lot. Franklin has a smaller lot than either of its neighboring stations with 173 spaces, but with a 16% availability rate on weekdays, it's just enough. There are also a few bike spaces near the parking lot entrance, which is a great option in this case - the station is located in a pretty dense area.

Oooh, that's a nice building!
Franklin's low-level platform is basically dominated by its building, which is a beauty. Built in 1912, it has a few benches and lots of newspaper boxes under its shelter. There's honestly not much else along the rest of the platform, aside from a few wastebaskets, benches, and some more bike spaces. Oh, and there's also a great "FRANKLIN" sign spelled out by white stones in the dirt on the other side of the track.

The inside of the building.
Unfortunately, as a piece of paper says in a comic sans-esque font, the building is only open on weekdays until 9:30 AM - it's for morning commuters. However, it has an amazing interior, from what I could see through the doors. Aside from a cafĂ© offering coffee, as well as other drinks and pastries, there is seating, newspapers, some old signs and photos, and so much more. There even appears to be a library! The character just oozes out of this place, and I really wish I could've visited during the morning rush to be able to go inside.

Some hi-rails going toward Forge Park...from above.
A train coming into the station.
Station: Franklin/Dean College

Ridership: Despite being the Franklin Line's namesake station, it's only the third-busiest station on the line. Still, 876 riders per weekday is great ridership for the Commuter Rail. It's also interesting to note that since the parking lot only has 173 spaces, many riders must commute in by means other than driving. The station must get lots of student riders for sure, as Dean College is very close by.

Pros: Oh man, this station has so much character. The place feels very serene, with the "FRANKLIN" spelled out of rocks being a nice touch. And the building...I mean, this has to be one of the nicest buildings I've seen on the Commuter Rail thus far. The inside just has so many details to give an old-timey train station feel.

Cons: The lack of accessibility is really the only problem, but it's a big one. The selfish part of me worries that a mini-high or high level platform would spoil the character, but accessibility is probably more important.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Okay, I'm sure Franklin isn't that boring of a town, but being stuck there for an hour isn't the greatest. I guess it's more of a restaurant-based downtown than a store-based downtown, so there are plenty of places to eat, but if you're looking for shopping, you won't find much.

Final Verdict: 8/10
Accessibility or character? Accessibility or character? Ahh, who am I kidding? I love this station so much. If it had a nice wooden mini-high with a bench on it, the score would go up to a 9, or maybe even a 10. However, at the moment, it's stuck being inaccessible, which is definitely an issue. But hey, that building is great, isn't it?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, June 27, 2016

GATRA: Tri-Town Connector

The layout of the GATRA baffles me. The authority runs many different "systems" that are completely disconnected from each other, and many of them are seemingly unknown. For example, the Tri-Town Connector, which runs from Norfolk Station to a Big Y supermarket in Franklin (via Wrentham and Foxboro) has barely any signage, no advertising, and essentially no indication that it exists. Well...it exists!

The bus coming into "downtown" Norfolk.
My friends Harry and Zach and I just figured we would wait around to see where the bus would go, since we had no idea where the stop was. The bus was early, luckily, and we saw it go into the station lot located across Rockwood Road. We ran over and found it in the most awkward stop ever:

Oh, of course the weed-ridden industrial building was the stop! Duh!
What the heck kind of stop is this?! How is anyone supposed to know that the bus stops here? GATRA has this annoying habit of running decent routes with empty buses because no one knows they exist because there's no signage! Well, at least we made it onto the bus, and began the route.

This is such a weird stop...
Leaving the station, we headed around a rotary and went onto Main Street. This was a straight road with spaced-out houses and no side streets. We went by a church at one point, and a cemetery at another, but eventually we reached the main reason for this deviation: a...um...prison.

Um...that is a prison. We are serving a prison right now.
Yes, the route deviates specifically to serve a prison. Apparently on visiting days, there are a few people that actually use the bus to get here. It has to be said, too, that this is the only stop on the whole route that actually gets a sign. Why here? That's so random!

Look, they even have a nice little bench and a logo on the sign! THIS ROUTE HAS POTENTIAL, GATRA!
From the prison parking lot, we took a very tiny road out to get onto Main Street again. We headed back the way we came and deviated into the Norfolk Station lot once more just to see if anyone was waiting. There was no one there, so now we proceeded onto the actual route.

A bridge near the prison.
We headed onto North Street, which was very woodsy and lined with the occasional house. On occasion, there was even a side street! But once the road became Pond Street, it was full-on forest with nothing else. We soon passed the Pond Street Recreational Facility, though, which is considered a "major" stop. The driver said no one ever gets on there, though.

A clock in downtown Norfolk.
After more woods, we all of a sudden hit development. There was an industrial section before a few restaurants at the intersection with Route 1A. Here, the street became Pine Street, and after a bit more industry, it became residential once more.

Ew...
However, we eventually turned onto the dreaded Route 1, which seems to bring pittiness wherever it goes. It wasn't as bad as Saugus, but there were still some pretty ugly businesses and motels along here. As the street grew wider, we turned off to serve Patriot Place. Yes, we were at Gillette Stadium!

The mall, with the stadium in the background
I guess the concept of Patriot Place is that it's an outdoor mall, and I support that. Making a mall seem like an actual town is a good idea, and it's great that this route serves it. If only it had a proper sign or stop so people knew it existed! Well, anyway, we navigated through the mall and worked our way back around, passing the stadium on the way out.

This was actually my first time seeing Gillette, and it's a beauty!
Next, we had to serve another mall. This one was just a generic strip mall, and once again there was no signage whatsoever. From there, we had to go through some weird toll gates before heading back out onto Route 1. Normally the bus would make its way back onto Pine Street and then onto Dedham Street, but the driver decided to take a shortcut, so we used East Street instead.

A woodsy intersection.
East Street had a pretty rural feel overall, with random spurts of housing. They eventually became more consistent, and we even passed a small apartment development. Soon, we went by Wrentham Common on one side and pulled into a parking lot in Wrentham Center. This is where our driver left and a new one got on board, who was just as nice as the last one.

A restaurant in Wrentham.
From the parking lot, we turned onto South Street, which seemed to be the main drag of Wrentham. It had some nice business blocks on one side, with more parking-oriented retail on the other. Eventually we left the center, and the street was now lined with houses. We turned onto Creek Street, and then entered the Liberty Pines development, where we picked up...a passenger! Wow!

The apartment...thing.
We headed back onto Creek Street, which was mostly residential, aside from another apartment and a place meant for wedding functions. Eventually, we made it to Franklin Street, which continued to be residential. However, we soon passed an industrial complex, then a country club. There were houses for just a bit more after that, but soon we reached the Big Y, the terminus of the route (where one can also make a connection to the GATRA's Franklin Area Bus).

Some random office.
However, because these drivers were really nice, we got a direct ride to Franklin Station because that's where we were ultimately heading! Thus, we continued down Franklin Street, which had a quick residential section, then we entered Franklin Center. The driver let us out on Main Street, just outside the station, and then drove off to rejoin the regular route.

The Tri-Town Connector in downtown Franklin is a unique occurrence indeed.
GATRA Route: Tri-Town Connector

Ridership: The route is new enough so that the GATRA doesn't have ridership data on it yet. However, by the driver's estimate, it gets about 25 people per day. That's, um...quite very small. To be honest, I was surprised to see even one other person get on.

Pros: This route really serves a lot! It's the only consistent bus service in Norfolk, Wrentham, and Foxboro, and it's the only way of getting to attractions like Patriot Place or that prison by public transportation (hey, apparently people use it to get to the prison, so I'm calling it a ridership draw). The schedule is...inconsistent, but it's anywhere from every 70 minutes to every 120 minutes, Monday through Saturday. Most trips are timed with outbound trains from Boston, though, so that can be helpful.

Cons: On an MBTA route, I might be complaining about the schedule here, but honestly, the infrequency of the route is perfect since nobody uses it. Get some advertising at Norfolk and at the very least some signs, particularly at Patriot Place. That's by far the longest deviation on the route, and if no one is using the bus from there, then it's really a waste of time for other riders who are just passing through.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I think Patriot Place is the biggest attraction along the route, and it seems like a pretty decent mall. You can't use the route to get to football games, unfortunately, since it doesn't run to that area on game days (probably due to traffic), but you could still visit the stadium on a non-game day if you wanted to.

Final Verdict: 5/10
I really don't like this GATRA trend of running pretty decent routes, but not letting anyone know about their existence. According to the driver, no one used this route for the whole first year it was open! And even now, it still gets very low ridership. This would be a useful connection for residents of Norfolk and Wrentham...if only they knew about it.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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