Monday, December 11, 2017

MVRTA: Washington Square Transit Station

Located right in downtown Haverhill, the Washington Square Transit Station is the hub for all of the MVRTA's routes in the city. But here's the million-dollar question: is it nice like the Costello Transportation Center, or disgusting like the Buckley Transportation Center?

Leaning on the Buckley side of things...
The main area of the transit center is small and cramped, but it does feel cozier than Buckley. That could be because this is a quieter station, though. Amenities include a wastebasket, some newspaper boxes, a hand sanitizer dispenser, a vending machine, a change machine, a community board, and an information booth. Interestingly, when I came here last for my Service Change, the bench had a bunch of pillows on it, but...uh...I guess they're gone now.

Oh geez...
Leading around the side of the building, there's an area with a few more benches and a hallway that goes to the "Sanitary Station." That's code for the bathrooms, with both men's and women's rooms, although the MVRTA considerately put up signs saying that one can use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. That being said, these are like prison bathrooms. I mean, just look at it! Ew!

The mind-bending outer sectton.
How can such a small building be so maze-like? The outer glass section that wraps around the outside of it has different stair and ramp bits that lead to different parts of the facility. I keep finding myself taking the wrong turn and having to figure out where the heck I am!

Phew, made it outside.
There really isn't much to say about the boarding area because there's nothing there. It's a sidewalk in the middle of a parking lot with spaces for buses to pick people up, and that's about it. This place does have parking, but I'm not sure how many spaces there are or how much it costs to park in them.

The building's outside.
MVRTA Station: Washington Square Transit Station

Ridership: I don't have ridership numbers for this place, but there are fewer Haverhill routes than Lawrence routes, and they're generally much less busy. From what I've seen, it's usually quiet here.

Pros: It does in fact have walls and a roof, so that's something. Okay, it also has a fair amount of useful amenities, so this place isn't all bad.

Cons: I dunno, this whole place feels kinda gross and uncomfortable. I really don't know if it's the transit center's fault or some of the people that use it or maybe both, but everything here feels weird. It's way more subtle than the outright assault on humanity that Buckley is, but there's something about Washington Square that's just not right. Also, the bathrooms are horrible.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Downtown Haverhill isn't really my cup of tea, but this stop is very much in the thick of things there.

Final Verdict: 4/10
Gosh, I know Washington Square tries to do a lot of things right, but for some reason it all ends up feeling a bit wrong. There are some obvious flaws with the station itself, such as the barebones boarding area or the heinous bathrooms, but the rest is kind of a gut feeling: I don't like waiting here. And truth be told, I feel perfectly fine waiting at other supposedly "sketchy" transit stations like Ruggles or Dudley, so it might be a problem with the station itself. Who knows? All I know is that I don't like it here very much.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, December 10, 2017

MVRTA: 51 (Haverhill - Amesbury)

In comparison to the last route, the 51 is a rather straight connector between Amesbury and Haverhill. It's also the busiest route based out of Haverhill, despite the fact that it runs more infrequently than the other Haverhill routes. Weird!

The bus in Amesbury, coming right off of the 54.
We pulled out of the Costello Transportation Center and headed down Elm Street into Amesbury Center. Like always, it was gorgeous, with diverse small businesses houses in marvelous brick buildings. We turned onto Friend Street and navigated a roundabout onto School Street, where there were some municipal buildings, houses, and a church.

I couldn't get any good photos of the Center, so here's...this.
We officially left the Center as we headed down the residential Sparhawk Street. Dense houses continued when we turned onto Highland Street, although they were broken at one point by a hospital. We merged onto Haverhill Road, passing a big cemetery, some suburban businesses, and an industrial area.

Help wanted at Shea, I guess. Apparently they make concrete.
Eventually the street got more residential, and it was lined with either houses or woods for a while. Businesses started to show up again once we entered Merrimac and it became East Main Street, along with other attractions like a trailer park and a senior center. We came into Merrimac "Square," a cluster of businesses around a roundabout.

Traversing the "Square."
We continued down West Main Street in the Haverhill-bound direction, but then we made a strange route jog via Locust Street, Middle Street, and School Street. The neighborhoods it served were mostly residential, and the goal of the deviation was to serve Merri Village, a rather small housing development that didn't feel like it needed the service. We returned to the Square and headed back onto West Main like nothing ever happened.

A narrow street on the deviation.
It was mostly houses along here, continuing until there were a few industrial buildings over the Haverhill border. The street was Amesbury Road now, and it was a mix of all different kinds of buildings, including residential, retail, and industrial ones. We eventually went under I-495 and turned onto Elliot Street, beginning another deviation.

Frankly, I didn't see the point in serving Northern Essex Community College in the summer, but a few people actually got on there, so I guess it was worth it! After looping around the campus, we made our way back to Amesbury Road, which went alongside Kenoza Lake for a bit with an awesome view. We merged onto the residential Kenoza Ave next.

A field along Amesbury Road.
The street started to get more urban, with denser houses and apartments and some retail coming in. We went down Main Street for a block, which had some shopping plazas, but it was mostly dense houses again when we turned onto White Street, then Emerson Street. We were almost in Haverhill, but for some strange reason we had to deviate to Winter Street and Welcome Street, only to come right back to Emerson. I have no idea why that was, but once we were back on Emerson, it was only a few blocks until we reached the Washington Square Transit Station.

The bus enjoying a hearty lunch of passengers.
MVRTA Route: 51 (Haverhill - Amesbury)

Ridership: Like I said, this is the busiest route based out of Haverhill. Unfortunately, its ridership was at a low in 2015, with 109,127 riders during the year. That means the route got about 300 people per day, which is still pretty good for the number of trips it has. In fact, ridership may have even gone up since then - my ride had 30 people on it!

Pros: The 51 is the gateway to Amesbury and beyond via the 54, offering a quick trip (around half an hour) from Haverhill. It clearly gets a good amount of ridership, but since most of it is concentrated at certain major stops, it allows the route to still move quickly most of the time.

Cons: Because this is interlined with the 54, it has the same annoying headway of every 70 minutes. The really sad thing is that the 51 could be straightened if the Merri Village deviation was eliminated (it doesn't seem necessary to me), but I don't think it would improve the time all that much - maybe 5 minutes per round trip. Thus, I think we're stuck with the 70 minute schedule unless changes are made on the 54.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I would love to spend some time in Amesbury Center, and this is the best way to get there: take the train to Haverhill, pray that the bus times well, and you'll be in Amesbury in about 30 minutes!

Final Verdict: 7/10
This is better than the 54 because it's busier and mostly deviation-free, but it's certainly not perfect. I would absolutely love it if the 51 could get a consistent hourly schedule - unfortunately, I don't think it's possible unless some major deviations are cut. Of course, by all means cut Merri Village, because it really doesn't seem all that important.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

MVRTA: 54 (Amesbury - Newburyport - Salisbury)

Why just take the 83 back from Salisbury Beach when I could do a different route back? Say, a route that does a bunch of deviations and takes three times as long? Looks like the 54 is right up my alley!

What an odd-looking background.
Because it was summer, the start point at Salisbury Beach got a good amount of people, but the route actually serves it all year! I wonder how many people would take it up there now. Anyway, we looped around onto Beach Road and took it through a marsh, then past houses, businesses, and motels.

The marsh.
An old cemetery was the indication that we were about to enter Salisbury Center, a collection of random businesses with parking lots sort of centered around a common. It wasn't very exciting. We made our way around the common via Elm and School Streets, then we turned onto Bridge Street. It was a mix of industrial buildings, suburban businesses, and marshland, and we sped past it all.

Some businesses.
Eventually we headed over the street's namesake: a bridge over the Merrimack River with an awesome view. This took us into Newburyport, where we exited the road onto Winter Street. We stayed on that up until High Street, and that took us past a lovely common and a variety of charming historical houses.

The common ended but the houses kept on coming, lined up densely along the road. They continued as we turned onto Bromfield Street, as well as when we headed onto Water Street. Unfortunately its name was incorrect, as we did not go by the water!

Some houses.
The street made its way into downtown Newburyport, and all of a sudden there were charming brick buildings with businesses everywhere. They were even more prevalent as we continued onto State Street, eventually making a stop outside of the Newburyport Public Library. That was about where the downtown ended, though, and it was mostly houses after that.

Coming through downtown!
We headed onto Pond Street, which went by that same park from before. Once it became Low Street, everything got a lot more barren, with wide spaces between the buildings. We had to deviate to one of them, an apartment building called Heritage House, then we immediately entered another deviation by going down Graf Road.

The weird wasteland around Heritage House.
It was industry, industry, industry down Graf Road, Parker Street, and Boston Way. With that, we reached this deviation's destination, Newburyport Station. Of course the route doesn't time with trains, so nobody got on and we headed straight back.

Exiting the station.
There were more industrial buildings as we returned to Low Street, but we also passed a school. Finally, we reached a point where suburban houses lined the road instead of industry, but we turned off it around there to serve Anna Jaques Hospital. This was a productive deviation, though, as it also allowed us to get up to High Street (with a few twists and turns).

Well, this is just weird!
High Street was lined with fairly dense houses. We passed the Newburyport Senior Center, which supposedly has a deviation, but on the schedule no trips actually serve it. Thus, we sailed right past and merged onto Storey Ave - this took us to an actual deviation for Market Basket Plaza. And right after that, we did another deviation, this time into Port Plaza!

Cars, cars, cars.
We came back onto Storey Ave, which was lined with suburban businesses with parking lots. It didn't last long, though, because we got onto an on-ramp for...I-95? Wow, I wasn't expecting the route to have an express section! We sailed through the woods on the highway before making another crossing of the Merrimack River on John Greenleaf Whittier Bridge (I told you this region was obsessed with him).

Wow, that's awesome.
Taking the first exit on the other side of the bridge in Amesbury, we celebrated the end of the express bit with...a deviation to Stop & Shop. Hooray. From there, we went up the residential Elm Street, whose houses got denser the further we went along. We were about to enter Amesbury Center, but before we could enter it, we pulled into the Nicholas Costello Transportation Center.

Some houses on the way there.

MVRTA Route: 54 (Amesbury - Newburyport - Salisbury)

Ridership: For a relatively new route (it was established in 2011), it's amazing that the 54 has risen up to be the second-busiest MVRTA route based in Haverhill. With 83,123 riders over the course of 2015, that averages out to about 228 people per day - presumably more on weekdays than weekends.

Pros: This is the one bus route for Newburyport and Salisbury, so it serves a very important purpose. The route even connects up to Haverhill - it interlines with the 51, and many riders just stay on for that route. It may make a lot of deviations within Newburyport, but most of them are used. Most of them.

Cons: This route definitely doesn't need the Commuter Rail deviation unless the trip happens to time with a train. It's one of the longest deviations on the trip, too, eating up about 5-6 minutes! Also, the 54 is plagued with unfortunate 70 minute headways. Not only is that infrequent for the ridership (especially compared to the rest of the Haverhill routes), but it's not clockface so it requires people to look at the schedule for each trip.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Since the 83 doesn't run in June, this is still a way to at least get to Salisbury Beach. Sure, it takes a heck of a lot longer, but the route runs all day, so there's greater flexibility. Also, downtown Newburyport is fantastic, but it's easiest to walk there from the Commuter Rail.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The 54 is a very useful connection for some dense and well-populated towns, connecting them as far as Haverhill with a one-seat, one-fare ride. Its biggest issue is that schedule - it's basically uncontrollable because of the route's length, though, and there aren't enough deviations to cut out to shorten it. That being said, the Commuter Rail one could totally be cut unless it times with a train, thank you very much.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Saturday, December 9, 2017

MVRTA: Costello Transportation Center

It's a little odd to call something a "Transportation Center" when it only serves three routes, one of which has four trips per day only in the summer. This is a legitimate place, though, and it's not to be underestimated. This review took place over the course of about two minutes while my 54/51 was laying over, so it'll be a quickie.

The outdoor area.
The Costello Transportation Center is in the same building as the Amesbury Senior Center, and that's definitely apparent from the outside. It's pretty bare, featuring only a sheltered area around the building with a bench and some potted plants. There's a woodsy path on the other side of the busway, too.

Heyyyyyy, this isn't bad!
I gotta be honest, I wasn't expecting much when I stepped in there, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This is a legitimate transit center, with features like waiting benches, water fountains, and bathrooms. I didn't get to go into the bathroom because my driver was using it, but based on the overall quality of the transit center, I'm sure it was clean. There's even a ticket booth, although it was unstaffed when I was here, and I can't imagine it ever being staffed.

The ticket booth.
MVRTA Station: Costello Transportation Center

Ridership: It seems pretty low. I don't have any actual numbers, but this doesn't seem to be a very busy stop. I mean, the place was empty when I was in here, but three or four people had been waiting for the 51, so there's that.

Pros: It has everything you would want in a transit center! There are benches, bathrooms, and water fountains, and it's all very clean. Most of Amesbury Center is a "no-stop zone," making this the primary Amesbury boarding point, even if it is a little out of the way.

Cons: Well, first of all, I can't see that ticket booth being occupied...ever. Secondly, this place seems to have John W. Olver syndrome - it's overkill for the ridership it gets. Now, I could be wrong, and it might be busier at other times, but this definitely doesn't feel necessary based on the amount of people I saw.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I've said already that Amesbury Center is awesome, and this is more or less the stop for it!

Final Verdict: 8/10
This place definitely has some quirks, such as the fact that it's essentially only serving two bus routes that more or less feel like one, or the fact that it seems to be empty a lot of the time, but there's no denying it's a good transit center. And actually, the emptiness is a little more excusable here, since it's part of the senior center - at least the building is still getting usage somewhere else.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, December 7, 2017

MVRTA: 83 (Salisbury Beach/Hampton Beach)

This is the problem with hyper-riding a million routes at the end of the summer: now I'm stuck reviewing a summer-only route in December! Oh well, this is a pretty cool one. The 83 runs from Lawrence allllllllllll the way to Hampton Beach!

The bus at Buckley, with some people all ready to go!
We left the Buckley Transportation Center in Lawrence and headed down Common Street. As the name suggested, we were running along the south side of a common, and we proceeded along the eastern end as we turned onto Jackson Street. The businesses of downtown Lawrence were starting to die down a little, ending almost entirely as we crossed the tiny Spicket River.

There's a lot going on here!
It became residential for the most part, with dense houses and apartments lining the road. There was still the occasional business, though, particularly at intersections. Things started to get more suburban at the intersection with Swan Street in Methuen: the retail around there was set back from the road with parking lots, and the houses we saw later on were smaller and a little more spread-out.

There aren't even sidewalks!
Eventually, we turned onto the wide Pleasant Valley Street, which had a strange combination of shopping plazas and...farmland? We deviated into the biggest shopping mall, called The Loop, and I was confused at first. Why was the beach bus deviating into a mall? It turns out that people do actually use it, as a few people got on here - my guess is that they park in the mall and hop the bus from there.

Inside The Loop.
We proceeded down Pleasant Valley Street, which slowly lost its shopping plazas and got narrower. We crossed over Route 213, the "Loop Connector," then I-495 a few seconds later. It was residential on the other side of that, but once we turned onto Merrimack Street, industrial buildings lined the road.

A wide-open field in the middle of the industry!
We crossed I-495 again, this time going under it, then it was residential as the road came up alongside the Merrimack River. I tried and tried and tried, but I could not for the life of me get a decent picture of the view. The road became River Street as we entered Haverhill, but the residential and river scenery didn't change at all.

I tried.
We went over I-495 yet again, but after a burst of shopping plazas and suburban businesses, it was right back to houses and the Merrimack River. However, it started to get denser the further we got, including businesses that started to poke in. Once we merged onto Washington Street and went under the Commuter Rail tracks, we were right in the thick of downtown Haverhill, with brick buildings housing businesses on both sides. We pulled into the Washington Square Transit Station for a stop.

Coming out of the station.
We headed onto Emerson Street next, which took us out of downtown Haverhill. It was still quite dense and urban, however, with apartments and businesses on both sides. Once Emerson Street ended, we turned onto White Street, continuing the density.

A few neighborhood businesses.
Once we turned onto Main Street, though, the scenery changed to a more suburban feeling: there were many businesses with parking lots at the intersection. We were only on Main for a block before merging onto Kenoza Ave, which went back to being more dense and urban for a stretch. However, as we curved our way past a park, the apartments started to become houses, and they got more spread-out.

That's beautiful.
We merged onto Amesbury Road, which went right along Kenoza Lake - the view was fantastic. It was still mostly residential with rather spaced-out houses, but there was a spurt of retail when we went over I-495 for the fourth time. During a brief section of forest, we passed the birthplace of John Greenleaf Whittier, a poet whom I had never heard of until finding out that every town in this region seems to be obsessed with him! Seriously, his name shows up everywhere.

A small marshy pond.
There was a huge variety of buildings as we continued. It was mostly houses, but we also passed through spurts of industry, retail, woods, and farmland. The road became West Main Street when we entered Merrimac, and at that point the homes started to get denser. This led up to Merrimac Square, a charming little downtown that was ironically centered around a roundabout.

Coming through Merrimac "Square."
There was more building diversity as we continued down what was now called East Main Street. Houses, businesses, a post office, a senior center, and a few residential developments all showed up along the road. And just like that, we left the town of Merrimac - we were now travelling on Haverhill Road, and we had entered Amesbury.

A woodsy little shopping plaza.
There was a section of woods before it got residential again for a while. However, they were broken by a pretty substantial industrial area, after which we turned onto Hillside Ave. This was lined with some dense houses that went on until we reached the one-way Main Street.

What an odd little dead-end street!
Now we were in Amesbury Center, I mean, this was just one of the most charming downtowns I have ever seen! Not only was it insanely pretty with its brick buildings and unique and diverse businesses, but it was also expansive, stretching down many different streets. I think it would be an absolute blast to spend some time here!

Ahh, there's so much more to it than this! This doesn't capture it at all!
We traversed a small roundabout onto Elm Street, then we made a deviation to serve the Nicholas Costello Transportation Center, housed in the Amesbury Senior Center. We returned to Elm Street, which made lots of curves past dense houses and the occasional business, as well as a cemetery. The charm was bound to end at some point, though, and for us it happened right after our fifth and final crossing of I-495.

Aw man!
Yes, Elm Street became a wide behemoth of a road sporting those suburban parking lot businesses we all know and love. There were more of them after we went under I-95, and although most were boring, there was a kitschy mini-golf place that I got a kick out of seeing. We also entered Salisbury along this section.

Yay! Mini-golf!!!!
After lots of those suburban businesses, we turned onto Bridge Street and arrived at "Salisbury Center." This was really just a common, a town hall, a post office, and some boring businesses with parking lots. We turned onto Beach Road next, taking us past mostly houses, but also an old cemetery.

Man, Salisbury Center is really popping, huh?
Soon businesses started to crop up, as well as some straggling motels, presumably for the beaches we were heading to. There was a big apartment development in the middle of a marsh, then we arrived at Salisbury Beach. At this point, most of the passengers got off, and the remaining ones continuing to Hampton Beach had to go up to the front of the bus to pay the additional fare of $1. With that out of the way, it was time to head up to the beach!

The goings-on of Salisbury Beach.
We turned onto North End Boulevard, which ran along a very narrow peninsula between the beach and a gigantic marsh. There was certainly nothing spared when it came to using up as much available space as possible, though: small dense beach houses lined the road for what felt like forever. They were ubiquitous, too - there was maybe one business and one church in the sprawl, and that was it.

They're certainly close to the water!
As we entered Seabrook, NH, I mentally yelled out my classic "LIVE FREE OR DIE!" slogan, because I do that whenever I go into New Hampshire for some reason. There were a few businesses over the border, including the clever "Fireworks over the Border" store - they're certainly transparent about what they're selling. The beach houses continued along what was now called Ocean Boulevard, but there were more businesses to break them up now.

This is amazing!
We went over the Hampton River on an absolutely incredible bridge into Hampton. At this point, Ocean Boulevard became one-way, curving eastward toward the beach and past more houses. But nothing quite prepared me for Hampton Beach proper...

As I got off the bus, I was assaulted by a wave of...grossness. I mean, this is the quintessential crowded beach that has experienced way too much gaudy development along its main road! As the bus drove away, I started to wonder what the heck I was going to do for an hour and a half. Stay tuned to find out...

Two shots of the bus that took me back; the second one is at Salisbury Beach.
MVRTA Route: 83 (Salisbury Beach/Hampton Beach)

Ridership: In 2015, the route got 3,631 passengers over the course of the year, which averages out to about 55 riders per day (the route has two round trips per day, so it's more than it sounds like). I wonder if 2017 was a better year, though - I mean, my ride was on a Wednesday, so I had low expectations for ridership, but my trip ended up getting 30 people!

Pros: This is just a really useful summer route. It serves all of the hubs in the MVRTA service area and gives them a low-cost option for getting to the beach. The schedule is clearly meant for day trips, but it works well: the route has two morning trips out to the beach and two afternoon trips back. The ride is also really scenic!

Cons: The 83 runs from July to September, but unfortunately June misses out. I could see the route having some decent ridership in the later part of the month when school ends.

Nearby and Noteworthy: In Hampton Beach, I walked along the overly-crowded shorefront, perused through gift shops full of gaudy souvenirs, and blew 20 bucks at an arcade, winning only a cheesy mug to show for it. In other words, I had a great time!

Final Verdict: 8/10
I like the 83 a lot. This is a great way to get to the beach on a budget, with a (slightly premium) fare of $2.00 to Salisbury Beach and $3.00 to Hampton Beach. It gets good ridership from what I saw, and its schedule makes a lot of sense for day trips. So, uh...take advantage of this route in about seven months when it's actually running again.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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