Monday, April 20, 2015

Ashmont

Ah, here we go! Let's review a good-looking station for once! Yes, Ashmont was renovated recently, and it looks amazing. Let's get right into it and wash out the brutalism from the last review.

This platform is awesome!
I really, really love Ashmont's platform. It's at ground level, but completely enclosed, but it also has glass windows so you can still look out! It's a really, really nice platform. It does have these weird benches that you kind of lean on while standing up, but you have to take the good with the bad. There are normal benches, too.

A train leaving the station.
And something I didn't fully understand until I last came here was that the outbound platform (where trains go out of service) has no fare gates! You can just leave and get into the busway! And it's not like people can fare dodge and just walk onto the outbound platform because you can't get on trains there! But the inbound platform still has fare gates, obviously! Okay, well, it's a cool layout to me, at least.

The northern mezzanine.
The northern mezzanine is pretty swanky. It has a bunch of fare gates and fare machines, with a very straightforward layout, which is always good. It also has some benches that form a circle, which is pretty cool. And there's a big window overlooking the platform where you can watch the trains go by. What's more, the glass was reasonably clean! Woah!

And that just looks amazing.
From the northern mezzanine, there's a small plaza that leads up to Peabody Square. It's pretty standard as far as plazas go, but my favorite thing about it is the view of the station it offers. Ashmont's slanted roof looks really, really cool. Also, there's a creepy moon-egg-face-sculpture-thing. Just saying...

The second mezzanine.
The second way to enter the station is directly from the busway. Its mezzanine is pretty much the exact same thing as the other one, which isn't a bad thing. Also, Ashmont has a Pedal and Park facility that's just out of the way. You have to walk down Dorchester Ave a bit to find it. There should probably be some signage for that...

The busway.
The station's busway is fairly straightforward. It has two lanes, both of which are sheltered. Ashmont is served by 10 buses, plus route 12 of the BAT to Brockton. Oh, how I really want to take that BAT. I hate it when I'm in the busway and there's a BAT waiting there and I want to get on so bad but I know I don't have time to go all the way down to Brockton. Some day...

Ah, we can't forget about the good ol' Mattapan High Speed Line!
The Mattapan High Speed Line used to run right into the busway, and there was a free transfer from the train. However, as part of Ashmont's renovation, they cut off the MHSL to its own elevated platform. It doesn't have any proper benches, just a set of those weird "leaning" ones. I have to say, though, the elevated loop for the trolleys is fantastic.

A trolley ascending into the station.
Station: Ashmont

Ridership: It's pretty high, all things considered. The Red Line gets an average of 9,293 riders per weekday, making Ashmont the busiest Red Line station south of South Station. This is also the hub of the Mattapan High Speed Line, so this is the station with the highest ridership on that line - 2,036 people per weekday.

Pros: Well, this is just a beautiful station! It's really modern, with glass and metal everywhere. It's also straightforward, including a busway that's not a total maze. Speaking of buses, there are quite a few bus connections here, as well.

Cons: For one thing, there should be better signage for the Pedal and Park. I didn't even know it existed until I took a bus from here and saw it out the window. Also, there really ought to be a free transfer to the MHSL from the Red Line. At the very least, add a proper bench to the MHSL's platform!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Actually, the surroundings of this station are surprisingly residential. There are some businesses in the immediate vicinity, as well as up Dorchester Ave, but it's mostly just houses.

Final Verdict: 9/10
Okay, so there are a couple of flaws here. The MHSL's platform could really use an actual bench, and there needs to be signage for the Pedal and Park, but honestly, this is a great station. Extra points for the amazing platform and the really cool slanted roof.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Don't forget that it's free fare day this Friday! All MBTA modes of service will be free of charge, including the Commuter Rail.

Community College

Man, North Point Park is really nice! I was coming from the Science Museum and decided to take a detour to the park, which is right across the street. It's pretty new, having been built in 2007, and it's a great park. From there, I went over the even more recent pedestrian bridge under the Zakim, which was awesome as well. So yeah, if you haven't been to the North Point Park yet, I recommend you check it out.

Oh, right, then I went to Community College. That was slightly less awesome.

Aw, let's go back to the park...
One entrance to the station leads in from the Gilmore Bridge. It's a really pedestrian unfriendly area, since all the roads around the station are super wide. As for the entrance itself, it's very...concrete. Yeah, brutalist style isn't the best. There are also some bike racks here, which is convenient.

The walkway to Bunker Hill Community College.
Luckily, the MBTA accounted for the pedestrian unfriendliness. There's a system of pedestrian walkways in place which are definitely more frequented than the Gilmore Bridge entrance. The first one leads right from the entrance directly to the Community College itself, Bunker Hill Community College.

The second walkway.
If you navigate through the Community College's plaza, you get to a second walkway. This one leads over the massive New Rutherford Ave, which, let me tell you, is a pain to cross at ground level. From there, you can get into Charlestown.

The mezzanine.
But back to the station itself. The mezzanine is small, bland, and doesn't expect a lot of ridership, with only a few fare machines and gates. It also has a bench with a payphone in front of a window. Interestingly, there's another window-bench combination past the fare gates. I guess this is for people who don't want to wait for the train outside when it's cold out.

Woah...
There are stairs and an upward escalator that lead to the platform. They look like any other northern Orange Line station, so there isn't much to talk about there. More interesting is the elevator, which is accessed by a long glass walkway, seen above. Of course, the elevator itself smelled like urine, as MBTA elevators are prone to do, but the walkway was pretty cool.

The platform.
The platform is typical northern Orange Line, serving both inbound and outbound trains. It's got concrete everywhere and those little bench-shelter rooms. The "unique" thing here is how noisy it is. Community College is right under I-93, and let me tell you, those cars are loud. However, it is cool that this station has a "ghost platform" which would've been used if the Orange Line ever got extended to Reading.

A train leaving the station.
Station: Community College

Ridership: This station has the fourth-worst ridership on the Orange Line overall, and the worst for its northern section. Community College only gets 4,956 riders per day, which could be attributed to its mostly industrial surroundings. Also, it doesn't have any bus connections, which could contribute to the low amount as well.

Pros: Okay, the pedestrian walkways are an admittedly nice touch. And overall, this station is straightforward for sure. So, um, that's good.

Cons: Two words: brutalist style. Seriously, why does every northern Orange Line station have to be so concrete and bland and awful? Also, it's right under a highway, so don't expect a quiet wait.

Nearby and Noteworthy: This is the closest station to the Bunker Hill Monument, but it's still a bit of a walk. Other than that...well, there's a 99 Restaurant across the street...

Final Verdict: 4/10
Yeah, there isn't much to say about this one. The direct connection to the Bunker Hill Community College and to Charlestown is certainly nice, but the station is so ugly! Brutalist style really doesn't do it for me, and this station has way too much concrete for my liking. Plus, it's right under I-93, which makes it extremely noisy.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tufts Medical Center

Last summer I had a job that required going to Chinatown once a week. I would always use Tufts Medical Center, since it was closer to where I was working (also, Chinatown Station is pretty awful). Being a jaded commuter then, I really didn't focus too much on the station itself. But I came here for fun recently, so I can give it a proper review now. Huzzah!

Gosh, I forgot just how dingy this platform is!
So yeah, as you can see above, the platform is a bit of a mess. I don't mind the brick walls, but the rest is horrible. The ceiling is really dirty, the middle portion between the tracks has all this white stuff on it, and the floors are unclean. Like Davis, there is some art at the ends of the platform to try to liven things up. It looks really nice, but is overpowered by the dinginess of the station.

It looks really good, though!
Going up the stairs leading to the Washington Street exit, we came across something really gross (I was with my friends Jason and Michael - this was the same day we explored Back Bay). On the side of the stairs, there was this big blob of...something. It was slightly yellowish, but looked shiny, and it was disgusting. I took a picture of it, but, um, hey, look at the pretty mezzanine!

Well, not that pretty, but better than the platform.
One thing I will say about this station is that it does flow incredibly easily. On either end of the station, there's a room with stairs leading to each platform which then goes to the mezzanine. And the main one seems like it handle a lot of people. Again, it flows really well, with a bunch of fare gates on one side and a bunch of fare machines on the other. Nice and simple. As for the aesthetics, it's pretty good compared to the platform. A little boring, but at least it's not dingy.

The main entrance.
The main entrance leads out to Washington Street and the actual Tufts Medical Center. It's a fairly simple entrance, with an elevator, a really wide set of stairs, and an upward-bound escalator. There are some Porter-esque vent things as you go down the stairs, and I still don't know what the heck they're used for. Also, there are a whole bunch of newspaper boxes on the outside of the entrance, which is nice.

The Silver Line bus stop.
There's a stop out here for the SL4 and SL5, as well. Alas, there are no fancy shelters, and there aren't even those countdown clocks they have further down the route (but having used the Silver Line for the aforementioned job, I can tell you those clocks were useless). It's just kind of a sheltered bus stop with some raised brick areas that act as pseudo-benches. Really, this isn't the nicest of bus stops.

The much smaller second mezzanine.
Something that took me a little while to wrap my head around is that this station is oriented diagonally. What can I say, it looks straight when you're down on the platform! But anyway, this means that the second entrance is southwest of the main one, on Tremont Street. Its mezzanine is much smaller, with only two fare gates, and it's pretty bland. Again, it's not as bad as the platform, but it's still pretty awful.

An oddly-angled picture of the entrance.
The entrance, too, is pretty ugly. It has lots of peeling paint and is bland in general. There's quite a contrast between this one and the main one, too. Over here, it doesn't feel as busy or built up - just pretty quiet. This definitely seems like the lesser-used entrance.

My camera did not like this station, as you can see by the blurriness of that train.
Station: Tufts Medical Center

Ridership: It's pretty low - there are a little over 6,100 people who use this station every weekday. Most of these people are probably commuting to the many hospitals around the station, though there are also some residences accessible from the Tremont Street entrance.

Pros: Okay, well, it does flow really well. There's never a doubt here about where to go because of how straightforward it is. And it really does accommodate for a lot of people, at least at the main entrance.

Cons: Aesthetically, though, this station is terrible. The entrances are meh, the mezzanines are bland, and the platform is horrible. Also, there was that blob thing on the stairs. What the heck was that? The world may never know.

Nearby and Noteworthy: If hospitals aren't really your thing, Chinatown is close by, as well as the Theatre District.

Final Verdict: 5/10
Well, Tufts Medical Center is functional, for sure. There aren't too many MBTA stations that are this straightforward, especially on the underground section of the Orange Line (darn you, State, and your endless transfer of death). But I also like my aesthetics, and that's where this station falls flat. The platform is horrible, and the rest is just bland.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

87 (Arlington Center or Clarendon Hill - Lechmere Station via Somerville Ave)

I originally had this grand plan to take all the Lechmere buses I haven't taken yet in one day. This plan fell flat because the 87 ran late. Come on, 87! Anyway, this route is a pretty straight run from Lechmere, up through Union Square and Davis Square, to Arlington Center. It's also incredibly popular, if my ride is to judge!

Dinginess, thy name is the Lechmere busway.
We made a hard left turn onto the McGrath Highway and sped onto a bridge over some Commuter Rail tracks. We exited off the highway, then made a u-turn to the other side in order to get onto Somerville Ave. This was a mixture of houses and businesses, but it became all of the latter once we reached Union Square.

We turned onto Bow Street, which went up and around, then merged back into Somerville Ave. The street got a bit industrial, though there were still houses and businesses mixed in. We were joined by the 83 at Park Street, and passed a playground and ice skating rink. Soon after, we merged onto Elm Street, going solo.

This street was much more residential. We went by the Porter Square Shopping Center, with the Red Line station just visible - the 87 bypasses the latter, though. After going by some more houses, we came into Davis Square. Going inbound, the route doesn't really serve the "downtown" area, opting for back roads instead. So, we turned onto Cutter Ave, then Highland Ave, then Grove Street, and then into the Davis Square busway.

From there, we made our way to Holland Street, now running with the 88. We passed some final businesses before it became more residential. The retail came back at Teele Square, where we merged onto Broadway, joining the 89. Soon after, we reached Clarendon Hill, where the 88 and 89 end. Also, the 87 terminates here nights and Sundays.

Clarendon Hill, with a bus laying over.
This being a Saturday, though, we continued onward towards Arlington Center. We passed a cemetery, then Broadway got residential again. There wasn't much of note along this section, and we entered Arlington Center soon after.

The bus heading down Mass Ave.
I was assuming that the bus would continue north along Mass Ave and then turn around somewhere else, so I was standing up the street all set to get an awesome picture of the bus. What I wasn't expecting was the thing to cut across a bunch of traffic and go over the median of Mass Ave in order to cross over to the other side! I guess the route is supposed to do this, but it was certainly unexpected. It also ruined my photo opportunity.

Okay, this is actually a pretty cool picture, though.
Route: 87 (Arlington Center or Clarendon Hill - Lechmere Station via Somerville Ave)

Ridership: I was blown away by the amount of people who rode this bus! There were over 60 riders, and it was a Saturday! The numbers show high ridership, too - on weekdays, the route gets an average of 3,796 riders; on Saturdays, it's 2,858; and on Sundays, it's 1,917. On weekends, the route is actually in the top 25 bus routes for ridership, which is great.

Pros: The 87 cuts through some densely packed areas, and links them to both Lechmere and Davis (and technically Porter). It also has a pretty good schedule across the board, running about every 15-20 minutes rush hour, every 30 minutes during the day and on Saturdays, every 35 minutes at night, and every 40 minutes on Sundays.

Cons: I guess every 40 minutes on Sundays might be a bit infrequent, but it's not horrible, especially compared to the last bus I reviewed. Also, it's annoying how the 87 doesn't go all the way to Arlington Center on Sundays, but on my ride, there were only two people going up there, anyway. It may just not be a portion of the route with a lot of ridership.

Nearby and Noteworthy: This route goes by Johnny D's, which I can't believe I forgot to mention in my Davis review. I've been to a lot of breakfast places and eaten their french toast, but out of all of those, Johnny D's is the clear winner. They also do a lot of live performances at night.

Final Verdict: 8/10
This is a pretty standard route, but also a good one. It serves a lot, runs often, and clearly gets used often. Also, the bus was never too crowded, because the riders were pretty spread out along the route. So yeah, the 87: it's pretty good.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, April 19, 2015

101 (Malden Center Station - Sullivan Square Station via Salem Street, Main Street, and Broadway)

There are quite a few bus routes that go from Sullivan or Wellington up to Malden Center. They all more or less travel in crescents, in order to serve neighborhoods not served by the Orange Line. Most of these routes serve the eastern side of the tracks, while there are only two on the western side: the 108, which sticks very close to the Orange Line right-of-way, and the 101, which is much more circuitous. Making a huge crescent going as far west as Medford Square, no one would take the 101 from beginning to end. However, many people use it, as you're about to find out.

The bus coming into Malden Center.
We headed down Pleasant Street, pretty quickly leaving behind the tallish buildings of Malden Center. It was residential until we crossed the Fellsway West, where there was a mall and a bunch of small businesses. We also went by the Fellsway bus yard, which was pretty cool.

This is what happens when the awesome bus yard is on the left side of the bus and you're sitting on the right. You get a bad picture.
From there, it became a mixture of houses and businesses. Eventually, we reached a big rotary which went under I-93. We were in Medford Square once past that, where the road was lined with shops. Turning onto Main Street, we crossed over a bridge, under the Mystic Valley Parkway, and into an industrial area.

Nice view.
Luckily we left the industrial area almost as quickly as we entered it (the 95 continues through it, and you may remember how - um - scenic that ride was). But we continued down Main Street, which was nice and residential. Soon enough, businesses began to pop up, and it became a mix between those and houses.

Main Street curved eastward a bit, and became entirely residential again, with more closely-spaced houses. There was a great view out of the front of the bus when we reached Winter Hill, but I couldn't get any pictures. We joined the 89, merging onto Broadway, which had a nice tree-lined median. This was once again a mixture of businesses and houses. After a period of time with an 89 in front of us stealing all our passengers, we reached the Sullivan Square busway.

Well, things certainly got gloomier, didn't they?
Route: 101 (Malden Center Station - Sullivan Square Station via Salem Street, Main Street, and Broadway)

Ridership: There were about 40 people on my ride, and this was a Saturday! And there were a bunch of people waiting at Sullivan, so it headed back to Malden with a full load, as well. The 101 is in the top 30 bus routes when it comes to ridership: 4,767 riders per weekday, 2,397 on Saturdays, and 1,119 on Sundays. Medford Square seems to act as a halfway point for the route, where most of the people from Malden have gotten off and people start getting on to go to Sullivan, and vice versa.

Pros: The 101 cuts right through Medford, which is great. It serves a lot, and also has a pretty good schedule: every 10-15 minutes rush hour (nice!), every half hour during the day, and every 35 minutes on Saturdays.

Cons: But it's every hour at night and every 70 minutes on Sundays. The Sunday schedule in particular is pretty awful, especially since the route still gets high ridership on Sundays.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There were lots of small businesses along the route. Medford Square looked nice.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The 101 seems like a really popular route. If that's the case, then why does it run so infrequently on Sundays? Seriously, every 70 minutes seems really bad. That said, the route still serves large portions of Medford and connects them up to the Orange Line. Routewise, the 101 is a great bus, and it does run frequently a lot of the time, but that Sunday schedule is horrible.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

92 (Assembly Square Mall - Downtown via Sullivan Square Station, Main Street, and Haymarket Station)

The 93 cuts right through the heart of Charlestown, and it's a really nice ride that feels like you're going through a really old neighborhood (which it is). The 92 still has that feeling, but along its route, there are hints of trashiness here and there: a small shopping plaza, a little parking lot, and a suburban-style bank (including a drive-through) are some of the things you see. Also, not nearly as many people use the 92 as they do the 93. Let's take a closer look.

The bus downtown.
The 92 (and 93) used to go all the way to Downtown Crossing, but they were recently cut back to just south of State. Thus, I got on the bus at Devonshire Street @ Milk Street, the current terminus, along with...one other person. Wow, lots of ridership here.

We turned onto Milk Street, then up Congress Street, in and among the tall buildings of downtown. At Haymarket, the driver opened the doors hopefully, but nobody waiting got on. So, we made our way up to North Washington Street and crossed over a bridge.

The view from the bridge.
We turned onto Chelsea Street, then Warren Street. This was a cute, narrow street with apartments on either side. Soon, we merged with Main Street, this being Thompson Square. We passed a small shopping plaza (blech), then the street became lined with small businesses and apartments.

I missed the street that led right to the Bunker Hill Monument, but look! You can kind of see it from this one...
Passing a school, a playground, and the aforementioned suburban-style bank, we soon left Charlestown, merging into a big rotary. We navigated the maze of roads leading into the Sullivan Square busway, where two people got on the bus. After that, we left the busway and continued north, entering the trashiest part of the 92.

We headed up Mystic Ave, which had industrial buildings on one side and a big highway on the other. We then merged onto Middlesex Ave, which went behind the Assembly Square Mall. Heading onto the Fellsway for a block, we turned onto Grand Union Boulevard, then into the mall proper. The few people riding got off here, and I headed off towards Assembly Row and the Orange Line station.

Getting ready to head back.
Route: 92 (Assembly Square Mall - Downtown via Sullivan Square Station, Main Street, and Haymarket Station)

Ridership: There were only 5 people in total on my ride. And the last time I took the 92 (it was only from Sullivan to downtown, so I didn't review it then), there were only 3 people who rode! But then there was a time I saw the route at rush hour and it was packed. However, it would seem the 92 gets pretty subpar ridership overall, with an average 1,321 riders per weekday and 579 on Saturdays.

Pros: This is a good alternative to the 93, serving the whole of Main Street (though the 93 is a nicer ride, in my opinion). This one has the added bonus of going up to Assembly, though I'm surprised people still take it up there even after the new Orange Line station opened. I suppose the station serves Assembly Row, while the 92 is more for people going to the Assembly Square Mall. The route also has a good schedule, running every 25 minutes weekdays and every 35 minutes Saturdays.

Cons: There's no Sunday service, which is too bad. But actually, I wonder if the 92 even needs to run on Saturdays. The route only has an average of about 10 people per trip on Saturdays, which isn't very much.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I saw some small businesses along Main Street, but I've got nothing specific, as usual.

Final Verdict: 7/10
I mean, this is definitely a good route for what it's worth. It runs frequently and serves an unserved part of Charlestown. Here's the thing - on my ride, literally no one got on or off along the entire Main Street portion of the route. This could've been specific to just my ride, but if it happens often, here's a possible way to fix it. Maybe on Saturdays, the MBTA could run a combined 92/93 bus that goes up Bunker Hill Street, over to Assembly, and then back down on Main Street. That said, the 93 gets significantly more Saturday ridership than the 92, so it might overcrowd it. Well, just an idea.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Saturday, April 18, 2015

245 (Quincy Center Station - Mattapan Station via Quincy Hospital and Pleasant Street)

This is a route I've been wanting to take for a while. It's not quite as elusive as the 217 (though I really want to take that one, too), but it does run weekdays only and not very often at that. It serves quite a few parts of southern Milton, and a large part of Quincy west of the center. Yes, today we're taking a ride on the 245.

The bus coming into Mattapan.
We turned onto Blue Hills Parkway, which instantly became residential. It had a nice wide median, but we didn't have too much time to enjoy it, turning onto Brook Road soon after. We passed a park and a middle school, then joined the 240, turning onto Reedsdale Road. There is a variant of the 245 that stays on Brook Road, which seems suburban and even rural at points.

This was the standard route, though, and Reedsdale Road was all residential. We did pass a nice-looking library and a hospital, but it was mostly just houses. There was a church at the intersection with Randolph Ave, where the 240 turned off and we were on our own. We turned onto Pleasant Street a block later.

Pleasant Street was a windy residential road. It eventually became Edge Hill Road, and we passed a big school. Soon, the street got a little tree-lined median, making for a very nice residential neighborhood. After that, we turned onto Adams Street, joining the 215 and 217 and entering East Milton Square.

The street was lined with businesses for a bit, then got residential. The 215 and 217 went their separate ways, and we were alone once more, with some trashy businesses lining Adams Street. Unexpectedly, we turned onto narrow Common Street, which was residential.

Soon after, we turned onto Quarry Street, going by some big apartment complexes. It changed to Granite Street, and we curved north, passing some malls with huge parking lots. We were very close to Quincy Center, but then we turned onto residential Whitwell Street.

We went by the massive Quincy Medical Center, then came down a hill and turned onto Adams Street. This was another residential street, and also had its own "National Historical Park"! It got more urban after we crossed over the Red Line tracks and Adams Street curved south. We merged into Hancock Street and came into the Quincy Center busway soon after.

This is the 245 at Quincy Center. Well, it was the 245.
Route: 245 (Quincy Center Station - Mattapan Station via Quincy Hospital and Pleasant Street)

Ridership: On my ride, there were about 20 passengers in total. This route gets low ridership in general, with only about 561 boardings per day. Indeed, it ranks 137 out of 164 bus routes, so...not great.

Pros: The 245 serves quite a lot, from southern Milton to western Quincy. It's also the only link from Quincy to Mattapan, should anyone want to go between those places. I don't believe anyone rode from beginning to end on my ride, though.

Cons: The headways are varied, from as often as every 35 minutes to as infrequent as every 75 minutes. That's probably good for the ridership this route gets, but I still think limited Saturday service would be nice.

Nearby and Noteworthy: It was mostly residential, but there were some businesses in East Milton Square.

Final Verdict: 6/10
This route certainly serves a lot, and it was a very nice ride. It is weekdays only, however, with pretty limited headways. Saturday service would be nice, even if it's just in the denser Quincy section of the route. Maybe a shuttle from Quincy Center to East Milton Square?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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