Sunday, August 2, 2015

554 (Waverley Square - Downtown Boston via Newton Corner and Central Square, Waltham)

This is a route I've been wanting to take for a while. An incredibly circuitous route, the 554 is an express from Belmont to Boston. Wow, that must be great for Belmont commuters! Oh, wait, it goes via Watertown, Waltham, and Newton first. Yeah, not too many people take the 554 from beginning to end...

The bus coming down Otis Street.
My friend Chloé and I had to get on at Otis and Summer Streets to make sure we would catch the bus. There were a few people on board already who had come from Federal and Franklin, and we were off. We headed down Kingston Street, then turned onto Essex Street, and then Surface Road. A few more people got on at Chinatown, and then we were off onto the highway.

This express trip was relatively traffic-free, as we zoomed past apartment buildings. We went through the Copley Square tunnel, then passed Fenway Park soon after. The highway went elevated, then came back to ground level, going by the Boston Landing development. Eventually, we reached Newton Corner and took the exit.

A view of the highway at Newton Corner. Looks like we dodged a bullet there...
Annoyingly, we looped around Newton Corner, actually doubling back on ourselves and serving the same stop twice. We then headed down Washington Street, leaving behind the businesses of Newton Corner. The retail did come back, though, with big stores and parking lots to go with them. There were some nicer-looking businesses at Newtonville.

After that, there was a short residential section, then Washington Street got industrial. It became retail near West Newton Station, where we turned onto Elm Street. Turning onto River Street, this was a nice residential neighborhood. We then turned onto Lexington Street, joining other buses into Waltham.

Lexington Street became Moody Street, and it was lined with businesses. These continued for quite a while, then we crossed over the Charles River, with a view of a dam. From there, we turned onto Carter Street, going by Waltham Station, as well as a rare 170.

The view of the river.
We turned onto Elm Street, looping around Waltham Common and going by more businesses. Continuing up what was now called Church Street, we turned onto School Street, then Lexington Street. The street got industrial for a little while as the 554 entered its solo portion.

Turning onto Beaver Street, the surroundings got much more suburban, with a mixture of small houses and...woods. Going around a rotary, we entered the grounds of Bentley University. This section of Beaver Street felt much more lived-in, with big college buildings and a pedestrian overpass over the road.

After going by some farmland, (I don't think we're in Kansas anymore...) there was an industrial section as we crossed over the Commuter Rail tracks. From there, it turned to relatively dense houses, which continued as we turned onto Warren Street. This became Belmont Street when we entered Watertown, passing a cemetery and a small high school.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Greenwood

What a lovely station name. Gosh, what do you think Greenwood's surroundings are like? Rolling green hills, extending way out into the horizon, covered in beautiful trees...or perhaps a few houses and the back of a bank. The second guess was better...

Well at least there are some trees.
The outbound platform is extremely simple - it's basically all asphalt. There is a bike rack on one end, but that's it for amenities. The station's not accessible, so there are no boarding platforms. On the outbound side, there's an exit that leads into the parking lot of that aforementioned bank.

And the inbound platform.
The inbound side has more in the way of amenities. For one thing, it has an actual shelter - it's pretty much a bus shelter, but a shelter regardless. There's also an open bench, right next to a newspaper box with no newspapers in it. On this side, there's an exit to a leafy residential area (perhaps that's where the "green woods" are).

Woah!
It's worth noting that at the level crossing with Forest Street (technically not part of the station), there's an old...crossing tender. I don't know what that means, but it's a nice little house...thing. Maybe it was used before the level crossing was automated? Perhaps the woods were a little more green back then...

A train leaving the station.
Station: Greenwood

Ridership: This is one of the least-used stations on the Haverhill Line, and actually one of the least-used on the whole Commuter Rail. It only gets 146 riders per day, with most to all of them being locals from the residential areas around.

Pros: Hmm...actually, there isn't too much to like about Greenwood. Well, there's ample parking here (76 spaces), and the crossing tender is cool.

Cons: Accessibility is the big issue, of course. I suppose it's more important to make the next station north, Wakefield, accessible, since it gets more riders, but still. More of an annoyance is the fact that the station's parking is actually paid street parking that stretches far up Main Street. I can't imagine it filling up too much, but it can be a long walk to the station from the further spaces.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There's a business block along Main Street right near the station. Although small, it does appear to have a few restaurants and shops.

Final Verdict: 5/10
I'm sort of giving this station a break, since its ridership is low. Well, "break" as in it gets a 5 instead of a 4. Accessibility shouldn't be too much of a priority here, since Wakefield is much busier, but Greenwood just isn't the best station, anyway. And though the surrounding trees are green, I want to see proper green woods, darn it!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Melrose Highlands

This is the second time the "heights" (or "highlands", in this case) Commuter Rail station has the most ridership in a town! Unlike Needham Heights, however, which gets very good ridership, Melrose Highlands' is very low. But also unlike Needham Heights, Melrose Highlands is actually good.

Both platforms.
Melrose Highlands is next to a level crossing with Franklin Street, meaning there might be long periods of waiting for cars while trains stop at the station. The outbound platform is a simple slab of concrete with wastebaskets on it. It does has a high-level boarding platform with a bench (hooray), and the walk to it isn't that bad.

The inbound platform.
As you would expect, the inbound platform has more amenities. For one thing, it has a screen that lets you know how close the next train is, if it happens to be close. It also has a simple shelter with a few benches underneath. It's pretty close to the boarding area, so I can imagine people waiting here if the former is too crowded.

Parking!
Melrose Highlands has a small parking lot, with 77 spaces. The parking rate is only 2 bucks, though, so that's a plus. The station is also served directly by the 131, and the 136/137 is a short walk away. Well, by short, I mean about 8 minutes. Better than 9 minutes, am I right?

A train coming in...
...and leaving.
Station: Melrose Highlands

Ridership: Well, I did mention it has the highest ridership in Melrose. But by "highest ridership in Melrose", I meant only about 300 per day. Most of these are locals, with very few people coming from buses, I'd imagine.

Pros: This is the only wheelchair-accessible station in both Melrose and Wakefield, which is good for Melrose Highlands, but bad for all those other stations in the towns. It's a nice station overall, with good boarding areas and a shelter on the inbound side.

Cons: Melrose Highlands could stand to have some more parking, seeing as it's the busiest station in Melrose, and the only wheelchair-accessible one.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The surroundings are mostly residential, but there are some businesses on Franklin Street and more if you walk to Main Street.

Final Verdict: 8/10
I think the beefed-up score is mostly because of that accessibility. But since this is the only accessible station in Melrose and Wakefield, I feel like it ought to have a bigger parking lot. I only wish the MBTA had the "weekday availability" stats on its website, which could help to see if the lot actually needs to be expanded. Oh well...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

131 (Melrose Highlands - Malden Center Station via Oak Grove Station)

Okay, 10/10 time is over! The 131 is a weekdays-only local route that serves quite a large portion of Melrose. It's kind of a "scenic alternative" to the 136/137, at least as far as Franklin Square. It operates as a loop, taking the "scenic route" in the peak direction and running with the 136/137 in the other. Of course, I took the former because...what would be the fun in the latter?

The bus at Oak Grove.
Unfortunately, due to a timing issue, I had to get the bus from Oak Grove instead of Malden Center. It's not too much of a detriment, though, because A) The route terminates at Oak Grove much of the time anyway, B) It follows the 136/137's route from Malden to Oak Grove, and C) There was only one person who had gotten on before. Thus, we left the Oak Grove busway, heading up Banks Place.

We soon turned onto Main Street, passing some fields and then entering a residential area. These became businesses once we reached Wyoming Ave and, a few blocks to the west, Wyoming Hill Station. After that, we turned onto Grove Street, beginning the unique section of the 131.

This part of the ride was fun, since it consisted of mostly residential side streets. It was also delightfully twisty. After Grove Street, we turned onto 6th Street for a block, then onto Laurel Street. From there, we turned onto Waverly Ave, then Upham Street, heading back the way we came. Soon enough, we reached downtown Melrose and Main Street, two blocks from where we originally left it.

Nice view, especially since the picture was taken from the other side of the bus.
Heading up Main Street, we passed a hospital and a pond, then it became a mix of houses and businesses. After going by a shopping plaza, we turned onto Franklin Street. This part was also a unique section, and it was residential. Once we reached the Melrose Highlands Commuter Rail station, however, there was a bit of retail.

From there, it turned back to houses. Soon we turned onto Walton Park, then Orris Street, then Warren Street. The last stop of the route was right next to a little park, but the bus didn't spend too long laying over. It left soon after I got off, heading back to Oak Grove via the "boring" Main Street route.

What a pleasant terminus.
Route: 131 (Melrose Highlands - Malden Center Station via Oak Grove Station)

Ridership: My afternoon trip had about 20 riders, most of whom came from Oak Grove. There was only one other person who continued past the East Side of Melrose. This route does seem to get very busy during rush hour, as I've seen some very crowded 131 buses. Overall, the route only gets about 670 riders per weekday.

Pros: The 131 serves a very large part of Melrose. The 136/137 go right up through the town, but the 131 deviates to cover all the little neighborhoods, which is great. It's mainly meant for East Side riders.

Cons: Well, we'll start with the obvious - the schedule. This route runs weekdays-only, running every 20 minutes rush hour (which is actually good) and every hour during the day. In regards to the way the 131 runs in a loop, I think that makes sense, at least during rush hour. But could it be shown on the map, please? The schedule card makes it look like the route goes via the East Side all the time.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The route's solo portions are mostly residential. You'll see much more business-wise along the 136/137.

Final Verdict: 4/10
It seems like the 131 is designed to be a commuter bus, but I don't think it should. It serves mostly residential areas, so why shouldn't it run on weekends? East Side residents have to do things aside from commuting, you know. Another, easier fix to the 131 would be displaying its route on its map. Please, just show that it sometimes goes via Main Street, and we're golden.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Long Wharf - Charlestown Navy Yard (Ferry)

While the Hingham/Hull ferry is primarily meant for commuters, the Charlestown ferry feels much more touristy. Even so, it's still the fastest and most reliable route from Boston to the Navy Yard, and runs frequently. It's also pretty cheap, with a $3.25 one-way fare. They supposedly accept monthly passes, but apparently not on my boat:

ME: Can I use a monthly pass?
EMPLOYEE: Sorry, we don't accept plastic cards.
ME: Oh, well, can I get a student discount, then?
EMPLOYEE: Do you have a Student CharlieCard?
ME: Not with me.
EMPLOYEE: That'll be $3.25.

Like the Hingham/Hull ferry, you pay for fares right on the boat. There's also a refreshment stand, which is nice. The boat is double-decker, with comfy-looking seats on the bottom deck and simple lawn chairs on the top. It was reasonably crowded up there, with lots of tourists.

The ferry leaves in 5 minutes but it's so far away!
Nice view!
Ooh, shelters!
A schedule.
Pretty busy.
Hello, Rita!
The inside with the staircase leading to the top deck.
The refreshment/ticket booth.
Looks like you can go out front, too!
The upper deck (after everyone cleared off).
The ticket I got.
The ride was short and sweet. It's a simple trip that follows Boston's shore down the North End, eventually pulling into Long Wharf, right by the Aquarium. There were some nice views, and though it wasn't as fast or adventurous as the Hingham/Hull ferry, it was still a good, cheap ride.

Nothing like a good wake photo.
The Tobin Bridge.
The city's already pretty close...
Some North End buildings.
Some boats in Boston Harbor.
The "Rookie" heading back to Charlestown.
See ya, "Rookie"!
Wow, I never noticed how...concrete the Aquarium is...
Rita at the harbor.
A schedule.
Nice T symbol!
Route: Long Wharf - Charlestown Navy Yard (Ferry)

Ridership: The ferry gets the most ridership during the summer, as you would expect, with 50,238 riders in July 2014. Compare that to only about 8,550 riders in January of the same year. I suppose the latter is more on the commuter side, while the summer numbers reflect mostly tourists.

Pros: Well, the schedule, first of all. The route runs every 15 minutes rush hour and every half hour all other times - seven days a week. Also, the ride is only 10 minutes. Now admittedly, the 93 supposedly offers a similar time, but that route isn't too reliable, as I found out on my trip to Charlestown. Plus, the bus has to contend with city traffic. And the bus doesn't offer the view the ferry does - it's a nice one.

Cons: Aside from the bus being cheaper, not much. I think my boat not allowing plastic cards was a temporary thing.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Well...touristy stuff. The U.S.S. Constitution is right near the Navy Yard, and the Bunker Hill Monument is a 10 minute walk away. Interesting thing about the latter, I hadn't climbed to the top until the day I took this ferry. I have to say, it's totally worth it - mainly because it's free. Sure, it may be 294 steps of darkness, and the view may only be out four small windows, but...it's free. And the view is really quite good.

Final Verdict: 10/10
I don't think you guys understand the pain I go through every time I give something a 10. "This will disrupt the balance of the universe," I think whenever I erase that 9 and put a 10 instead. But really, this ferry is fantastic. It's frequent, fast, and comfortable. It is a bit expensive, but the ferries lose money for the MBTA, and besides, the extra $1.25 gives you reliable service - unlike the 93. Anyway, $3.25 is better than $8.50 for the Hingham/Hull ferry. If you haven't taken the Charlestown ferry before, I heartily recommend it, for it's a great ride.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Service Change: NYC, Part 6 - The Acela "Express"

Well, I hate to say it, but the only high speed train in America is a bit of a joke. For a beefed up price, you only save about half an hour from New York to Boston. And on our trip, we lost about 45 minutes because our train stopped in the middle of nowhere for a while! Sigh. Well, at least the inside was nice. I've already discussed this route before, so just take a look at the pictures inside the train.

Well, okay, this one is outside.
I wonder what kind of radio stations you can get with this thing...
Pretty fancy... 
A trash can.
It was one continuous car with articulated portions!
That's convenient, I guess.
The obligatory bathroom picture. It wasn't too bad inside!
Now that is a swanky café car!
This screen kept flashing different messages and I had a seat facing it and it was DRIVING ME CRAZY.
Yes, I get it!
SHUT UP! And that doesn't even make sense!
That's the REGIONAL train passing us when we were stuck. Are you kidding?
The train at South Station.
Well, it looks like a 4 and a half hour wait for the next Forge Park train.
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