Saturday, August 27, 2016

134 (North Woburn - Wellington Station via Woburn Square, Winchester Center, Winthrop Street, Medford Square, Riverside Ave, and Meadow Glen Mall)

What the heck is this post title? Why the heck is it so long? Why did the MBTA feel the need to list so many different midpoints on this beast of a route? Yes, sit back, ladies and gentlemen, because we've got a long one today: the 134.

The bus at Wellington.
Leaving the Wellington busway, we headed onto Revere Beach Parkway, going over the Orange Line tracks and passing some development west of Wellington. We made our way up the Fellsway, with houses on one side and a shopping plaza on the other. We then merged onto Riverside Ave, and things started to get industrial.

Turning off of the Fellsway.
Unfortunately, we had to make a deviation to serve the Meadow Glen Mall, so we turned onto Locust Street and headed past more industry. At the mall (under construction), we looped around, picked up no one, and returned to Riverside Ave. It was now lined with houses, and continued to be until we went under I-93 and entered Medford Square.

Going by Medford City Hall.
We turned onto City Hall Mall, then onto Salem Street, passing a hospital before going by lots of retail. We merged onto High Street, which continued past the square, with the area becoming more residential. At a rotary, we headed onto Winthrop Street, which was entirely houses.

Looking down a side street.
It continued to be residential for the most part, with a bit of a break as we passed a temple and Medford High School in quick succession. Soon after that, we reached the intersection with Playstead Road, which is where every other 134 makes a u-turn and heads back to Wellington. Don't worry, though - the full route continues way past there.

Nice solar, dude!
We passed a graveyard, then the street became Main Street as we entered Winchester. It was still all residential, aside from another small rotary and a recreational area soon after. Eventually, though, things started to get denser - we passed a few schools, then did a few quick turns onto Waterfield Road, where we crossed over the Aberjona River.

A quick glimpse of Winchester Center.
Next, we turned onto Laraway Road, running alongside the elevated Winchester Center Commuter Rail Station. After that, we proceeded around a rotary and headed up Main Street again, going by the businesses of Winchester Center. We crossed over the river once more, and now the retail was more suburban, with parking lots out front.

A side street.
It eventually became a mix of businesses, office parks, and a few houses here and there. We also entered Woburn around this time, but the scenery stayed exactly the same when it happened. Well, okay, eventually it changed - once we arrived in Woburn Square, the street became lined with retail again, as well as a lovely little common.

A little plaza in Woburn Square.
Just like in Winchester Center, the businesses started to get more suburban as we left Woburn Square. However, we were also passing a few housing developments along the way. It soon became mostly residential, with a few random businesses here and there.

A residential side street.
However, we soon reached a huge rotary - this was an interchange with I-95. We went around and crossed to the other side, and this is where things got interesting. See, my intent with the 134 was that I wanted to ride the 10:10 or 11:10 outbound trips, as those are the only ones that make both of the route's deviations. As it happened, this was the 10:10 trip, and so we entered our first deviation by turning onto Elm Street!

Turning off of Main Street, with its median.
Elm Street curved around past a shopping center, but that wasn't what we were deviating to serve. Nope, we were going to TradeCenter 128, a huge office park! And guess what? We didn't pick up or drop off anyone! I guess that's what happens when you serve a workplace in the late morning!

We returned to Elm Street, which was now lined with houses. Eventually it curved around back onto Main Street, which we turned on for a second before then going onto School Street. This was our second deviation, going by lots of houses without stops on our way to the Veterans Memorial Senior Center.

A brief glimpse of Main Street.
Okay, let's talk for a while about the stop at the Veteran's Memorial Senior Center, because it was awful. The stop was located at the edge of the parking lot between cars where no bus could ever fit, so we had to just stop a car-length away from the curb. And then, there's not even a ramp from the curb to the ground, so this poor man with a walker had to shuffle down to the ground and then back onto the bus, which was kneeling. This is a senior center, MBTA! Fix the darn stop!

We returned to Main Street, which was now lined with suburban businesses. After going by a school, though, it became residential. The houses continued until we crossed over the Wilmington Line, and it was at that point that we reached our terminal, in a rather industrial area. That's right - the MBTA bus system technically goes into Wilmington!

Hoo, boy.
Right, this is another stop we have to talk about. I mean...just look at it! It's just this concrete median in the middle of a road with overgrowth everywhere! And the place where you board the bus (on the other side of the street on the left) is just as ridiculous - it has no sidewalk at all. This may not be as bad as the senior center, but geez, is it bad.

The bus at North Woburn - or is it "South Winchester"?
Route: 134 (North Woburn - Wellington Station via Woburn Square, Winchester Center, Winthrop Street, Medford Square, Riverside Ave, and Meadow Glen Mall)

Ridership: The 134 gets pretty good ridership overall, with 2,149 riders per weekday, 1,357 per Saturday, and 630 per Sunday. Most of it is concentrated on the inner section, which is reflected in the schedule, but we'll get to that right...

Pros: The schedule is pretty good for the route's ridership, with the route running about every 20 minutes during rush hour, every half hour during the day and on Saturdays, and every hour at night and on Sundays. With weekday and Saturday service, every other bus terminates at Playstead Road, which makes sense; with Sunday service, trips only go as far as Woburn Square, which also seems sensible.

Cons: Isn't this route just a bit...insane? Depending on the time, it can terminate at North Woburn (via TradeCenter 128, Veterans Senior Center, both, or neither), Woburn Square, Playstead Road, or even Medford Square, a trip of about 10 minutes! It's just all rather complicated! Also, there are definitely some stops along this route that need to be fixed, most notably the senior center. It may only get a few trips per day, but it's still a senior center!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Both downtowns this route serves seem pretty interesting. The 134 is the cheaper way of getting to Winchester Center (although Commuter Rail runs there too), while it's essentially the only way of getting to Woburn Square outside of rush hour.

Final Verdict: 7/10
You know, I like the 134. It's a long route that serves a lot and gets decent ridership, and its schedule is structured pretty well for the most part. It is strange that the route can take as long as 52 minutes to get to North Woburn or as short as 9 minutes to get to Medford Square, and that senior center stop is abysmal, but this is definitely a good route!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, August 25, 2016

114 (Bellingham Square - Maverick Station)

The last time I tried to ride the 114 was during the Blizzard of 2015. I waited there at Maverick in the snow for about an hour, but all that came by were 116/117s and 120s. Eventually, I gave up and headed onto the Blue Line. Presumably, the MBTA had used the bus that was going to do the 114 for a shuttle service or something since they figured no one would care - and it seemed they were right. But now, in the safety of summer, I've finally given the bus a ride, sucks.

Argh, another bus got in the way!
We left Maverick and headed up Meridian Street, following the route of the 116/117 (and carrying their riders). We passed the East Boston District Court and Post Office, but for the most part, the street was lined with businesses and apartments on top. After going over the portal for the Callahan/Sumner Tunnels, we navigated through some construction at a common.

Looking down Porter Street.
The businesses continued past the square, but became dense apartments as we ascended a slight hill. We then started to head down until we reached the Andrew McArdle Bridge, which took us into Chelsea. There was a short industrial section before the street, now called Pearl Street, became lined with apartments.

The view from the bridge! The other side had a better view, but I was sitting on the right, unfortunately.
Eventually, we merged onto Park Street, which was lined with businesses, then apartments. We then merged onto Hawthorne Street, which turned into Broadway when we entered Bellingham Square. There were lots of businesses here, but they stopped briefly as we turned onto City Hall Ave, which went around Chelsea City Hall.

Some buildings in Chelsea.
Now we turned onto Washington Ave, heading back the way we came into Bellingham Square. We ended up back on Broadway, running past lots of businesses. Soon, we turned onto 3rd Ave, which went under the Tobin Bridge and merged onto Everett Ave. We went by more retail before turning into the Market Basket parking lot.

The bus at Market Basket.
Route: 114 (Bellingham Square - Maverick Station)

Ridership: The 114 gets an average of 459 riders per weekday, and considering that's only 18 one-way trips, that's great! Wow! My trip got 25 people - wonderful! But wanna know how many people used the bus past Bellingham (i.e. the shared section with the 116/117)? Two. And one of them got on at Bellingham, so they could've just used the 112.

Pros: The least I can say about the 114 is that at least it only uses one bus, so it's dirt cheap to run, at only $0.83 per passenger.

Cons: You know what else costs $0.83? Whatever the heck these action figures are (at the time of writing)...and both are equally useless. Yes, the 114 does get ridership, but that's just from passengers who would only have to wait a few minutes for the next 116 or 117. Indeed, the 114 has absolutely no coordination with the 116/117, meaning buses are scheduled to bunch. Honestly, this route is just...completely useless! Use the bus for something else, MBTA!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Look, I don't care what noteworthy things are along the 116/117 corridor (and I'm sure there are many) - the only reason you would specifically use the 114 is if you're going direct from East Boston to Market Basket. That's it! Otherwise, you could also use the 116, 117, or 112 (if you're going from Bellingham to Market Basket).

Final Verdict: 2/10
Kill it! Kill it with fire! This is a bus that absolutely does not need to exist. The only reason it gets a 2 instead of a 1 is because it's cheap to run...but that's no excuse! Yes, it gets riders from the 116/117, but it ultimately just causes bunching and messes up the coordination along Meridian Street in East Boston. The 114 could go away, and I'm sure no one would miss it.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, August 22, 2016

Silver Line Way

Welp, it's come to this: I'm reviewing a bus stop. But no, this is a station! After all, doesn't it say "Silver Line Way Station" on the MBTA website? Oh man, I feel a lot better now.

The outbound..."platform".
There really isn't much to this so-called station, of course. Silver Line way truly is just a bus stop, with a single shelter and wastebasket on either side. This is also the dreaded place where buses have to change from electric to diesel power or vice versa, although problems with the conversion are becoming less frequent.

A Silver Line Way shuttle coming into the stop.
Two buses, with an SL2 performing the conversion to electric power.
"Station": Silver Line Way

Ridership: Aw yeah, Silver Line Way gets soooooooo much ridership - a whole 870 people per weekday! Wow! That being said, whenever there's an event at the nearby Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, I'm sure this station gets a huge ridership spike.

Pros: Ummmmm...well, at least they're shelters and not stops! Silver Line Way isn't quite the bare minimum that it could be.

Cons: You know what, I don't care that this place is just a bus shelter. Do you know what I do care about? THIS STATION CLAIMS TO BE ACCESSIBLE WHEN IT'S NOT. Yes, it's fine with the Silver Line Way shuttles, which stop curbside coming inbound. But SL1s and SL2s? Oh, no, they have to take the second lane! So riders have to step down from the curb at the stop and cross a lane to board the bus. Really?? Just put a freaking ramp in the curb and you're fine! It's not that hard! Also, a slightly more nitpicky problem I have is that the shelters have maps that say that the Silver Line is still under construction. Again...really???

Nearby and Noteworthy: World Trade Center has most of the Seaport attractions you would want to visit, but Silver Line Way does serve a few nearby restaurants on Northern Ave. There's also the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, of course, which has some really big names performing soon.

Final Verdict: 5/10 (formerly 2/10)
Well, first of all, it's just a bus stop. That said, I really don't mind that it's a bus stop. However, claiming that a station is accessible when it's arguably not is big. All they need to do is indent the curb a bit for a ramp and it would be fine! But currently, that big curb drop is no good for wheelchairs. And the sad thing is that it's a super easy fix, but no one seems to want to do it.

Addendum: This bus stop is in fact wheelchair accessible. All buses pull up to the first lane, which is curbside. Sorry!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Silver Line Waterfront (South Station - Silver Line Way)

I never thought I would ever review the Silver Line Waterfront shuttle, but I was at South Station and saw it and thought, "Huh. I've never ridden that before." So yeah...I figured I'd give it a lil' review. Let's take a look at this thing.

The bus at South Station.
These shuttles usually only run at rush hour, but since Boston Comic Con was at the World Trade Center, they were running the route to handle the extra crowds. However, there was still lots of hullabaloo at South Station, as the driver kept having to tell people that this bus was not going to the airport. Finally, with a decent amount of riders on board, we headed out.

There isn't much of note inside the tunnel, so here we are crossing D Street.
We passed through beautiful Courthouse Station, where not many people left the bus. Once we arrived at World Trade Center, though, there was a mass exodus of people who got off (many in costume for the con). After that, we ascended the portal and waited at the D Street intersection for about 50 years.

It wouldn't be an articulated bus review without some bus inception!
We went under a building and arrived at Silver Line Way. I was expecting us to just use the outbound stop, but it turns out the shuttle has a super special secret loop! Okay, it wasn't that special - we just kinda...looped. And that was the ride. Woooooooooooooo.

Two buses on the shuttle at Silver Line Way.
Route: Silver Line Waterfront (South Station - Silver Line Way)

Ridership: It's a primarily rush hour shuttle, and the route does pretty well considering that - 2,461 riders per weekday. The weekend ridership is significantly lower (344 riders per Saturday and 91 per Sunday), but I think that's just because this particular service doesn't run much during those times.

Pros: As a supplement, the Silver Line Waterfront does its job perfectly. They just run the route during rush hour and when there are other events that might spike Silver Line ridership. It also takes some pressure off of the packed SL1, and (during rush hour, at least) SL2.

Cons: Honestly, why can't weekend SL2s just be these? Hardly anyone goes out to the Design Center on weekends, but lots of people head to the Seaport District!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Yeah, basically the Seaport District and all of its attractions...but only as far as Silver Line Way, of course.

Final Verdict: 8/10
This was a bit of a weird review, but it has to be said that this rush hour variant does its job pretty well. It supplements the SL1 and SL2, and that's basically all it's meant to do. Of course, it would be nice if there were more of these (and SL1s) and less SL2s on weekends, like I said. Seriously, the every-15-minute SL2 gets less Sunday ridership than the 240, which runs every 75 minutes! I think priorities are not being set right here!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Friday, August 19, 2016

Portland METRO: 5 (Maine Mall)

Did I just add Portland METRO to my jurisdiction? Yes, I did! Honestly, Portland is pretty close to Boston when you consider the frequency of the Downeaster, so I figured why not review all of its routes? I was only able to ride one in full when I was there, unfortunately, so here's a look at the 5!

The bus at the METRO Pulse.
The 5 is one of the busier routes in Portland - busy enough so that it runs every half hour on Saturdays, which is when I rode it. It runs west from Portland, starting out pretty straight but making lots of deviations on the outer end, including one to the Portland International Jetport! For some reason, it's not just called an "airport" - what the heck, Portland?

Just to let you know, the window had an ad wrap on it that made any photos through it look awful. I did my best with taking pictures out of the small opening, but it took a good amount of the ride to perfect this art.
Heading down Elm Street, we bypassed dense downtown Portland, heading past a lot of parking lots instead. Next, we turned onto Oxford Street, which merged into Portland Street, and after a few houses and businesses, became Park Ave. This was an apt name, as we were running right alongside the nice-looking Deering Oaks Park (with apartments on the other side).

What lovely...grass!
Eventually, we passed an ice-skating rink and a stadium, then went under some train tracks. On the other side, we went by a factory for Hood, then crossed under I-295 and merged into Congress Street. We passed a few gas stations, but it became residential after that.

Heyyyy, I'm getting better at this!
We soon went by the Westgate Shopping Center, although we didn't deviate to serve it. Thank you, Portland METRO! There was a level crossing with another rail line after that, and after a few more houses, we entered a marsh. We crossed over the Fore River, and a smaller creek soon after.

Going over the river.
It was actually kinda woodsy on the other side, with lots of trees and relatively spaced-out houses. We passed a cemetery and merged onto Johnson Road, although weekday trips would make an additional deviation to an office park. We went around the Portland Jetport, but since the bus directly serves it in only one direction, we sped right by pretty quickly.

A plane at the Jetport.
We turned onto Maine Mall Road, and we were now in parking lot land, as well as auto shops and malls. Pulling into a shopping plaza, we navigated through the parking lot to reach the stop, then crossed Gorham Road to immediately enter another lot. This was the Maine Mall, and we reached our layover point, where the driver went into the mall for a bit. I guess the 5 operates as a loop, since a bunch of people were still on board at this point.

The bus at the mall.
From the mall, we crossed Philbrook Ave into yet another shopping plaza, the Hannaford Supermarket. Next, we headed onto Foden Road, going by office parks on either side. At Kaplan University, we turned onto Western Ave, which passed some huge factories and warehouses, as well as another shopping plaza.

Great neighborhood!
We headed back onto Johnson Road, looping around the Jetport again. However, this time we actually diverted to serve it, turning onto Jetport Boulevard. Along the way to the terminal, we also passed some more office parks and a hotel.

The terminal! Someday I want to come back here and see what the inside is like.
We turned onto Al McKay Ave, which led into the terminal. I gotta be honest, I was expecting not to pick anyone up here, but surprisingly, there was actually someone waiting! After that, we looped around onto Jetport Access Road, which went through some trees before arriving at Congress Street, where we rejoined the regular route. My friend Sam and I took the bus as far back as Sewell Street, where we disembarked to head to the Downeaster station.

The bus heading back towards downtown.
Portland METRO Route: 5 (Maine Mall)

Ridership: Alas, METRO joins the ranks of public transit systems that refuse to release ridership by route to the public. Thus, I'm forced to rely on experience for the ridership counts, which showed that the 5 gets a lot of people. My bus had about 30 riders heading outbound and maybe 20-25 going back. Most of them were shoppers coming from downtown Portland.

Pros: This bus is a pretty fast way of getting out to the Maine Mall and other shopping centers, as well as office parks on weekdays. It's also one of the most frequent Portland METRO routes, running every 25 minutes on weekdays, every half hour on Saturdays, and every 45 minutes on Sundays. Finally, I love the way the route treats deviations, with the Jetport and weekday-only Congress Hutchins detours being limited to one-way only. Normally I would dislike the shopping plaza deviations on the 5, but again, they're all part of a loop and they all get people, so I can't complain.

Cons: This is a super tiny nitpick, but I wish there was better indication of the fact that you can get off at Sewell Street to get to the Portland Transportation Center. The only foolproof way of solving this would be automatic announcements, though, and that's something that METRO needs anyway.

Nearby and Noteworthy: That stadium the route goes by is the home of the Portland Sea Dogs, a minor league baseball team. Other than that, there are lots of malls on the outer end of the 5. Take your pick!

Final Verdict: 9/10
The 5 is quite possibly the best route on the Portland METRO. It has very frequent service (including the agency's most frequent Sunday service), and serves a lot. The ridership we got on a Saturday was perfect - full-seated load! There's nothing I would change about the route at all, aside from the fact that it would be benefitted by automatic announcements. However, that applies to METRO as a whole.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Portland METRO: METRO Pulse

The METRO pulse is the hub of the Portland METRO...sort of. Well, four out of eight of its routes serve it. That's...pretty hubby? I guess? Well, it has a proper facility and everything, so I figured we'd take a look at it.

The outdoor boarding area.
The outdoor area of the Pulse could use some work, though. The sign for the stop is way back near the entrance to the building, but vehicles seem to always pull way up and board at the end of the block. Instead of putting a sign up and pretending that all buses stop there, why not just make berths? They have enough room to put a berth for each route that serves the Pulse, so I don't see why not.

The inside.
Inside of the Pulse, there are lots of maps and schedules for every route on the METRO. In the back, there are photos of historic Portland, with an exit in the back that you can't re-enter (I found this out the hard way). There's also an employee lounge back there, which is a good inclusion for driver layovers.

The waiting area.
There's a decent amount of indoor waiting space here, which must be especially useful in the winter months. The Pulse also has a few vending machines, wastebaskets, and a water fountain, as well as a rack of brochures. Finally, there's a little library where people can trade books, which is nice to see.

Portland METRO Station: METRO Pulse

Ridership: There are no ridership statistics for the Pulse, but I can imagine it's very high. After all, this is where many METRO routes terminate, and their other routes run just nearby.

Pros: Everything about the interior is great. It offers a lot of seating and a good amount of amenities, with the library being a particularly nice addition.

Cons: The Pulse definitely has some problems, though. First of all, signage to Congress Street needs to be better. That's where the other four METRO routes board, and though they get a nice shelter, there's no indication that it exists from the Pulse. Secondly, the Pulse could really use some proper berths, since the current setup is just ridiculous. It would be a lot better if people just knew where they had to wait for whatever route they wanted.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I've mentioned this in my Portland Transportation Center post, but the biggest city in Maine really is an awesome place. I recommend checking it out!

Final Verdict: 6/10
Regardless of its flaws, the METRO Pulse still carries out its function of being a good bus hub. The interior is a good place to wait, especially when it's cold, and ultimately that's what matters for a hub. Still, there are some very easily fixable problems here: signage to and from the Congress Street stop would be very useful for out-of-towners or newcomers who are making transfers; and putting benches along the whole of Elm Street and adding berths would make boarding a lot easier.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Portland Transportation Center

For a reasonably small city, Portland really knows how to do transportation. Aside from its frequent bus system, they also combined Amtrak and Concord Coach Lines operations into one intermodal terminal: the Portland Transportation Center! Let's see how it looks.

Some of the parking at the terminal.
We can start with parking, because there's a lot of it outside the terminal. The station features 700 long-term spaces, meaning you can stay in them overnight. It's $4.00 per day, which is great for a big station like this. There is also ample bike parking here, although I'm not sure how many spaces are provided.

The shelter for the Portland METRO.
You can also get to or from this station by bus. Portland METRO's route 1 comes here every half hour Monday-Saturday and every hour Sundays, and gives riders a quick link into downtown. Even better, Downeaster riders get a free transfer to the 1 (or any METRO route) by asking a train host. The bus stops at a normal shelter outside the terminal, but it's a fine place to wait.

Part of the huge waiting area.
The station has a pretty big waiting room, with lots of seating. On the Amtrak side of things, there's a proper ticket counter, as well as a Quik-Trak automatic machine if you're so inclined to use that. This side of the waiting room also features a wall of brochures, and you can find a regional bus map against one of the walls.

The other side of the waiting area.
Additionally, there's a bus ticket area on the other side of the room, and this is where all the other amenities are, too. For example, there are vending machines and an ATM over here, both of which are quite useful. There are also bathrooms, but I was unable to go inside and see what they were like. Finally, the whole facility has Wi-Fi, so you can surf the web while waiting for your train or bus.

The bus boarding area.
There isn't anything special about the place where you board Concord Coach Lines - it's basically just the place where you board Concord Coach Lines. It's all sheltered and there are berths for each bus, but it's nothing special. Almost everyone waits in the waiting room, anyway, so the barebones boarding area is fine.

The station's walkway.
The bus boarding area and Amtrak platform are both connected to the waiting area by this glass walkway. It's honestly nothing special, but I just wanted to show it. It's mainly meant for transporting large groups of people to get onto a vehicle, and it does its job well in that regard.

The Amtrak platform.
The Amtrak platform is basically in the same boat as the bus boarding area. It's entirely bare. and is just meant to get people onto the train. Still, it's mostly high-level, and I love what they did with the shelter - it's wavy. It's not much, but it adds to the seaside motif of Portland.

A train coming into the station.
Station: Portland Transportation Center

Ridership: Ridership here for Amtrak has gone down since 2012, unfortunately, but the station still gets an average of 354 riders per day. Considering the Downeaster is five trips per day, that's pretty good - about 70 people per train. As for Concord Coach Lines, they don't seem to release ridership data, but I'm sure they get lots of people on their hourly departures from here.

Pros: There's a bunch to love about this station! It has lots of parking, lots of waiting space, and lots of amenities. I also love how connected it is - one could take the Downeaster up here, then instantly hop on a bus to head further north.

Cons: The station is a bit out of the way from downtown, although the 1 is frequent enough Mondays-Saturdays to ease the distance (Sundays are a different story, though). Other than that, it would be nice to have departure boards in the waiting area, although it's not completely necessary.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Portland is a really cool city, arguably one of the coolest in New England. All of its businesses are frequented and the downtown is busy, and yet it also feels quite laid-back. The seaside atmosphere is great, too.

Final Verdict: 9/10
This is a really good interconnected terminal. Although it's kinda far from downtown, it makes up for it with lots of amenities, parking, and waiting space. Plus, the 1 is usually reliable, and you get a free transfer to it when you're on the Downeaster, anyway. This is how an intermodal hub should be done.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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