Monday, February 27, 2017

MVRTA: Buckley Transportation Center

As we move away from the MWRTA for now, that "W" turns into a "V" and we enter a very different type of system. The bulk of the MVRTA is located in Lawrence, a city where people actually, you know, use the bus (sorry, MWRTA). And all of its routes there are consolidated into one bustling hub, the Buckley Transportation Center.

That is not a pretty building...
Yup...that's the Buckley Transportation Center. It appears to contain a rather large parking garage, but I can't find any information on how many spaces it contains. And boy, is it an ugly parking garage! I mean, I just hate the look of this building so much!

Inside the waiting room.
Okay, let's cover the waiting room first. This is probably the best part of the Buckley Transportation Center, not that that's saying much. It features seating, a ticket office, some maps, schedules for all the routes, and even a few vending machines.

Ohhhhhh noooooo...
And now we get to the reason why I hate this place so much! This boarding area is just dingy, first of all - I mean, it's a parking garage in the middle of Lawrence, what do you expect? There are essentially no facilities out here, aside from a few benches and wastebaskets on the edges of the terminal. Buses line up frontward and backward in rows, and you need to consult a map outside the waiting room to find out where you're boarding, since there are no signs anywhere else.

Check out those amenities! Wowwwww!
As for the boarding procedure? Jeez Louise, it's ridiculous. The MVRTA follows a pulse system, which works fine for the most part (I think the system might be a little too big for one, but that's just me). This means that during each pulse, a bunch of buses will be all lined up in the terminal waiting for passengers; people get on the buses they want, which have open doors but no drivers. Once all the drivers come back, the riders have to get up and all gather at the front of the bus to pay their fares! How inefficient can you get? That's ridiculous!

I needed one last picture, so, uh...here ya go!
MVRTA Station: Buckley Transportation Center

Ridership: This is the downtown hub of all of the Lawrence MVRTA services, and it's where most people get on and off each route. Of course, I don't have any actual numbers, but rest assured, this place can get busy.

Pros: You know, having a consolidated hub is good. The MVRTA pulse system makes it easy to transfer between buses. The waiting room has a decent amount of amenities. These are some proper pros...but it's downhill from there.

Cons: Everything else about the Buckley Transportation Center is terrible! The building is ugly, the busway is dingy and dark, and the boarding procedure is ridiculously inefficient! Waiting here is just a miserable experience that I wanted to end as soon as possible. And for the record, why the heck is this place so far from the Commuter Rail station? It's such a pain to walk from there to Buckley and vice versa!

Nearby and Noteworthy: The hub is located right in downtown Lawrence...but I'm really not a fan of downtown Lawrence. Look, maybe I'm overreacting, but I always feel a little nervous whenever I walk around here. It's not a very nice place.

Final Verdict: 3/10
I'm all for having a pulse system with a consolidated hub...but if the hub is this uncomfortable to wait at, there's a problem. And sure, it has its good points - the waiting room is a somewhat decent place to wait - but I just can't get behind the crazy boarding procedure or the dinginess of the main busway. Sorry, Buckley Transportation Center, but I kinda hate you.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Friday, February 24, 2017

MVRTA: 85 (Lawrence Downtown Shuttle)

A downtown shuttle in Lawrence? Sweet, I like that idea! It's great that Lawrence has the 85 to connect all of downtown's businesses, houses, and transportation centers alike. Oh wait...it doesn't serve the Buckley Transportation Center on weekdays? And it doesn't serve the Lawrence Commuter Rail station at all?! Huh...

The bus at Buckley.
Jordan and I got the bus at Buckley, since it was a Saturday. As the pack of the pulse left, we made our way onto Essex Street, the main drag of downtown Lawrence. We headed past multistory brick buildings with businesses on their lower floors, with views of abandoned factories down side streets towards Lawrence's canal.

One of those aforementioned factories.
As we kept going, the buildings got shorter, but the businesses still stuck around. Essex Street ended in the shadow of a gigantic old factory, where we turned onto Union Street. This took us up past some apartments and housing projects, then we turned onto Haverhill Street, which was lined with dense houses of all different shapes and sizes.

Turning onto Haverhill Street.
We came up along Campagnone Common and passed the Lawrence Senior Center, a major timepoint on the route (even an RTA as urban as this one can't avoid shouting out the ol' senior center). Only three blocks away from where we started, we turned onto Lawrence Street, going by a library, a church, and a park. It got more residential as we proceeded northward, then crossed over the tiny Spicket River.

A side street.
Outside of some retail, we turned onto Park Street, continuing the dense housing we had been seeing before. The street ended at Broadway, onto which we turned, going by some more old factories. The street was predominantly lined with businesses, though - some of them had parking lots, while some of them were right up against the sidewalk.

Going over the Spicket River again on Broadway.
After we had gone a little ways down Broadway...we got off to eat lunch. But we were almost done with the route, anyway - the only truly unique portion of the route we had missed was a section down Essex Street. After that, it would loop around to the senior center again before returning to Buckley.

See ya!
MVRTA Route: 85 (Lawrence Downtown Shuttle)

Ridership: To put it bluntly, this is the lowest-ridership route in Lawrence. In 2015, it got 30,867 riders which equates to a little over 100 people per day. And sure, it appears that the route was introduced in 2015, but considering that our ride had only two other people, I don't think it's gone up that much.

Pros: I love the concept of a frequent downtown shuttle, and the 85 fits the bill pretty well. On weekdays, it runs every half hour in a constant loop; on Saturdays, it's every hour, but it's also timed with a pulse from Buckley, which helps alleviate the lower frequencies.

Cons: Why doesn't this so-called "downtown shuttle" serve the Commuter Rail station?! On Saturdays I can understand why it wouldn't, since the schedule is tight, but on weekdays, it gets a 10 minute layover at the senior center! Why not have the route serve the station to give commuters a frequent service into and out of downtown Lawrence? And even aside from that...I'm just not sure how useful the 85 is. Most of it parallels other routes, and destinations around the loop are mostly walkable aside from a few rare cases.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Like I said before, I'm not a fan of downtown Lawrence...but this route will definitely get you around there!

Final Verdict: 3/10
I'm most definitely not a fan of this route. Aside from the fact that it could probably be eliminated, it doesn't even perform its basic duties well - there's nothing stopping it from serving the Commuter Rail station on weekdays. Seriously, though, the 85 just doesn't serve enough on its own to get a lot of ridership, and, well, it doesn't. I doubt many people would miss it if it were cut.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

MWRTA: 5 (Ashland/Hopkinton)

Hoo boy, these MetroWest towns are starting to get to me. A few reviews ago, I covered a route that went to Holliston...now here's one that goes to HOPKINTON? They sound so similar! So here's the 5, a bus that goes to Hollis-wait, Hopkinton. My bad!

The bus near the Commuter Rail station.
We headed up Blandin Ave from the Blandin Hub, then turned onto Waverly Street. This took us to the Commuter Rail station, where there were also some businesses. Continuing down Waverly Street, the 5 can make a deviation to a hospital on Bethany Road by request, but I guess we didn't get one. The road was mostly residential, but as we came closer to the Commuter Rail tracks, there was a short industrial section (including a gigantic AT&T building).

Trundling past downtown Framingham.
From there, the street became entirely lined with houses, at least for a bit. Once we entered Ashland, though, we got to see the magnificent sights of a storage building and an industrial lot! Okay, we also got to see a reservoir soon after that, but then it was all industrial on the other side.

Going past the reservoir.
We crossed over a small river, then turned onto Homer Ave, taking us right up to the Commuter Rail tracks again. It was lined with houses at first, but as we entered downtown Ashland, there were a few businesses. We didn't really serve the heart of downtown, though, which is located across the tracks. For the record, why the heck does the Commuter Rail pass right through here without stopping? Stupid automobile culture...

A look at downtown.
We headed down Summer Street after that, which soon grew residential (along with a park). Next, we turned onto Union Street, getting some suburban retail at the intersection. From there, aside from the Ashland Middle School and the Community Center, the street was entirely lined with houses. We also passed a long road that ultimately leads to Ashland Station. After a convenience store, we entered Hopkinton, but it was still houses everywhere.

An apartment development hidden in the trees, just before crossing into Hopkinton.
We went through a rather strange mix of houses, farmland, and woods, then we ascended a hill into Hopkinton Center. It featured some historical buildings and businesses, but it ultimately seemed like a boring downtown that was unfriendly to pedestrians. There were dense houses and some businesses beyond there, but eventually it went back to the suburban housing we had been seeing before.

A frozen-over pond!
After passing a pond, there was an assisted living facility suitably called "Golden Pond". The street widened beyond there, playing host to both suburban businesses and office parks. We went through an interchange with I-495, then deviated to serve a modern but rather small shopping plaza. Turning onto South Street, we proceeded past lots of office parks before arriving at our terminus: a tiny shopping plaza with, like, two stores. Was it really necessary to bring a bus out here?

What a great terminus...
MWRTA Route: 5 (Ashland/Hopkinton)

Ridership: With 17,243 riders in 2015 (about 69 per day), the 5 is one of the least-used routes on the MWRTA. Still, it has pretty consistent ridership throughout the day, and actually gets a lot of reverse commuters heading to the office parks near the route.

Pros: The route serves an important street and two towns within the service area. It's also great that the schedule is consistent; the route runs every 65 minutes. Sure, it's an ugly number, but consistency in MWRTA schedules is always a good thing (they have some crazy headways on some routes).

Cons: Service is weekdays-only right now, but I think that's about all the route needs. One problem with the route is that it really ought to be extended a little further from its terminus - there's a gigantic Dell office park a little further down the road that would be great to serve during rush hour!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I didn't find downtown Ashland or Hopkinton Center to be particularly captivating, but those are the two most interesting places the route serves...

Final Verdict: 6/10
MWRTA does a great job catering to reverse commuters up along Route 9, but I think they could do a lot better with it on this route. I don't see any reason why the route shouldn't serve that gigantic Dell office park during rush hour! On the flip side, the 5 still serves significant towns within the service area, and its headways are nice and consistent.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Framingham

Man, for such an important station, you'd think Framingham would be more...grand. I mean, it's one of the busiest stations on the Commuter Rail and the only unique thing we get is a fancy footbridge? Still, it's a heck of a lot better than something like Hastings - I shouldn't be complaining.

The parking lot out front.
The station is parallel to Waverly Street, and it has a small parking lot running alongside it. A little further down the street is an old station building that unfortunately lacks a direct connection to the platform. Still, it features a restaurant - "Deluxe Depot Diner" - which is great for morning commuters.

The alternate exit.
There's another exit on the other side of the station from the outbound platform. This is a level crossing over a single track (there are a lot of random tracks in Framingham) that leads to a second parking lot. The lot curves alongside that single track, making the MWRTA affectionately call it the "Banana Lot". Speaking of the MWRTA, over here they have a...caboose? Nice touch, I guess. They're also building a third, larger lot alongside the outbound platform, which will hopefully raise the number of spaces up from the current 166.

Looking down the platform.
Aside from the mini-highs (which we'll get to), both platforms at Framingham have alternate waiting areas. The inbound side features a modern shelter with benches underneath, as well as multiple bike racks! There are also two pay phones here, for whatever use that may be.

Eww...
Unfortunately, the outbound platform doesn't get anything as good as the other side. Its shelter is a very long walk away from the mini-high platform, and it's made out of wood. All it has underneath it is a sign, with no seating to speak of. Still, it's not like many people are travelling outbound from here, is it?

Up on the footbridge.
So how do you get between the platforms? Your only option is the station's huge footbridge, which has a really nice design on the exterior. What's more, it features both elevators and stairs, while the bridge portion is fairly standard and utilitarian (not that that's bad). It would be near-perfect if it wasn't for the fact that the stairs are starting to rust underneath - looks like a case of Savin Hill syndrome.

The outbound mini-high platform.
Framingham's mini-high platforms are fully-featured, more so than a normal Commuter Rail mini-high. On both sides, the shelter extends far enough to include a low-level bench and wastebasket, allowing for more seating. The high-level portion of it features the same amenities, although weirdly, the bench appears to be facing the wrong way in the photo above...I wish I had a better one of the inbound side to see if it has the same quirk!

No train pictures...at least not of the Commuter Rail variety! Wink-wink.
Station: Framingham

Ridership: This is a very busy Commuter Rail station - the tenth-busiest on the system, in fact, with 1,299 inbound riders per weekday! The fact that it gets so many riders despite having a small parking lot shows the advantage of having stations right in town centers (unlike some of the stations further west on the Worcester Line, among many others). But it's easy to forget that Amtrak comes here too, with its once-daily Lake Shore Limited route to Chicago. Ridership on that is much lower, with 1,963 riders...per year. That's only about five people per day, with most of those folks heading out to western Massachusetts or eastern New York.

Pros: Framingham gives you all your basic amenities: mini-high platforms, a decent footbridge, and a respectable second shelter on the inbound side. There's also a bunch of bike parking, while automobile parking is being expanded with the station's new lot. The station has decent bus connections as well, with six MWRTA routes directly serving the station.

Cons: Okay, that footbridge was built in 2001 - should it really be rusting already? It's not as bad as that staircase I mentioned at Savin Hill, but it still doesn't feel safe when you look at it. Other than that, my main problem with Framingham is just its blandness. I dunno, for such a major station, I would expect something a little more interesting.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Yeah...still not a fan of downtown Framingham. I'm sorry, but it's just not a very exciting place.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Framingham is most definitely a functional station, and it performs its duties well. Fancy aesthetics really aren't that important on the Commuter Rail, anyway, so wishing for them is a waste of time. However, something ought to be done about those footbridge stairs - I mean, I am not a fan of rusting stuff that could potentially be unsafe!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, February 16, 2017

MWRTA: 14 (Milford)

Back at the end of August 2016, the MWRTA quietly added a new route to its network: the 14, a loop around the town of Milford. The only advertising it got, as far as I could find, was a few small articles in local newspapers. This doesn't seem to have contributed positively to ridership...

Oh no, the "1" is cut off!
Okay, I'm a little outdated here, since I rode this route back before the MWRTA made some changes to it. Previously, the transfer between the 14 and the 6 to Framingham occurred at Mission Springs, a housing development. Since then, they've extended the 6 to the Quarry Square Shopping Center, and that's where the 14 starts now. Oh well...I'll be starting it from Mission Springs.

The intersection with Route 16.
We turned onto Washington Street, going by mostly industrial buildings with a bit of retail. Eventually it became residential, including both normal houses and a small development. The road became East Main Street as we entered Milford. A bit after that, we passed a stone quarry and went under some telephone wires and I-495, all in quick succession.

Oh yeah, we also went by a pond!
The other side of I-495 featured much different scenery from before - now we were just surrounded by horrible suburban businesses, malls, office buildings, and, of course, parking lots. Eventually we turned into the Quarry Square Shopping Center. This is where the 6 now ends (so we were basically following its route from Mission Springs) and the 14 begins.

Nothing like a mall deviation to spice up an RTA route!
We continued onto Quarry Drive, a winding industrial road that went up a slight hill. At the end of the street, we made another deviation, this time to serve Target. Next, we made our way down Fortune Boulevard, passing other huge stores and some hotels. We turned onto Cedar Street after that, which winded its way past a few cemeteries and a park.

Alright, alright, we get it! Malls!
As it started to get residential, we made an interesting turn onto Columbus Ave, then Meade Street. This neighborhood was mostly dense houses, and it also offered a few fleeting views of a pond. We passed Maher Court, a residential development, which might be the reason the route serves this neighborhood in the first place.

Cool view!
We turned onto East Main Street again, which was now a mix of dense houses and industrial buildings. As the street curved around, we entered downtown Milford, a sizeable town center with businesses everywhere. It was a bit stark for my tastes, but it definitely featured a lot of retail variety. However, we more or less bypassed it by travelling on Bow Street in order to serve the Milford Senior Center.

A view of downtown.
We passed a small common and a post office, then we turned onto South Main Street, which was lined with dense houses. Eventually we passed a massive bar whose parking lot was bisected by a river, and then we deviated to serve a small plaza featuring only a rehabilitation center and a Papa Gino's. For the record, there was a much bigger plaza down the road, but I guess that's not worth serving...?

What an interesting view!
Now we headed up Cape Road, passing a few auto shops and some houses. Outside of a gigantic hospital, the street became Prospect Street, and it took us to some more shopping plazas. We didn't deviate to serve any of them, however, instead merging onto Highland Street and entering a residential neighborhood.

The intersection with West Street.
Eventually we turned onto West Fountain Street, descending down a steep hill and going by the gigantic Milford High School complex. Next, we turned onto Congress Street, passing a water tower and a bunch of houses. We ascended a hill for a bit, then turned onto Rolling Green Drive, taking us into a residential development.

Inside the development.
We took a bunch of turns to get out of this place, so I'll skip ahead to when we were on Ivy Lane, now out of the development. There were normal houses everywhere again, and they continued as we turned onto Purchase Street. Next, we turned onto Dilla Street, then Sumner Street, which was lined with industrial buildings...and a random housing development.

Hey, look, an actual stop! With a sign and everything!
Eventually it started to get residential again, and we arrived back on Main Street on the fringes of downtown. We didn't go back there, though, instead travelling back toward where we started. However, we soon split off from the way we had came, staying on Main Street then merging onto Medway Road.

A side street.
We passed a shopping plaza, and then another two after some houses and a cemetery. Next, we turned onto Beaver Street. running up alongside I-495 and passing a hotel and some more suburban businesses. On our trip, we turned right onto East Main Street to head back to Mission Springs, but now the bus would go left in order to return to Quarry Square. And that's the end of that gigantic loop!

The bus at Mission Springs.
MWRTA Route: 14 (Milford)

Ridership: This route is too new to have ridership data, but I can give you the ridership numbers for our trip: zero. Yeah, this is the problem with not advertising a new route. I do think it has the potential to get people, and I hope ridership has increased by now!

Pros: Milford is one of the biggest towns in the MWRTA service area, so I'm glad that it finally has a bus route of its own. Yes, I'm not usually a fan of one-way loops, but it seems like the most efficient way to cover as much of the town as possible. The schedule is pretty consistent, too (for MWRTA standards), with service about every 70 minutes. Finally, drivers are very good about guaranteeing transfers from the 6 to the 14 and vice versa - if you let your driver know, they'll hold the other bus for you.

Cons: It's definitely a deviatory route, and that means that going around the whole loop can take a while. Still, cutting it back to Quarry Square is beneficial, and gives it more time to lay over. Also, once ridership picks up (if ever), Saturday service within Milford could be well-used, I think.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Downtown Milford has a bunch of different restaurants and businesses - it's definitely the most interesting place this route serves.

Final Verdict: 6/10
I really think this route has potential, but it's not being utilized at this moment. A circulator route covering Milford shopping areas could be great...if people knew about it. But at the moment, it seems like, um, no one does. Give it some advertising, MWRTA!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

MWRTA: 6 (Holliston/Milford Line)

Oh geez, how do I come up with a catchy introduction for a route to a town as uninteresting as Holliston? Eh, I'm not even gonna try. Here's the 6!

The bus coming into the Blandin Hub.
We left the Blandin Hub onto Blandin Ave, then turned onto Waverly Street, running alongside the Commuter Rail tracks. It was pretty industrial until we reached Concord Street, which is the main drag of downtown Framingham - there were some businesses here. We continued down Waverly Street for a bit in order to serve Framingham Station, then we turned onto Cedar Street, then Claflin Street.

There are so many railroad tracks in Framingham...
Claflin Street was a mix of industry and houses, but it was also a short street - we were only on it to get to Hollis Street, which was a main road. We passed a few more industrial buildings and a few businesses, but the street was primarily lined with houses. For a few brief moments we came up alongside a pond, while we passed a CSX yard on the other side.

The pond!
Now in Ashland, we passed some more houses, then a shopping plaza. It had a good amount of stores. but the timepoint is just referred to as "Market Basket". There was a brief section of woods, then some businesses and industrial buildings. We also went by the entrance to a gigantic housing development.

What a boring parking lot...
We arrived at some more shopping plazas and deviated to serve one of them, written on the timepoint as Shaw's. Continuing from there, we passed an apartment development, and entering Holliston, we went by a mini-golf course! It was residential from there, mostly with small suburban houses. After a farm, we reached a bunch of businesses as we turned onto Washington Street.

Were they nice businesses? Nope.
We went by another housing development, then the Holliston Police Department and Holliston Historical Society appeared on either side of the street. There were a few more houses, then we arrived in downtown Holliston. It consisted of some beautiful historical buildings like the town hall, a library, and a church, as well as some rather charming businesses.

That's a really charming church!
Past downtown, the scenery became residential again. It was all houses until a little after a gas station, where we turned onto Summer Street. This took us to Mission Springs, an apartment complex and the last stop of the route when Sam and I rode it. I guess they've changed the schedule in the month or so since then, because now the route runs to the Quarry Square Shopping Center in Milford. Don't worry, though - we'll still be covering that section in our next review, the 14!

I don't have another bus picture, so here's a cool historical building!
MWRTA Route: 6 (Holliston/Milford Line)

Ridership: Ridership on the 6 is very low: 19,538 riders over the course of 2015, or about 78 per day. This is a commuter-based route, with most people riding during rush hours and significantly lower ridership middays. Hopefully the extension to the Quarry Square Shopping Center will help with that.

Pros: I'm a little dubious of the feasibility of a route to Hopkinton outside of rush hour, but now that the MWRTA has a connection to Milford from Quarry Square...well, now we're talking! Milford is a sizeable town that would actually benefit from a bus service. The 6 is the bridge from there to Framingham.

Cons: First of all, the 6's schedule is...weird. It's about every 70 minutes, but the departure times are all over the place: 9:30, 10:54, 12:03, 1:11, 2:03...yeah, I don't know why that is, either. It's also annoying how the MWRTA dropped the 6's evening trip to downtown Milford. The route used to have a direct trip there in both rushes, but now there's only one in the morning, so passengers commuting home have to transfer to the 14 at Quarry Square.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Downtown Hopkinton was actually a pretty neat little place, and there's a 5.5 mile rail trail from there to Milford that looks scenic.

Final Verdict: 6/10
Wow, the 6 gets a 6! The thing is, the majority of this route is very low-density, and there isn't much ridership coming from the places it serves except for the two shopping plazas in Framingham (which are also covered by the 4S). No, the main attraction here is Milford, and I do think extending the route to Quarry Square was a good idea. It allows for more shopping ridership (hopefully), as well as an easier connection to the 14 - but we'll be talking about that in the next post!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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