Saturday, November 23, 2013

352 (Burlington Express - Boston via Route 128 and I-93) - also includes the 350 to the end!

You may recall how when I took the 350, I only took it up to the Burlington Mall. I knew, however, that I would be able to take it all the way after riding the 352, which ends at the same place. This wasn't the reason I wanted to take it: I actually just wanted an excuse to get off at State Station, which is literally right in the Old State House. Unfortunately, I arrived 20 minutes late and planned on simply exploring State. Suddenly, I heard the noise of a bus. Rushing outside (without thinking about having to repay my fare), I saw a 352, the bus after the one I missed.

A really bad, blurry picture of the bus in front of the Old State House.
I got on, along with maybe nine other people. The bus laid over for a bit in front of the Old State House, and then started to leave. The part of the route in Boston is very simple, surprisingly. It heads down Court Street, which turns into Cambridge Street, passing City Hall, Government Center Station, and the famous giant tea kettle. It turns at New Sudbury Street, the lone entrance to Bowdoin hiding just out of a rider's view from the bus. It passes Haymarket Station, and then turns onto I-93.

It was actually very exhilarating, riding alongside I-93 (the exit ramp doesn't physically connect to the highway until later) over the Zakim Bridge at the typical 75 miles an hour. Then the bus hit a snag - specifically, rush hour traffic (or not really rush hour - it was 4 PM). Luckily, the traffic was moving somewhat, and the slow pace gave me a chance to look at the lovely view. This is where 93's northbound and southbound sides stack on top of each other, and the northbound side is on the top. There were some great views of the Bunker Hill Monument sticking up above small apartments and, if you turn around, a beautiful skyline view.

Unfortunately, there were raindrops on the bus windows, making this another really bad, blurry picture. Note the massive amounts of traffic on both sides of the highway.
It gets industrial around Sullivan Square (which is kind of visible in the photo above), but once past there, the two sides of I-93 level out again and dense houses and apartments appear. Then the highway goes through a rather swampy area and then it gets industrial again. It's fairly urban in Medford, but there's a dense layer of trees on both sides of the highway, preventing people from seeing through. Then the houses go away and the highway just runs through a dense forest (keep in mind there's still a huge traffic jam). After a while, office parks, less densely spaced houses, and massive superstores start appearing.

Here the bus turned off of I-93 onto the mercifully less trafficked I-95 South. It is mostly the same fare, with quite a few office parks lining the highway through the tree layer. There's an interesting point where the forest clears away for a short time for some massive telephone wires to cross over the highway. It is also at this point where the bus turns off and heads onto Cambridge Street with the 350.

This is a little after the Burlington Mall, so this is also previously uncharted territory for me. The 350 and the 352 share the route from this point onward, so consider this the final part of the 350 as well (and I took the 350 back the whole way after this bus, anyway). My preconceived notion of the area north of Burlington Mall was mostly just spread apart houses. It turned out to be more office parks along the road, with houses dotted in between. The bus went through Burlington Center (there's a Burlington Center? You learn something new every day), and after that there were some small commercial buildings with big parking lots.

There was a point where the bus turned onto Wilmington Road and then again onto Chestnut Ave. I was absolutely thrilled to see there was a shelter, as I had no idea when the next 350 was coming.  I assumed this was the last stop, as the driver opened both doors and "kneeled" the bus down. No one got off, though, so he closed them again. I had no idea where we were going now, but the bus made a very sharp turn onto Cambridge Street. There was another stop here, and yet again he opened both doors and kneeled the bus. This time he said "last stop," so I figured it was time to get off. The driver turned the destination board to "NOT IN SERVICE" and drove off to who knows where.

This is where the bus dropped me off. Not the nicest place in the world...
As everyone went their separate ways, I wanted to get back to that shelter on Chestnut Ave (this stop on Cambridge Street was just a sign). This was easier said than done. First of all, Cambridge Street was full of reckless drivers, speeding by at 60 miles per hour. Luckily, there was a traffic light, so I pushed the button and crossed over. Despite being only a block from where I was, I couldn't figure out how to get to Chestnut Ave. I ended up just going back to Wilmington Street and then going to the Chestnut Street bus shelter.

And this is where I had to wait. I'm thankful for the shelter, but geez Louise, what a dump.
I was just waiting there reading (brilliant idea on my part to bring a book) when a guy with cigarettes on his breath came along. "Do you know if the Lowell bus has come yet?" He asked me (Route 13 of the Lowell Regional Transportation Authority also terminates here). "No idea," I replied. I went back to reading, and saw the guy start to talk on the phone and drink beer. After about 15 minutes of waiting, a 350 arrived. It stopped about 50 feet before the stop, so I walked over to it. The driver said I had to wait, so I went back to the shelter. The bus laid over for five minutes before coming to the shelter. It then waited another five minutes with the doors open, and then finally left for Alewife. It was pretty quiet until the Burlington Mall. Past there, the bus progressively got more crowded, until there were about 10 standees. It was also very dark so I couldn't see out the window, and there was a gordo guy sitting next to me. Not the best bus ride ever...

I had to save the best for last. This picture is so darn cool!
Route: 352 (Burlington Express - Boston via Route 128 and I-93)

Ridership: The ridership surprised me. I was expecting hardcore commuters, even for 4 PM. And although there were only about 10 people who rode (which is normal for buses of this ilk), I was expecting them to at least be regulars. Turned out the riders were mostly shoppers, and they didn't seem very familiar with MBTA buses. One person didn't even know how to use a CharlieCard.

Pros: This bus is much faster than the 350. Even though it got stuck in traffic on 93, it was still pretty quick. Also, the 350 is rendered relatively useless if you're going to or coming from downtown, since you would have to take the train from Alewife if you were to use it. And the skyline views on 93 are fantastic.

Cons: It's an express bus, therefore the schedule stinks. It's clearly designed for commuters, so much that it only goes inbound in the morning and it only goes outbound in the evening. Looking on the bright side, in its small three hour time frame, it does run every 20 minutes. But did I mention the bus only runs weekdays only? Really, if the bus just changes to "NOT IN SERVICE" and presumably goes back downtown (or back to Chestnut Ave in the morning), what's the harm in making that a revenue-earning run too? Unless the buses go somewhere else after making a run, it wouldn't make that much of a time difference being in service going the other way - most of the route is express, anyway.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Well, there's downtown. Burlington Center looked kind of nice, I guess, with a reasonably large common and a gazebo. The skyline view from 93 is also very pretty.

Final Verdict: 5/10
Don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic ride. I really like the skyline view from 93, as I've said a million times. However, the schedule is terrible. I get the three hour time frame, but I really hate how it only goes one direction depending on the time. It should at least go two ways. Although the ridership wasn't great, it wasn't quite rush hour yet when I rode it. Again, though, really nice ride.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Not much has developed in the MBTA newsroom in two days. Monday, however, is when Adham Fisher, the owner of Wardmaps, and I break/set the record for fastest time riding the MBTA subway system! That's pretty darn newsworthy if you ask me.

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