Thursday, April 17, 2014

39 (Forest Hills Station - Back Bay Station via Huntington Ave)

I had taken the 39 once before, but I never reviewed it for some reason. I don't know why - it's the busiest bus route on the MBTA, it replaces a former trolley, and best of all, it uses articulated buses. Whatever the reason is that I didn't review it, I'm doing it now after riding it again.

The 39 doesn't actually start at the Forest Hills busway, but rather at a station that used to be served by E Line trains. See, the E branch of the Green Line used to run all the way down to Forest Hills, but they cut it back to Heath Street in the 1980s (the line was actually eliminated entirely for a few years, too). Some track still remains here, but obviously the trains don't come anymore. I'm not sure why the 39 doesn't serve the busway, because I feel like a reference to what used to be isn't reason to change an entire bus route.

The former E Line station where the 39 boards and drops people off.
Anyway, everyone was just scattered around the area, on their phones and whatnot. Once the bus came, though, they all went to a spot to board. I was happy to see it was articulated, as sometimes they run just regular buses on Sundays. These particular buses are apparently unique to the 39, as there was a convenient map of the route inside.

The destination board seems to be a bit garbled up.
Leaving the station, we went up South Street, which was about half apartments, half businesses. We soon reached "Monument," which is just a big statue from what I could tell. Nonetheless, the 38 route turns off here to head back south, but the 41 route begins here and follows the 39 up Centre Street. After some businesses at Monument, it turned to mostly apartment buildings. Well, "projects," really.

Ooh, swanky!
Soon we broke off from the 41 and went up South Huntington Ave. This street was more residential, with actual houses (but still some projects). We went by V.A. Hospital, a very massive structure, and then were joined by the E Line at Heath Street. I really liked the neighborhood heading up South Huntington Ave, although I'm not sure if it's actually as nice as it looks.

The rather sharp turn onto Huntington Ave is always fun on the train, when it screeches and squeaks trying to make it around the curve. On the bus it was somewhat less exciting, but we headed up Huntington Ave nonetheless. It started getting much more urban around here, with a tall tenement building at Mission Park Station.

After Fenwood Road the E Line went into the median of the street and the buildings got ever taller. On weekends the E doesn't usually go all the way to Heath, terminating at Brigham Circle, but even after that people were still choosing the bus over the train. We went by the Longwood Medical Area, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Northeastern University before the E Line went into its subterranean lair.

Symphony Station was really fun. I was wondering why the stop was so far from the actual station and Mass Ave. Turned out the 39 goes into a little bypass tunnel under Mass Ave, and the driver floored it. After roaring through the tunnel, there was a stop at good ol' Prudential Station, and then we turned onto Belvidere Street.

I love it when these articulated buses make sharp turns and you can see the front from the back. Bus inception?
We went by the cool "Infinity Pool" (or whatever it's called) before turning onto Dalton Street and going over I-90. Turning once again onto Boylston Street, we went by the Prudential proper and the Hynes Convention Center, then came into Copley Square. Then we turned onto Clarendon Street, going right by the John Hancock Building, and finally came into the Back Bay busway (wow, say that three times fast).

I know this post has a lot of pictures, but you gotta admit that this is a great one.
Route: 39 (Forest Hills Station - Back Bay Station via Huntington Ave)

Ridership: It's the busiest bus route on the MBTA. Even though it was actually pretty empty the first time I rode, this time almost 80 people took it - and this was a Sunday! Most of them got on for short distances, and I don't believe anyone but me went from beginning to end.

Pros: As a replacement for the E, it's pretty darn good. It has about the same capacity as what trains the E Line used to run, which is certainly a good thing as this bus had a lot of people riding. But since it uses articulated buses, nobody had to stand! And though these buses aren't as fantastic as the ones on the 28, they're still pretty great. Oh, and it's a Key Bus Route, so of course we've got a great schedule: every six minutes (!) rush hour, every 13 minutes during the day, every 12 minutes nights (and until 2 AM on Fridays and Saturdays), every 10 minutes Saturdays, and every 12 minutes Sundays. That's amazing.

Cons: The one thing I have to nitpick about is where the bus boards. There's not enough signage for it, and the area doesn't exactly look like a bus station. I had a hard time finding it the first time I rode - I feel there should be more signage around the station.

Nearby and Noteworthy: It goes right by the two tallest buildings in Boston, and I think you'll find a lot of interesting things to do around Copley Square. And of course, you can't talk about Copley Square without mentioning Newbury Street and its European-esque architecture and feel. I once went to a great Italian Restaurant there called Piattini (something specific, hooray!), but there are plenty of stores and restaurants on the street.

Final Verdict: 8/10
This is a fantastic replacement for the former E Line service - even where the bus runs alongside the existing tracks people still choose the bus over the train! And the articulated buses are great, as is the schedule. But would it hurt to put some "The 39 is over here" signs at Forest Hills? I feel like it's pretty hidden right now. And really, it's not exactly a proper busway where it boards. People just sort of stand around or lean against walls since there aren't any benches. I don't think it would cost too much to stick a few benches in there, would it?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The first of forty new Commuter Rail locomotives went into service today, on the Haverhill Line. The new trains will save the MBTA $1 million in fuel costs annually.

3 comments:

  1. The thing about this route is that it is redundant with the "E Heath St" line but not sure what the T can do. Two thoughts are to have the bus line run limited service in between Prudential to Brigham Circle or Heath St. Another thought and the T should do this! Eliminate the Fenwood Rd and Back of the Hill stop from the "E" line and give them over to the 39 bus. Fenwood Rd is a very short distance from Brigham Circle and in a dangerous spot with lot of on coming traffic. Back of the Hill is a complete waste of a stop thats in spitting distance of Heath St. Back of the Hill is not accessible and not even one of the legacy E line stops from the Arborway days.

    I couldn't imagine having a trolley run down those narrow streets that the 39 goes through. The 39 bus has proved itself to be a worthy replacement for the Arborway line.

    - James

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  2. Transfering from the 1 to the 39 is annoying because the 39 takes the underpass under Mass Ave.

    OK, I get that the underpass speeds up the 39 but since when did the MBTA become obsessed with making things faster?

    The T also eliminated the inbound stop at the Monument in JP even though they kept the outbound stop across the street.

    If you're reading this post carefully, you will deduce that I sometimes travel on the 1 from Washington St to the Monument via the 39 and then reverse the process.

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  3. My favorite junky pizza place in the city is Joseph's, and it's right at the corner of Huntington/So. Huntington. There's lots I love about the 39, and the pizza place is a bonus. I always got out there to have a slice or two and read the silly posters in there.

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