Tuesday, May 17, 2016

WRTA: 4 (Union Station Hub - The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley via Millbury Street)

The 4 doesn't seem like the most noteworthy route at first glance - it's a pretty short one that runs between Worcester and some suburban mall. However, it has two factors that make it an interesting ride. The first is that the route has a lengthy express portion, which can be fun. The second is that it uses all-electric Proterra buses. This makes the express part even more fun!

The bus charging at the Central Hub.
From the Central Hub, we looped around a rotary, and after a quick run down Foster Street, we turned onto Green Street. This went under some train tracks and became lined with small businesses, occasionally with apartments on top. We passed through an industrial area with abandoned buildings and empty plots of land, which continued as we turned onto the narrow one-way Harding Street.

A dirt parking lot, I guess?
Around this time, my friend Nathan and I were discussing the small towns surrounding Worcester, when this large man in an overly-revealing tank top shouted "Hey! Hey, young guy!" I turned around. "I was just trying to figure out where you're from," he said, "I can't tell from your accents." We told him we were from Cambridge. "Oh, okay," he replied.

A complicated intersection.
Then he spoke up again. "You know, you'd better be careful when you go to some of those small towns you're talking about. Have you ever seen the movie Deliverance?" We both politely said no. "Oh, man, you gotta see it!" he said. And with a creepy wink, he warned, "Don't let the hillbillies get you!" Quintessential Worcester guy, I guess.

At least this parking lot is paved.
Eventually, it started to get more residential, with three-story apartments lining the road. After going by a park, we turned onto Millbury Street, which curved around under the elevated I-290. The inbound route had been a block away before due to one-ways, but now we finally merged with it again.

The turn onto Millbury Street.
Running right alongside I-290, the non-highway side of Millbury Street consisted of more apartments. The road then rose a bit as we passed a big interchange where 290 curved west and the freeway we were paralleling became Route 146. It was still mostly residential, but there were also a few industrial buildings thrown in the mix.

A car wash with a residential hill in the background.
Eventually, we turned onto McKeon Road, crossing the highway once more, then we headed onto Tobias Boland Way. This led down to Wal-mart, which is one of the major stops on the 4. Luckily, the outbound route is pretty straightforward, but the inbound route has to make a big loop in order to serve the facility. We continued down Tobias Boland Way until it became a highway ramp down to Route 146 - the express portion had begun.

Crossing the highway on McKeon Road with the Wal-mart in view.
The scenery wasn't particularly interesting, though - it was mostly just woods and industrial buildings. We crossed under I-90 (which, looking at Google Maps, seems to be the most indirect interchange ever), and after a bit more forest, we took the next exit. It curved around up onto a hill, then we turned into The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley. After running through a huge parking lot for a while, we finally arrived at the official stop.

WOO! PARTY TIME! ALL RIGHT!
WRTA Route: 4 (Union Station Hub - The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley via Millbury Street)

Ridership: My trip was during the evening rush heading in the peak direction, but there were only about 10 people who boarded. However, this isn't exactly a commuter bus. The few people who were coming back from work got off along the Harding Street section near downtown Worcester, while everyone else was heading to Blackstone for some evening shopping. Indeed, shoppers are the 4's key ridership demographic. Well, that and weird people telling strangers about 70s thriller movies. I still can't get over that guy...

Pros: This is a great route for shoppers, with direct service to Blackstone (and Wal-mart) that's scheduled to take exactly 27 minutes in total. It has even, every hour service, even on Sundays, which is really good for the WRTA.

Cons: The fact that the bus starts running at 8 AM makes sense, considered it's mainly marketed to shoppers, but at least one inbound trip before then could be useful for commuters - maybe a short-turn trip that only runs as far as Wal-Mart (although running all the way to Blackstone could cater to mall workers). Also, the loop the inbound route has to take at Wal-mart looks annoying, although inbound trips are actually faster than outbound ones, at only 25 minutes. I guess the loop can stay, then.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley are the feature attraction, it would seem. It certainly is a big mall, but though it's "open air", it has no pedestrian facilities at all! Good luck getting between stores across that huge parking lot...

Final Verdict: 8/10
Despite (or possibly because of) the fact that the 4 is meant for shoppers, it has one of the WRTA's best weekend schedules, which is great. I wish there was at least one morning trip for commuters, but it's unknown how much ridership it would actually get. Overall, this is a great, direct link between downtown Worcester and...a pretty terrible-looking mall, although it seems popular.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

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