MBTA What If: North Shore instead of South Shore?

Earlier this week, I was in and around Quincy Center and found a nice neighborhood with a mixture of residences and businesses (and vibrant businesses at that), tree lined streets, and a very pleasant vibe to the area which stretches up Hancock Street (and to a lesser degree Newport Avenue) towards Wollaston and North Quincy. This growth is in no part thanks to the Red Line having been extended through Quincy in the 1970s even as Quincy Center itself is showing its age.

In contrast, a similar distance away on the opposite shore is Lynn, a city sans rapid transit which is far more threadbare and worn and lacks the vibrancy and charm Quincy Center has curated. Though some of this is from classic reputation, it makes me wonder something.

What if the MBTA in its earliest years put its energies towards the former BRB&L mainline and extended the Blue Line to Lynn in the 1970s while letting the old Old Colony mainline through Quincy lay fallow. Would Quincy have turned out as good as it has with ferries and express buses up I-93 instead of the Red Line? Do Lynn’s fortunes change with the Blue Line instead of overpriced-for-the-distance commuter rail and express buses?

It’s something to seriously think about.

Back in Business

It’s been a while since I last posted. I was in a funk.

I’ve begun a new job which requires me to take transit. This means a LOT more content is in the pipeline. Be on the lookout in the coming weeks and months as this becomes a bit more than route writeups!

Quincy Adams

Today, I took a trip down to Quincy Adams. I did it solely for the sake of the ride a good month-plus after I last rode for riding’s sake. Let’s just say nobody is really missing much.

Systems built over the last four decades or so always have a station or several built largely for the purpose of a park and ride crowd; the Red Line has two, this and Alewife. For that role, Quincy Adams performs well with easy access to Route 3 and I-93 for those heading from a swath of points south going from Rhode Island to Cape Cod. While the aforementioned Alewife has seen new development rise around it in the midst of existing development, Quincy Adams hasn’t just avoided it, it willingly cut off its own legs.

There’s a pedestrian bridge to areas east of Quincy Adams that has been locked for about 25 years, the consequence of reactive thinking and illegal parking. Never has the MBTA evaluated unlocking it for the benefit of residents whom have to drive or walk over a mile out of their way to access a station they can see. While there are some areas within walking distance to the west, accessing anything on foot with a huge interchange nearby is always a bit of a risk not to mention that said interchange cuts some areas off. Though the nature of that area is heavily residental, imagine if for example pedestrian access to Melrose from Oak Grove was cut off.

As for Quincy Adams itself, the station seems like an rough draft, open-air hybrid of Alewife and Davis on the other end of the line. The mezzanine and garages seem like a shrunken down version of Alewife with less retail and less overall traffic in with constrained foot traffic and only one bus feeding into the station. the platform itself is Davis in draft mode right down to the diagonal signs/benches in the middle of the platform thought without the artwork that Davis is known for, instead with a hole in the center begging to be filled. To some degree, filling them would help a little as it would give something to write home about here.

Station: Quincy Adams
Rating (1-10): 3

Ridership: This is a big park-and-ride and little else. There are some residences and businesses to the west which drive nominal traffic. The one true bus* that utilizes Quincy Adams, the 238, is a connector that serve South Shore Plaza, western Braintree, Randolph, and Avon as well as Quincy Center and this brings in some riderhip not wanting to pay high Commuter Rail prices.

Pros: If you’re along the I-95, Route 1, and Route 3 corridors, this station is a godsend as it has ample parking spaces and is relatively clean and very well-kept.

Cons: The locked gate to Independence Avenue and the general lack of bus access into the station. The 238 has a lower rate of service as it should and the just from my limited exposure to the station it seems like it was built for the park and ride and little else.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There’s a BJ’s and a Home Depot within walking distance. There literally is nothing else of note. That says a ton.

* There is one outbound-only run of the 210 that runs after-hours mainly for the purpose of getting closed station employees to Caddigan Yard in Braintree and little else.

Busted Signal at Middle Earth

My trip home from Fenway on Monday night was nothing short of a debacle.

9:45ish PM: Get to Fenway Station, see train on outbound platform.
9:50 PM: After seeing lights in the distance a minute earlier, get on two-car train headed by 3714 heading inbound towards Government Center.
9:53 PM: Halfway between Fenway and Kenmore, train suddenly stops.
9:55 PM: Hear that there is a signal problem and that we’d be holding.
10:00 PM: Same. Half the train is already looking at their phones.
10:05 PM: No change, though now personnel is on the scene to fix the problem.
10:12 PM: We finally get moving, attempting to make up time along the way.
10:20ish: Find out our train is being turned at Park Street. Walk across platform and get on an oddly empty E, 369something, very rusted.
10:26 PM: Get off at North Station. See ad for Orange Line bustitution between Sullivan and Oak Grove. Realize that tonight is one of those nights. Darn.
10:30 PM: Get on Orange Line car 01234.
10:36 PM: Arrive Sullivan. Get in a stampede of people trying to make it to the shuttles which are run as a load-and-go operation, helped no doubt by Charlestown garage being right down the street.
10:37 PM: Internally laugh at Donut & Donuts still being there, thinking of a family member who calls Dunkin’ “D&D” (Dunk & Donuts?)
10:41 PM: Get on third bus so we could get a seat. 0670 which I’ve ridden everywhere from Haymarket to Burlington.
10:52 PM: Arrive Wellington. Joke that inbound shuttle bus “sure isn’t going all the way to Forest Hills.”
11:10 PM or so: Arrive home.

And yet this felt longer than many of the screwups I experienced back down in DC. Having a 75 minute bus-train commute at one point there does things.

Fenway

Today, a major holiday blockbuster makes its debut on screens worldwide. One which my wife won tickets to an advanced screening of at the Regal Cinemas Fenway Stadium 13. Though I highly implore you to see said movie, being a transit blog and not a random pop culture/politics blog, I’ll point out that this gave me a reason to visit Fenway, the station which sits right to the south of its host building, Landmark Center.

The first outdoor station on the D branch heading outbound, Fenway sits on the edge of the Emerald Necklace, not far from the Back Bay Fens (though the stations of the E branch are actually closer), with Park Drive above the station leaving part of the station covered by its overpass. Getting off at Fenway, however, the scenery is dominated by nearby Fenway Park which sits about a third of a mile away, the Citgo sign over Kenmore Square in clear sight and some “Take the (T) to Fenway” Red Sox signs on the rock walls on the outbound platform. In the recent past, Fenway saw a lot of usage by Sox fans on game days though the institution of fares on the outbound Green Line and Kenmore becoming wheelchair accessible has reduced ridership at Fenway. The other dominating feature is that of Landmark Center, a former Sears catalog center now converted to a collection of big-box shops more common to the suburbs.

Getting off, we found that the signage to both Landmark Center and to Fenway Park are quite clear; the former literally is one at-grade crossing from the inbound platform, the latter has a small path which works its way to Brookline Avenue that is paved and well-lit. Interestingly, the signage to get to Landmark Center is much clearer than the signage inside Landmark Center itself as going in we ended up in a multi-floor maze to get to the cinemas. As we had to wait in line for what turned into an hour wait, I didn’t get to explore the area much though with St. Mary’s Street on the C and Museum of Fine Arts on the E not far away, there isn’t much that can be called solely the domain of Fenway station. Still, it’s a decent station and is unique amongst its D/Highland Branch siblings and is a visit if anything to knock it off your list.

Station: Fenway
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: At the start of evening rush, a mix of Landmark Center patrons and local residents getting off and those who work in the area from points west getting on. Landmark Center has a large amount of office space, much of it health-oriented, and nearby are Beth Isreael Deaconess Medical Center, three colleges (Emannuel, Simmons, and Wheelock), and with a walk down Fenway a quieter way to the museums along and near Huntington Avenue.

Pros: The fact the station is under a overpass and has rock walls adds a unique flavor and the fact that it serves as a more tranquil alternate to Kenmore and Museum of Fine Arts is a plus. Also, as with Northeastern some operators will open all doors outbound given the number of passengers getting off which is convenient to a degree.

Cons: Stations like Fenway, heck the D as a whole, show why front door-only boarding is onerous. Can’t we try to at least get some doorside CharlieCard readers (such as the buses on the Ottawa Transitway which use similar fareboxes and smart cards as the MBTA) and people with hand-held validators to have a compromise between proof of payment outdoors and faregates underground/Riverside/Science Park/Lechmere? As for Fenway itself, not much though its name has confused many through the years, my wife thought that the station was open only around Red Sox games and many a tourist has gotten off here rather than Kenmore.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Landmark Center itself has trappings suited more for suburbia ranging from Bed Bath and Beyond to REI to Longhorn Steakhouse among others and down the road will be gaining a Wegmans among others. The Emerald Necklace isn’t bad either as is that nearly 102 year old ballpark down Brookline Avenue.

119 (Northgate – Beachmont)

In my last post, I visited Beachmont and found a hidden gem of a neighborhood. Besides marking one more station off my list, I decided in going there that it’d give me a great reason to ride the 119, what with the ability to make a connection with my home route(s) near its opposite end. Little did I know that this route was as much of a hidden gem as one of its terminals.

The 119 begins in earnest right outside Beachmont’s entrance, at a stop which unwittingly says “Beachmont” which may be confusing to outsiders as it refers more to the neighborhood to the east as it does the station along the Blue Line. Heading along Winthrop Avenue, it goes into the Beachmont neighborhood which is made mostly of single family houses, relatively unspectacular by most accounts. That is until the end of Winthrop Avenue in which the 119 meets a very picturesque view of the water, wrapping around from Winthrop to Revere Beach. The view might rival the 439 on its approach to Nahant though it’s closeness doesn’t have the fear of the SL2′s stretch paralleling the waterfront.

From there, the 119 works its way in a loop around Beachmont until returning to Bennington Street where briefly parallels the Blue Line as it decends to the surface before turning back on Winthrop Avenue, ducking under the tracks again. After passing the Suffolk Downs stables, the rear entrance to Suffolk Downs plaza, and an abandoned Shaw’s, it works its way through more residental areas before reaching Revere Center for a brief stretch down Broadway. After that, more of the fun begins, as the 119 goes through several neighborhoods as it winds northward and westward, the most prominent being the Cooledge Housing community. While on this stretch, some turns and roads being a tight fit for a 40′ bus; though not as out there as some of the more rural routes in the Commonwealth such as the FRTA and BRTA out west, it’s still out there by MBTA standards.

Eventually, the 119 works its way onto Malden Street and to Linden Square and having some reason to go the Stop & Shop there, I press the button to get off. I then pass thinking that the 119 will make a right onto Squire Road/MA 60. This is false as it does a quick loop around Linden Square, briefly entering and exiting Malden in the process and as anyone who’s navigated that area knows, it gets jammed quickly and it took us a good five minutes to get to the “main stop for said Stop & Shop (and Showcase Cinemas across the street). I then got off knowing that the 119 only makes a couple more stops until the currently-in-transition Northgate Shopping Center. Though there isn’t much that would get me there anytime soon outside of the view and maybe one of those roast beef sandwiches, the 119 is a route worth riding.

Route: 119 (Northgate-Beachmont)
Rating (1-10): 8

Ridership: About six of us boarded for the Beachmont loop, replacing six who got off and a few that stayed on.. Those who missed the bus walked either up to Bennington Street or down Winthrop Avenue to board the bus and by the time we passed the abandoned Shaw’s, we had a good load of around 20, topping off at 30 by Revere Center. Blue Line passengers were heading home, those who got on en route were headed to either Linden or Northgate. 12 people remained when I got off while a couple got on.

Pros: The Beachmont loop is one of the more underrated scenic stretches on the MBTA. It’s also an important cross-Revere link that links West Revere and Beachmont to Revere Center and it’s fairly well patronized.

Cons: Poor midday and night service (70 minute headways with one bus), no weekend night service, and a late Sunday start are downsides. Even if the loop is omitted during those hours, it’d be something for those going across Revere.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Neither has a website, but Beachmont Roast Beef and Toretta’s bakery seem from my limited interaction with both legit, old-school places with great food.

Beachmont

Let’s be honest: Life’s gotten a bit too busy and strained to devote energy and finances to finding places to go and stuff to ride as of late. I could rant about the Boston job market being a tough nut to crack, or I can actually provide relevant content. The latter always wins out, so today we’ll be taking a trip to Revere’s southeastern parts, namely Beachmont.

Beachmont is the southernmost of Revere’s three Blue Line stations, not that far from the Boston line. As one of a handful of remaining elevate stations, the character of the neighborhood can be summed up from a view on the train; look east and you see a couple of liquor stores, an Italian bakery reflecting the area’s past, and a Mexican restaurant reflecting some elements of its present…and a lot of houses in the distance. Look west and you see some roofs, the northern boundary of Suffolk Downs and its stables, and an abandoned Shaw’s which closed a few years back. Par for the course for the area. Descend to street level and on the surface, it’s much of the same. One of said roofs is a roast beef restaurant and wedged between the other side of the station facing the intersection of Winthrop Avenue and Bennington Street is the requisite Dunkin’ Donuts, one of the ones closer to the station proper. Near the station is a parking lot which serves as a bit of a concession for the limited parking down the street at Suffolk Downs or the lack of parking at Revere Beach. Otherwise, to the east residential, to the west, horses. However, Beachmont has one other attraction: Itself.

Of the relatively recent rehab jobs on the Blue Line, pending what happens at Orient Heights, Beachmont was the best job. From the usage of the “history” tiles depicting a BRB&L locomotive, an 0500, and an 0600 which are also present at Revere Beach, to the roominess of the lobby relative to its usage, to the fact there are two countdown displays instead of one so the next four trains entering the station can be displayed, the MBTA seemed to take extra care of Beachmont. While there are exploding tiles outside, the fact some tiles were never laid and persons wrote in the concrete is a nice, local touch. It may not have the glassy “suburban picnic pavilion” canopies that Orient Heights is getting and it hasn’t been turned into Alewife Jr. as Wonderland has, but Beachmont is still a station worth visiting even if it is for itself.

Station: Beachmont 
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Heavily locals in the neighborhoods to the east and those parking in the lot. Some Suffolk Downs workers may find this to be an easier way to get to work, especially those whom work in the stables. A little further lies the back entrance into the Suffolk Downs big box complex (Target/Stop & Shop) for this is a quicker/cheaper/more frequent way of access for many though a bit of a hike. There is one bus that stops here, the 119 which loops through the Beachmont neighborhood and works its way across town to Linden Square and Northgate Shopping Center.

Pros: Elevated stations have a certain charm and it’s a shame Boston has hated them so much. While a lot of the decor repeats itself in nearby stations, the fact it’s elevated makes it extra special, especially the sounds from above at street level. Head into Beachmont and you’ll find a nice, picturesque neighborhood of which this station is a great perk. However…

Cons: Neighborhood stations often have a downside of being heavily local to the point of there being no “there” there. Some of what Beachmont goes through repeats itself with the Wollastons and Savin Hills of the system as well as some of the lesser-used Green Line surface stops and that sometimes makes finding pluses a stretch. That said…

Nearby and Noteworthy: That “Italian Bakery” mentioned earlier is Toretta’s, a long-established establishment with really good pastries and ice cream. One of those “roofs” visible from the train is Beachmont Roast Beef, a typical North Shore roast beef and sub joint with good food for cheap with slightly-outdated decor and the sort of place one should go if seeking roast beef (as opposed to the overrated Kelly’s) Both of these are worth the trip!