One of my favorite elements of transit planning is the concept of the multi-modal suburban hub, that rarity that ties in buses, commuter rail, and heavy rail together. For two years, I lived a short walk from exactly with Silver Spring on the Washington Metro. What’s better than seeing how transit and development influence and enhance each other? The best MBTA example of this is Malden Center and frankly this is starting to grow on me.
Malden Center and I were introduced at a time when I was, shall I say, seeking work. A quick 35 minute ride via the 430 from a place near my home, Malden Center was the route to take when $2.80 to Haymarket wouldn’t do. Take away the dated brutalism of the Haymarket-North stations and Malden Center is like Silver Spring and the Oak Park and Harlem stations on Chicago’s L and Metra. All three parallel a rail line with commuter service (most Haverhill Line trains stop here) and are interchange stations for both. Like Silver Spring, Malden Center is also a major bus transfer hub especially for points north with buses reaching destinations as north as Reading.
If you were to exit the station, you would see a backdrop of assorted office buildings – right near the station are both all town government offices and a Social Security office – and the typical assortment of businesses that cater to that crowd. Walk even one block away, however, and it is a different story. Downtown Malden is quite diverse, not just in terms of people but in terms of what is near the station. High rise apartment buildings are located right near streets of single family homes. Independent restaurants serving pizza and roast beef exist side-by-side with chains such as Boston Market. The sizable Chinese community adds a ton of interesting flavor ranging from several restaurants selling (often authentic) Chinese food to Chinese bakeries to the only Super 88 supermarket outside of Boston. Also, anyone walking around can discover easily that there’s a massive glut of hair places, a possible byproduct of Empire Beauty School being located just west of the station. This glut produces some places that can give a good hairdo for surprisingly cheap as I learned getting my best haircut in years for a mere $10.
All this combined surprisingly makes Malden Center the most used MBTA subway station outside of Boston or Cambridge with more ridership than all but one terminal station (and more than double of that of Oak Grove). And yet with all this some still think it’s a bit of a work in progess. Even if a Silver Spring-level revitalization happened, I think Malden would keep its charm and as much as a Whole Foods or a Panera Bread would be nice, Malden is good already.
Station: Malden Center. Rating (1-10): 7
Ridership: An even mix between transferring bus passengers and locals on the subway side with a decent amount of bus-to-bus transfers to boot. The Commuter Rail side is sparsely used outside peak hours with most people commuters to Malden (or points south) transferring from the end of the Haverhill line. When I took it at the end of AM Rush, I was the only one boarding with only a few people exiting.
Pros: An interchange station covering three modes with a vibrant but not-upscale downtown. Given how my other examples are or have tried to go upscale, this is a rarity and a breath of fresh air. The full-length high platform on the Commuter Rail – a relic from the attempted extension of the Orange Line to Reading – is a nice plus.
Cons: The fact that 1970’s architecture has not aged that well. This will be a common theme when Sullivan Square, Wellington, and Oak Grove get their day. And the Braintree Branch too.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Besides cheap haircuts and a Chinese supermarket, the Stop & Shop down the street is one of the few supermarkets in Massachusetts that is able to stock beer, wine, and liquor. The liquor in a supermarket concept is still novel and foreign for me and I’ll spare my commentary about why more could sell it and not hurt the neighborhood packie.