To start this review, here’s a little logic problem to kick things off:

  • You have tickets to a weeknight Red Sox game
  • Your significant works northwest of Boston
  • You don’t want to deal with rush hour traffic or near-usurious Fenway parking rates
  • What do you do?

If the answer to this isn’t Alewife, I and tons of people in the Northwest suburbs would love to hear it.

I had been up to Alewife once before as a part of a ultimate ride and hadn’t gotten beyond the bus bay which on a rainy Sunday was deserted as only one route (the 350 to Burlington Mall) runs. This time on a nice day during rush hour, it was a lot busier to the part of being welcoming. Between commuters heading home and fellow Red Sox fans heading out, it was busy and the throngs of riders made the massive size of the station seem warranted. And Alewife is massive as under one roof it also includes direct access to all four levels of its huge parking garage, retail including the requisite Dunkin’ Donuts and newsstand, and the aforementioned busway. Away from the tracks, the atrium of the station has a huge skylight that bathes the otherwise underground station in natural light. The existence of Alewife also helped turn an area that was previously an industrial district of North Cambridge into one of the first successful transit-oriented mixed-use developments. It even has the largest bicycle facility in the MBTA system with a cage holding 500 bikes. Sprinkle in a good amount of public art and it’s a great combination, however…

At the same time, while there I wonder what could’ve been. Had the Arlington of the 1970s had not fought extending the Red Line past Alewife – putting a terminal in Lexington, Bedford, or Burlington – would Alewife be this massive or be more like its Northwest Extension sisters? What if the Route 2 expressway had been built straight to Boston and ending it at Alewife wasn’t an option? What if the former Lexington Branch of the Boston & Maine hadn’t been neglected and never stopped running? And more recently, what if Alewife had less office buildings and more residences? Would Alewife exist as it is – or at all – if even one little thing happened differently?

MBTA Butterfly Effect aside, Alewife does its job as a hub for the northwest suburbs well. With direct highway access, bus access including express bus service to New York and more, it does its job well. It even has cows!

Station: Alewife. Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: A good assortment of people driving in from the Route 2 corridor, local bus commuters, and tons of bikers utilizing the nearby trail network. There are also some reverse peak commuters – the MBTA 351 to the office parks of Burlington and Bedford and the 128 Business Council’s shuttles to Waltham – serve the station during rush hour.

Pros: Tons of space, natural light, a functional design, lots of public art, plus one of the earliest TOD successes. Toss in some mult-imodal connections and you have a great combination, however there’s one big problem…

Cons: The problem of weekend bus service, as mentioned only one route on Sundays with the joined 62/76 to Lexington and Bedford running on Saturdays; had the proposed Doomsday cuts had gone through Alewife would’ve had no bus service at all. Also, the dated early 80’s brutalism in some regards hasn’t aged well though it’s in far better shape than many of its peers in systems such as the Washington Metro.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Alewife is a hub of trails with the Fitchburg Cutoff Path to Belmont, the Alewife Linear Park that runs on top of the Red Line to Davis Square and the Minuteman Bikeway which replaced the aforementioned Lexington Branch. There are also nearby two parks in Russell Field and the Alewife Brook Reservation. The weather’s nice, get out there and ride or hike!

If food and burning some money are more your style, the flagship location of Summer Shack is right outside the station on Alewife Brook Parkway.


3 thoughts on “Alewife

  1. Whenever I ride the Red Line, there never seems to be anyone that goes to Alewife. Maybe it’s the time of day I ride it at, but I always thought the size of the station might be a bit much. But then again, at other times, the station can be packed. The bus situation, on the other hand, isn’t great. For me, the only one worth taking is the 350, but most of them are for people living in Arlington, anyway. I also can’t stand the busway. Maybe this is just me, but I don’t like waiting for the bus in a cold parking lot.

    • I’ve been to Alewife during rush hour and even with a throng of people it still seems a bit spacious.

      Bus wise, service around there really needs to be redone rather than having a bunch of weekday-only Arlington routes, the neglected Lexington/Bedford routes, and a stressed 350. Having a roof over it and a covered indoor waiting area not that far away is better than most other stations though.

      IMO, the redone Wonderland is what Alewife should have been like in hindsight.

  2. Pingback: Back Bay | (T)he Adventure

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