39 (Forest Hills-Back Bay via Huntington Ave)

For the last quarter-century, a political football has been played over the Green Line E Branch’s service south of Heath Street down to Arborway and Forest Hills. Though for all intents and purposes dead, there are still some stragglers on who would just know that someday the will for it will bring it back at any cost because if the can come back, so could the E. But what exactly is the E missing or more exactly what are we missing with no E? Since late 1985 and for many shorter terms since then, the 39 has paralleled the entire E, so why not go to Forest Hills and see what a lot of people have been missing. On my case, it was a raw Autumn day with a weird rain/snow mix.

At Forest Hills, the 39 boards from the trolley station which was built before the E was put into eternal limbo, its tires over tracks that may never see steel wheels on them. From there it works it way though the commercial heart of Jamaica Plain via South St., Centre St., and (South) Huntington Ave. Going down these streets I note of a few things.

  • The evidence that a trolley ran down this road in the relatively recent past seems to be at times lacking. Tracks have been paved over in some areas and the assorted stops between Heath and Forest Hills have little evidence of having once been train stops even compared to the remaining street-running stops. Contrast this to SEPTA route 23 which is intact and only needs vehicles and civic motivation to return to the rails.
  • For an area that lost a one-seat rail ride to downtown, this corridor has done well for itself. It hasn’t fallen victim to blight as areas that lost rail such as some areas of New York and Chicago or the many cities who lost their heritage streetcar systems. The gentrification of Jamaica Plain has helped a bunch too. However…
  • Would the E not having been cut back have helped gentrification more? Or did Jamaica Plain redevelop in the face of not having direct rail access to downtown?

I eventually got off at Heath Street, the end of the truly unique portion of the 39. What happened at Heath after this is a post for another day.


Here is a station with no trains.

Line: 39 (Forest Hills-Back Bay via Huntington Ave).
Rating (1-10): 8

Ridership: Heaviest in the MBTA system. On the Forest Hills-Heath portion a lot of local travel since a lot of what would’ve been done on the old E shifted over to the Orange Line which runs at most a 10 minute walk away though ridership is heavy. Outside of nights, the 39 uses articulated buses and was the first route in the system to run them. In this age of CharlieCards and NextBus, the 39 has taken some ridership from the E when the E has its frequent issues.

Pros: Articulated buses are always a fun ride and it is one of the most frequent bus routes in the MBTA system running at its very least every fifteen minutes and as frequently as every seven minutes in rush hour. It also gives a good alternative to often dodgy E service and can be a great shortcut on weekend days when there’s a gaggle of tourists at Museum of Fine Arts paying via cash or CharlieTicket.

Cons: Besides the fact that this is not a train and the general gridlock of ridership who wants rail and a politician who hates it, the fact that a complicated garage split I won’t get into force all runs after 8:00 PM run with 40′ buses. To quote what someone on Yelp said, “Send a Green Line car down Huntington Ave with a partition at the midpoint and people would flip, the T would be forced to apologize and correct the mistake. Bus customers aren’t held to the same standard as train riders, and the #39 shows that.”

Nearby and Noteworthy (Forest Hills-Heath only): At the foot of S. Huntington Ave at Centre St. is Canary Square, a wonderful neighborhood spot with great food at decent prices. Besides their very good burgers and fries, I recommend that cheese tots but be warned they’re no average tater tots!

Up the street from there is the MSPCA’s Angell Medical Center. If you’re looking for a good volunteer opportunity or to adopt or even foster a pet, this place is a very good place to start. Having fostered two cats not through MSPCA, I can’t attest to the good that brings!


4 thoughts on “39 (Forest Hills-Back Bay via Huntington Ave)

  1. I love your blog. I thought long & hard about doing a T odyssey myself but I think I’ll just read yours ;-))

    I WISH the 77 would run articulated buses. Times of day are frequent when those buses pile up; if they were larger buses it might not happen as often, and wouldn’t rankle as much if it did.

    • The 77 should be at the top of the list for any future artics. As much as it’d be expensive, a dual mode artic with doors on both sides would be a great solution as it’d be able to use electric power from North Cambridge to Harvard and would make getting off the 77 at Harvard a lot less awkward.

      As unwieldy as an Arlington Heights to Dudley route would be, the idea of a joint 1/77 with said buses would also be a good idea but that’s just me.

  2. One of the problems I have with this bus is poor signage at Forest Hills. I would’ve waited at the main busway if I hadn’t seen the 39 leaving from the old trolley stop by chance. When I took this bus, literally everyone got off at Copley. I wonder if JP locals use this bus over the E line.

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

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