350 (Alewife-North Burlington)

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don’t, you really should), a couple of weeks ago I live-tweeted a ride on the 350 on a day I had businesss in Burlington. In hindsight, I found it to be one of my more interesting routes and it’s a route that could use some improvements.

Public transit in the northwestern suburbs has always been a touchy issue dating back to the era of the Middlesex & Boston and the Eastern Massachusetts and frankly decades of finger pointing between towns and the MBTA has gotten nowhere. The 350 follows the US 3 corridor from Alewife to Route 128 going through the heart of Arlington (turning off of Mass Ave at Arlington Center where it meets the Minuteman Bikepath) and the western portions of Winchester and Woburn before crossing into Burlington. In Burlington, it serves the vincinity of Burlington Mall including Lahey Clinic before working its way to a terminus in the northern part of Burlington. Along most of its route, it is the only public transportation option and as a result gins a lot of traffic.

Getting to Alewife 20 minutes before departure, there already was a ten-person pack waiting for the next 350 and including myself the bus was 2/3 full departing and had a full seated load with standees before leaving Arlington. There was a healthy amount of ridership getting off and on in Winchester and Woburn especially with a huge shopping center on the town line and there were people waiting in advance in the opposite direction. By the time I got off near Lahey Clinic, the bus still had a good number of riders and from past experience passing buses the 350 doesn’t become a ghost town past Burlington Mall. A person or two may have been waiting for connecting service as Burlington Mall is a multi-agency hub which also serves:

  • LRTA Route 14 to Billerica, Chelmsford, and Lowell (plus inbound to Lahey Clinic)
  • Lexpress route 5 to Lexington
  • Burlington B-Line routes 10, 11, and 12

 

This sort of inter-agency transfer is rare in MBTA territory; the only others I can think of are Ashmont (BAT 12), Woodland (MWRTA 2), and Northshore and Liberty Tree Malls (CATA Green on Saturdays). Honestly, there should be some more as the Red Line/350/14 combo can be a value option to the Lowell Line and the transfers aren’t that painful.

Though it was on the chopping block earlier this year, the 350 has its own spinoff, the 351, which is a reverse peak route running via Routes 2 and 128 connecting Alewife to the many office parks of Burlington and Bedford ending at drug giant EMD Serono’s offices on the Billerica line.

Route: 350 (Alewife-North Burlington)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: As described earlier, the main traffic generator is Burlington Mall and shopping also provides two others (the Marshalls/Roche Bros. plaza at 3 & 128 and the aforementioned center on the Winchester/Woburn line two others). Office complexes in Burlington, Lahey, and Arlington Center also generate traffic.

Pros: It’s a vital transit service serving a vital corridor being both the lifeline of several suburban communities to the MBTA system and linking a regional hub of business and commerce to those not wanting to drive. Also, the 350’s number is a bit of a pun for those who know MBTA history (if you get it, leave a comment!).

Cons: Hour headways are a little too less for this route and I think even expanding midday/Saturday headways to 45 minutes would be a very good idea. Heck, even 30 minute headways would still get a ton of ridership.

I’ll share my thoughts on how to make northwestern suburbs bus service better in a post some other time.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The food court at Burlington Mall has two notable tenants: The closet Chick-fil-A to Boston which as of this writing is a bit controversial and ShotCakes which puts two great sweet treats – cupcakes and soft-serve ice cream – into one yummy package. The plaza on the Winchester/Woburn line has a large Whole Foods and the aforementioned Roche Bros. is one of few near transit.

For the 351, I’ll have to stretch to the future to nominate the currently-under-construction Wegmans about a 15 minute walk from Burlington Mall inside the redeveloping Northwest Park development. If the MBTA (and LRTA) know what’s good, finding some way to route the 350 via there would be a VERY smart move.

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