So, your webmaster has been trying to find a place of their own and the top place on my short list is Arlington. The balance of suburban feel, frequent transit, access to highways, and being close to my wife’s job is a win-win on paper. The backbone of bus transit in Arlington is the 77, one of the MBTA’s most frequent routes to the point of making the “Key Bus Routes” map. A friend once called the 77 “the route from Hades”, however were they right?
The 77 provides base service on Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard Square to Arlington Heights near the Arlington/Lexington line. Though there are other routes that run in this stretch including the 79 (Cambridge-Arlington line to Arlington Heights), 96 (Harvard to Porter), and 350 (Cambridge-Arlington line to Arlington Center), the 77 runs far more frequently. With no rail competition north of Porter Square and a high density along most of the route, it is a route which is prone to getting packed and like any route with frequent service also can be prone to bunching. Recently, I waited 10 minutes for a 77 only to have two other buses less than three minutes behind. This seems no different than, say, either of the Silver Lines or the 1 or the 66. There is a wrinkle, though.
The 77’s ridership is largely made up of those who are loyal to the 77 even with some alternatives for the reasons explained earlier. Though some 77 riders sometimes take the walk around Harvard Square for more fun with the 1 or 66, their route view might be a little skewed. I don’t mean any offense to any 77 riders on this blog – in fact, I’d love to be in your shoes – but there may be a skewed view. My friend with the “route from Hades” line had never experienced, say, the 28 or the 111 which often leave their terminals with people left over. That said, the route must be doing something right as it is one of the MBTA’s most-ridden routes as well.
During rush hours, the southern third of the 77 gets a bonus: Most trackless trolley runs heading to/from North Cambridge Carhous, run as revenue runs on the 77 and once were known as the 77A.
Route: 77 (Arlington Heights-Harvard)
Rating (1-10): 8
Ridership: Always somewhat heavy with some standees even leaving Harvard. This could be a consequence of the Key Bus Routes map warping service on this route. It also doesn’t help that the other routes along Mass Ave have nowhere near the level of service of the 77 and there often is a mindset that the 77 is the only service. North of Arlington Center, things start to thin out a little as Mass Ave gains a bit more of a residential nature.
Pros: It’s a core route with frequent service which serves a underrated gem of Greater Boston (even if people 30+ years ago fought against rail and have fought converting the route to trackless trolley). Imagine if the 70(A) to Watertown and Waltham or the 30’s cluster to West Roxbury or the 130’s to Melrose had the 77’s range of service. There are also a ton of rental opportunities but with the Boston market’s propensity to have brokers and their fees it’s sometimes is like water along a desert island.
Cons: Crowding and the inevitable bunching problems aside, the biggest problem is the alighting procedure at Harvard. The 77’s discharge on the lower level of the tunnel which requires having to cross the roadway before entering the station. While this isn’t unique – the trackless trolley routes on Saturday nights and Sundays have to board this way – I propose a solution.
Solution: For the MBTA’s next bus order, order a fleet of articulated buses with doors on both sides and base at least some of them out of the 77’s home of Charlestown Garage. It’d increase capacity (even with the seat hit for doors on both sides) and would end this problem plus would help trackless routes when running diesel. Heck, make them dual modes even which’d allow for through-running possibly down to Dudley. New Flyer, the MBTA’s current maker of choice, makes artics with doors on both sides. This needs to happen.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Right south of Porter is Ward Maps, the official supplier of MBTA gifts and of archival MBTA historical materials ranging from station signs to rollisgns to more. If you love transit or even just old maps, this is your candy store!
Of future importance of notewortiness is Menotony Bar & Grill which is due to open by the end of 2012 and will be the first full bar in Arlington since Prohibition.