79 (Arlington Heights-Alewife)

Not too long ago, I had to head from Northeastern to Burlington after one of many interviews as the wife and I had an engagement in New Hampshire that evening. I was thirsty and somehow nobody at Alewife had water for sale (yes, even Dunkin’ Donuts). My option was be thirsty or get an excuse to ride the 79 to get water before getting on the 350.

The story above may sound a little boring, but it is about as interesting as the 79 is a route. This route exists mainly as a relief route for the packed 77 within Arlington during weekdays with the added perk of getting on the Red Line at the start of its route at Alewife and some reduced travel time. It’s headways are unspectacular (20-25 daytime, 40 minutes nighttime) and it isn’t teeming at the seams as many make the 77 out to be. It’s also quite faster, up to twice as fast as the 77 to Porter and thrice as fast to Harvard depending on traffic. The best way to experience the 79 is to break down figures.

A route like the 79 has a simple task and it does it well. Glancing at the 2010 MBTA Blue Book (a must-read for transit stat geeks, I unashamedly have it on my Kindle!), the 79 had 1,095 average weekday riders in contrast for 6,551 for the full-route 77. Without the 79, all of those riders would be pushed onto an already-packed 77 at least to Porter if not straight onto Harvard. Considering the time and distance, the work that an unspectacular weekday-only route can do becomes greater.

I don’t know if I’d want to ride the 79 again unless I ended up living in the area, but it’s a good thing to have around for those who need it.

Route: 79 (Arlington Heights-Alewife)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: About half-full leaving Alewife swelling to 3/4 full at Arlington Center with a few people getting on and off. People will often figure in the 350’s schedule for the southern half of the route though at 12:20 PM both leave right behind each other and literally race on Mass Ave. From the other direction, around 2/3 full heading into Arlington Center.

Pros: It’s a relief valve for a frequent and often packed route and it’s relatively fast being scheduled for 19 minutes from end to end. Also, even navigating the maze known as Alewife with the transfer one can still be ahead of a 77 in terms of time.

Cons: If you’re waiting at Alewife, you’d better be ready to board when it gets there. Since the 79 offloads at a different stop than it it boards, it will not stop if nobody is waiting even if it is coming off of a layover.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Once a New England institution, physical locations of Brigham’s have dwindled down to three – and one of the remaining three is in Arlington Heights. Though their ice cream is in most supermarkets, the physical locations are now a rarity that should be enjoyed while they still can.

Also, Arlington may be gaining a Whole Foods along the 79’s route, albeit at the expense of Johnnie’s Foodmaster. Though with a Stop & Shop right up the road and Arlington’s demographics, this could be seen as a change for the better.


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