I spent exactly four weeks living in Winchester, a town which like any of the northwestern suburbs could be considered to be transit-starved. I’ve reviewed the 350 (and an alternate view on that route, the more blogs, the merrier!), one of only two bus routes to serve the town, in the past so it’s only appropriate to review the other route serving my short-term hometown, the 134.
The 134 is a long and thin route which starts at Wellington station and goes up to what the MBTA calls “North Woburn”, a spot just short of the Woburn/Wilmington line on MA 38. The Medford portion of the route meanders its way northwest through Medford via Fellsway and Riverside Avenue serving places ranging from the practically dead Meadow Glen Mall to the charming Meford Square neighbourhood. At Medford Square, the 134 meets MA 38 which it follows for the rest of the route minus some minor diversions and not far from there is the terminal point for the 325 rush hour express into Boston and enters a very picturesque stretch with lots of greenery between there and Winchester Center station. Every other 134 bus and all night service does not leave the Medford city limits, terminating just short of the Winchester line at a layover point at Winthrop Street and Playstead Road. Past Winchester Center, the 134 goes through old-line suburbia including Woburn’s town center before hitting the 128-related sprawl which Woburn is more known for.
Riding one rainy afternoon the 134 was already 3/4 full upon departure from Wellington and of that amount most who got off before Medford Square were easily replaced by someone else and when I got off at Winchester Center the bus was about 60% full. In the month I lived in Winchester, there always during service hours someone waiting at the stop at the commuter rail station and this is for a route with bare-bones service. At the same time, the long length of the 134 and the fact that for most of its route MA 38 is a two-lane road leads to regular delays for buses running the entire route. This makes me wonder if the 134 needs to be redrawn, enhanced, split in two – one Twitter follower had the idea of extending all 134’s to Winchester Center and making North Woburn service terminate there with a timed transfer – or something else. Personally, I feel the paradigm of service in the northwest suburbs needs to change but that’s for another post…or several.
Route: 134 (North Woburn-Wellington via Riverside Ave)
Rating (1-10): 5
Ridership: A mixed bag both in terms of demographics and places but there are four rough buckets.
1: Those who want to shop near Wellington but don’t want to deal with the mess of the Fellsway/Mystic Valley Parkway rotary on steroids (and for those wanting Meadow Glen Mall or the Shaw’s across the street, it’s a roundabout hike on foot from there).
2: Medford Square riders. For those wanting rail, the 134’s schedule sort’ve compliments the 96 down to Porter and Harvard for those who want a connection into Boston.
3: Winchester. And even though there are several stops around town, the Center is the one that gets the bulk of the use.
4: Woburn. A good chunk of people who get on at Wellington are in it for the long haul. Having tons of retail and office parks is the big driver here.
Pros: Over two years ago, I gave a deconstruction of the MBTA vs. WMATA in Washington, DC and I used the fact that Woburn has “redundancy” between the 134, 354 (and then 355), and Lowell Line as a plus over the “take Metro or else” culture in DC. The fact there is an alternative to grossly overpriced for distance commuter rail is a good thing, only problem is…
Cons: There is a line between distance and demand which the 134 needs to tread and there are no easy solutions. Between the delays, headways, and length, the 134 is a bit of a cursed route and it doesn’t help that the east-west connections in the suburbs are pitiful as well. Personally, I think transit in general there needs to be blown up (and this is from someone who has the dysfunctional setup in Saugus!) and redone to follow something resembling modern logic in Woburn, Winchester, Stoneham and such. Proposals are forthcoming.
Nearby and Noteworthy: If you like dead and dying malls, the best example in Greater Boston bar none is Meadow Glen Mall. Heading up the road, I’d give an honorable mention to Medford Square except that that stop is so major it should get its own visit and article. Otherwise, lots of Winchester overlap and there isn’t all that much interesting up Woburn way.