Lately, I’ve been riding to and from work with the wife because taking transit would cost me quite a bit in time and money. Two mornings not too long ago (one the week of Christmas, the other earlier this month), she took ill and needing a way to work, I finally had a reason to ride the 354 as I work near its end and it’s the same cost with half the vehicles involved. Yes, it’s time for some Outer Express action!
The 354 is a rush-hour link between Downtown Boston and the southern half of Woburn which has seen some reductions as of late, the most recent round of service cuts cost the 354 its midday service and ended the 354’s sister the 355 which served Mishawum Road Beginning at State station, it runs on a loop which also serves Government Center and a stop adjacent to Haymarket on New Sudbury Street; on the mornings I rode outbound, the buses averaged about half-full for the penultimate morning outbound run. It then immediately crosses the Zakim Bridge on its from the North End. It stays on I-93 as it soars through Charlestown, a slice of Cambridge, and Somerville before reducing its elevation, passing by Assembly Square, and crossing into Medford. At Exit 32, the 354 briefly exits onto MA 60 to serve Medford Square, a stop that generates few if any passengers. Getting back on I-93, it leaves the highway for once and for all at Exit 36 (Montvale Ave) on the Stoneham/Woburn line where it winds through a swath of Woburn including West Cummings Park and Woburn Square before reaching Route 3 at the Five Corners intersection, following the 350 route until it ends at an office park at Van de Graff Drive in Burlington and given that about 2/3 of those who were on leaving Boston were still on when I got off, this was their probable final destination. All outbound runs leaving Boston after 6:00 PM omit this last stop and run up Route 3A to serve stops the 352 serves otherwise, this leads to some hilarious signs reading “354 Woburn” on 3A North.
My inbound trip, taken on the first PM trip, was a bit more hit-or-miss. As that run has a long deadhead from Fellsway Garage in Medford, traffic on I-93 delayed it 25 minutes on a bitter late December day. Two long delays in Woburn with packs of high school/college students headed into Boston on break trying to add money to their CharlieCards on the bus did not help matters. If an inbound bus is heavily delayed or I-93 has heavy traffic, the 354 has an option to exit at Sullivan Square and head into Boston via MA 99 and on this day this option was taken. Regardless of route, once in Boston it only makes one stop at State and Congress before beginning its outbound run. All in all, my trip arrived 45 minutes later than scheduled due on this day and I still had to backtrack towards Haymarket which led to an extra 10 minute wait.
The 354 fills a good niche but frankly it needs a lot of work because right now there are many inherent flaws.
- The lack of an inbound stop for Haymarket and Government Center is one especially since it doesn’t correspond to the outbound pattern. A quick fix would be to stop at the Congress & Hanover stop the 4/92/93 use would be a great start but a better solution would be to put a stop under the garage at Congress & New Sudbury which would make for better transfers for all Haymarket passengers.
- Extending the route to Burlington Mall if not the redeveloped Northwest Park development would be a good plus as it is an actual destination versus a mere terminal at an office park.
- Most of the local portion has no other service which makes it hard to build regular ridership. I think a “local” version would help for additional base peak service and for midday and Saturday service and patching it into two nearby routes may help.
- Create a new route which follows the 132 from Malden to the intersection of Main and Montvale in Stoneham, then down Montvale to the current 354 local route. This wouldn’t just give Woburn extra service but would give Stoneham its elusive second bus line
- Building on a suggestion made in my post on the 134, make a new route which follows the 134 from Wellington to Winchester Center, then goes on Washington Street up to the current 354 route. This helps Winchester and Wellington is the better transfer point but would it really work for Winchesterites?
- Adding a stop outside Sullivan Square would help, especially as a bail point for the Orange Line since given traffic it might be just as fast to take that versus going down to State. It seems that more often than not outbound runs make that detour anyway, why not serve it?
I should stop now…
Route: 354 (Boston-Woburn EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7
Ridership: Heavily tilted towards commuters with some hometown riders on the local portion with most riding end to end on reverse commute runs. I’d assume traditional commute runs have more pickups on the Woburn end than the reverse.
Pros: It links areas with no other transit and the nonstop portions via I-93 are always nice especially with the huge panoramic views soaring over Sullivan Square stretching from Cambridge to Chelsea. The fact that this allows some redundancy for Woburnites to get into Boston is another plus.
Cons: The flaws mentioned above and the routing around Woburn Square heading inbound which often causes delays. More of a personal pet peeve but changing the destination/name to “Woburn-Burlington EXPRESS” would be a bit more honest to the real end of the route. Also, the late runs into Burlington scream of this route and the 352 one day being (re-)consolidated in a future round of cuts and this may not be the best thing.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Doing this for a rush hour express route with few other transit connections can be difficult since frankly most of its route through Woburn is residential and what would be of interest is near other routes and I’d like to save Medford Square for its own review. This is a route to ride for the experience more than to go anywhere.