71 (Watertown Square-Harvard)

As of the time of this writing (May 3, 2013), Watertown is exactly two week removed from the most intense day of its 383 years of existence and its international day in the sun for better or worse. Aside from bombers in boats, Watertown is known for one of four things:

1: It’s place in the Amenian dispora in the United States (1/4 of Watertown’s population is of Armenian origin or decent).
2: The Watertown and Arsenal malls, though seen worldwide as a police staging area. The former has a Target, the latter has the iconic scoreboard from the old Boston Garden.
3: The home to NESN’s studios where sports-related magic and the occassional misery (Dan Duquette Jr’s “NESN Nation” segments) originates.
4: The 71, one of the MBTA’s three trackless trolley routes originates.

For the focus of this article, let’s focus on the 71 which I recently rode not even 18 hours after said bomber was found in said boat. Starting at its terminal loop at Watertown Square, it takes a straightforward route down Mount Auburn Avenue straight through to the Harvard Bus Tunnel. Having boarded at Watertown Square before, I decided to take a challenge and walk up the street to the Starbucks inside an obvious former Friendly’s to see how Watertownians were holding up. Save for a couple of journalists with cameras getting footage, you wouldn’t have thought you were on a town which less than 24 hours before was in lockdown.

Getting on the 71, you start to see the heart of Watertown being the sleepy suburb it usually is. A mix of small businesses and houses which are indicitive of Watertown’s past as a streetcar suburb. There are also a smattering of churches, at least two of which have had their buildings converted to condos. In contrast to the heavily commercialized district on Route 20 to its south, it is very, very quaint even in contrast to the slightly more commerercial 73. Eventually, the two join each other for their joint run through Cambridge, boardered for much of the initial stretch by Mount Auburn Cemetery with a few exceptions, namely Mount Auburn Hosptial and the interchange with Memorial Drive with its very old exit signs. The home stretch is mostly residential save for some office buildings near Harvard Square.

Trackless routes are always a treat and for that alone, the 71 is worth the ride even if there isn’t as much “stuff” as its sister the 73. Still a good route to ride

Route: 71 (Watertown Square-Harvard)
Rating (1-10): 8

Ridership: Heading inbound, most people ride through to Harvard with the two biggest stops otherwise being the aforementioned Mount Auburn Hospital and the Shaw’s Star Market across the Cambridge Line (with beer/wine/liquor!). Riding outbound has the same patterns, most board at Harvard or those two and ride straight through to their destination.

Pros: Trolleybuses are rare and you should ride them. At least here the poles don’t come off the wire regularly and a driver won’t crush your pinkie toe as a driver on the SEPTA 66 accidentally did to me once. Bonus points to the billboard raising awareness of the Armenian Genocide which often gets swept under the rug for political reasons.

Cons: Outside of showing some slight bias to the 73 – fording the intersection of routes 16 and 20 can be a pain sometimes – I wonder why stringing a few hundred feet of wire across the Charles to Watertown Yard can’t be done. Not to complain about a 2 minute walk, but wouldn’t it make sense to consolidate to one terminal?
Dishonorable mention: Who knew there would be diesel buses running on the trackless routes on a Saturday afternoon? The day I rode there were two running on the 71 and one on the 72 laying over outside Harvard.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The Deluxe Town Diner is a Watertown landmark which is a very good example of a 1940s vintage diner and has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

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