459 (Salem Depot-Downtown Crossing EXPRESS)

As I mentioned in my rant about MBTA line bias, my entire summer has been an overworked, underemployed blur in which I entered a heavy rut which distilled my riding to about six different routes/modes. I needed a ride to get me out of the rut of academic writing about stuff like economic embargoes (and stuff that matters like counseling to help families of children with disabilities and illnesses adapt to their new lives). Our proverbial slumpbuster in this case, a route I might not think about otherwise, is the 459, a route semi-unique among the North Shore routes which should be a model of sorts.

The 459 is one of two express routes stretching from Salem Depot into Boston, this one of the most part paralleling the 455 from its origin to Bell Circle in Revere going around Salem’s east side via Lafayette Street and Loring Avenue past the Salem State University campus into Swampscott. After reaching Vinnin Square, the heart of Swampscott’s business district, it transitions onto Essex Street which becomes Union Street in Lynn. Meeting the nuculus of North Shore routes at Central Square, it goes around Lynn Common and eventually passes by West Lynn garage. It is shortly after this I join in.

My ride began at the sole stop the 459 (and 450[W]/455) have in Saugus, the stop located at the corner of Western Turnpike/MA 107 and Ballard Street. Heading towards Lynn, it’s a typical stop but heading towards Revere/Boston riders get an old makeshift cinderblock shelter which a reader referred to as a “rape hut”. I know the nature of that area is very industrial and at that point MA 107 is a divided four-lane road but no shelter would’ve been better than that monstrosity because even on a bright sunny day it looks foreboding. Luckily a bus came right as I arrived, about 2/3 full which is par for the course for midday express runs from the North Shore.

Leaving that bleak shelter, the 459 eventually follows MA 107 to its end at Brown Circle, then MA 60 to its end at Bell Circle where it uses the center bypass lane to get on MA 1A and the route becomes dominated by a big box complex, Suffolk Downs, and a lot of services geared towards persons headed to/from Logan Airport largely that of the offsite parking nature. This sets the tone for one of two main discharge points for the 459, Logan’s Terminal C where about half the bus got off. After going through the Ted Williams Tunnel and a few stops on the Waterfront, the 459 ends with a stop near South Station and a couple of street stops before its end at Federal and Franklin streets alongside most of the 500-series express buses bound for points west and the limited rush hour service of the 448/449 from Marblehead which parallel the 459 from Bell Circle on south. The rest of the bus used either the South Station stop or the Downtown Crossing terminus.

With headways on average of every 70 minutes or so from AM rush to PM rush (a measure so that resources are limited) and a run time of around that length, on paper the 459 would seem to be like a throwaway to toss a bone for the North Shore crowd to get to Logan and to have an alternative to Haymarket. In fact, the route has a lot of potential, if not for itself for the whole 400-series as a whole.

  • Even with the North Shore express network pared down, there is a “Haymarket or Bust” mindset which puts one transfer point among others. The 459 shows a market for a North Shore to South Station connection, what harm would running the 426/450 down Atlantic Ave to terminate at the Dorchester Ave/Summer Street stand the 459 uses? With the Waterfront booming, this cuts a four-seat ride to two seats.
  • Running some 426/450 peak runs via the Ted Williams Tunnel could work as a relief valve for their regular crossings.
  • Soon enough the whole North Shore network is going to get semi-isolated on the weekends when Government Center closes to be rebuilt making the Blue Line an eunuch connecting to only one other line. Weekend 459 service would be a good alternate especially given how it hits all the key spots in the heart of Boston (then again, so would running the 426W to Malden or Wellington instead of Wonderland).

The 459 is a nice little route and some lessons could be learned from it, problem is does anyone want to learn those lessons especially as the North Shore enters a state of transit flux.

Route: 459 (Salem Depot-Downtown Crossing EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: As in the local portion headways are coordinated with the 459, there probably is a healthy amount of ridership between Salem/Lynn and points in-between. By the time I got on, there was a crowd which was 95% bound for Logan or Downtown with Brown Circle the other destination. As with any North Shore route, a good socioeconomic mix too and the Logan crowd was an even split between travelers and workers.

Pros: It’s a North Shore route that doesn’t go to Haymarket! It’s one of the few non-Silver Line routes that serves Logan. What else is there?

Cons: Outside of the 426 and 450, the North Shore express routes are a bit of an afterthought and though this isn’t as bad as thrice-daily 428 or the once-daily 434, this could use a little more service. How it could be divided especially since other routes could use service to its terminus would be a big problem.

 Nearby and Noteworthy: Heading inbound, there’s one of the few standard format “Entering Boston” signs and leading into Logan you can actually see the top of Airport station (which at 9 already needs some new top windows). Not much else in terms of stuff and I need some reason to give the 455 a ride someday.

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428 (Oaklandvale-Haymarket EXPRESS)

(Before I start: This review sat as a spare for months – the original ride was last December. Why trot it out now? Happy Birthday @BostonUrbEx who grew up near the 428 and challenged me for months to ride).

Living in Saugus and working in Burlington, my (wife and I’s) current commute involves lots of avoiding traffic on Route 128 by trying to get on as late into the route as possible. Our back way through Saugus and Wakefield involves driving past the 428 during its limited service, seeing buses of commuters varying in fullness heading to or from Haymarket.

The 428 is a variant of the 426 which runs three round trips a day heading inbound in the morning and outbound at night which runs alongside the 426 on Lynn St. Revere/Lincoln Ave. Saugus from roughly Lawrence Street in Revere to Winter Street in Saugus. In fact, years ago the 428’s runs were numbered 426 even though the two diverge pretty far from each other with the 428 ending at Wakefield High School contrary to the outbound terminal being still named “Oaklandvale” for the western Saugus neighborhood. To get the idea of this route, come along with me for the ride and brave the scads of high schoolers at Wakefield High.

Starting at Wakefield High with a terminal stop on the right side of the street, the 428 snakes through the school’s parking lot before heading down Farm Street. Though it gives parts of Wakefield an alternative to the Haverhill Line and 136/137 to Orange Line, there are only a couple of stops in Wakefield and often a bus running ahead of schedule will layover at the former Oaklandvale terminal right across the Wakefield/Saugus line. The scenery in this area is very not New England with erratic sidewalks but very wide shoulders which sort’ve fill the gap and still allow for stops to go in. Farm Street switches to Main Street and a bit into Saugus the surroundings turn more normal, the stops more regular, and the ridership more regular. From personal observations, by the time the 428 reaches Lynn Fells Parkway there can be a little as 10 riders to as much as 25 on any given day depending on run. Save for a couple of strip malls at that intersection, the 428 passes through solely residential areas.

After crossing Route 1, the 428 ends up taking Main Street to its end at the Saugus Center rotary where it then goes down Central Street for a brief period (paralleling the 430) until turning onto Winter Street where it passes by a cemetery and more houses until meeting Lincoln Ave. A little down the street from this was when I boarded. Last inbound run of the day, five people besides me already on. Nobody else boarded on the joint portion as the 428’s runs are smushed between a 426 and the inbound-only 426W runs. As opposed to said 426 which often has a full seated load and 426W which is usually ¾ full, the 428 in contrast was downright serene. Outside of Cliftondale Square and the Quarrystone apartments which straddle the Revere/Malden line, nobody else got on.

Right after the Quarrystone complex, the 428 does its second major diversion to serve the Granada Highlands complex in Malden which has four different stops shared with the 411 running to Malden Center and Wonderland. At these four stops, the 428 gained six other passengers while seven more passed it by. Though this may have been a byproduct of it being the last run of the day which is a close call for anyone needing to be at work by 9:00, it made me wonder about if the 428’s biggest problem may actually be its schedule. Coming out of Lawrence Street, the 428 rejoins the 426 for the rest of its route heading into Boston. The outbound route has some differences, namely the 428 staying on Route 1 until the Lynn Street exit and in turn not serving Linden Square as it does inbound.

The very limited service nature of the 428 means that it often is a target of service cuts and its limited daily ridership almost guarantees itself a place on any Doomsday cuts list though I think the route needs some TLC to help it improve greatly. Readjusting the times so most ridership isn’t funneled into one run would help a ton for a quick fix while another may be to refocus the routes. I propose three alternatives, both of which would break up the 428 as currently is.

  • Proposal 1: Extend the outbound terminal to Wakefield Station via North Ave/Nahant Rd. Take Route 1 from Main Street to Lynn Street, then serve Granada Highlands, then to current route. 2-3 426 runs a day could be detoured via Winter, Central, and Hamilton Streets to serve Saugus Center.
  • Proposal 2: The current 428 transitions terminates at Square One Mall and runs via Saugus Center. The Saugus-Wakefield service is turned into a new route running from Wakefield Station to Square One to Melrose to Malden Station with instant transfers during rush hour. This would allow for off-peak service on the Wakefield-Saugus portion.
  • Proposal 3: Proposal 1 sans Granada Highlands service with no stops between Haymarket and Square One.

Someday I’ll do a series on how to fix the mess of bus service in Saugus/Wakefield/Melrose. Someday.

Route: 428 (Oaklandvale-Haymarket EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Regular and dedicated, most of the time. Given the alternatives of an often arduous trip via the 430 or park-and-riding it from Wakefield or Melrose Highlands, this route has a core who don’t want to deal with higher MBCR fares, potential parking shortages at Wakefield, or a bizarre parking situation period in Melrose.

Pros: It’s the main transit link for most of north/western Saugus and it provides a one-seat ride to Boston otherwise unavailable. That and at least it isn’t like the 170 or the 434 which have “blink-and-you-miss-it” qualities.

Cons: Three round trips a day isn’t enough which might hinder ridership. Putting even a couple of midday runs and another rush hour round-trip would stimulate ridership a ton and this a route which is good enough to be turned into something great.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Suggesting anything along the 428-exclusive portion is going to be rough given that one would either need to find the 429/430 to get home or call a cab to Oak Grove. That said, the only J. Pace and Son outside of Boston is along the 428-only portion and comes with a small diner attached and soon a banquet hall in the back. Otherwise, Fatfingers inside a strip mall at Lynn Fells Parkway. That extension into Wakefield looks mighty good about now…

554 (Waverley Sq-Downtown Boston EXPRESS)

Summer is ending. Kids are going back to school and the B branch will be a mess full of college students. And I’m at the moment slated to take two sets of two six-week courses for grad school while looking for an job and an apartment of our own. As a result, I’m taking a small break from heavy riding to focus on rerailing my life. That said, I needed a way to go out with a fun review.

That said, one ride on the 73 (review coming soon!) got me to Waverly Square in Belmont, adoptive home of a former Massachusetts Governor who may or may not become 45th President of the United States. This review isn’t about the 73 or the nearby Fitchburg Line station: It’s about the 554. Yes, it’s time for more Inner Express Fun!

The 554 begins at Waverly Square and works its way down Lexington Street to the Belmont/Watertown Line to Belmont Street going through a largely residental area. Crossing into Waltham, it crosses over the Fitchburg Line where you can look left and see the very station you just left. Transitioning onto Beaver Street it passes by the Girl Scouts’ Camp Cedar Hill and the Bentley University campus and most of its athletic facilities.

Eventually, the 554 turns onto the desirable Moody Street corridor, north of the Charles running with the more frequent 70A and running by a bunch of small businesses. After looping through Central Square and passing by Waltham Commuter Rail, it crosses the Charles and continues through the trendier part of Moody Street with its express sister, the 553 which terminates at Brandeis/Roberts. Shortly after crossing into Newton, it turns onto River Street which itself turns into Elm Street.

At the corner of Elm and Washington, passing by the interestingly named Keltic Krust and West Newton station, the 554 begins to run on Washington Street. Which parallels the Framingham/Worcester Line. Which itself parallels the MassPike. Sitting on the right side of a bus will give an interesting viewpoint especially if a train is passing. Like most 500-series routes, the last stop before the Pike is Newton Corner and its roundabout loop to get to or from the highway. After that it’s the usual 500-series sights (see the 504, but in reverse) before getting off at Exit 24 and hitting three downtown stops before the last stop in the Financial District, however on this ride all 12 passengers got off at the first stop, two blocks from Chinatown and South Station. In inauspicious ride to an route rarely traveled.

Route: 554 (Waverley Sq-Downtown Boston EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 6

Ridership: The 12 passengers above was the maximum amount for a mid-afternoon run. Of the four passengers who got on at Waverley, three lasted towards the end with a few others getting on around Bentley and the rest along Moody Street. Given the time of day and the competition – 73 to Red Line takes less time, is more frequent, and cheaper – this is understandable since it exists more as a Belmont/Waltham connection first then as an express.

Pros: It serves as an intersuburban connection that happens to go into town. The Washington Street part of the route is also interesting especially after having seen it from the Pike many times.

Cons: The 554’s weekend service (Saturdays only to Newton Corner) was a victim of the recent service cuts. If you’re not a Bentley student, this is a downside even though under 200 riders on average were affected as of 2010. That and it’s semi-pointless to ride the 554 the entire way unless a single-seat ride is a must.

Nearby and Noteworthy: You know those random Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods that taunt people from the Pike? I’d put them behind Bison County. Any place that does barbecue in New England is a place worth visiting. In fact, Waltham has a ton of good restaurants, picking one was not an easy task.