Fenway

Today, a major holiday blockbuster makes its debut on screens worldwide. One which my wife won tickets to an advanced screening of at the Regal Cinemas Fenway Stadium 13. Though I highly implore you to see said movie, being a transit blog and not a random pop culture/politics blog, I’ll point out that this gave me a reason to visit Fenway, the station which sits right to the south of its host building, Landmark Center.

The first outdoor station on the D branch heading outbound, Fenway sits on the edge of the Emerald Necklace, not far from the Back Bay Fens (though the stations of the E branch are actually closer), with Park Drive above the station leaving part of the station covered by its overpass. Getting off at Fenway, however, the scenery is dominated by nearby Fenway Park which sits about a third of a mile away, the Citgo sign over Kenmore Square in clear sight and some “Take the (T) to Fenway” Red Sox signs on the rock walls on the outbound platform. In the recent past, Fenway saw a lot of usage by Sox fans on game days though the institution of fares on the outbound Green Line and Kenmore becoming wheelchair accessible has reduced ridership at Fenway. The other dominating feature is that of Landmark Center, a former Sears catalog center now converted to a collection of big-box shops more common to the suburbs.

Getting off, we found that the signage to both Landmark Center and to Fenway Park are quite clear; the former literally is one at-grade crossing from the inbound platform, the latter has a small path which works its way to Brookline Avenue that is paved and well-lit. Interestingly, the signage to get to Landmark Center is much clearer than the signage inside Landmark Center itself as going in we ended up in a multi-floor maze to get to the cinemas. As we had to wait in line for what turned into an hour wait, I didn’t get to explore the area much though with St. Mary’s Street on the C and Museum of Fine Arts on the E not far away, there isn’t much that can be called solely the domain of Fenway station. Still, it’s a decent station and is unique amongst its D/Highland Branch siblings and is a visit if anything to knock it off your list.

Station: Fenway
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: At the start of evening rush, a mix of Landmark Center patrons and local residents getting off and those who work in the area from points west getting on. Landmark Center has a large amount of office space, much of it health-oriented, and nearby are Beth Isreael Deaconess Medical Center, three colleges (Emannuel, Simmons, and Wheelock), and with a walk down Fenway a quieter way to the museums along and near Huntington Avenue.

Pros: The fact the station is under a overpass and has rock walls adds a unique flavor and the fact that it serves as a more tranquil alternate to Kenmore and Museum of Fine Arts is a plus. Also, as with Northeastern some operators will open all doors outbound given the number of passengers getting off which is convenient to a degree.

Cons: Stations like Fenway, heck the D as a whole, show why front door-only boarding is onerous. Can’t we try to at least get some doorside CharlieCard readers (such as the buses on the Ottawa Transitway which use similar fareboxes and smart cards as the MBTA) and people with hand-held validators to have a compromise between proof of payment outdoors and faregates underground/Riverside/Science Park/Lechmere? As for Fenway itself, not much though its name has confused many through the years, my wife thought that the station was open only around Red Sox games and many a tourist has gotten off here rather than Kenmore.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Landmark Center itself has trappings suited more for suburbia ranging from Bed Bath and Beyond to REI to Longhorn Steakhouse among others and down the road will be gaining a Wegmans among others. The Emerald Necklace isn’t bad either as is that nearly 102 year old ballpark down Brookline Avenue.

Eliot

A year ago yesterday was Columbus Day. For much of the day, the sky around Greater Boston resembled a used sponge in that it was saturated and grey, more a certainty for the sky than the sponge. This was at the outset of my month-long detour within sight of Winchester Center and I had an appointment that afternoon for orientation for a job I’ve long left.

Said orientation was in Needham. How does one get sans car/128 from Winchester to Needham. The suggestions I got from Google and from HopStop (which I highly recommend) had three ways.

1: A four-bus journey taking the 134 to Medford Square, the 96 from there to Harvard, the 71 to Watertown Square, walk across the Charles to Watertown Square, and get the 59 there.

2: A second four-bus journey involving a ¾ mile walk to Route 3 to get the 350, taking that to Arlington Center (or anywhere between there and the Arlington/Cambridge line) to get the 77, onto Harvard then the 71 and 59.

3: Lowell Line to North Station, then the Green Line from there to Eliot (switch from the C/E to the D included), and a 1¼ mile walk through Newton Upper Falls into Needham.

As much as I wanted to have a reason to ride the 59 and 96, logistics and a FiOS installation made the third option the best. Why on holidays the Commuter Rail runs on weekday headways but buses run on Saturday headways amazes me. My journey took me through the tranquility of Winchester and west Medford to the more urban Somerville to the starkness of the final approach into North Station, then eventually the wooded nature of the D branch. About 80 minutes later, I got off at Eliot and found a semi-unlikely location for a transit station.

Eliot is surrounded by trees (some of which would fall victim to Superstorm Sandy three weeks later) and is on a hill offset to the north side of Route 9, at that point a divided four-lane highway. Access to Route 9 West is down a set of stairs leading directly from the Inbound platform, access to Route 9 East involves a pedestrian bridge crossing the highway. Actual access to the station is via a series of side streets and there is a small parking lot for those who drive into the station. Unless you’re one of the few people who can park here or live within walking distance, there isn’t much within reasonable walking distance of Eliot save for homes at first look. Even the portion of Route 9 it is along is largely residential with the requisite CVS and Dunkin’ Donuts about a ½ mile away and its position being sandwiched halfway between Route 128 and the office parks of eastern Wellesley and the burgeoning Chestnut Hill retail district. And to be honest, it does its role well the way that the Boston & Albany intended so many decades ago.

Getting off, I realized that as much as Eliot seems secluded, it plays a role of sorts in that it is the main transit connection for that part of Route 9. The 52 and 59 are within a mile but their schedules lack in contrast to the D while the primary bus for the Route 9 corridor, the 60, ends two miles to the east. As much as walking along Route 9 isn’t the best, this option is better than nothing for those in the area either to work or live. It’s the open-air equal to Forest Glen on the Washington Metro, a similarly isolated station which has a purpose, no matter how unconventional it may be. And isn’t that why the outer part of the D became a success?

As for my walk of doom: Newton Upper Falls goes from houses oddly enough to industrial. Somewhere there is an abandoned kosher Chinese restaurant. And crossing the Charles again, there’s a sign feting Aly Raisman attached under the “Entering Needham” sign. Would I do it again? Not on a time limit.

Station: Eliot
Rating (1-10): 5

Ridership: Mostly locals with some people walking around Route 9. If memory serves me right, about 15 people got off with me when I did and the distribution was equal between directions.

Pros: It serves a population, especially to the west and south of the station, that otherwise would have no transit. The pedestrian bridge over Route 9 also provides a much needed crossing for those on foot looking to get from one side to another as by this point Route 9 is impossible to cross safely on foot otherwise.

Cons: Unless you live near there or work near there, there is only one reason to be here which you’ll see below. Also, that pedestrian bridge could use a little TLC as it’s showing its age. The lack of wheelchair accessibility hurts here too.

Nearby and Noteworthy: It took some work, but the one thing outside of random suburban walks I could find is Eliot is not far from the Cochituate and Sudbury Aqueducts, both of which have walking trails. There is a two-mile loop on the latter trail which connects to Newton Centre. Maybe I should come here again…

Cleveland Circle & Reservoir

The other day, I was speaking to someone whom lives out in Metrowest who was bemoaning the lack of Applebees in that area. Somehow, the closest one to her is the one located near the Boston College campus, within sight of Cleveland Circle. I had a partial review written for a while and with grad work eating into my time, I’d might as well give everyone a two-fer and toss Reservoir down the street as a bonus.

Cleveland Circle and Reservoir are separated by only a tenth of a mile (shorter than Ruggles and Northeastern) and in many regards are treated as a common station. The two share a Wikipedia article and in a more official capacity share a bus loop where the 51 and 86 buses terminate and the signs for buses bound for there give equal billing to both stations. While the two are seen as equals, the two stations have contrasting personalities which make themselves unique.

The terminus of the C branch, Cleveland Circle sits at the end of Beacon Street after it re-enters Boston after its jaunt through Brookline. Framed by the Chestnut Hill Reservoir to its immediate west and a nice row of businesses, it sets the tone of how a classic median-running trolley line should be and serves as an eventual teaser for its trip through Brookline before heading underground. I’ve always seen the C as the “happy medium” of the above-ground portion of the Green Line and being a terminal seats for the ride into town are always plentiful.

In contrast, Reservoir reflects the D’s heritage of the old Highland Branch, grade separation and all. In fact, to get to Reservoir one usually must pass Cleveland Circle which in theory would hurt ridership except that the D has the advantages of more than half the stops (5 to Kenmore in contrast to the C’s 12) and no grade crossings. This on average shortens trip times by several minutes but at times can come at the price of many seats already being taken by commuters from Newton and points further west. However, the overall greenery surrounding the D is just as good of a substitute for the charm of Beacon Street so making a decision can be hard at times.

Like any pair of siblings, the two stations look out for each other with the non-revenue track linking the two to Reservoir Yard (and onward via Chestnut Hill Avenue to the B) having allowed in the past such arrangements as running the D via Beacon Street when track work was necessary east of Reservoir. For those with a pass or who are railfanning, the quick walk makes it a good transition point between lines and even to get to the B is only a 7 minute or so walk. As with any siblings (especially twins), my best advice is to not choose favorites since both have their own roles and purposes.

Stations: Cleveland Circle & Reservoir
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Local with a lean towards BC students and family during the school year who don’t want to deal with the often arduous trip on the B (which the walk from Cleveland Circle around the reservoir cancels out). There are some local generators though.

Pros: The ability to choose between two stations. For Cleveland Circle, its setting and always being able to get a seat. For Reservoir, trip time and access to buses plus being able to see Reservoir Yard.

Cons: Having to choose if you’re in a spot to choose. For Cleveland Circle, a slightly longer trip time. For Reservoir, front door boarding does not and never will work on the D as the D wasn’t made for such stuff.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Eagle’s Deli. If you need to have something to bring you here, this is it given the all-around amazing menu. When media ranging from Fox’s coverage of the World Series to Man v. Food have profiled a place, you know it’s good. If you’re daring and have money to burn, try the lesser Challenge burgers and if you’re really daring and can eat (as of this writing) 5 pounds of burgers with 20 slices each of cheese and bacon and 5 pounds of (very good) fries, $59.95 will buy you immortality.

The aforementioned Reservoir Yard is worth a look-see from the outside fence given it’s home to much of the Green Line’s work equipment including the remaining work fleet Boeing LRV’s. Just stay away from the rotting, to be demolished, brutalist carcass of the former Circle Cinema as it will case nightmares.

Ruggles & Northeastern (a twofer!)

Picture it: Several months ago. Your webmaster is in a tug of war with Northeastern because, well, they lost his transcripts needed for enrollment in a grad program and my last option was to hand-deliver the transcripts. At this time, I was seriously in a commuting rut which I actually wrote about so I had decided to kill two birds with one stone by knocking off two stations in one trip. Two blocks separates Ruggles from Northeastern and the former can be seen in the distance from the latter. However, the two seem like totally different beasts.

A creation of the Southwest Corridor, Ruggles is a station that ties the Orange Line, Commuter Rail (Providence/Stoughton, Franklin and Needham lines), and many local buses together bringing passengers from points south and west. This was apparent during rush hour as I saw a mass of people get off of a Forest Hills-bound train, most bound for buses or the commuter rail even with a redundant transfer two stops north at Back Bay. The three parts of the station, are tied into a long concourse which runs as a pedestrian continuation of Forsyth Street towards Tremont Street that also includes a Dunkin’ Donuts and a good-sized mini-mart plus has hot dog and Jamaican beef patty carts during lunch hours. In terms of overall footprint, Ruggles is probably the largest station in the MBTA system which doesn’t have some sort of parking element and it may dwarf some stations with some parking (Oak Grove comes to mind as one).

In contrast, Northeastern is the final surface station before the E line enters the Huntington Ave Subway and is for the most part a run-of-the-mill surface station in a street median. Ten minutes after I got off at Ruggles, the platform was nearly vacant though it started to fill up no doubt due to delays on the E that day. By the time a train came, the train was packed and mercifully platform fare collection was in effect that day since adding us to that train was barely done with six doors of 2 cars open let alone just two. Since this original trip, I’ve gone back a couple of times for other matters, namely one that would’ve made me simultaneously a Northeastern employee as well as being a student. I can say that when class isn’t in session it’s a lot less frenetic and is at times a bit pleasant especially considering the massive size of Ruggles.

Which one is best? It’s up to you and I’ll let you decide. Leave your take in the comments!

Stations: Ruggles (Orange Line) & Northeastern (Green Line – E)
Rating (1-10): 7, this as a combined unit.  

Ridership
Ruggles: Lots of passengers transferring for buses and commuter rail, the latter more often than not Northeastern stakeholders. Given how the E line often can be, Ruggles often can get overrun with Northeastern students wanting a saner ride into town but this primarily is a bus-to-rail transfer point for the South End, Roxbury, and to some degree Jamaica Plain.
Northeastern: Students. Lots of students. Though not as bad as the BU trio on the B Line, when school in session the platform often can be packed, sometimes it can get a bit crazy even Ruggles, Symphony, and Mass Ave all alternatives.

Pros
Ruggles: It gives an alternative to an often-beleaguered trolley line and gives both Northeastern and the South End the transit hub it deserves. Bus traffic here is bound for all corners of Boston.
Northeastern: The University and Huntington Ave were all there first and for an out-of-towner looking solely at a map they’ll gravitate here first and on occasion the stub track just south of Forsyth Street is home to work equipment which can be a treat.

Cons
Ruggles: There is some dinginess around the station but this is often to be expected with newer stations which haven’t seen rehabilitation. There also is the fact that if this was New York or Washington, this would have had a tag for Northeastern years ago.

Northeastern: Where trains stop heading inbound is far from the actual entry point. Often there is a mad dash for a train if one is approaching, often without the best results. Also, being on the E, being on the first train after some delay or disruption is not a pleasant experience for sure.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Ruggles sits on the site of what was the South End Grounds, a trio of ballparks which were the homes of the old Boston Braves. The Northeastern-owned property right on the west side of Huntington Ave, in contrast, was the site of the Huntington Ave Grounds, original home of the Red Sox. Both have markers of their status around the area. 

39 (Forest Hills-Back Bay via Huntington Ave)

For the last quarter-century, a political football has been played over the Green Line E Branch’s service south of Heath Street down to Arborway and Forest Hills. Though for all intents and purposes dead, there are still some stragglers on who would just know that someday the will for it will bring it back at any cost because if the can come back, so could the E. But what exactly is the E missing or more exactly what are we missing with no E? Since late 1985 and for many shorter terms since then, the 39 has paralleled the entire E, so why not go to Forest Hills and see what a lot of people have been missing. On my case, it was a raw Autumn day with a weird rain/snow mix.

At Forest Hills, the 39 boards from the trolley station which was built before the E was put into eternal limbo, its tires over tracks that may never see steel wheels on them. From there it works it way though the commercial heart of Jamaica Plain via South St., Centre St., and (South) Huntington Ave. Going down these streets I note of a few things.

  • The evidence that a trolley ran down this road in the relatively recent past seems to be at times lacking. Tracks have been paved over in some areas and the assorted stops between Heath and Forest Hills have little evidence of having once been train stops even compared to the remaining street-running stops. Contrast this to SEPTA route 23 which is intact and only needs vehicles and civic motivation to return to the rails.
  • For an area that lost a one-seat rail ride to downtown, this corridor has done well for itself. It hasn’t fallen victim to blight as areas that lost rail such as some areas of New York and Chicago or the many cities who lost their heritage streetcar systems. The gentrification of Jamaica Plain has helped a bunch too. However…
  • Would the E not having been cut back have helped gentrification more? Or did Jamaica Plain redevelop in the face of not having direct rail access to downtown?

I eventually got off at Heath Street, the end of the truly unique portion of the 39. What happened at Heath after this is a post for another day.

Image

Here is a station with no trains.

Line: 39 (Forest Hills-Back Bay via Huntington Ave).
Rating (1-10): 8

Ridership: Heaviest in the MBTA system. On the Forest Hills-Heath portion a lot of local travel since a lot of what would’ve been done on the old E shifted over to the Orange Line which runs at most a 10 minute walk away though ridership is heavy. Outside of nights, the 39 uses articulated buses and was the first route in the system to run them. In this age of CharlieCards and NextBus, the 39 has taken some ridership from the E when the E has its frequent issues.

Pros: Articulated buses are always a fun ride and it is one of the most frequent bus routes in the MBTA system running at its very least every fifteen minutes and as frequently as every seven minutes in rush hour. It also gives a good alternative to often dodgy E service and can be a great shortcut on weekend days when there’s a gaggle of tourists at Museum of Fine Arts paying via cash or CharlieTicket.

Cons: Besides the fact that this is not a train and the general gridlock of ridership who wants rail and a politician who hates it, the fact that a complicated garage split I won’t get into force all runs after 8:00 PM run with 40′ buses. To quote what someone on Yelp said, “Send a Green Line car down Huntington Ave with a partition at the midpoint and people would flip, the T would be forced to apologize and correct the mistake. Bus customers aren’t held to the same standard as train riders, and the #39 shows that.”

Nearby and Noteworthy (Forest Hills-Heath only): At the foot of S. Huntington Ave at Centre St. is Canary Square, a wonderful neighborhood spot with great food at decent prices. Besides their very good burgers and fries, I recommend that cheese tots but be warned they’re no average tater tots!

Up the street from there is the MSPCA’s Angell Medical Center. If you’re looking for a good volunteer opportunity or to adopt or even foster a pet, this place is a very good place to start. Having fostered two cats not through MSPCA, I can’t attest to the good that brings!