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.