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…

North Station

Tonight, the Bruins will take to the ice for a (full) season of hockey which hopefully unlike the last one will lead to another Stanley Cup and a banner raising. Of the over 17,000 going to a game, I would venture to guess that two-thirds will walk outside of TD Garden concourse to make their way to North Station. The majority of those will continue outside to the “Superstation” underneath for access to the Green and Orange lines as opposed to the northside commuter rail terminus they passed. This is a story of two stations….or four….or five. Cue the Zombie Nation!

Right off the Garden concourse is the mainline North Station, commuter rail hub for points north (and thanks to the listing nature of the Fitchburg Line, some which are actually WSW such as Belmont and Waltham) and terminal for Amtrak’s Downeaster to Maine. The relatively recent remodel has made the station look pretty modern while actually giving enough space for commuters and event goers to peacefully exist on certain nights. This is quite the improvement over the cramped concourse from the mid-1980s rebuild of North Station, one built without ever thinking it would be attached to an arena with 3500 more seats than its predecessor.

Under North Station and right down the street is the subway station of the same name. The current incarnation of North Station [Under] is one of the crown jewels of the MBTA system with its modern decor and its ingenious cross platform transfer setup between the inbound Green (C and E branches) and Orange Lines and not much effort to get between the two lines going outbound. Given the double duty that it has to do its namesake rail terminal right above and the Garden right behind that – often with both colliding – it does its job well and is probably the most well thought out transfer station on The T, granted it has decades over its competition. In terms of transit/arena access, it isn’t to the level of Madison Square Garden/Penn Station or Forum Centre Bell/Lucien L’Allier ingeniousness, but compared to others it might be seen as enviable. However, it always hasn’t been the case.

Growing up in eastern New York, I was blessed enough to see and use both “original” North Stations, the Causeway Street El station and the old surface station (I also was lucky enough to tour the Original Garden). Seeing the skyline and both Gardens – and for a couple years, seeing both was possible – was a sight that sadly future generations won’t be able to see from that vantage point. However, the cost of the charm and the views and that area being defined by the El had its prices: there was a single staircase for entry and exit, a single token machine, and if you wanted to transfer between lines you had a frustrating barricaded maze which made Haymarket look good. As much as it was functionally obsolete and had to be replaced due to neglect, the last time I rode through on the El several months before it was closed I felt that with it’s demise a bit of Boston would die with it. This isn’t all from the past. The surface station, after a while became a frustrating relic when you just knew that having four terminals was a bit too redundant and my one experience with it was visiting the aforementioned Garden hearing my Mom and Aunt act confused about why there’d be two distinctly different North Stations.

Flash forward to the present. I’ve used the current North Station several times but am impressed about how there was a lot of foresight in expanding it to the size that it is. In contrast to the “Kenmore Krush” after Red Sox games, using North Station after a Bruins or Celtics game is a pleasure as there’s more than enough room to for people to wait for their trains comfortably and safely. The joint platform has semi-intended benefits for the Green Line as it can have two 2-car trains on the platform with plenty of room to spare. Even those headed outbound have a good amount of platform space to sprawl out on. Having dealt with the transfer choke point in DC with the Gallery Place/Verizon Center combo and having done the walk of shame from Core States First Union Wachovia Wells Fargo Center to Pattison AT&T in Philly in a monsoon, North Station looks pretty great in contrast and deserves all the appreciation it can get. Let’s go Bruins!

Station: North Station
Rating (1-10): 8 – a solid 8 for both commuter rail and under.

Pros: The building of the Superstation and the enlarging/semi-segregation of the commuter rail terminal has made what once was a debacle a manageable experience. The Blackhawks won the Cup, but their transit situations (long walks to stations and special buses) are primitive in contrast to Boston and fans I know are envy in what Bostonians have. Also, during the week the station is the terminus of the 4 to downtown and the Waterfront and the Charles River TMA bus to CambridgeSide and Kendall Square.

Cons: Outside of some minor wear and tear (chipped tiles), putting 145′ of Green Line train on a 400′ platform during middays and nights makes sometimes getting on or off a challenge. On the outbound platform, the first car stop is far from the staircases/escalators while inbound there sometimes is a mad dash for a car. And yet it isn’t as bad as the Shady Grove-bound platform at Gallery Place in DC…

Nearby and Noteworthy: There are many, many places to either watch a game if you can’t get tickets or to go before/after a game if you do have tickets. My recommendation is The Fours, sponsor of trivia on Bruins games on NESN among others.

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. 

Haymarket

One of the hardest things to write about is something that is a little too familiar to write about. Since moving here I’ve been in and around Haymarket probably over a 100 times given the number of times I’ve ridden the 426 into town. I know all of the special ins and outs (5th car heading towards Forest Hills for an easy exit!), where to wait on the platform, and more but otherwise Haymarket is a bit unremarkable of a station especially for one that is a transfer point and sees quite a bit of traffic.

The southern transfer point between the Green and Orange Lines, Haymarket in its current form is a product of the early 1970s when the previous three stations using some variation of that name were combined into one by extending and relocating platforms. This move was long overdue and finally created a unified station for the North End and in spite of the then-elevated Central Artery eased access there and building a garage on top of its north entrance has helped spur some traffic. However, the station has not aged well with tons of exposed brick for both parts of the station. Look at this picture of the Green Line at Haymarket in 1980 and not much has changed at least on the Green Line level since. The Orange has seen a little change in terms of columns but not much else.

Oddly enough, the non-station parts of the station have seen renovation within the last decade. The southern entrance on Congress Street was totally redone to accommodate ventilation towers for the I-93 tunnel plus the connecting passageway between Orange Line tracks all got new tiling and lighting. In the case of the passageway, this was somewhat for naught as there is a spot in its ceiling that produces an eternal leak which could have been a minor generator for much of Haymarket’s transfer traffic migrating to North Station after the Superstation opened. However, Haymarket has a lot more going on near it than North Station often does on a regular basis, so…

In addition to serving people bound for the North End, Haymarket is also a hub for connecting bus traffic especially during the week. Though pared down by recent cuts, the north entrance is a terminal for express buses coming from the North Shore while during rush hours and the south entrance entertains the 325/326 to Medford; express buses to Burlington and Woburn are nearby though a bit difficult to find. There is also local bus service as the 92 and 93 stop by the south entrance while the circus known as the 111 boards from the north entrance bound for Chelsea across the Tobin Bridge. The heavy ridership of the latter and the cut in express service led to the recent swap of busways at Haymarket.

I may be numb and desensitized from all the sprints up and down staircases I’ve made and the walk from the north and south entrances to transfer from buses and time spent inside the Dunkin’ Donuts at the north entrance but Haymarket is a nice, if not slightly outdated and awkward, station.

Station: Haymarket
Rating (1-10): 6 (with 1 of that just for familiarity)

Ridership: Heavily influenced by the nearby North End with a good side of people coming in from Chelsea (the 111 often leaves packed and during rush hour is often in “load and go” mode). Expect to see a lot of Dunkin’ cups and Mike’s Pastry boxes at times depending on tourist demand, suburbanites in town or both.  During the week, swarms of commuters from the North Shore also descend here though after the recent purge of express routes it’s less than in the past.

Pros: As dated and unspectacular as the architecture is – the busway area has 80’s architecture reminiscent of Alewife and JFK/UMass – it’s a multi-modal terminal and a connection to one of Boston’s most historic and desirable neighborhoods. Also, it provides a wheelchair-accessible alternative to the currently-inaccessible Government Center and Bowdoin.

Cons: The eternally leaking corridor between Orange Line tracks and the dated décor take a ton away from the good of this station. Though the recent cuts and realignment may have helped, the busways during rush hour often become a massive mess too.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Too much to list: The eponymous produce market is right around the corner on Fridays and Saturdays, the northern end of the Rose Kennedy Greenway is at the station, and the North End has dozens of restaurants and is a hotbed of Italian culture. In 2014, the Boston Public Market will open a year-round building in an area surrounding the southern entrance. There’s also Saus, an establishment that sells Belgian-style frites and the best poutine I’ve had outside Montreal.

Kenmore (vs Navy Yard)

This weekend, the Red Sox will host the Washington Nationals for the first time since 2006 and for the second time since the Nationals moved from Montreal at the end of the 2004 season. As a former DC resident, I have a bit of a soft spot for the Nats (and the Expos before them and their Curly W logo back when it was “Senators retro”) and I have tickets for one of the games this weekend.

Since there was positive feedback to my “Bruins vs. Caps, T vs WMATA“) post on Boston to a T a couple months back, I think it’s a time for a sequel this time pitting Kenmore versus the opposition’s home station, Navy Yard on the Washington Metro. Two stadiums, two cities, two totally different Green Lines. Get your peanuts and Cracker Jack ready for a whole bunch of baseball-related puns!

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